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You have to root around in some pretty dark places to unearth anything positive that’s come out of the COVID-19 crisis that has paralyzed the planet for the past 10 months.
The amount of tragedy, loss and struggle has outweighed any moments of joy by a landslide.
Thanks to some forward-thinkers from the NFL, though, there will be a few small crumbs of joy spread around Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl 2021 a week from Sunday — and they have little to do with the Chiefs and Buccaneers and their chase for the Lombardi Trophy.
Of the 22,000 fans who will be allowed inside the building, about 7,500 of them will be health care workers who’ve bravely stood on the front lines battling the pandemic.
Most of the 7,500 will come from hospitals and health care systems in the Tampa and central Florida area. Among them will be specific health care workers invited by the 32 teams around the league.
Four of them will be guests of the Giants — who are sending them, all-expenses-paid, to the game.
Pete Guelli, the Giants’ chief commercial officer, said when the NFL called to say it had four tickets for health care workers and asked if the Giants were interested in participating, he brought it to CEO and co-owner John Mara.
“I don’t think it took John 10 seconds to say yes,’’ Guelli said Tuesday.
The Post reached out to all four of the Giants’ special guests on Tuesday, and the common denominator was how stunned they were to get the news of their fortune and how grateful they are to have been chosen.
“This is the best thing, I think, that has ever happened to me,’’ said Cheryl Greenberg — a Hamden, Conn., resident and mother of four who works as a phlebotomist for Quest Diagnostics. “I’ve been a Giants fan since I was a kid, 35-plus years. I never, ever dreamed of going to a Super Bowl. I’ve never even been to a game before. This is just amazing.’’
Greenberg said she got the news from her supervisor and said, “I think I broke his ear drums I got so excited. I would have just passed out if the Giants had called.’’
Joseph Mannarano, a Maywood, N.J., resident who’s an interventional radiology nurse at Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center, received word from the CEO of the company, Robert Garrett, and said his reaction was “shock initially.’’
“I couldn’t even the fathom the CEO of a large company calling me personally to congratulate me on winning,’’ he said.
Mannarano is the only one of the four health care workers who’s been to a Super Bowl before. Well, kind of.
“I attended Super Bowl 48 at MetLife Stadium in 2014 when I worked in the emergency room in the MSED — Mobile Satellite Emergency Room,’’ he said. “Although we were not in the stadium but stationed in the parking lot, it was a privilege just to be able to go.’’
Rosa Bermudez, from Southbridge, Mass., is a phlebotomist with Quest Diagnostics. And no, she’s not a Patriots fan, nor is she a Tom Brady fan. She’s never even been to an NFL game. She is, however, now a Giants fan forever.
“I can’t believe I’m going to the Super Bowl, and for my first game to be a Super Bowl is nuts,’’ Bermudez said. “I’m super humbled and grateful. It could have been anybody and they picked me.’’
Zenaida Palmros, a Freehold, N.J., resident who’s an intensive care nurse in her 25th year at Hackensack Meridian Bayshore Medical Center, has never even been to a live sporting event.
“I don’t really follow football, but if I had to pick a team it would be the Giants,’’ she said.
And now for some full disclosure from Palmros.
“I am most looking forward to seeing the halftime show,’’ she said.
For every one of these health care workers, who’ve faced the wrath of COVID-19 from the front lines while most of us have been staying as far away from the virus as possible in the safety of our homes, Super Bowl Sunday will be a deserved respite.
Good for the NFL, which we often criticize for its cold-hearted chase of billions of dollars in profits. The league got this one right. If only it was safe for the league to fill the entire stadium with health care workers.
“I would love to take my co-workers with me, because we are all working just as hard,’’ Greenberg said.
“I am not the one that deserves to be honored, everyone I work with deserves to be honored,’’ Zenaida said.
Bermudez said she figures “this Super Bowl will be pretty special with everything that’s happened with COVID.’’
It’ll be a Super Bowl like none of the 54 played before it because of the people like Bermudez, Greenberg, Mannarano and Palmros who’ll be in attendance, recognized for their part in fighting the pandemic we’ve all been trying to run from for 10 months and counting.
Good for them.
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