One of the hallmarks of a Super Bowl is that everything feels supersized — the signage, the noise, the media contingent, the security detail, the revelry. How odd is this week? Brady was happy that even his own family isn’t in town, leaving him alone to prepare.
Indeed, the most noticeable difference about Tampa this week is the absence of crowds — particularly those who arrive late in the week for several nights of bashes before the game. Autograph seekers, who usually cluster around the biggest hotels waiting for players to emerge, have been sparse here, like those they seek.
The NFL knew almost immediately after the country began its shutdown in March that the Super Bowl would be different in some form — it was just a question of how different. Throughout the summer and fall, there were various scenarios — including if an 18th week got added to the regular season, if the Super Bowl itself had to be moved, and if there was no bye week before the game. The NFL was focused, though, on playing the game on schedule, with many of the events that normally fill the rest of the week in a build-up to the game changing significantly. The focus, O’Reilly said, was to get the core right — game day and the experience for the two teams, the television broadcast on CBS, and then to look at each of the pieces that surround the game to determine what could be modified and what had to go. Community charitable events survived, with some of them, including NFL Play 60 for children, going virtual. NFL Honors, the league’s awards show shifted from being in-person on the night before the game to being taped early for television purposes. The glitzy hospitality events are out.
It was determined months ago that whoever the Super Bowl teams were, they would not spend the week living and practicing in the Super Bowl city, the better to keep them isolated in their season-long COVID routine. The Chiefs will arrive in town on Saturday, making this like any other road trip.
With all interviews being conducted virtually this week as they have been all season, the thousands-strong media horde from around the world has been whittled down to just a few hundred, a number now bulked up by the dozens of local Florida reporters added to cover the Bucs’ breakthrough. The winnowing meant, particularly for the Opening Night sessions, less of the zaniness that has made that a crossover hit for even the most casual fans. Players often take videos of the circus while they themselves are being photographed at Opening Night. But this year, like Brady, players sat alone in front of cameras and ring lights for their interviews this week. The technology worked seamlessly, but there were no people dressed as brides and superheroes or bearing puppets, rendering this just another press conference. Patrick Mahomes still got asked what his spirit animal was (wolf), but what passed for a controversial quote was Tampa Bay’s pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul saying he didn’t know who Mike Remmers, the Chiefs’ left tackle, is.
Radio row — a magnet for former and current players, pitchmen and celebrities and the fans who want to see them — is drastically slimmed down, too, and there is no fan access. On one afternoon this week, the media center, which is usually jammed with reporters, radio hosts and their guests, was mostly deserted, and inevitably, the buzz that usually builds as the city fills up has been muted.
The biggest event for most fans, though, survived the changes. The Super Bowl Experience, the NFL’s version of a carnival which is usually staged inside a convention center, was already scheduled to largely be set outdoors along the river here. That made it safe enough to let it proceed with limits on how many fans can be inside at a time and with everyone wearing masks. Last weekend and in the last few days, filled with kids attempting field goals and running 40-yard dashes, it looked as normal as anything about this season has.