The NFL has reportedly finalized its plan for hosting fans at next month's Super Bowl, including several thousand vaccinated healthcare workers.
Roughly 7,500 of the workers, who have been on the front lines of the battle against the pandemic, will be in attendance for the anticipated Feb. 7 game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida, it was reported on Friday.
Around 22,000 total fans are expected to be in attendance at the big game, which represents about one-third of the stadium's capacity of 66,000, according to Alex Weprin of The Hollywood Reporter.
This week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell joined a conference call of Sarasota Memorial Hospital healthcare workers to inform them of the good news.
"Hello everybody," Goodell said. "Sorry for crashing your meeting. I am the son of a nurse, and all of you have a very special place in my heart. I've seen the work that you do. My mom used to talk about it all the time, it's just extraordinary work. We owe you our ongoing gratitude, and can't thank you enough.
"I know everyone in your area is excited about an event that's coming in a few weeks -- the Super Bowl. The reason I wanted to get on this call for a few minutes to thank you all, is I wanted to tell you that we want your team to be there. If you're able to swing it, I want to personally invite each member of your team ... to be our guests at the Super Bowl."
"We accept!" responded one worker.
"You will be among thousands of vaccinated healthcare workers who will be receiving Super Bowl tickets in the next couple of weeks. You're the first ones to get that offer, and we can't thank you enough. And we hope that this program will be a small way to celebrate you, honor you, and most importantly to thank you."
The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on healthcare workers in the US and beyond. Roughly 2,900 of the workers died from the virus in 2020, according to a joint study by Kaiser Health News and The Guardian.
The number was sure to climb as the pandemic continued to rage in the early weeks of 2021.
At least a couple notable football players-turned-medical professionals stepped up in the fight against the virus, most notably Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a fourth-year medical student who became the first player to opt out of the 2020 season.
As well, former Florida State standout and Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle temporarily set aside his neurosurgery residency to help out on the front lines.