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How Derrick Brooks and his Tampa Bay team are preparing for Super Bowl 55

One year from Friday, the Super Bowl kicks off at Raymond James Stadium. You won’t believe how the event has grown since it was last in Tampa Bay.

MIAMI — Derrick Brooks was in no hurry. While passengers scurried about Ft. Lauderdale International Airport last week, the Bucs Hall of Fame linebacker walked through the concourse intent on sign stealing like the Houston Astros.

He made notes of where the banners had been strategically placed welcoming passengers to the Super Bowl.

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He even examined what volunteers greeting the arriving fans were wearing.

Brooks, Tampa Bay’s No. 55, is the co-chairman for the host committee of Super Bowl 55, which will be played one year from today at Raymond James Stadium.

The Hall of Fame linebacker made a reputation for being prepared on the NFL’s biggest Sunday and excelled with one of five interceptions in the Bucs’ 48-21 win over the Raiders in Super Bowl 37.

No detail is too small when hosting a week-long celebration as big as the one coming to Tampa Bay on Feb. 7, 2021.

“When I got there, I was kind of in the same realm as a doing a scouting report as if I were getting ready for an opponent,’’ Brooks said. "I started taking notes on how the airport looked and how it felt. Is it welcoming? I looked at the positioning of volunteers, how they were dressed and the directional signs.

"Did they tell you where to go? They were speaking Spanish and that made me make a note about the need for bilingual volunteers. I took a lot of notes.’’

Make no mistake, this isn’t the same event hosted by Tampa Bay in 2009. It seems so long ago that they were together, the Super Bowl and Tampa Bay, that they may not recognize each other. Both have grown dramatically.

This will be Tampa Bay’s fifth Super Bowl and the third at Raymond James Stadium.

The game originally was awarded to Los Angeles. But heavy rains in the spring of 2017 delayed the opening of the new SoFi Stadium, home to the Rams and Chargers, from 2019 until 2020. Because the NFL mandates that a stadium must be in use for two years before it can host a Super Bowl, Tampa Bay was awarded the game as the replacement host city while Los Angeles will host Super Bowl 56 in Feb. 2022.

Typically, a host city would have 5-7 years to prepare for a Super Bowl. Tampa Bay was awarded Super Bowl 55 just three years, three months and 20 days before the game.

“Definitely a tighter turn when it comes to it,’’ said Rob Higgins, the executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and CEO of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee. “As a host, you always like to take advantage of as much time as possible just to give you more time to prepare, but we feel good where we’re at on it at this point in time but a lot of work ahead, too.’’

Super Bowl week has mushroomed to an unimaginable size and scope in just over a decade since Tampa Bay hosted the NFL’s and one of the world’s most-watched events.

It begins with the Super Bowl Experience, where fans can punt, pass and kick their way through a massive carnival of games and exhibitions. The experience, which costs $20 to $40 for day passes in Miami and $50 for all sessions, is typically stored inside a convention center.

The NFL has created Super Bowl Opening Night, a distant relative to media day where both teams are introduced before fielding questions from reporters. Fans can listen to interviews of their favorite coaches and players through radios that are provided during the two-hour event. For Super Bowl 55, Opening Night will be held at Amalie Arena.

At Super Bowl 54 in Miami, events were spread from Broward County to Miami Beach.

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“I think you’re going to have a very interesting dichotomy coming a year from now,’’ Higgins said. "You’re going to have all these people who are blown away by how far our community has come since 2009 and then you’re going to have our community that is blown away by how much the Super Bowl has evolved in the last 12 years, too. I call it shock and awe.

“Naturally, we’re really excited about that convergence but for our community, it’s not just showcasing where our community has come the last 12 years, it’s about where we’re headed as a community. Previewing our next chapter. There’s so much excitement about our community’s future that this is the biggest and best platform we’ll ever have to share with the world.’’

Fortunately, new venues have bloomed in Tampa Bay and created gathering spots like Riverwalk and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park along the Hillsborough River. Two downtown hotels will serve as the league headquarters: the Marriott Water Street and the adjacent J.W. Marriott, set to open in September. Both belong to Jeffrey Vinik, the Lightning owner who has developed Sparkman Wharf, near Amalie Arena. Down the river is Armature Works in Tampa Heights.

"Just because you may not have a ticket to the game, it doesn’t mean you can’t make Super Bowl memories,’’ Higgins said.

All those venues must have security, which requires a massive commitment of state and local law enforcement working with the FBI and Homeland Security to ensure public safety. According to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, human trafficking was not a big concern around this game a decade ago. It is now.

Super Bowl 43, the last to be hosted by Tampa Bay, was dubbed “the Recession Bowl” as it occurred at the height of an economic downturn and the mortgage crisis. Many parties were canceled. There also were 200 fewer journalists covering the game from the previous year. Tickets with a face value of $500 sold for an average of $2,500 on the secondary market, representing a 40 percent drop from the previous Super Bowl. All three automakers declined to purchase television ads, which cost $3 million for a 30-second spot. For Super Bowl 54, that same commercial cost $5-million to 5.6 million.

Raymond James Stadium, which was built in 1998, has undergone some dramatic changes as well. There’s been $160 million in renovations, most of it paid for by the Glazer family which owns the Bucs. Everything from new video scoreboards, sound system, refurbished club and sky suites, chair backs, retrofitted concession areas and a new team store.

By the time the game is played, the stadium will have new LED lights for the playing field.

“We would never have gotten this Super Bowl if it wasn’t for those enhancements,’’ Bucs COO Brian Ford said.

Tampa Bay has been fortunate with the game itself. Who can forget Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood and his wide-left miss to make the New York Giants winners in Super Bowl 25? Or Trent Dilfer’s return as the quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, who demolished the New York Giants? Or Santonio Holmes’ toe-tapping touchdown catch on a pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 35 seconds left to make the Steelers 27-23 winners over the Cardinals in Super Bowl 43?

“The game is still played on a 100-yard field on white lines,’’ Brooks said. “I can’t affect that outcome one way or another anymore. But we can make sure all the details are buttoned up for the two teams playing in it so that we are not being a distraction in terms of our lack of preparation.’’

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