No one believed her at first. The Redwood City, California-based M.D. Lyn Aborn texted her group chat of nine fellow emergency room doctors that the NFL had given them free tickets to the Super Bowl in Tampa on Sunday. “Not a joke!” she assured her tight-knit crew of colleagues who met at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. The ten doctors, now practicing all over the country, are some of the 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers with reserved seats at Raymond James Stadium. (The doctors have been vaccinated and they’ll still follow recommended COVID-19 safety protocols.)
The group has been watching football together for nearly two decades, beginning during their emergency medicine residency in 2002. “I don’t know if we would have found each other in the real world,” Aborn says, “but there’s something about this group that made us all get along so well—and we all love football.” After graduating in 2005, they dispersed. Some stayed in the South; some, including Aborn, moved to the West Coast; and one of their spouses, also an emergency room doctor, became their honorary tenth member. The friends made a pact and honored it: Every Super Bowl weekend, they would have a reunion.
“Going to the actual Super Bowl had never even been a conversation,” says Dave French, a member of the group who practices at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. When Aborn read that the NFL might send vaccinated health care workers to the game, she threw her friends’ names in the hat.
Their emails to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell bounced back, but Aborn didn’t quit. “I printed out my letter, hand-addressed the envelope, and mailed it off to Park Avenue,” she says. “I honestly didn’t think anyone was going to read it.” Aborn received a generic response from the NFL, and weeks passed. “We weren’t even going to meet at all,” French says, “and I was scheduled to work Super Bowl weekend.”
Then Aborn got the email. “They just said, we’d like to thank you; here are the tickets. I was flabbergasted—my heart was jumping out of my chest.” After Aborn convinced everyone the email wasn’t a hoax, French messaged his co-workers at MUSC. “Within fifteen minutes,” he says, “they picked up all three of my shifts.”
Several of the friends will arrive in Tampa today; the rest fly in on Saturday, and they’re renting a block of hotel rooms for the weekend, where they plan to spend their time catching up, while sticking to COVID protocols. It will be the first time, Aborn says, any of them have traveled for fun or seen each other since last February. “But I think we have talked more since the pandemic started than at any other time since we graduated,” French says; the group has been a constant source of support over the course of a difficult year.
Some of the crew will root for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Aborn, for one, is pulling for the Chiefs. “My team is the Jets,” he says, “and we’ve suffered a lot at the hands of Tom Brady.” No matter what the outcome, the friends are just happy to be together. “We still can’t believe we are going,” Aborn says, “We are still pinching ourselves.”