This is a sentence that hasn't yet lost its impact, even as it's been repeated over and over in the last 18 hours: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about to become the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in its own home stadium.
It's a stunning turn of events, certainly the one the Buccaneers were seeking when they signed Tom Brady back in March but not one that could have qualified as anything close to a sure thing. That 54 previous Super Bowls have been played without this ever happening before (albeit a handful of them not in NFL stadiums) underscores how remarkable of an opportunity the NFL's 27th franchise is about to encounter.
It's undeniably a great thing for the Buccaneers and the entire Bay area. On a more practical level, however, it's worth wondering: How much of an advantage will playing the Super Bowl on their home field be for the Buccaneers?
Two other Super Bowls have been played in the local region of one of the team's in the game. The 1979 Los Angeles Rams made it to Super Bowl XIV against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game played at the Rose Bowl in the L.A. suburb of Pasadena. The Rams, who played their home games at the L.A. Coliseum that season, lost to the Steelers, 31-19. Five years later, the 1984 San Francisco 49ers made it to Super Bowl XIX against the Miami Dolphins, a game that was played at Stanford Stadium, about 23 miles from their own home of Candlestick Park. The 49ers beat the Dolphins, 27-17.
So those two close examples are a wash. As for attendance, the two teams participating in the Super Bowl are allotted the same number of Super Bowl tickets for distribution. It is the league, not the Buccaneers or Chiefs, that handles ticket sales for the game. The fact that the game is at Raymond James Stadium does not theoretically make it easier for the Buccaneers to have more fans at the game, unless more local rooters are motivated to seek out tickets.
But, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic complicates that, just as it has complicated everything about the process of playing the 2020 NFL season. The NFL has announced that it will have 22,000 fans at Super Bowl LV, roughly one third of Raymond James Stadium's capacity. Tickets will be harder to acquire for this Super Bowl than any one before.
Still, Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians sees the Super Bowl being in Tampa as a potential edge for his team, mostly in regards to the days leading up to the big game.
"I think the big advantage is we stay in our own beds, sleep here and just do our normal routine," said Arians. "Nothing is out of the ordinary until we hit the media sessions next week. Just to be able to stay in your routine, sleep in your bed and all that stuff – I think it's a huge advantage."
Of course, the Chiefs can keep their normal routine in Kansas City this week, and they'll actually get to sleep in their own beds longer than the usual Super Bowl team. That's because, in the ongoing effort to avoid COVID complications, the NFL is not requiring the Chiefs to arrive in Tampa until the Friday two days before the Super Bowl. Usually, both teams arrive in the host city at the very beginning of the week leading up to the title game and are involved in a variety of events, including Media Day.
Arians sees in advantage in that, too, this one favoring the Chiefs.
"I think it really helps them," said Arians. "Normally when you get to town for Super Bowl, everybody's pulling and tugging you – trying to get everything done the week before. Then, when you hit town, you've got all the media obligations and your practice and game plans are all put in. I think it's a great advantage for them [because] it's just an away game. They get to do their normal prep just like we do. Nobody's going to get tied up in all that stuff."
One could also argue that the Buccaneers and Chiefs might have been less likely to have new COVID complications if they were living in a hotel for a week rather than staying in town and being tempted to wander from home more often. Arians is not concerned about that because his team has done a good job all season of complying with the efforts to keep players and coaches healthy and safe. The team only ran into a couple brief roster problems due to the pandemic at the very end of the season and currently has no players on that reserve list.
"I think our guys have done a great, great job of being accountable to each other with COVID all year and will continue to do that," said Arians. "We talked about family and friends testing before they ever enter your home, making sure everybody's tested and being very, very smart about it."
The Buccaneers would have gladly played the Super Bowl in any venue but are happy to be making NFL history on their own field. Whether or not that proves to be a significant advantage remains to be seen.