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Pandemic Playoffs and Super Bowl Super Spreaders


by Mia Kennedy


It’s a strange time for sports. Let’s begin with the Habs. At the home opener, fans were not stuck in a traffic jam outside of the Bell Center. They were not chanting “Go, Habs, Go” with twenty-one thousand other fans, faces painted in red, white and blue. Instead of stadium benches, they were at home, sitting on couches. Kevin Labossière, a first year Psychology student at Dawson, was one such fan. Despite the NHL’s efforts to make the game as normal as possible, Kevin was acutely aware of the stadium’s emptiness. “You can’t have anybody in the stands, everybody’s wearing masks and there are ads instead of seats where there would be fans in the lower section.” Kevin admits that this makes the viewing experience less engaging, but says he understands why such restrictions are in place.


SportsNet reports that 27 NHL players tested positive after training camps in early January, so it’s no surprise that extra precautions were taken to protect players and fans. For the viewers, this means no in-person games, but that won’t keep Kevin from watching. “For sure, it’s different, but at the end of the day it’s the hockey that you watch. As long as there’s hockey, I’m a fan.”


What about the Super Bowl? Did football fans face similar restrictions? Yes and no. Just like the NHL, Super Bowl organizers didn’t want their games to become super-spreaders. To curb potential infections, the NFL encouraged viewers to watch safely from home and fans were warned against watch parties. Opening night interviews were entirely over Zoom.


Despite precautions, a spread of infections could result from the Super Bowl. According to an article by USA Today, the NFL allowed thousands of fans to come in-person. The “Super Bowl experience” still took place, although it was outdoors on the Tampa riverfront and all attendees wore masks. Once again, Kevin was resigned to the fact that there weren’t as many fans as usual. “[Without a packed stadium], it wasn’t the same. Of course, the perfect scenario would be no fans. At the end of the day, it’s a big thing, it’s the Super Bowl. Without fans the Super Bowl would be, like, super weird.”


Unfortunately, some fans didn’t take the precautions seriously. A Seton Hall Sports poll found that 25% of participants planned on watching Super Bowl LV with people outside of their home. If that was the case, positive coronavirus cases can be expected to rise in football fans in the coming weeks.


Whatever the risk, missing the Super Bowl was out of the question for millions of fans. In fact, this year we had extra incentive -- at 43 years old, this was veteran Tom Brady’s 10th career appearance in the NFL’s marquee game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reigned victorious, the first time a team has won the Super Bowl in their home stadium. The win confirmed Brady’s seventh Lombardi Trophy, two more than any other player has achieved in NFL history. Well-deserved, considering the 3 touchdowns and 21 of 29 passes he completed.


There’s more good news; the NHL and the NFL are making efforts to appreciate healthcare workers. In addition to launching “Rise Together”, a fund which supports frontline workers, the NHL gave the medical heroes a special place in the Habs opener. Healthcare workers had the honour of announcing the players’ names as they skated to center ice. USA Today reports that approximately one-third of Super Bowl in-person attendees were vaccinated health care workers, invited as guests of the NFL. They were also prominently featured in Amanda Gorman’s opening poem “Chorus of the Captains”.


You might never get used to seeing empty stadiums, but I’m still not used to the Habs playing like an NHL hockey team. We’re all making adjustments.


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