So it’s Super Bowl Sunday this weekend, and we’re still living in pandemic time. Do we even remember the “before time” anymore? And yet, this will be only the second Super Bowl played during the pandemic. Super Bowl 54 was played in Miami on Feb. 2, 2020, and the pandemic wasn’t declared until the next month.
As in all things, we know that this too shall pass — the pandemic, that is. And measured by Super Bowl time, maybe it hasn’t been as long as it seems. After all, Tampa Bay Bucs (former) quarterback Tom Brady didn’t age at all, did he? Remember, the guy’s entire stint with the Bucs came during the pandemic. A short Bucs career but lifelong memories. And the Bucs, of course, won the only Super Bowl so far played during COVID.
The rest of us have aged a lot. Even as the Tampa Bay community rooted for the Bucs (Super Bowl champions!), the Lightning (Stanley Cup champions!) and the Rays (well, they played pretty darned well), we all lived through something that our kids and grandkids will tell their kids and grandkids about — a pandemic that touched us all and changed our lives. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, never to be repeated. We hope. Many of us caught COVID. We all know friends and relatives who got sick, maybe deathly ill — and too many we lost. About 66,500 Floridians have already died, and omicron is staying around a lot longer and is deadlier than people had hoped. COVID has claimed more than 900,000 Americans, and that number will reach more than 1 million sometime in the next few months.
That’s the most Americans killed by a single event, more than died in the Great Influenza of 1918-19, more than died in the Civil War. And it’s not over.
We’ve seen miracles. We saw the fastest-ever development of vaccines that kept untold numbers of people out of the intensive care unit or the morgue. That same mRNA vaccine technology can be repurposed in the future to fight other viruses and pathogens. In just a few months, we learned how to help COVID patients with effective treatments, and we know a lot more about how to prevent its transmission in the first place.
Yes, our country is still divided, and it’s pollyanna-ish to pretend otherwise. But through the entire pandemic, a remarkable number of Americans have come together to do the right thing again and again to help keep others safe and to care for those who couldn’t care for themselves. Perhaps Super Bowl Sunday is a good time to remind each other that we’re on the same team — and, to borrow a collegiate sports term, that we’re All Americans.
And while the Bucs and Brady won’t be on the field Sunday, there’s a young quarterback named Joe Burrow who could teach us a pandemic lesson or two. He was a star high school quarterback in Ohio — he led his team to playoff victories for the first time in school history — but was stuck riding the bench for Ohio State. Rather than give up, he graduated in three years and transferred to Louisiana State, where he earned a master’s, won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship. His heartfelt Heisman speech wasn’t about football. It was about poverty in his Appalachian home region, which prompted people to donate more than $500,000 to a food pantry there. He’ll be the Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Sunday. You don’t have to root for the Bengals to root for him. Oh, every NFL down he’s played has been during the pandemic because he’s only been in the league for two years.
Brady, 44, retired at the top of his game, and Burrow, 25, is just starting out in the NFL, but it’s already easy to see the grit that will see him through. During pandemic times, maybe those two — the old man who seems young and the young man who seems wise beyond his years — hold lessons for us all in how to live and play with grace. You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate that. The pandemic changed how they played, and it changed how we live. When we come out on the other side, our lives will be different, our perspectives will be altered, and then two years may seem like both an eternity and a blink of the eye. Meantime, we all could use a diversion. Please pass the dip.
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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.