TAMPA, Fla. — In the face of a raging pandemic, frontline workers have pushed through fatigue and frustration to save lives, and the NFL is honoring their commitment with tickets to Super Bowl LV.
The NFL announced Friday that 7,500 vaccinated health care workers, mostly from across the Tampa Bay area and central Florida, will be in attendance.
Among those invitees were health care workers from Sarasota Memorial Hospital, who were surprised by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell with the news via a Zoom call.
Rob Higgins, head of the Super Bowl LV Host Committee and Buccaneers legend Rondé Barber also had the chance to surprised four healthcare workers at Tampa General Hospital with tickets.
"We're going to help surprise some very deserving healthcare heroes who have helped define this journey, getting through the pandemic,” Higgins said.
"I think they are going to be very excited,” Barber added.
Perhaps an understatement.
“Oh my gosh. I am a big football fan. You guys have no idea. This just made my day,” said Michelle Moran, who works in the emergency department.
Chaplain Jenny Carswell said this past year has been particularly tough, considering the gravity of her role.
“People still die and people are still very sick, and we are just trying to manage all of it and be the family when family can't come,” she said. “It's been impossible this year, but we have gotten through it with the help of this incredible team here at Tampa General.”
A sentiment that others at TGH echo-- while times are difficult, they show up to work daily ready to fight for their community.
All health care workers being invited have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
In a release, Goodell says this was a way for the league to honor and thank these workers for their continued work on the front lines during the pandemic.
The NFL says invited guests will get free Super Bowl tickets and gameday experiences directly from the league.
While most guests will be from Florida, the league says all 32 NFL teams will select four vaccinated health care workers to attend the game on Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium.
"These dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude," Goodell said in a release. "We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes. This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings."
The NFL also announced 14,500 additional fans will be allowed at Raymond James Stadium for the big game. This, after discussions with public health officials including the CDC, Florida Department of Health and area hospitals and health care systems, according to a release.
The league says safety protocols for the Super Bowl "enhance" existing COVID-19 protocols implemented for this season. These measures include mandatory masks, social-distancing, seating pods and touchless "in-stadium experiences."
"Florida is proud to host Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to crown the champion of an unprecedented NFL season," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote in a statement.
"On behalf of Floridians and football fans across the nation, I'd like to thank the many men and women who worked hard to make this game a reality, especially our frontline health care workers who have worked tirelessly over the past year to keep people safe," DeSantis added. "I look forward to the positive impact this game will have on the Tampa Bay area, and my family and I can't wait for the big game!"
Kickoff for Super Bowl LV is at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 7. You can watch the game locally on 10 Tampa Bay and nationally on CBS stations.
Listen to the Tampa Bay 55 podcast for a behind-the-scenes look at preparations for the Super Bowl.