Scene around the stadium in the hours leading up to the game
The NFL has some issues, but one thing it does well is presentation. And despite the pandemic restrictions limiting seating to 22,000 people sitting in small pods in the stands (plus another 2,700 in suites), the stadium looked full. And resplendent. The lighting, the creative use of 30,000 fan cutouts to fill the open space, and the break of having fans of both teams, and many of the stadium seats, in red made for a good scene. Around RayJay, there were some lines for souvenirs ($45 T-shirts) and concessions ($13-$15 beers, a “fan friendly” $5 hot dog) but plenty of signage and staff to remind of social distancing. The in-stadium performances by H.E.R singing America the Beautiful, followed by Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan teaming on the national anthem, the flyover and the fireworks were all well done. (Same for the staging of the halftime show by The Weeknd in the end zone area, with just the singer and his masked dancers on the field at the end.)
Scene around the area in the days leading up to the game
Trouble seemed on the way as soon as Tampa Mayor Jane Castor on Jan. 25 invited fans to “come on down and experience everything” the area had to offer, then said the key to avoid coronavirus issues would be a matter of “personal responsibility.’' Crowds at events in downtown Tampa during the week were thick but manageable. But distancing and masking issues surfaced on both sides of the bay with parties headlined by entertainers such as 50 Cent, Steve Aoki, Migos and others. Worse, images by Tampa Bay Times photojournalist Luis Santana of Saturday night crowd scene in Ybor City were concerning, to put it mildly. The biggest upset of all may be the Super Bowl not turning into a super spreader event. Check back in 10 days or so for an update.
The Bucs got off to a slow start offensively and looked bad in doing it, a three-and-out and then a Tom Brady sack leading to back-to-back punts. In their next five possessions, they scored four touchdowns and turned the ball over at the 1-yard-line. And on their next, they kicked a field goal. They looked good in doing it, playing a short game, play-action and screen passes. For the game, Brady was 21-of-29 for 201 yards with three touchdown passes, targeting 10 players and connecting with six. And they rushed for 145.
Bucs offense, by the Chiefs
The Bucs got plenty of help in turning things around, the result of a penalty-filled first half by the Chiefs. The result was a record (and head-shaking) six first downs via penalty. The Super Bowl record for a game was four. Brady and Co. were good enough, the Chiefs made it even easier with bad mistakes at terrible times, though some of the calls seemed a bit tough.
To be fair, the Bucs had the benefit of taking advantage of a depleted Chiefs offensive line, the loss of left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles) causing the latest reshuffling. And quarterback Patrick Mahomes was limited mobility-wise at times by a lingering toe injury that may require surgery. The Bucs did a great job, starting with a clever game plan by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who got the rush he needed from the outside linebackers and defensive linemen to not only contain but harass Mahomes, and the deep coverage from the safeties to keep him from making big plays, and no touchdowns. Receiver Tyreek Hill, who torched the Bucs in November with 13 catches for 269 yards and three TDs, was held to seven catches for a pedestrian 73 yards. “Got to give Todd credit, he got us today,’' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
Bucs front office
Not every move Jason Licht and Bruce Arians made worked out. But in the biggest game, they got big contributions from some of the biggest names they added this season — Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, Antonio Brown, plus top draft picks Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr. Maybe next Licht and Arians can give the Glazers some advice on their Manchester United soccer team.
Tampa Bay sports fans
The timing of all Tampa Bay major sports teams advancing to league championships within a few months could not have been better, especially with the Lightning and now Bucs capturing titles. But it also could not have been worse, as fans of the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Rowdies couldn’t enjoy the success anywhere near as much as they would have due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with crowds limited or not allowed. It would be nice to think this could happen again, that Tampa Bay fans could get to truly experience this remarkable turn as Titletown. But also naïve.
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Tampa Bay Times Super Bowl 55 coverage
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