TAMPA, Fla. – So much of it looked familiar — from the heartfelt rendering of the national anthem, to the silvery, star-studded halftime show, to Tom Brady standing there at the end with a mile-wide smile, awash in confetti.
So much of it looked strange — from the masked-up coaches on the sideline, to the cardboard cutouts in the half-empty stands, to Brady — what? — wearing pewter-and-red pants and a helmet with a Buccaneer, not a Patriot, on the side.
History was made, just as it always is, on a picture-perfect Sunday evening at the Super Bowl. Brady and his new team, Tampa Bay, sliced and diced their way to a 31-9 thumping of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to help the NFL put the final exclamation mark on a season that many thought could never happen.
But this kind of history? Brady adding to his record with a seventh Super Bowl title, but with the long-suffering Bucs, not the front-running New England Patriots? And with 7,500 of the most precious tickets in sports given to health-care workers — the world's unsung heroes — who mingled in with those cardboard cutouts, and only a few thousand live, hard-core fans?
This is the way football looks as the world veers into the second year of a deadly global pandemic.
Twelve months ago, the Chiefs stood on top of the podium, a few hundred miles away in South Florida, with Mahomes being touted as the quarterback of the future and the virus now known as COVID-19 thought by many to be scary, but well bottled up, a world away in China.
As the pandemic raged across the globe, and into the United States, where it has now killed more than 440,000 people, the world recoiled and tried to contain the damage, with each country and each state enjoying varying degrees of success.
The NFL used its offseason to plot and plan and try to find a way to keep football alive. Its mission — applauded by some, derided by others — was to provide a sense of normalcy, to give fans of America's most popular sport a diversion from the frightening routines and life-and-death choices that now confronted them on a daily basis.