Superbowl LV Was Played in Full Stadium in Tampa Bay

Superbowl LV was played in Tampa Bay
Artwork by Anthony Faust
Superbowl LV was played in Tampa Bay

In the NFL, the league and the union went through a lot of the same headaches as the rest of the professional sports leagues. They may have handled the whole situation better than any other league. After initial conversations about what should be done with the season, the league and the players union came to an agreement to play on Jul 24 and started training camp a few days later.

The NFL was determined to play their whole schedule of games, which would include daily testing and strict protocols. A lot of routine off-the-field behavior was restricted: no visiting indoor nightclubs, big parties, indoor concerts or group dinners. But one thing the NFL wouldn’t have would be a bubble. Whereas the NBA was able to send all of their playoff teams to Orlando to live and play on a campus, the roster size and amount of organizational support needed to keep all 32 teams housed and playing in one central location for 5 months while the season played out wasn’t considered.

Starting in training camp, every player tested daily, including their off day, and bye weeks and game days. The cost of the testing was reported to near $100 million, which the 32 teams paid for.

The league knew some players would miss games, but the goal was to isolate them, do contact tracing, and keep the season on track. Players were allowed to opt out of the season, essentially freezing their contract and taking a year off. In the end, 67 players chose that options.

The league’s ambitious goal was to play all 256 regular season games over the normal 17 weeks, with an extra week of wiggle room available just in case. If there was a significant surge of cases or if anything new came along that caused them to miss a large quantity of games, they could push back the playoffs and Super Bowl to allow for re-scheduling games.

Every stadium’s fan policy was governed by the local municipality’s policies. 12 stadiums didn’t allow fans, while the others limited the crowd to at most 30% capacity. The Dallas Cowboys had an average of approximately 28,000 fans in their 100,000-seat stadium, which was the highest percentage in the league. NFL protocols for the regular season required that the closest rows to the field be blocked with tarps to reduce spectator proximity to the field.

On Oct. 23 the NFL revised their protocol to say if coaches or players had close contact with someone else who tested positive, they had to quarantine for five days. This made it quite a bit more challenging. The New Orleans Saints played a game without any running backs, the Cleveland Browns played a game without any of their core wide receivers available, and the Denver Broncos were forced to play without any of their quarterbacks, when that position group had an infection and all the other quarterbacks on roster had a close contact interaction with an infected player. In the end, 22 games had to be moved from their original day or time, but no games were canceled, a logistical feat that was quite impressive.

Just as planned, the playoffs were held on schedule. One casualty of the protocols was the Cleveland Browns’ rookie Head Coach, Kevin Stefanski, He was forced to take in his team’s 48-37 Wild Card round victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers from his home, due to a positive test. It was the team’s first playoff victory since 1994, and they went on to lose to the eventual runner-up Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Playoffs the next week. Stefanski won the Coach of the Year award after the season. So, a little silver lining for the Browns.

Back in March 2020, Tom Brady left the New England Patriots and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was fitting that Tampa Bay was hosting the Super Bowl and for the first time ever, the host city’s team made it, taking on the Kansas City Chiefs. They would go on to clobber the Chiefs 31-9, which was Brady’s record 7th Super Bowl victory.

There were 24,835 socially distanced fans in attendance for the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, 7,500 who were healthcare workers invited by the NFL as guests. The league also sold 30,000 cardboard cutouts to fans, to fill in the empty seats. It was quite the tightrope act by the country’s most popular league, and people were very excited to have a Super Bowl to watch.

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About the Author

My life as a husband and father transformed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sent home from work in March 2020, I've yet to return to the office. Adapting to the new pandemic world proved challenging for us all.

However, we managed to find silver linings. Drive-by birthdays brought joy to my kids' friends. I'll never forget stumbling upon a heartfelt hand-painted rock during my jog, reminding us that we're all in this together. Regular Zoom happy hours with close friends created cherished memories.

While quality time with my family was a blessing, we also faced hurdles. Assisting my youngest daughter with frustrating math homework on a poorly designed iPad app tested our patience. Both girls struggled with wearing masks during sports and school.

Sadly, witnessing COVID-19 being politicized and witnessing the closure of small businesses while the wealthy thrived was disheartening.

I wrote this book to document our experiences, learning from them and striving for better decisions in the future. Join me on this rewarding journey of resilience and growth.

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