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Super Bowl week in the time of COVID-19 kicks off in Tampa

Last Updated Feb 1, 2021 at 7:46 am PDT

FILE - Raymond James Stadium. (Courtesy Facebook/Raymond James Stadium)

Super Bowl week kicks off on Monday amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Many of those who will be in attendance for Sunday's big game will be health-care workers

NFL's marquee event will look very different this year due to the pandemic

TAMPA BAY (NEWS 1130) – All eyes will be on Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay Sunday, although this year only about 22,000 sets of them will watch the hometown Buccaneers and defending champion Kansas City Chiefs contest Super Bowl LV in person.

Sunday’s big game will be the first since Super Bowl I not to sell out, but also the first to be held in the throes of a global pandemic.

Many of those in attendance Sunday will be front-line, health-care workers. Commissioner Roger Goodell says the move to recognize these people is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination.

Each of the NFL’s 32 teams will be represented in the stadium, but the majority will come from the Tampa area. Hillsborough County has seen about 1,300 COVID-19 deaths, and over 100,000 confirmed cases since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Super Bowl week is usually a circus. Hordes of fans, media and A-listers descend on a city for seven days of interviews, festivals and, of course, parties.

The focus is on the virtual experience this year.

The Kansas City Chiefs won’t even arrive in Tampa until Friday or Saturday, and the big kickoff event Monday, Super Bowl Media Day, will be conducted via Zoom.

Meanwhile, players are being tested twice a day.

The NFL’s fan festival, the Super Bowl Experience, is all outdoors this year. That works in a state that is forecasting temperatures in the high teens and low 20s this week.

The league’s promotional material highlights the fact many of the activities on offer are on screen.

But amid all the differences, there will still be zany commercials this year, and even some CanCon at half time. This year’s intermission concert is being headlined by Toronto’s The Weeknd.

The 60 minutes of football Sunday promises to be entertaining, too.

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will be the first team to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium, and the quarterbacking matchup between Brady and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes is a tantalizing one.

The 43-year-old Brady is making his tenth Super Bowl appearance, while Mahomes was named MVP in Kansas City’s Super Bowl LIV victory one year ago