By Amy Tennery
TAMPA, Fla (Reuters) - Kansas City red dotted a sea of Buccaneers burgundy in Tampa this week as intrepid Chiefs fans entered enemy waters ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl showdown.
For just the fourth time in 20 years, a reigning Super Bowl winner will feature in a consecutive NFL championship game, a rare honor that this year came with no small amount of swagger for Chiefs fans, who watched their team hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Miami in 2020 after a five-decade drought.
The Kansas City loyal said this week that they weren't deterred by the hometown crowd in Tampa, which has its own bragging rights, as the first city ever to host their own team in the Super Bowl.
"I know the Kansas City fans – they travel, they travel well," said Anthony Barnes, a lifelong Chiefs fan clad in top tight end Travis Kelce's jersey, who flew in from Kansas City to mingle among the crowd at the NFL's Super Bowl Experience. "We’re known to go to a city and almost take it over."
An array of team affiliations were represented at the league's outdoor showcase, where attendees waited hours for a glimpse of the Lombardi Trophy and fans of the Bucs and the Chiefs were represented in virtually equal measure.
A limited crowd of 22,000 fans - including 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers to whom the NFL offered free tickets - will be allowed to attend in the 65,618-capacity Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, along with 2,700 fans watching from suites.
"It's different than when we went to Miami by a long way," said Chiefs fanatic Deb Page, who hails from Wichita, Kansas, and moved to nearby St. Petersburg five years ago. "We were a big presence in Miami... Here, you’re on home turf. So it’s different, very different."
The Chiefs rolled into Tampa after yet another blockbuster season, thanks in large part to reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, who finished second in the league in passing yards en route to a 14-2 record.
The team is angling to become the first to win back-to-back titles since the 2003-04 New England Patriots, who were led by the current Bucs' quarterback Tom Brady.
By Friday night, Brady's new hometown advantage was clear, as a packed crowd - overwhelmingly dressed in Bucs jerseys and apparel - came to watch the Gasparilla Pirate Ship set off a dazzling fireworks display on the Tampa waterfront, kicking off the Super Bowl weekend.
"We feel like it’s Tampa Bay 60% then 30% everyone else and maybe 10% us," said Alex Vanderveen, a 26-year-old real estate agent who adopted the Chiefs after moving to Kansas City four years ago. "So we find our Chiefs fans, we get excited.
"We’ve got to just be a little bit louder than everyone else."
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Hugh Lawson)