Terra Pinckley was six years old the last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the Super Bowl. He remembers sitting down with his parents, both longtime Bucs supporters, cheering the team to victory and then joining them in the championship parade, where he high-fived then-star fullback Mike Alstott and shook the linebacker’s hand. All-Pro John Lynch. It was a moment that cemented his fandom forever.
In a perfect world, the St. Petersburg native would watch this Sunday’s Super Bowl among hordes of Bucs fans, preferably in a sports bar. But the pandemic has clouded those plans. Your Super Bowl Sunday will take place from the comfort of your own couch.
“I’m still not comfortable with bars and restaurants, especially those kinds of people,” said Pinckley, 24. “It’s not that soccer fans aren’t sure, but it’s just the emotions of the moment. I don’t trust that too much. “
Pinckley’s dilemma will be familiar to thousands of people in the Tampa area, from fans to hospitality workers to politicians: How exactly do you organize – and cheer – America’s largest sporting event during a pandemic?
This year’s Super Bowl is the first time a team will play for the championship at its home stadium (the location of each Super Bowl is decided years in advance). Buccaneers fans who plan to watch the game outside of their homes will have different Super Bowl experiences than in years past. Thursday, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor Issued Executive Order requiring masks to be worn outdoors in most of the city’s hottest venues, including anywhere Super Bowl festivities take place, in addition to a prior order requiring face covering indoors. The city’s bars and restaurants can hold up to 50% of their capacity indoors, but patrons must still wear masks.
The masks ordinance, Castor said, will help ensure that the events surrounding the game take place in the safest way possible. Volunteers will pass out masks throughout the week, reminding people of the rules. And the city will work with local businesses to ensure they are met.
“What we are looking for is education and encouragement,” Castor, a Democrat, told The Guardian in a telephone interview. “And we will communicate the requirement to wear masks outdoors.”
As for those who break those rules?
“At the Riverwalk, we’re going to push them all into the river,” Castor joked, before saying violators who do not comply will receive a citation. “People often look to government and private organizations to take full responsibility. Something as simple as wearing a mask can prevent the transmission and contraction of Covid-19. “
Despite the small number of spectators allowed in the stadium (Sunday’s game will seat 24,700 people out of a typical capacity close to 75,000 for big games) and the fact that the Bucs are playing in their own backyard, Castor expect a large number of viewers. Kansas City Chiefs fans, as well as those not affiliated with either team, will travel to the area.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said that while hosting a Super Bowl during a pandemic brings challenges not common in other years, the league believes their protocols – such as mandatory face covering, physical distancing in common areas, and temperature controls and PPE for all personnel working on the game – should be enough to keep fans safe.
“We critically analyze all of our features to ensure a safe and responsible gaming experience for fans,” McCarthy said. And that starts with parking lots where fans can arrive four or five hours early. [the game] … We spent a lot of time with local, county, state and federal officials, medical experts and public health experts to review our plans, and they provided feedback. ”
Still, those precautions aren’t enough for some fans to feel comfortable venturing into Raymond James Stadium. Kenneth Stewart, president of a local security company and pastor of the Tabernacle of Hope in Tampa, says he will most likely watch the game with a handful of members of his congregation, although he would certainly have bought tickets if not for the pandemic. .
“I’m excited for the first time in history that the host city has its team playing a Super Bowl,” Stewart said. “But you want it to be a Super Bowl and not a super spreader. I think people deserve good news. But you see them celebrating without social distancing, and without a mask. It’s a worrying thing. “
John Currier, the general manager of Ferg’s, a popular sports bar in St Pete, said that after “crowds of people” came to celebrate Tampa’s NFC championship victory last month, his staff implemented different rules for the Super Bowl. To get started, anyone who wants to watch the game from the bar will need to make a deposit to make a reservation. If someone is not wearing a mask indoors or in the backyard, they will not be served, and hired security will ensure that the Covid security protocol is adhered to.
“The whole of last season has been a challenge to separate people and make sure people have masks on and follow the rules. It’s very frustrating, ”Currier said. “There are only people looking to celebrate, and I understand that, but we are still in the middle of a pandemic.”
A similar plan has been launched across the bay at Hattricks Tavern. David Mangione, a bar associate who has served patrons through two World Series, three Stanley Cup Finals and now two Bucs Super Bowls in the last 19 years, says the energy people bring when they come watching a game is electric. He hopes that continues on Sunday, when fans who have reserved tables in advance can see the Bucs.
“We have taken the opportunity to do the right thing,” Mangione said. “We make sure to disinfect, wear masks, do everything we can and we are supposed to do it according to city protocols.”
After welcoming fans to the area’s previous playoff races, Mangione has been able to tailor Ferg’s plans based on what he’s seen. As Castor puts it, no city in the United States has as much experience organizing large-scale events during a pandemic as Tampa. Last fall, both the Rays and Lightning reached the championship rounds of their respective sports, and the Lightning were victorious in the Stanley Cup Finals. And while neither event was held in the Tampa Bay area (the World Series was played in Arlington, Texas, while the Stanley Cup was held in Edmonton, Canada), the Lightning drew massive crowds at home. for a championship parade.
Castor celebrated with fans during The Lightning boat parade across the bay and down the Hillsborough River, standing in front of a police boat with his partner and one of his children, without a mask. Although he says his chances of contracting the virus in that environment were slim, he made a promise that if the Bucs win on Sunday, things will be different at the next parade.
“This time, Castor said,” I’ll wear a mask from sunrise to sunset. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism