I’m in Tampa at Super Bowl pre-game parties

Staff writer Shaqualia Smith, a former Tampa Bay Bucs employee, is enjoying the pre-game festivities. Photo courtesy NFL Experience

TAMPA — Super Bowl weekend is here, and as a former employee of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers I have had the pleasure to go back to my stomping grounds and enjoy some Super Bowl festivities.

The Super Bowl Experience, presented by Lowe’s, returned to Tampa for Super Bowl LV last weekend and again on Wednesday through Saturday at the Julian B. Park  in downtown Tampa. To celebrate the history of the NFL, the Super Bowl Experience gives fans the opportunity to virtually meet and greet with current NFL players and legends, participate in games and purchase merchandise from the NFL shop presented by Visa. The NFL Experience also features photos with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the trophy awarded each year to the winning Super Bowl team.

The “experience” also includes 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.

Due to COVID-19, there were safety guidelines  in place. For the safety of the fans and staff, the NFL is using a reservation system for access into the Super Bowl Experience called the NFL OnePass app that needs to be downloaded on your phone. As of January 26, all of those reservations had been reserved and there are no additional slots available. However, the fun doesn’t stop there because for fans who did not secure reservations are still invited to come down to the Tampa Riverwalk and explore everything it has to offer, including the Curtis Hixon Park and more attractions. Although today is the last day to enjoy the entertainment of the NFL Experience, the park is open until 10 p.m.

The annual celebrity game is always my favorite event during the Super Bowl. The Celebrity Sweat Flag Football Challenge was held today at Clearwater Beach. The event is closed to the general public due to COVID-19 guidelines and attendees must wear a face mask. The event was sponsored by teams of former basketball star Tracy McGrady and former NFL star Doug Flutie going against each other in a friendly match in support of military members, law enforcement and first responders.

This event had celebrities from Ulysses “The Monster” Diaz, to football agents and even rappers such as Tory Lanez. Being a football sister — my brother plays for the Atlanta Falcons, hence my access to these events — I had the opportunity to attend this event in 2017 when the New England Patriots took on the Atlanta Falcons at the NRG Stadium in Houston. My brother Dante Fowler, Jr. participated in this event and I must say I really enjoyed it. Although it encourages fans to watch the event live on ESPN and has limited attendance, you are able to catch the action from on ESPNNews, or the ESPN APP.

Last but not least, I attended an event in Ybor City to see the  rapper Kodak Black, who was recently pardoned by former President Donald Trump and released from jail. Eager to see the rapper, I paid $250 on www.eventbrite.com to enter the club Qvesoir without waiting in line. However, once I arrived at the club there was a long line that was wrapped around the corner. Knowing that I had already purchased my ticket on Eventbrite and expecting to walk right in, I was stopped by security advising me that the line that I was in was for the people who were paying $400. Whaattt?! I was then advised to go around to the back of the club to show proof of my ticket to ensure my entry.

There was another road block once I found out that there was a line for people who purchased a booth in the club starting at $10,000 to $20,000 — and you better believe they were getting into the club as priority. While the promoter Beau Williams was only expecting 3,000 individuals, more than 6,000 people had arrived and most were not wearing masks until implemented by the promoter. Fans of the rapper were so upset they began causing chaos to the point police came and the doors were shut due to the club being at capacity, which led to a lot of angry fans being left outside who paid lots of money for tickets, but unable to see  Kodak Black.

Super Bowl weekend is filled with a lot of great attractions and festivities, but everyone is eagerly anticipating the big game on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium here.