Some 90 minutes before kickoff, doubts about whether the Hall of Fame Game could be played because of shoddy field conditions began to make the rounds on social media. But for the thousands of fans at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton, Ohio, they had no idea. Instead, they eyed the scoreboard "countdown until kickoff" clock fully expecting the Packers and Colts to face off in a mostly meaningless game that, at the very least, signified the return of football.
In fact, according to the Indianapolis Star's Gregg Doyel, those in charge Saturday night didn't notify the crowd of the game had been scrapped until Pro Football Hall of Fame president took the microphone just after the scheduled 8 p.m. ET kickoff.
"What happened to the fans at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium over the next 80 minutes was no accident," Doyel wrote. "It was intentional. It was deceitful. It was the Pro Football Hall of Fame keeping alive the façade, using its scoreboard to show a countdown to an 8 p.m. kickoff that would never happen, because there was money to be made."
The results were predictable.
Crowd booing HOF president David Baker. Well done.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelStar) August 8, 2016
"I've spent $50 since I got into the stadium," a Colts fan told Doyel 30 minutes before kickoff. "You're damn right I'm mad. I'm (expletive)."
A Packers fan added: "I spent $65 on this food," Liu says, gesturing to hot dogs and pizza and drinks he bought for his party of four. "How (expletive) do you think I am?"
Before announcing to the fans that there would be no game, Baker was on the field talking to NFL Network about how things had gotten to this point.
"It was a difficult decision to make, but we will have a refund policy in the next several days that all of our fans here can turn to on our website," he said. "But in some respects, it was an easy, ethical decision. I had a son that played in the league for seven years himself (former Falcons offensive lineman Sam Baker), and if he was on a field like this today I'd want someone to make the same decision."
Fair enough, but there's still the issue of keeping fans in the dark -- while they spent money on concessions and souvenirs because they were expecting to watch a football game.
Later, Colts owner Jim Irsay made it clear that having a game canceled because of poor field conditions is unacceptable:
"This shouldn't happen. It's not difficult," he told reporters. "Obviously, everyone out there says, 'You're a $12 billion league. How can you have a field not ready to go?' Well, the Hall of Fame is sort of separate and gets run a little different from the league. ... We'll have to get it right so it never happens again. ... Yes, we're upset. ... We have to make it right to our fans and also get to the bottom of exactly who got this paint job done and why was there incompetence."
No one disputes the incompetence, but ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert calls out Irsay for trying to pass the buck.
"While technically accurate, Irsay's explanation was weak and a cop-out of the worst kind," Seifert writes. "Surely it won't register with most fans who don't care about the corporate distinction between the NFL and the independent Pro Football Hall of Fame. This was an NFL preseason game to be played by two NFL teams, Irsay's Colts and the Green Bay Packers, between players employed by the NFL and to be televised via the NFL's contract with ESPN. The league must own this preseason game as it does all others."
Whether they will is another matter.
In the meantime, we'll keep an eye on the NFL Operations Twitter feed for updates.