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The last time I went to the Super Bowl in Tampa, things were a little different.
In 2009, I didn’t even know how to spell Instagram. In 2009, Tampa was a completely different city.
Today, anyone can easily pull up Tampa on Instagram and find the best places to eat and the best sights to see as a visitor. A lot more than social media has changed — the city has become more walkable, our downtown is more vibrant and our food has gotten even better. There are reasons why millennials like me love it so much.
Tampa residents know how great their city is, because we live here. But through Super Bowl 55, the rest of the country got a chance to experience why we love Tampa Bay.
First, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made NFL history as the first team to play in the Super Bowl at their home stadium. And even better, they won.
We have to thank the Bucs’ co-owners, Bryan, Edward, and Joel Glazer and Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, for the team’s incredible performance this year. And what’s more, we got to welcome arguably the world’s most famous football player to Tampa Bay: Tom Brady.
Before the game, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor urged us to be on our best behavior as Tampa took the spotlight.
“We are looking forward to the infusion of visitors into our area and also the opportunity to be on the world stage and for the entire world to see how wonderful the Tampa Bay area is,” Castor told Cheddar in a televised interview.
Our mayor and event organizers did everything they could to make things safe and fun for everyone involved. Castor made the right move by requiring masks to be worn in popular outdoor locations like the Riverwalk and Armature Works. The NFL also gave every game attendee a KN95 mask, hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes in an effort to keep everyone safe.
Healthcare workers who have spent the pandemic taking care of us finally had someone take care of them. The NFL gave out 7,500 free tickets to vaccinated health care workers, most of whom were local.
The Super Bowl 55 Host Committee, under the leadership of CEO Rob Higgins and co-chairs Will Weatherford and Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, made sure the community, and not just fans, saw the impact of the NFL’s biggest game. The committee and the NFL will invest $2 million in the community to create long-lasting impact in the Tampa Bay area. Among the causes they earmarked were early childhood education, something I’m incredibly passionate about as chair of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County.
And even though Tampa Bay saw fewer fans this year than at Super Bowls in normal times, there was a silver lining. Traffic was not an issue. Roughly 25,000 fans do not compare to the usual 66,000 that can pack Raymond James Stadium.
But the biggest way Super Bowl 55 far exceeded my expectations — and the biggest way it proved we have changed since 2009 — was the united effort throughout Tampa Bay. Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and all the communities that make our region unique came together for this special event.
As we reminisce on a Super Bowl that was well-hosted, let’s remember it wasn’t just a victory for Tampa. It was a victory for all of Tampa Bay.
Aakash Patel is the founder and President of Elevate, Inc. and is the board chairman of The Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County.