Super Bowl in a Pandemic Will Be Different, But Familiar

    05 February 2021

    The 55th Super Bowl is Sunday.

    It is the championship game of the National Football League.

    While the American football game will look mostly the same for sports fans watching on television, many things will be different this year with the coronavirus health crisis.

    Patrick Mahomes, left, and Tom Brady, right, are two of the most important players in Sunday's Super Bowl. (Photos by Jamie Squire and Stacy Revere / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)
    Patrick Mahomes, left, and Tom Brady, right, are two of the most important players in Sunday's Super Bowl. (Photos by Jamie Squire and Stacy Revere / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

    The defending champion Kansas City Chiefs play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    When the season started in September, people were not sure the Super Bowl would happen.

    Some games were delayed when players and coaches tested positive for the virus. One team, the Cleveland Browns, played an important game without their coach. Another team, the Denver Broncos, had to play without their most important players – the quarterbacks.

    But eventually, all the games were played.

    A mostly empty stadium

    The Super Bowl will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida where the Buccaneers play their home games. It is the first time a team will play the Super Bowl in their own stadium.

    Normally, the game has about 65,000 fans in attendance. This year, only 25,000 are permitted to attend the game.

    The event will be an important test to see how well public health officials can manage a large event with people coming from all around the country.

    Allen Sills is the NFL's chief medical officer. He said the league will have tough policies to prevent fans from interacting with each other.

    Some will be healthcare workers who already received a vaccine for the coronavirus. But all will be required to wear masks, sit in small groups, and observe social distancing.

    On the field, the players do not have to wear masks. But when they are not in the game, they are supposed to keep their faces covered.

    In most years, players talk to reporters, hold training sessions and attend parties before the game. All of these events are either canceled or being held by video call.

    Even with the rules, a professor of public health from the nearby University of South Florida wondered if the Super Bowl would become an event that spreads the virus.

    Jay Wolfson told the Reuters News Agency the game is "a natural breeding ground for community spread."

    Famous quarterbacks

    The game will have two great quarterbacks – one who is at the beginning of his career and one who is near the end.

    Patrick Mahomes is 25 years old. He has been the quarterback for Kansas City for three seasons. He helped the Chiefs win the Super Bowl last year.

    The quarterback from Tampa Bay is Tom Brady. He is 43. He played most of his career with the New England Patriots from the state of Massachusetts.

    During his time with the Patriots, Brady won six Super Bowls, more than any other quarterback in the game's history. This is his first season with Tampa Bay.

    A number of firsts

    Professional football is a sport played by men. But this year, one of the seven officials on the field who runs the game and makes sure players follow the rules will be a woman. She is Sarah Thomas. It is the first time a female official will be at the Super Bowl.

    In addition, there will be two women helping to coach the Tampa Bay team. They are Maral Javadifar and Lori Locust. Javadifar's mother grew up in Iran. Locust loved football as a girl growing up in Pennsylvania.

    Both women said they are aware that they are among the first in their profession to be in the Super Bowl.

    "But it's not anything that we kind of keep in the forefront of what we do on a daily basis," said Locust.

    Last year, Katie Sowers of the San Francisco 49ers became the first woman to coach in the Super Bowl.

    More than just a game, an event

    The game should be exciting. But the Super Bowl is also known for being an "event." People watch the game to see the halftime performance and new television commercials.

    The Canadian singer known as The Weeknd will perform for the 12-minute long halftime show. He said recently the show is designed to be fun for people watching on television, since there will not be as many people watching in person.

    The Super Bowl commercials are important for many companies that want to reach people. They cost about $5 million for just 30 seconds. This year, big companies like Budweiser and Pepsi are reducing their advertising during the game.

    Sometimes the Super Bowl ads try to be funny.

    But one analyst warned that it is risky to make a funny commercial during an international health crisis.

    Music star Dolly Parton will also be in one of the commercials. The country singer and songwriter was in the news last year after making a $1 million donation to fund research for a coronavirus vaccine.

    The Super Bowl starts at 23:30 UTC on Sunday.

    I'm Caty Weaver and I'm Dan Friedell

    Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English based on reporting from the Associated Press and Reuters. Hai Do was the editor.

    Will you pay attention to the Super Bowl this year? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.


    Words in This Story

    coach- n. a person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer

    positive - n. showing the presence of a particular germ, condition, or substance

    stadium - n. a very large usually roofless building that has a large open area surrounded by many rows of seats and that is used for sports events, concerts, etc.

    mask - n. a covering for your face or for part of your face

    breeding ground- n. a place or situation that helps or allows something to grow, develop, etc.

    forefront- n. the most important part or position — usually singular

    commercial- n. an advertisement on radio or television