Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)
LIKE NOTHING WE’VE EVER SEEN
Run-up to Super Bowl, game itself will be much different this year
An NFL season like no other will conclude next Sunday with Super Bowl LV, which will be unprecedented in many ways itself. A few ways Super Bowl week and Super Sunday will be far different during the coronavirus pandemic:
■ The Buccaneers will be the first team to host a Super Bowl in their own stadium. That definitely makes the family travel plans easier and probably lightens the mental load for a team that has no more trips to make as the coronavirus continues to rage.
■ Raymond James Stadium, which typically accommodates 65,618 fans, will be capped to a capacity of 22,000 because of COVID-19. The attendance for Super Bowl XLIII, the last time the game was played there (Steelers-Cardinals in 2009), was 70,774 with expanded seating.
■ More than a third of those in attendance — about 7,500 — will be vaccinated health-care workers. Most will come from central Florida, though all 32 teams will be allowed to send health-care representatives who fought the pandemic in their respective markets. All will watch the game as guests of the league. Every fan in attendance must wear a mask.
■ The only time the Super Bowl hasn’t sold out was the first time it was played. It was dubbed the AFL-NFL World Championship Game in 1967. That game between the Chiefs and Packers had a record-low attendance of
61,946, a mark that will be broken this year.
■ The traditional Super Bowl week kickoff event, known originally as ‘‘media day’’ but lately as ‘‘opening night,’’ will be drastically altered Monday. To begin with, there will be no media. All interviews will be done via Zoom with only nine players from each team instead of full rosters. While it still is called ‘‘opening night,’’ those interviews will be conducted during the day. Fans, who in recent years were allowed to watch on site, instead can turn to NFL Network at 7 p.m. for ‘‘the best of the best moments and an NFL Network exclusive conversation between Super Bowl coaches and quarterbacks,’’ according to a league news release.
■ The Chiefs aren’t expected to be on site until Friday or Saturday. Super Bowl teams usually spend a week at the host city, practicing, conducting interviews at media events and dispersing into the community to appear at pregame festivities and parties during the buildup to Super Sunday.
■ Sarah Thomas will become the first woman to officiate during a Super Bowl. A veteran of six NFL seasons, she will serve as the down judge.
■ The Hall of Fame selection conclave, which traditionally takes place among the selectors the day before the Super Bowl (and in advance of the ‘‘NFL Honors’’ broadcast Saturday night), already has occurred in a virtual environment. The players elected to the 2021 Hall of Fame class haven’t yet been revealed, however.
■ The ‘‘Super Bowl Experience’’ will be completely outdoors for the first time. It will be held along the riverfront in Tampa, and masks will be required.
■ To assist the greater Tampa community amid the pandemic — both in terms of food insecurity and restaurants hit hard by the lack of business — the NFL Foundation is making a $250,000 donation to Feeding Tampa Bay. The league also will orchestrate two community events in conjunction with FTB to further address those issues.
■ The parties and celebrity sightings that are staples of any Super Bowl week are expected to be curtailed drastically and/or reimagined next week. NFL agent Leigh Steinberg’s 34th annual Super Bowl party is going virtual, for example, partnering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to raise money for the charity.
■ Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old poet who appeared at the presidential inauguration Jan. 20, will recite a new poem before the game to recognize three honorary captains for showing leadership in their communities during the pandemic.