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Bucs benefit from ultimate Super Bowl home-field advantage ... or will they?

The players have slept in their own beds all week. Then again, so have the Chiefs.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) crashes into Chiefs free safety Daniel Sorensen following a reception during Kansas City's win in November at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) crashes into Chiefs free safety Daniel Sorensen following a reception during Kansas City's win in November at Raymond James Stadium. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 6
Updated Feb. 7

Their full-circle odyssey is uprecedented. The intangible of familiarity afforded them never has been felt by any other team in more than a half-century of Super Bowls.

They’re playing H-O-R-S-E on their own hoop, street hockey on their own driveway. No one understands the nuances of the Raymond James Stadium sod and sight lines better than these guys, who technically could walk to work Sunday night.

The Bucs are welcoming the world to their backyard for Super Bowl 55.

“That’s pretty incredible,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said.

On the surface, anyway.

In a conventional year, the Bucs would possess an unquantifiable benefit from being the first team in the Super Bowl’s 55-year history to play the game in its home stadium. One can’t dismiss the advantage of preserving the rhythm of your normal game-week routine, especially before the season’s biggest contest.

“It’s really, really amazing to just be in our facility, be in our locker room, on the practice field, same drive to work every single day,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “Being able to stay in that routine has been critical, because normally you’re jumping on a plane.”

But convention fled society some time last March. Now, the benefits are blurred.

Because of this Super Bowl’s improvised logistics due to the coronavirus, any home-field advantage may be neutralized. The Chiefs — as a pandemic precaution — have remained home all week and don’t arrive in Tampa until Saturday afternoon.

Normally, they would’ve arrived Monday evening, just as the typical Super Bowl trappings (i.e. lavish parties, concerts) commence. This time around, those pitfalls are bypassed.

For all intents, this is a regular road trip for the Chiefs, who are 8-0 on the road this season and 17-1 away from Arrowhead Stadium in the past two years.

“I would think Kansas City playing this the way that they are, coming in on Saturday (afternoon), are devoid of all the distractions as opposed to Tampa, who’s actually in the home city,” said former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, now a studio analyst for CBS Sports.

“So that’s a unique situation for them, and we all know as players and coaches ... that the distractions usually happen when you’re at home. Everybody wants tickets, everybody wants access, everybody wants a piece of you.”

But while the Chiefs are spared such distractions, so are the Bucs. Both teams’ media obligations have been fulfilled via Zoom all week, and because of COVID-19 concerns, attendance for the game will be capped at 24,700, which includes 7,500 free tickets for vaccinated health care workers.

“If you talk with NFL guys ... privately they will tell you the ticket situation for big games can sap your play bigger than anything if you don’t handle it the right way, because it just keeps coming,” said Charles Davis, veteran NFL analyst for CBS.

“You hear from your eighth cousin that you haven’t seen since you were 3 when you go to the Super Bowl. That’s how it works. But in this situation, they don’t have these things.”

Tickets, temptations, time demands — all practically negated for both teams during this, the most surreal of Super Bowls. So what’s the advantage for the Bucs?

Familiarity with the field, perhaps (though the Chiefs topped Tampa Bay, 27-24 at Raymond James Stadium in November) and a far shorter commute to work.

“There’s a lot that comes along throughout this week,” Gronkowski said.

“I’ve been there before, I’ve experienced it all before, but just to have it at home, cutting out the travel, just knowing where to stay, where your friends can stay, where your family can stay — it just makes it a lot easier to have it at your home stadium big-time.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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Tampa Bay Times Super Bowl 55 coverage

TIMELINE: How the Bucs and Tampa converged for Super Bowl 55

ATTENTION SUPER BOWL VISITORS: Here’s our guide to Tampa Bay’s socially distanced attractions

PARTY PLANNING IN A PANDEMIC: How to host a safe Super Bowl party

FANS IN TAMPA: A first look inside the Super Bowl Experience in Tampa

MORE BUCS PHOTOS: Follow the Tampa Bay Times Bucs coverage on Instagram

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