The Super Bowl has been sacred to the United States ever since the first big game saw the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Green Bay Packers in 1967. A raging pandemic couldn’t halt this tradition. 

On Feb. 7, 23 Emory Healthcare and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta workers attended the Super Bowl LV, courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons to show the NFL’s appreciation for their heroic acts amid the pandemic. These individuals were chosen in a random lottery to attend the game.

Among the group selected was an intensive care unit nurse, emergency room nurse, cardiac nurse technician, physical therapist and patient care assistant. Those invited were required to obtain both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine prior to the game, as were the rest of the attendees, per an NFL Super Bowl initiative. Along with the 23 Atlanta-based health care workers, approximately 7,500 other health care workers, mostly from central Florida, attended the game. 

One such attendee was Amelia Studdard, an emergency department registered nurse at Emory Decatur Hospital. Before the game, Studdard recalled a surreal experience when health care workers gathered at a Miley Cyrus concert organized by the NFL. 

“It was so weird to be outside with 7,500 of us, all vaccinated, meeting each other through the NFL,” Studdard said. 

As the game progressed in Raymond James Stadium, pictures of fans failing to wear masks or social distance circulated. Studdard, however, said she was impressed with the safety precautions and guidelines she saw implemented during the game. 

“I don’t think I had a fan in front of me for at least five rows,” Studdard recalled. “It was very well spaced and everyone was masked up in the hotel. If you were standing in line to go to the NFL store, they had staff there to make sure you kept distance, so I thought that for the scale that it was done, it was done very well.”

Emory Healthcare is the official health care provider of the Atlanta Falcons. CEO of Emory Healthcare Jonathan S. Lewin said he was grateful for the experience. 

“We are so appreciative to the Atlanta Falcons for providing this amazing opportunity for our health care workers to attend Super Bowl LV and to the NFL for creating this unique program for vaccinated staff,” Lewin wrote in a press release. 

Atlanta Falcons CEO and President Rich McKay expressed a similar gratitude for frontline health care workers. 

“We are extremely grateful for the frontline workers who have spent months battling the COVID-19 pandemic here in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia,” McKay said. 

Beyond a classic American sporting event, Super Bowl LV doubled as a show of appreciation for health care workers. Studdard, along with her colleagues, felt very honored to be appreciated at the event. 

 “It was so much fun to be at a sporting event and to be recognized for all the things that we’ve done in the past year,” Studdard said. “That was really special.”

Correction (2/10/21 at 2:55 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated that Jonathan S. Lewin was the official health care provider of the Atlanta Falcons. In fact, Dr. Lewin is the CEO of Emory Healthcare which is the official health care provider of the Atlanta Falcons.