The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 Sunday to win a Super Bowl title and complete the National Football League’s season without any games being canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The usual spectacle surrounding one of the most watched television events of the year was toned down, and the site of the game was more subdued with only 25,000 fans in attendance and the rest of the seats filled with cardboard cutouts. Fans were absent from the seats closest to the field and were spaced apart. Those trying to buy food had to do so without using cash.
Among those who did get to see the game in person were approximately 7,500 health care workers who were among the first in the United States to get COVID-19 vaccines.
“I have to start by saluting all the health care workers here. They’re the real champions,” Buccaneers owner Joel Glazer said after the game.
The events leading up to the game itself were mostly virtual, and access to locker rooms was more limited this year. And while Tampa Bay got the rare chance to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium, the Kansas City team delayed its travel until the day before the game instead of being at the Super Bowl site for about a week.
Minutes before the game began, U.S. President Joe Biden appeared in a video message with his wife, Jill, asking people to observe a moment of silence for the more than 400,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in the United States.
He called the Super Bowl “one of those great American celebrations,” and noted the typical gatherings for the game that are not happening this year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had advised people to find ways to gather virtually for the game and said that if people planned to watch with those not in their household they should do so outdoors, if possible.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor signed an order requiring face masks be worn outdoors in the areas holding Super Bowl events, and indoors when people were not able to socially distance.
With its season over, the NFL has offered the use of its stadiums around the country as COVID-19 vaccination sites. Seven stadiums are already part of that effort. Biden, who pledged to ramp up the U.S. vaccination campaign during his first months in office, said in an interview with CBS, “I’m going to tell my team they’re available and I believe we’ll use them.”
Tampa quarterback Tom Brady was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. It was his fifth time winning the award in ten Super Bowl appearances. The victory also gave him seven championships in his career.
The 43-year-old was in his first season with Tampa Bay after spending his entire career with the New England Patriots. He threw two first-half touchdowns to tight end Rob Gronkowski, another former Patriots player, as the Buccaneers built a 21-6 lead before halftime.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, MVP of last year’s Super Bowl, amassed 270 passing yards, but threw two interceptions as his team’s offense struggled to put together scoring drives. The Chiefs finished with just three field goals and no touchdowns.