For Will Weatherford, co-chairman of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl LV Host Committee, this has been familiar territory.
With the NFL’s big game headed to Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7, it seems like Weatherford has spent a lifetime preparing for this moment.
After all, he’s primarily a football guy.
The effort has required an intricate game plan — with plenty of adjustments. Preparation has been paramount. It has demanded toughness, resilience and loyalty. In the end, a winning formula will be assured by teamwork.
“We have a gritty culture in our area,’’ Weatherford said. “We have faced lots and lots of challenges. But, we are very excited that our area will stage the best possible Super Bowl, a historic Super Bowl, and it’s going to provide a real lift for our entire nation.’’
Weatherford, 41, is part of a luminous Pasco County family, one with six football-playing brothers, all who competed at Land O’Lakes High School before heading off to various levels of college football.
Weatherford, a linebacker, played at Jacksonville University. He entered politics as a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2006-2014, serving as House Speaker during his final term. He then founded Weatherford Capital, a private equity firm, with his brothers, Sam and Drew.
“But, my heart for public service didn’t go away,’’ Weatherford said. “I always tried to find ways to serve. What way can you have a bigger impact on the community than showcasing your city during the Super Bowl? I have watched what past Super Bowls have done for our community and now I am thrilled to be part of this process.’’
Weatherford was recruited to the position by Rob Higgins, the Host Committee president/CEO who also is executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. Weatherford’s fellow co-chairman is Pro Football Hall of Famer and legendary former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Derrick Brooks.
“I was a linebacker in high school and college, and Derrick was my hero,’’ Weatherford said. “I was in middle school, he was at Florida State and he was my hero, and that continued to the NFL. To co-chair something significant with a childhood hero, I don’t have the words to describe what that means.
“Yes, he’s a Hall of Famer, but he’s a better person. The legacy he’s leaving in this community goes way beyond football. He’s always on point. His actions is where his leadership comes from. He leads a life of excellence in all things.’’
Brooks returned the compliment.
“We are very fortunate to be working with Will on this Super Bowl,’’ Brooks said. “He brings so much to the table. He’s so knowledgeable and he’s great at building relationships. Being part of this with him has really been a great experience.’’
The experience, of course, has been much different than what Weatherford and Brooks could have anticipated.
It’s the Pandemic Super Bowl.
COVID-19 has changed almost everything — from the lead-up activities to the events (some will disappear, some will go virtual) to the game itself (only a small percentage of fans is expected inside the stadium).
But, for television viewers in 180 countries, it’s still the Super Bowl. It’s still Tampa Bay’s vistas and attractions being front and center for an event that has become an unofficial American holiday.
The virus will severely limit the economic impact and hotel occupancy. But, the area will receive a huge boost from the $2 million “Forever 55’’ social legacy initiative ($1 million in corporate donations was matched by the NFL). It focused on local programs to aid the stated pillars of early childhood education, food insecurity, families, health and wellness, sustainability and systemic justice.
“Florida has been hit exceedingly hard by the virus and economic factors, but we’ve always found a way to rise up,’’ Weatherford said. “I don’t think this will be any different. Hopefully, people will visit us and see how much the Tampa Bay area has changed since our last Super Bowl.
“None of this happens without businesses and the community and the public sector getting on board. We’ve had five Super Bowls, absolutely amazing (only Miami, New Orleans and Los Angeles have had more). The NFL knows when they come to Tampa Bay that we’re going to give it our all and put on a great show. Of course, there have been challenges. But, I’m confident that when it’s all done, we’re going to look back and be very proud of what our community has done. I’m so happy to be part of it.’’
Super Bowl Experience Presented by Lowe’s
NFL’s interactive football theme park will return to Tampa for Super Bowl LV from Jan. 29 through Jan. 31, and from Feb. 2 through Feb. 6, along the Tampa Riverwalk.
The Super Bowl Experience will offer fans the opportunity to virtually meet-and-greet with current NFL players and Legends, participate in games, and shop merchandise from the NFL Shop presented by Visa.
The Experience also will feature photos with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, a 40-yard dash and vertical jump against NFL players on LED screens, and a Super Bowl rings display showcasing all 54 Super Bowl rings.
Fans can attend the Super Bowl Experience Presented by Lowe’s free, every day.
To attend, fans must register for the NFL OnePass app and book a session time. Fans also should bring their favorite face covering and prepare to maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance from others.
To reserve your session time, download the NFL OnePass app at NFL.com/OnePass. If the session date/time that you are looking for is not available, there will be a standby queue available for walk-up fans at Julian B. Lane, but fans will still need OnePass to access.
There is limited capacity to the Super Bowl Experience, so entry is not guaranteed.
For fans without a smartphone, Technology Managers will be at the exterior of Julian B. Lane to assist.
Hours of Operation:
Jan. 29: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Jan. 30: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Jan. 31: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Feb. 3: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Feb. 4: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Feb. 5: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Feb. 6: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Additional information about health guidance and prohibited security items can be found at NFL.com.
‘No Drone Zone’ during Super Bowl LV
Raymond James Stadium in Tampa is a “No Drone Zone” for Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, and drones also are prohibited around the Tampa Riverwalk for the NFL Super Bowl Experience during the days leading up to the event.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced it will establish a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) on game day that will prohibit drones within a 30-nautical-mile radius of the stadium up to 18,000 feet in altitude. The TFR will be in place from 5:30 p.m. to 11:59 p.m., EST.
Drones also are prohibited for 1 nautical mile around Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7 from 10 a.m. until the TFR for the game takes effect.
The FAA will restrict drone flights for roughly 2 nautical miles around Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park up to an altitude of 2,000 feet from Jan. 29 to Feb. 6, during event hours.
Pilots and drone operators who enter the TFRs without permission could face civil penalties that exceed $30,000 and potential criminal prosecution for flying drones in the TFR.
Detailed information for general aviation and drone pilots is available on the FAA’s Super Bowl LV web page.
Drone pilots should check the FAA’s B4UFly app to determine when and where they may fly.
By Joey Johnston
Published January 27, 2021