When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went out and signed quarterback and six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady last year, they did it with one purpose in mind:
To be the first-ever NFL team to host a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
And now, here they are.
On Sunday, the Bucs (11-5 during the regular 2020 season) will meet the Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) at 6:30 p.m. in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Yes, this will be the first time in 55 championship games that a team will be playing the Big Games in its home stadium. Will that make a difference? Maybe. Due to Covid-19, only 22,000 fans, including 7,500 vaccinated health care workers, will be allowed to attend, and there will be little of the usual pre-game hype. In fact, the Chiefs opened as 3-point favorites.
It will be the 10th Super Bowl for Brady, and just the second for Bucs, who beat the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in 2003 in their only other appearance.
Brady threw for 4,633 yards and 40 TDs this season and is widely considered the greatest quarterback of all time. He will face off against the guy many feel is his heir apparent in Patrick Mahomes, who led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl victory in 50 years last year.
Mahomes (4,740 yards, 38 TDs, with only six interceptions) has the NFL’s best QB rating against the blitz, which may neutralize one of the Bucs’ defensive strengths. He has dangerous pass-catching weapons in WR Tyreek Hill (1,276 yards, 15 TDs) and TE Travis Kelce (1,416 yards, 11 TDs), and a stable of running backs are talented but have been banged up this season. The offense is probably the most explosive in the league, so the Bucs will have to expose a Chiefs offensive line that has not looked great at times this season and has a slew of injuries.
Like Mahomes, Brady has a talented host of weapons to throw to, like WRs Mike Evans (1,006 yards, 13 TDs, but two big drops in the NFC title game) and Chris Godwin (840 yards, 7 TDs), and tight end Rob Gronkowski (623 yards, 7 TDs), who is no stranger to catching touchdowns from Brady in Super Bowls when both were with New England.
The Bucs’ offensive line has looked better as the season has progressed, but running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones have been inconsistent.
However, the Bucs’ defense, led by rising star linebacker Devin White, has come up big this season, and managed to hold the Green Bay Packers to three-and-outs after all three of Brady’s interceptions in the NFC Championship game win.
It may sound cliché, but with both offenses clicking on all cylinders, it could come down to whichever defense makes the most stops, like it did when the Bucs stopped the Packers three times inside the 10 to force a field goal late and seal the win.
By making the Super Bowl, the Bucs have already capped the best year in Tampa Bay sports history, joining the World Series-runner-up Rays and Stanley Cup champion Lightning in making their league championships.
A victory in America’s popular sport on the biggest stage of them all would only make it sweeter.
Can they do it? We’ll see, but go Bucs!
JOHN: It’s going to be a shootout, and I thought Brady looked a little shaky in the NFC Championship game. I’ll take the best quarterback and most dangerous receivers. I feel dirty, but Chiefs 33-22.
GARY: Both defenses played great football in their respective championship games, but I’ll take Brady’s experience over Mahomes’ youth this year, as long as Mike Evans doesn’t keep dropping passes. Bucs 34-27!
WHERE TO WATCH IN NEW TAMPA
The Super Bowl party is one of the great American traditions of the Big Game, but with Covid-19 still rearing its ugly head, we suggest taking great care. If you insist on watching the game with other fans and don’t have a party to attend, here are some local suggestions:
Peabody’s Billiards & Games: After 21 years, the longtime Tampa Palms hangout has been completely renovated and has a fresh, modern look. It is offering $3.25 pints of beer and $5 Jameson Whiskey shots for the Super Bowl, as well as specials on buckets of beer bottles and a wing and pitcher combo special. They tell us there will be plenty of giveaways and swag, too, including a couple of folding lawn chairs and a cooler. There will be strict adherence to CDC guidelines, including a limit on capacity. For more information, call (813) 972-1725 or visit PeabodysTampa.com.
Glory Days Grill: One of New Tampa’s most popular gathering places for Sunday football games is having a $25 all-you-can-eat special menu, but you need to make reservations. There will be drink specials and giveaways between quarters, but you better hurry because they tell us they are almost all booked. For more information, call (813) 513-7550, or visit GloryDaysGrill.com.
The Fat Rabbit: Fat Rabbit will open at 11:30 a.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, but the festivities won’t begin until 4 p.m. The Tampa Palms favorite usually has happy hour until 5 p.m. but will be extending it through the game. There also will be wing specials — even for those ordering pickup! — all day. For info, call (813) 252-3004 or visit “The Fat Rabbit Pub” on Facebook.
Stonewood Grill & Tavern: Stonewood is known for being a great restaurant, but the restaurant and its fun bar normally aren’t open Sunday nights, but it will be open for the Super Bowl. Brunch is 11-2:30 a.m., and happy hour will run until 7 p.m. Catering also is available for anyone hosting their own Super Bowl party, too.
For more information, call (813) 978-0388 or visit StonewoodGrill.com.