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Fan cutouts create surreal, sobering image of Super Bowl 55

Approximately 30,000 coroplast figures are strewn about Raymond James Stadium.
Fans are surrounded by cutouts before Super Bowl 55 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Fans are surrounded by cutouts before Super Bowl 55 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 7
Updated Feb. 7

TAMPA — They beat the sunrise to Raymond James Stadium, by several hours.

Not even the previous night’s squall line — replete with gusts, showers and tornado watches — could dislodge them from the seats they had long since occupied for the most surreal of Super Bowls.

The coroplast images, all 30,000 of them, were cut out — quite literally — for such conditions.

“It was quite the process,” said Jason Baker, director of execution for bluemedia, the Arizona-based national signage company that produced, delivered and installed the cutouts for Super Bowl 55.

“It was a seven-day period for us to do this (installation), working about 12- to 16-hour days.”

Consider the pregame images on this cloudless afternoon: swaying palms, the U.S. Air Force’s tri-bomber formation flyover, Alicia Keys’ pre-recorded rendition of “Lift Every Voice” as both teams stood in their respective end zones, even Miley Cyrus (bedecked in a black-and-hot-pink faux cheerleader outfit) performing White Wedding with 1980s rocker Billy Idol before a completely vaccinated audience on a makeshift stage in the stadium’s south parking lot.

Miley Cyrus, right, and Billy Idol perform before the Kansas City Chiefs play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55.
Miley Cyrus, right, and Billy Idol perform before the Kansas City Chiefs play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55. [ DOUG BENC | AP ]

Few captured the gravitas, persistence and poignance encapsulated in this game — the final one in a non-abbreviated NFL season — quite like the artificial figures composed of non-toxic, waterproof, shockproof, corrosion-resistant material.

“Stadium looks beautiful,” said former Bucs tight end Anthony Becht, who attended the game with his teenaged son Rocco. “All the cutouts spread out around the seats. Everyone did an excellent job.”

The images on the cutouts represented a wide, uplifting spectrum of society: wounded veterans, local health-care workers, social-justice advocates, even youth and high school football players. Each was equipped with an LED pixel that Baker promised would enhance the game’s visual experience as darkness arrived.

All in an effort to simulate the typically over-the-top Super Bowl atmosphere in a season devoid of convention.

“The NFL has done a great job creating a loud and festive pregame atmosphere despite (30,000) cutouts of fans from across the country,” said USF athletic director Michael Kelly, who presided over the host committee when Super Bowl 35 was staged in Tampa. “Pretty cool. Far exceeded my expectations.”

Sunday’s attendance was capped at 24,700 actual humans interspersed among their stationary counterparts. They included the 7,500 vaccinated health-care workers that comprised most of Cyrus’ concert audience.

“We have done this on a smaller scale (for other NFL teams),” said Baker, who estimates the entire project consumed roughly three months. “but not anywhere near tens of thousands for the NFL for obviously the biggest game in sports.”

Afterward, all will be recycled locally, putting a figurative bow on a wholly unique endeavor in a wholly unique season.

“I do hope this is the first and last time we do it for obvious reasons,” Baker said. “But we’re (fortunate) to be in association with our partner (NFL) on this one. It’s an amazing experience.”

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

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Tampa Bay Times Super Bowl 55 coverage

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TUNE IN EARLY: If you want to see Super Bowl 55’s hero, watch the pregame ceremony

SUPER BOWL IN A PANDEMIC: How Tampa Bay is handling Super Bowl and coronavirus

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