Masked fans stream into Buccaneer’s home stadium

Masked fans flocked to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Stadium at the Super Bowl Sunday for the NFL championship game, as the limited crowd largely observed COVID-19 health and safety restrictions.

The settlement between the hometown of Bucs and the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs is the culmination of a National Football League season that once seemed in doubt, when the new coronavirus tore through the United States and threw the world of professional sports into disarray almost 11 months ago.

Raymond James Stadium with 65,618 capacity, which allows 25,000 ticket fans in the stands and suites for America’s largest annual sporting event, had the appearance of a full crowd, as cardboard cutouts were scattered among personal fans.

“I love this,” said Colleen O’Malley, 61, a lifelong Chiefs fan who traveled from Lawrence, Kansas and out to the cutouts while enjoying the sunny skies and 71-degree Fahrenheit (22 ° C) weather. “We were worried about the rain and look at this!”

The cuts, which include photos of average fans, former NFL players and celebrities including record jockey and record producer DJ Khaled and singer Lizzo, were among the measures to keep participants socially distant.

Officials scattered throughout the arena reminded ticket holders to escape on escalators, while pop singer Miley Cyrus crooned her cover of “Heart of Glass” to a cramped tailgate concert for some of the league’s 7,500 vaccinated medical staff who gave free tickets.

While the vast majority of fans wore masks, signs demanding that participants stay 1.8 m apart around some of the stadium’s concession sites were largely ignored.

Michael Simpkins, 51, a season ticket holder for the Buccaneers for five years, was among the many hometown fans hoping to see Tampa Bay win its first NFL championship since 2003, with six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady playing his first season for the team – at the helm.

“I hated him until he came here,” Simpkins said of the New England Patriot. “Now I love him! I love Brady. He’s amazing.”

Tampa is the first city to host its own team in the Super Bowl, and fans have taken out thousands of dollars for the limited supply of tickets. The lowest price for a pair on Ticketmaster was $ 10,716 per Friday, according to ticket salesman.

Keith Kunzig, a 53-year-old financial adviser in Tampa who is participating in his second straight Super Bowl, was accompanied by his 21-year-old daughter, Destiny.

“I knocked this off my bucket list to be at home with our Tampa Bay Bucs and my girlfriend. That’s all I can ask,” Kunzig said. “Now we get a victory.”

(REUTERS)