PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers surprised four UPMC employees with an all-expense-paid trip to Super Bowl LV to thank them for their hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the crowd at Super Bowl LV won’t be anywhere near as large as what the NFL typically sees at the biggest game of the year, among the 25,000 fans who will be in attendance, 7,500 will be vaccinated health care workers. They will be guests of the NFL, who thanks and honors them for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Four of those 7,500 will be employees of UPMC hospitals in Pittsburgh, as the league partnered with the Steelers and each of the other 31 NFL clubs to select four vaccinated health care workers from their communities to be rewarded with an all-expense-paid trip to attend the game on Sunday, Feb. 7.
In January, the NFL and the Steelers surprised four frontline workers who were nominated by coworkers for the trip, including Registered Nurse Justin Gossett (UPMC Mercy), Director of Maintenance and Engineering Pat Hogan (UPMC Shadyside), Respiratory Team Member Marcus Paxton (UPMC Mercy) and Director of Respiratory Care Services Breen Smith (UPMC Shadyside).
The four were awarded the honor by Dermontii Dawson, NFL Hall of Fame Center and Pittsburgh Steeler over video.
“We are so thankful for all you have done to care for those impacted by COVID-19 in the Pittsburgh community over the past year,” Dawson said.
The reaction from the four winners was shock, excitement and pure joy.
“What…what…Oh my God,” said Paxton as Dawson shared the news. “Oh man, thank you so much. Thanks for everybody that wrote about me. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.”
Gossett, who got the good news at UMPC Mercy just moments after Paxton, had a similar reaction.
“Wow. Thank you. I am in shock,” said Gossett, who thought he was attending a meeting when he was given the news. “I was expecting something different today. This means the world to me. I am happy to be there to help.”
The reaction and happiness at UMPC Shadyside was the same.
“I really appreciate this honor,” said Hogan, a Steelers fan since he was a kid. “For me, I am just part of a team. That is the way my staff thinks. Everything we did, we did for the hospital because that is what we do, that is what our job is. They did the same thing at all of the other hospitals. It’s not that I am unique. It’s just that I did what you asked me to do.”
Smith, a lifelong Steelers fan, is thankful for the opportunity and grateful to the Steelers and NFL for honoring health care workers.
“I am still overwhelmed, taken aback,” said Smith. “I felt humbled. I have always been a Steelers fan. My father is a season ticket holder. It’s been in my family. My oldest brother, he was disabled, and to spend time with him we watched a lot of sporting events. We would reenact Franco’s (Harris) big play. I can’t remember a Sunday without watching Steelers football. It’s been a very important part of my life.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that these “dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude.”
“We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes. This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings,” Goodell said.
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