Remote: (adj.) Far apart; situated at some distance away.
Welcome to Super Bowl 2021, the first remote Super Bowl. And, hopefully, the last remote Super Bowl.
Yes, the two teams that made it this far, the Chiefs and the Buccaneers, will get together on the field Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Until then, though, there is absolutely nothing about what is set to transpire this week that will be normal, familiar or desired, when it comes to the usual lead-in to hype to the big game. The pandemic made sure of that. The Bucs will be in Tampa all week, of course, but the Chiefs will not arrive in the host city until Saturday, making this feel like an ordinary game in October and not anything very “super’’ at all.
That wild scene at Media Day, with real journalists mixing with fringe types in wedding dresses and superhero costumes? Not this year. The mass interview sessions in cavernous ballrooms and hotel banquet halls? Nope. Super Bowl LV should be sponsored by Zoom, given how often players and coaches will come at you through laptop screens. Everyone strengthen your Wifi and, please, unmute only when called upon to do so!
Nevertheless, the game will go on. Here are 10 storylines expected to dominate what figures to be an unusual week:
A Certain Quarterback
Tom Brady. Tom Brady. Tom Brady. Tom Brady. Tom Brady. Tom Brady, Tom Brady, Tom Brady. Tom Brady. Tom Brady. That’s 10 mentions, one for every Super Bowl he has been to in his 21-year career. In some ways, though, this is No. 1 for Brady, as it is his first Super Bowl without the Patriots and Bill Belichick. The whole Greatest Of All Time dialogue is getting rather moot. If Brady wins this one with the Buccaneers, consider the discussion over and done with, for good.
A Certain Other Quarterback
It is silly hearing these comparisons of Patrick Mahomes and Brady, as if such a young guy (Mahomes is 25) nearing the end of his fourth NFL season can ever catch up to what such an older guy (Brady is 43) has accomplished. Let’s revisit this in about a decade, OK? For now, Mahomes is the most fun and formidable player in the NFL and might top the list as the athlete you must never miss in action, or else risk hearing about something miraculous he pulled on the field.
Where’s the Buzz?
The influx of fans from all over the world will not be there. The bars and restaurants in downtown Tampa will not be teeming, at all. There is no massive Media Center in the Tampa Convention Center. No Radio Row with talking heads, former athletes and celebrities wandering around and babbling nonstop. No after-hour parties sponsored by the likes of Playboy or Maxim. There are no mass gatherings in the age of COVID-19. A week of Super Bowl hysteria and a pandemic do not mix. It will be strange. And quiet.
Bets of all shapes and sizes, point spreads, exotic prop bets, this is nothing new for a Super Bowl. You want to wager on the identity of the Most Valuable Player? Patrick Mahomes is the favorite, at odds of 5-6. Tom Brady (9-4) is next. Here is a first, though. The Over/Under for players missing the game due to COVID-19 is 1.5, according to BetOnLine. Talk about a sobering reality check.
This never happened in the first 54 Super Bowls. The Buccaneers will play this game on their home field, Raymond James Stadium, and no team has ever played a home game in the Super Bowl. The closest we have come to this was back in Super Bowl XIV, when the Rams faced the Steelers at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. about 11 miles from Los Angeles. Alas, this will not be a wild home-field advantage, as only 22,000 fans will be allowed in deference to social distancing.
New York State of Mind
There is a decidedly New York/New Jersey flair to what will go down on defense. Buccaneers defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, was the Jets head coach from 2015-18 and was 24-40 in a rough four-year stay. Steve Spagnuolo runs the Chiefs defense, just as he did for the Giants in 2007 (when he won the Super Bowl) and 2008 and again from 2015-17, including a four-game stint as the interim head coach to close out the 2017 season. Bowles and Spagnuolo are likeable coaching veterans engendering good feelings from so many of their former players.
Best of the Best
Rob Gronkowski is not close to what he once was in his heyday with the Patriots, but he does provide a comfort zone for Tom Brady as the duo looks to complete their first year with the Bucs with another ring. For now, the tight end crown is worn by Travis Kelce, an unstoppable force and yet another weapon for Mahomes. The Bucs counter with quality linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David, making this somewhat of a fair fight and a key matchup.
Andy Reid’s place in NFL history is secure and there is no way he will be denied Hall of Fame selection after winning his first Super Bowl last year. If he wins another? Wow. The Chiefs would be the first repeat champions in 16 years, since the Patriots did it in 2003 and 2004. If this happens, they will build a statue (a big statue) of him in Kansas City, where Reid is 91-37 in his eight years in red.
Sarah Thomas, a 43-year old from Pascagoula, Miss., makes history as the first woman official to ever work a Super Bowl when she takes the field on Sunday. She became an NFL official in 2015 and rose through the ranks. She will take her place in Super Bowl LV on Carl Cheffers’ officiating crew.
Bucs Lead the Way
Diversity in the NFL is once more up for debate, with Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy again closed out when it came to filling any head-coaching vacancy. The Buccaneers this week will gain deserved attention for the way head coach Bruce Arians assembled his staff. It includes two women (assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar) and all of Arians’ top coordinators — Byron Leftwich (offense), Bowles (defense), Keith Armstrong (special teams) and Harold Goodwin (assistant head coach), are African American.