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This will be a Super Bowl unlike any other

By WILLIAM HENNELLY in New YORK | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-02-05 11:50

Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Damien Wilson during practice as they prepare for Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Kansas City, US on Feb 4, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Super Bowl Sunday, normally a day bubbling with excitement across the US and overseas, will be quite different this year.

The championship game of the National Football League (NFL), which features the Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus the Kansas City Chiefs, will not be played before a capacity crowd because of social distancing measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

There will be 25,000 fans — and 30,000 cardboard cutouts — in attendance at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, for the 6:30 pm ET game Sunday, the NFL announced Tuesday. The stadium's regular capacity is 65,857.

"The #NFL is providing all 25,000 fans with these free PPE kits upon arrival at the stadium for #SBLV. All personnel and fans, including the 7,500 vaccinated health care heroes who are receiving free tickets from the NFL, will be required to wear face coverings through the game," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy tweeted Tuesday.

The New England Patriots' team plane, dubbed the "AirKraft", will fly 76 healthcare workers to the game as part of an all-expenses-paid trip from team owner Robert Kraft. The workers were chosen from the six New England states. They will board from the same hangar at Logan Airport that received the plane in April when it returned from a mission to China with 1.2 million N95 protective masks.

"Last April, when our plane returned with masks from China, we never could have imagined the devastation this pandemic would cause, nor could we have dreamed of the heroic stories and achievements that have come to be as a result, especially the dedication of health care workers on the front lines and the creation of safe and effective vaccines," Kraft said in a statement.

This will be Super Bowl LV, or 55, as the game has always used Roman numerals to make it stand out.

Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady previously played in nine Super Bowls with the Patriots, winning six, easily the most NFL titles of any quarterback. Brady, 43, is considered the league's GOAT (greatest of all time) quarterback.

The Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions, are led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes. If anyone can someday challenge Brady's Super Bowl ring collection, it could be the 25-year-old Mahomes.

"Twenty, 30, 40, 50 years from now, this is the game people are going to go back to," said football commentator Tony Romo, himself a former NFL quarterback, who will be in the broadcast booth for CBS on Sunday.

It also will be the first time that the quarterbacks who won the previous two Super Bowls will square off, as Brady led the Patriots to victory two years ago over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII (53).

The Buccaneers, coincidentally, will have the home field advantage. No other team has ever played at home in the Super Bowl. The game sites are chosen years in advance and played in recurring, usually warmer or indoor locations, such as in Louisiana, Florida, California, Texas and Arizona.

The Chiefs played in the first Super Bowl in 1967, losing 35-10 to the Green Bay Packers. The game was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a cavernous stadium that opened in 1923, and in 2028, will host the Summer Olympics for a third time. The attendance for Super Bowl I was 61,946, the smallest crowd for the big game — until this year.

Back then, you could show up on game day and buy a ticket for $10. Security measures in today's world, along with ticket inflation, would preclude such carefree activity.

Super Bowl ticket prices now run into the tens of thousands of dollars. On Thursday, they ranged on StubHub.com from about $4,300 a seat for the upper deck to $15,400 for the best field-level seats. The price range was lower than Wednesday's.

The live Pepsi halftime show should provide plenty of excitement as usual, as Grammy Award-winning singer The Weeknd will perform.

But different in tone will be the commercials — which some viewers care more about than the game — and which CBS is charging $5.5 million per 30 seconds of ad time.

The original Budweiser beer, which had been a mainstay of Super Bowl commercials for 37 years, will not have an ad Sunday, although parent Anheuser-Busch InBev will feature some other brands. Coca-Cola, GoDaddy, Hyundai and Walmart also called a timeout on their commercials.

"With COVID and economic uncertainty, people aren't necessarily in the best mood to begin with," said Charles Taylor, marketing professor at Villanova University. "There's a risk associated with messages that are potentially too light. ... At the same time, there's risk associated with doing anything too somber."

Amazon, DoorDash, Chipotle and Uber Eats, companies that have done well during the pandemic, will run commercials, as will Robinhood, the stock-trading platform that has been at the center of the recent GameStop trading frenzy. The Robinhood spot was filmed before the controversy. Facebook, Google and Microsoft also will have ads.

Some other likely changes across the country include those boisterous Super Bowl parties usually replete with buffalo wings, nachos and beer — and quite a few betting pools. A lot of that wagering is expected to move online, with the American Gaming Association estimating a record 7.6 million Americans will bet with online sportsbooks, up 63 percent.

But the get-togethers figure to be subdued this year because of restrictions on large gatherings.

"You don't want parties with people that you haven't had much contact with," Dr Anthony Fauci told NBC's Today show on Wednesday. "You just don't know if they're infected, so, as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it."

"Less people will be talking (about the Super Bowl) at the office on Monday morning, because they're not going to be in the office," Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School, told The New York Times.

Despite all the preconditions, it still comes down to football, and it should be an entertaining game.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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