TAMPA (CBS) -- To honor those who have dedicated their lives to battling the coronavirus pandemic, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sent 80 health care heroes to Super Bowl LV in Tampa on the team's plane.
When most of them heard the news, they could not believe it.
"I just started bawling," said Lisa Ireland of RiverRidge Center in Kennebunk, Maine. "I am a huge Tom Brady fan."
"It didn't seem real," said another health care hero. "I'm still trying to process it."
Kraft greeted the 80 health care heroes in Tampa Sunday afternoon shortly after they landed. 76 of the health care heroes that travelled are from New England.
Their day started around 7:30 a.m. with a gathering at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and a security check by the TSA. Four buses brought the workers directly to the tarmac at Logan Airport in Boston where the team jet was waiting. They were greeted by Gov. Charlie Baker and Patriots president Jonathan Kraft before boarding.
A new decal was put on the plane ahead of the occasion. "When it's your turn, take the shot. Get vaccinated," it said.
During the three-and-a-half hour flight to Florida, the health care workers were served breakfast and were interviewed by Dr. Mallika Marshall and WBZ-TV photographer Chris Gobeille. WBZ was the only station on board the Patriots plane for the flight.
This trip of a lifetime marked several firsts for some. Raymond Bell, a psychiatric counselor at Yale New Haven Hospital, had never been to a football game. His first was a Super Bowl.
"I feel great, I feel wonderful. It's very exciting, I mean, I'm just so thrilled, but also so humbled," said Bell.
Dionne Hamilton, who works in housekeeping at Berkshire Medical Center, told Dr. Marshall that she had never been on a plane before Sunday.
"I'm so excited," Hamilton said during the first flight of her life. "I don't know whether to be nervous or excited. So, it's just a great opportunity."
Cathy Bean, who works in hospice in South Portland, Maine, said going to the Super Bowl on the Patriots jet has been a dream after so many dark and long days during the pandemic.
"This is what you see on 'Ellen', that people get to do this. Not us. And this just kind of gives us kind of a reset because we still have a long ways to go," Bean told WBZ. "We don't have an end date, and so, we just kind of need something to kind of refuel us."
While most of those on the plane ride were die-hard Patriots fans, and were rooting for Tom Brady, there were some rooting for the Chieds.
One hospital chaplain from New York, who was also a Chiefs fan, received a personal call from Kraft inviting him to the game.
"The whole organization, from Mr. Kraft on down has been so accommodating," the chaplain said. "They know I'm a Chiefs fan, they know I'm from New York. I'm originally from Kansas City, but I live in New York now. But it doesn't matter, they've treated me just amazing."
Once they landed, Kraft greeted the workers and posed for photos with them before they boarded buses to Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl LV.
"We just thought it was a wonderful way to finish the season. I think what's gone on with COVID, what's gone on with politics, America's just looking for a break and a great day today," Kraft told Dr. Marshall. "And also, to let people like these healthcare workers know that we're saying, 'Thank you.' And to all the healthcare workers, I'm sorry we couldn't bring more. We say, 'Thank you to you for putting your life on the line and doing so much for our community.'"
After enjoying a 31-9 Buccaneers win in which Brady earned his seventh ring and fifth Super Bowl MVP Award, the health care heroes traveled by bus to the Tampa airport, where they got back on the Patriots plane.
The plane is expected to land at 5 a.m. Monday.
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