News Update: Just as this article was going to press, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the 55th Super Bowl with a score of 31-9 against the Kansas City Chiefs! The Lombardi Trophy will make its home in Tampa Bay this year! You can check out the sports websites for all the technical football stats. Being a music writer, I must comment on the musical performances. H.E.R did a great job singing & on guitar with “America the Beautiful.” Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan brought a change to the National Anthem with a duet that was harmonized beautifully. The Weeknd gave a high energy Pepsi Halftime show. But the real show was the game and watching our Buccaneers have an amazing season culminating in a win on their home turf! Congratulations, Tampa Bay Bucs! Thanks for a great season!
It was a year for sports like no other in 2020! Football ended up in Tampa for its biggest game of the year. For the first time, a team going to the Super Bowl plays in its own home stadium. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started a new season with superstar quarterback Tom Brady coming to Florida to join his new team amid a pandemic that hadn’t quite taken hold yet. Football trudged on and made it through to Super Bowl 55 on February 7th, 2021, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Super Bowl week always sees a flurry of activities when it comes to town. There are usually parties, and both teams are in town the week of the game. The NFL had a difficult job in figuring out what events they could bring to the City of Tampa safely during Covid-19. The NFL Experience is a staple for football fans. They decided to set up along the Tampa Riverwalk safely. Arriving on Friday at Julian B Lane Park, I was given a health screening and passed to check out the festivities. There was a mandatory face mask requirement in the park except at food and drink areas.
Interactive games were set up throughout the park, with fans trying out their skills at kicking a field goal, running a 40-yard dash as well as taking a pic with that famous Vince Lombardi Trophy. There was a 2-hour waiting line for that, so my media escort took me over to the Experience building, which housed team helmets, player locker rooms, and all 54 Super Bowl rings, which were amazing to see up close! You could get a history lesson on the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Giant past Super Bowl tickets were hanging around the perimeter of the building. Imagine a ticket in 1977 was the big price of $20.00!
Back to the Lombardi trophy, my NFL Media guide took me to photograph it in between fans on the line. Housed in plexiglass, the trophy will be given to the winner of the game on Sunday night. There are other Lombardi trophies as each winning team has one that is engraved with their win. People were patient and happy to get their photo with the trophy. One fan told me that it was worth waiting to see it in person—a once in a lifetime event for a diehard football fan. There wasn’t just Bucs or Chief’s fans visiting Tampa. Fans from many NFL teams were dressed in various jerseys as well face-painted and costumed fans. Football fans are very loyal fans to their teams!
As dusk rolled in, many people were headed down the waterfront to watch the firework/pyrotechnic show from the Gasparilla Pirate Ship at the Tampa Convention Center. Most of us hopped on the Pirate Water Taxi, which stops up and down the river at various hotels, and the Curtis Hixon Park, which was hosting activities that did not require a ticket like the NFL Experience. It was a great ride down the river. Although the boats were fairly full, most wore a mask. We were dropped off at the dock near the show. The area was full of Tampa fans excited for the show, the Super Bowl, and their Tampa team. For just a moment, it almost seemed normal until I had to readjust my mask.
The NFL and the City of Tampa did a great job in a difficult situation. My guide told me that it was tough limiting the number of fans that could go but there was no other good solution. The same for Raymond James limiting the number of seats for the big game. A great idea was to fill the seats with fan cardboard cutouts. Fans paid $100.00 and sent a photo to put their image in the stands. Getting creative in the pandemic has become necessary to keep our national pastimes afloat. Tampa can be proud of a great 55th Super Bowl for the team and the fans!
Photos by Vicky Sullivan