Every sports league to finish the grisly pandemic season has allowed itself a victory lap. Leading up to the Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell touted the league’s adherence to those holy protocols and select medical experts, who advised the ill-fated season to continue on unabated. Although the big game established some safeguards — stadium at one-third capacity, with masks required and thousands of cardboard cutouts — it was incredibly naive to imagine this translating beyond the gates.
As celebration videos surfaced from the Tampa Bay streets, it appeared there wasn’t much of a pandemic happening in the mind of rowdy Buccaneers fans. The Super Bowl celebrations are usually the most lawless component of the Super Bowl experience — the Eagles fan who ate horse shit a few years ago, fans hanging from awnings and causing mayhem without the pearl-clutching that, say, a protest might inspire. But the pandemic specter makes this feel demonstrably worse in every way. The stadium was mostly able to control mask guidelines, per a quick glance through Getty Images, but the city wasn’t so lucky.
The Tampa Bay Times and your more national-facing media outlets, like The New York Times were on the ground in Tampa picking up the debauchery. Maskless tussling and dance parties assume a slightly different tenor right now, to say the least. The New York Times described a “sea of people” just outside the Raymond James Stadium, totally unmoored by COVID restrictions:
“The scene of thousands of fans tightly packed into the city’s streets and outside Raymond James Stadium represented an alternate universe from the steady warnings by the nation’s top health officials about the risks of the Super Bowl becoming a superspreader event.”
Local officials gave it their best crack leading up to the game, with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor issuing a mask order during Super Bowl parties. She was reasonably disappointed to see hundreds of fans, packed into the streets and bars disregarding the order. “It is a little frustrating because we have worked so hard,” Castor said at a Monday press conference. “At this point in dealing with COVID-19, there is a level of frustration when you see that.”
Another nearby official, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was beefing with 50 Cent over hosting a maskless Super Bowl party of his own on Friday night. “We’re going to take a very close look at this, and it may end up costing someone a lot more than 50 cent,” Kriseman tweeted, implying significant fines for bucking COVID guidelines.
The perhaps well-meaning local officials will always find themselves running into an immovable wall — of enormous industries that were never going to place their plans on hold, and state and federal officials that weren’t going to support the necessary restrictions. Of course there’s Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has expressed a nearly unparalleled blood lust with reopening, but other powerful figures endorsed this charade more tacitly.
President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden appeared on a pre-game address to lend it legitimacy — much like Dr. Fauci’s disastrous first pitch to open the MLB season, as its first outbreak was already underway. Fauci advised some restraint for the Super Bowl, asking fans to “just lay low and cool it” while watching the game this year. But if the past year has taught anything, it’s that some events need to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Basic cause-and-effect will always lead to someone exploiting this middle ground, when advisories reach their logical endpoint.