SOCIAL DISTANCING AT HOME — It took 102 years for the next global pandemic to come around.
But it took only 55 years for the NFL to get its first Super Bowl team to be playing in its home stadium.
Around these parts, the talk is still all about Tom Brady, almost a year after he forsook the one and only team he has played for all his 20 years in the NFL. Brady took his act to Tampa Bay and turned the Buccaneers into an 11-5 team that on Sunday earned the right to go to Super Bowl LV with a 31-26 win over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Despite throwing three interceptions, Brady will be going to his tenth Super Bowl thanks largely to the play of his defense, even though the media will no doubt exalt Brady for pulling off still another incredible stunt.
Brady now gets his fifth matchup against his heir apparent to the top of the NFL quarterback brethren, Patrick Mahomes. The Kansas City Chiefs will make their second straight Super Bowl appearance, thanks to a 38-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The two legendary quarterbacks (and yes, it is proper to call the youthful Mahomes “legendary”) have split the first four meetings, one of them a 37-31 overtime win by the Patriots at Arrowhead two years ago in the AFC Championship Game.
Mahomes has a chance to be the first quarterback since Brady to lead his team to two straight Super Bowl wins. Brady turned the trick in Super Bowl XXXVIII and Super Bowl XXXIX, the latter against his Super Bowl coaching opponent, Andy Reid (he was the Eagles head coach in 2004). But given all the historical implications surrounding this game, Brady gets most of the spotlight, as if he needs any more than he has received over the years.
First of all, anytime Tampa Bay has success, it’s newsworthy. This is only the second Super Bowl ever for the team with the worst regular season win percentage in the Super Bowl era. The Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII (the only one in a four-year stretch not won by the Patriots). This is a franchise that lost its first 26 games since its inception in 1976.
So how strange it is that it is Tampa Bay, of all teams, to finally become the first NFL team to play in a Super Bowl in its home stadium. The 1979 Rams and the 1984 49ers played their Super Bowl games in their home region, but not in their home stadiums. It took the 55th edition of this game to finally get a team playing at home for the Vince. Tampa Bay. Those of you old enough to remember those 26 losses have to be as amazed as Yours Truly.
But the NFL has a whole new can of worms to peruse over, and it has nothing to do with wearing facemasks or staying six feet apart.
Facing a global pandemic is hard enough for the biggest sporting event of the year. Add to this that now the NFL has to deal with the unprecedented fact that one of the participating teams will be playing in its home stadium, and you have a bunch of situations that could and may arise. And you can bet that Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, whose father’s name adorns the trophy his team won Sunday, will be keeping a close eye on things, especially to make sure that the Buccaneers do not gain any special competitive advantage by the fact that they are at home.
It is incumbent upon Roger Goodell and his minions to make sure this game is as competitive as possible. But he also has to make sure that Raymond James Stadium remains as neutral as possible. Put yourself in the eyes of Chief fans. What will they think if their team feels like it is playing a road game against hostile fans?
That said, here are some such cases of what the NFL may or will have to deal with that has never come up before:
Does Tampa Bay have to use the visiting locker room if they are the visiting team instead of their own locker room, because it is their home stadium?
This is one issue the NFL gets a pass on. This is a year in which the NFC team is the designated home team. An educated guess from this writer: If Tampa Bay was the visiting team, it would be required to use the visitor locker room. Remember, the site has to be completely neutral.
What about ticket sales? Will a disproportionate amount of tickets be made available to local Tampa Bay fans?
Reports indicate that 22,000 fans will be allowed in the stadium on game day. The NFL is responsible for the distribution of those tickets. Each competing team gets an allotment of tickets. But even in normal years, equity in fans is hardly guaranteed. Because there are so few indigenous Rams fans nationwide (and also in the Los Angeles area, trust me), the Patriots must have felt that Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta was a home game two years ago.
This year is strange, not that you don’t already know. If local Tampa-St. Petersburg ticket brokers get a hold of tickets, expect sales to be brisk and the balance of fans could tip towards the Buccaneers, and tip greatly. Only 22K people will be allowed, and that may also be affected by who can travel to Tampa. So there is a chance that the crowd will be decidedly partisan for the home team.
What about the NFC hotel headquarters? If the Buccaneers don’t need the hotel, then what?
The NFC headquarters, the Grand Hyatt, must have executives on suicide watch. Unless Bruce Arians wants his team in one place, or if the NFL orders the Hyatt to be a “bubble” and says that the Bucs must stay there, the Hyatt is out a ton of money. Perhaps contingency plans were in place to make sure the hotel gets something out of this in case it is not needed. That said, this is one area in which Hunt has no gripe, since it is not his problem nor will it affect the outcome of the game.
What about practice facilities? If Kansas City can’t arrive in town until next Friday, is it fair if Tampa Bay works out at their own facility?
Hunt would have a great deal to say about this. It just so happens that the Buccaneers’ practice site, the Advent Health Training Center, is the official NFC practice site. But the Bucs are already there, and Kansas City won’t have access to their site, the University of South Florida, until Friday due to COVID restrictions. Does this give Tampa Bay an unfair advantage? If Goodell believes so, then what?
One such solution would be to let Kansas City come either next Sunday or Monday as usual, since it was not known when these plans were made that Tampa Bay would be one of the participating teams. It does subject the Chiefs to greater risk of either catching the novel coronavirus, or being exposed to someone who tested positive. As much as the NFL would love to have you believe that they have done well in the battle against COVID-19, the record does not bear that out. If the Chiefs complain loudly enough, look for the NFL to waive the Friday arrival rule and allow the Chiefs to come to town at the normal time. To do otherwise would allow Tampa Bay more uninterrupted practice time, and give the Chiefs less time to acclimate to the warmer and more humid Florida weather.
Finally, cut and dry, it’s their turf. Their home. Their crib.
We have nothing to compare this to. This is something new. Will simply being at home, with all other things being equal, be a major advantage for Brady and the Bucs?
The 1979 Rams played Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, but they played their home games at the LA Coliseum. The 1984 49ers played at Candlestick Park, but played Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium some 30 miles to the south in Palo Alto. The Rams lost and the Niners won. This is different. Tampa Bay will be at home. The pirate ship will be there, although likely not used during the game.
This is one area where Mahomes will need to play like Mahomes and overcome the feeling they will get as being a visiting team rather than a neutral team. The Chiefs are pursuing NFL history in their own right, as are Brady and his team. The Chiefs are trying to win two in a row. But they will have to do it against a guy in his tenth Super Bowl, playing in his home stadium.
The Tampa Bay Bucs. The first Super home team. Hard to figure. Founding Bucs head coach John McKay was once asked about the execution of his offense.
His answer? “I’m in favor of it!”
Posted Under: NFL Commentary
Tags: Super Bowl Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tom Brady