The NFL did it. They were able to get in a full season when many people had once thought they would not.
Sure, there were setbacks, and it was not a perfect season by any means - games had to be rescheduled, fans were treated to watching "mid-week football," the Denver Broncos played a game without a single quarterback on its roster, and the Cleveland Browns played a game without four of their wide receivers.
The stadium atmosphere was different, too, as more cartoon cardboard cutouts were present at the games than actual people. Fan noise was also played over the speakers across the league, and week by week every franchise and its fans held their breath hoping that COVID-19 tests came back negative and their team was full strength. Alas, through the ups and downs, through all of the uncertainty, here we are at Super Bowl LV. This year's "big game" is going to be very different from previous Super Bowls in regards to the fans, the media, and each team's experience. And I do want to say, on a personal note, to all of the snarky people who claimed, “The NFL will never get past November,” that I sincerely hope you enjoy the game. Without further adieu, here's just how different Sunday's contest will be from each perspective:
If you were lucky enough to purchase a Super Bowl ticket this year - the average ticket price was $7,589 (highest average in 10 years) - then you are entering into uncharted territory, as you will be attending the lowest-attended game in Super Bowl history. Capacity is limited, as on a normal Sunday as many as 65,890 people can pack Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay Florida. On Sunday, only 25,000 people will be sitting in the stands. Of those attending 7,500 will be Tampa Bay area vaccinated health care workers, and like most NFL games this year, 30,000 of those cardboard cutouts will sit motionless in the stands. Every fan entering the stadium will receive a gift bag that includes hand sanitizer and a KN-95 mask. The KN-95 masks are the Chinese standard masks similar to our N95 masks. Fans have to wear their mask at all times unless they are actively eating or drinking. Everything will be digital this year as well, from the ticketing to the contactless payments when buying food and beverages. The Weeknd is performing the halftime show, but unlike years prior - where we watched hundreds of fans on the field dancing and flinging their arms around and trying to get high five from the lead singer - this year we will see the Weeknd performing on a stage constructed in the stands and with no fans surrounding it.
This year, as you could guess, in-person media was cancelled and instead, "media day" was held through zoom with nine players from each team participating instead of the usual full team. When the Super Bowl comes around, any photographers seen on the field will either be official broadcast crew or actual team staffers. Media outlets will be restricted to the stands, in the front row, where they will try to avoid running into each other. Plexiglas patricians in the press box will also separate reporters. Last year’s Super Bowl allowed 6,000 members of the media, but this year, only 2,353 members will be present. Radio stations that broadcasted the big game live at the host stadium have also gone from 100 all the way down to 33.
The Kansas City Chiefs will not leave for Tampa until today - the day before the game, Saturday, February 6th - and that alone is unprecedented in Super Bowl history. The Chiefs did have a scare when two players came in close contact with a barber who later tested positive for COVID-19 in center Daniel Kilgore and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. Both players were placed on the COVID/reserve list but are now cleared to play in the Super Bowl after each tested negative for five straight days. The Chiefs will also depart back to Kansas City directly after the game while the Bucs, on the other hand, have the luxury of being the first team in Super Bowl history to play the game on their home field and not worry travel logistics. Tampa Bay players and coaches able to stay in their own homes and keep the same routine they've had all season.