Sunday’s Super Bowl LV will be like none that has gone before it. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Kansas City Chiefs, there will be little of the usual bombast.
How could there be? World Health Organisation figures show the coronavirus pandemic has so far claimed over 2.2million victims worldwide, and almost 450,000 of them have been Americans.
Staging what usually constitutes the world’s greatest party against that backdrop would be both impossible and inappropriate.
Ahead of a day generally considered a quasi-national holiday, when millions might otherwise gather to gorge on chicken wings and sink gallons of beer, White House health advisor Dr Anthony Fauci pleaded with Americans to “lay low and cool it” this Sunday.
In Tampa Bay itself there will be none of the usual corporate shindigs or lavish events. The 66,000-capacity Raymond James stadium will welcome just 25,000 fans, 7,500 of them vaccinated medical workers, to take up their socially-distanced seats.
The Florida city has had little luck with Super Bowls.
It was host in 1991 when there were rumours the game would be cancelled after the outbreak of the Gulf War a week earlier, then again in 2009 as the country grappled with the worst recession since the Great Depression.
But the pandemic has thrown up challenges on an even greater scale.
If there is a celebration for the NFL it is that the season got this far. Since the campaign began, 262 players and 463 personnel have tested positive, with several teams forced to close facilities and postpone games.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said: “This was an extraordinary effort.
“It took a lot of people to get here. There were a lot of doubters. We had a lot of unknowns ourselves but we believe that staying on schedule, working towards getting 256 (regular season) games done, as we say avoiding the asterisk, we think we were able to do that.
“We’ve still got a few days to go here so we’re staying focused on making sure we finish out strong.”
Even within the NFL bubble, this Super Bowl is markedly different. Both team hotels have remained empty this week – the Chiefs are not flying in until Saturday while the Bucs, the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl on home turf, are sleeping in their own beds.
The usual pandemonium of media day to start the week was replaced with a series of video calls, lonely players in isolated rooms staring back at their own image on a screen as they answered questions posed from around the world.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady will achieve the remarkable feat of playing in his 10th Super Bowl, but the six-time winner has never experienced this.
“I have time to get my body right,” said Brady, whose wife and children have moved out for the week to allow him to focus.
“There’s been no travel for our team. It’s a home game. That’s very different. We’re staying at our own home, that’s very different.
“You don’t have to eat hotel food for a week, that’s very different. That stadium will be 25,000 people. That will be different.”
A win for Brady and the Bucs would write a new chapter in his already unparalleled career.
A win for Patrick Mahomes and the defending champion Chiefs could herald the start of the new dynasty.
The NFL is just hoping to set the right tone.
“We hope in some ways we’re representative of doing things the right way,” Goodell added.
“We’ve worked closely with the (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and the White House task force to make sure we’re focused on how to do this safely, and that includes our fans.
“We want people to be safe, we want them to wear their PPE and gather in small groups and follow the advice.”
Published: 05/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub