The New England Patriots aren’t playing in the 2021 Super Bowl, but one of their team planes will be making the trip to Tampa, Florida.
Approximately 7,500 health care workers from across the country will be in attendance as honorary guests of the NFL Sunday for the big game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs. They’ll be honored for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seventy-six of those heroes from all six New England states will be flying to Florida from New England aboard one of the team’s “AirKraft.”
“The mission of this trip is two-fold: to recognize and thank a representative group of the countless health care superheroes in New England, and to celebrate and spread the important message of getting vaccinated,” the team said in a statement.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft surprised the health care workers with the news on a Zoom call.
“I actually thought it was part of a prank,” said Nick Duncan, director of emergency management at Tufts Medical Center. “My CEO and COO never call me unless it is bad and my heart kind of stopped.”
“For me to see Tom Brady and Gronk, even though they’re not playing for the Pats, I am stoked,” said Jenn Castellano, a registered nurse at Emerson Hospital.
New England became the first NFL team to own their own jets, purchasing two Boeing 767s in 2017.
In April, when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a shortage of personal protective equipment, one of the team planes was used to deliver about 1.2 million N95 masks to Boston from China.
That same plane will be used for the 2021 Super Bowl trip.
“I was really proud to call them our team, and then (Kraft) said: ‘Hey, we’re going to go on a plane that brought those masks over.’ It’s almost full circle,” said Jessica Tellier, a registered nurse at Emerson Hospital.
“Last April, when our plane returned with masks from China, we never could have imagined the devastation this pandemic would cause, nor could we have dreamed of the heroic stories and achievements that have come to be as a result, especially the dedication of health care workers on the front lines and the creation of safe and effective vaccines,” Kraft said in a statement. “Ten months later, it’s an honor for us to celebrate these health care workers by giving them a well-deserved break for a day and an opportunity to enjoy the Super Bowl, a reality that is only made possible because of the vaccines. We hope that in doing so, others are also encouraged to get vaccinated as they are able. Once again, we want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all of the health care heroes who have risked their well-being to ensure ours. They are truly superheroes to us.”
In addition to the flight and tickets to the 2021 Super Bowl, the health care heroes will receive transportation from Gillette Stadium to Logan Airport with a police escort, a ticket to the NFL TikTok Tailgate concert headlined by Miley Cyrus exclusively for vaccinated health care workers, a two-night complimentary hotel stay provided by Mark Stebbins and Leo Xarras of XSS Hotels, owner of both the Renaissance Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn at Patriot Place, a Patriots gift bag, a $100 VISA gift card to spend at Raymond James Stadium and ground transportation in Tampa.