Super Bowl LV will be more than a battle between two of the premier quarterbacks in the National Football League.
The crown jewel of American sports will be played today at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, which, like many sporting venues around the country, has been doubling as a coronavirus testing site during the pandemic — a stark reminder this will be no ordinary Super Sunday.
In fact, the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will cap an extraordinary NFL season that saw 262 players and 463 coaches and other personnel test positive for the coronavirus, players and teams sanctioned for violating pandemic protocols, and games reshuffled after outbreaks.
The last time the Super Bowl was played at Raymond James Stadium, in 2009, there were 70,774 fans in the stands as the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals.
Today, there will only be about 25,000 fans in attendance, including 7,500 vaccinated health care workers invited as guests of the league, amid concerns about exposure to the coronavirus.
The NFL has said health care workers will be recognized with tributes in the stadium and during the broadcast on CBS.
"These dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude. We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes," Goodell said.
Fans will receive a giveaway for the pandemic era: Free PPE kits, including masks, wipes and hand sanitizer.
Tampa Bay, led by 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, will be the first team to host a Super Bowl in their stadium.
"A home Super Bowl for the first time in NFL history, I think, puts a lot of cool things in perspective," said Brady, who will be making a record 10th career Super Bowl appearance. "Any time you're the first time doing something, it's usually a pretty good thing."
The Chiefs, led by 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes, look to become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since Brady and the Patriots did it in 2003 and 2004.
Sarah Thomas will become the first woman to be part of the officiating crew for a Super Bowl game. She will be the down judge in the crew of eight officials.
Thomas had already made history when she was named the first permanent female NFL official in 2015 and became the first female to officiate an NFL playoff game in 2019.
The Weeknd will perform during a halftime musical show that will take place in different parts of the stadium. — CNN