A local doctor got a chance to be part of history this month, being among the select few attending the first Super Bowl held during a global pandemic.
Dr. Josh Albrektson, who works as a diagnostic radiologist from his South Pasadena home, was one of four “health care heroes” selected by his beloved San Diego Chargers to represent the team at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, where the hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned their second championship by defeating the Kansas City Chiefs. It was an exciting landmark for the doctor, even if, by his own admission, the game itself might have been the most boring part of the trip.
“Us Chargers fans, we hate the Chiefs,” he said of his team’s interdivision rival, “so we were Tampa Bay fans … even though we also hate Tom Brady” — a longtime scourge of any AFC team with a championship on its mind.
Albrektson, who has lived in South Pasadena for two years, said there were a few things that put him on the Chargers’ radar. He runs a Twitter account for Chargers fans — @GoLABolts — that is, for now, presented as an homage to Chargers guard Dan Feeney and his iconic mullet and ‘stache. Albrektson was previously team-less, as was L.A. for years — and he wasn’t going to root for the Rams after they returned in 2016.
“The second they moved, I became a Chargers fans,” he said; the Chargers relocated from San Diego to L.A. in 2017. “I’m from Los Angeles and have been a homeless football fan my whole life.”
Since that move, Albrektson has missed only two Chargers home games, and he even made it out for the team’s game in London in 2018. (His trip was rewarded with a narrow 20-19 victory over the Tennessee Titans.) During last year’s NFL draft — held without the usual in-person fanfare because of the coronavirus pandemic — Albrektson, his wife and their infant son joined others on a group Microsoft Teams screen behind NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when, from his home, he announced the Chargers’ first-round pick: quarterback Justin Herbert, No. 6 overall.
Albrektson made sure his son was front and center on their screen for this moment, in which he hopes the Chargers have found the signal-caller to lead them to glory. He recently purchased a powder blue Herbert jersey for his son, who finally grew into the smallest size available in infant jerseys.
“My baby will always be linked to Justin Herbert,” Albrektson proudly said.
When the pandemic broke out last year, Albrektson said he initially lent his expertise in medicine to social media to try telling people what the latest news meant and why the coronavirus was such a worrisome problem.
“When the coronavirus came out, I started doing Facebook live videos explaining it because a lot of people didn’t know what was going on, or the news would get something wrong, and they actually got really popular,” he said.
Later in the year, as pharmaceutical companies began unveiling drug trials for their COVID-19 vaccines, Albrektson said he hit the phones and began signing people up.
“I called up all the places [doing vaccine trials] and I basically got every person I know signed up for it,” he said. “I pushed the trials on everyone I knew and I got roughly 300 people signed up.”
In summary, “the Chargers knew who I was and knew I was vaccinated and they called me up,” Albrektson said.
The team flew him and everyone else out to the game, and put them up in hotels for the two nights there. The health care heroes had a happy hour at their hotel — they had all been vaccinated, as required to be selected — and got to enjoy a Miley Cyrus concert before the big game. President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to Biden, also had prerecorded messages broadcast to the medical workers.
“It was interesting because I realized this is probably the biggest concert in over a year,” Albrektson said.
The NFL brought around 7,500 medical workers to the game — 6,500 from the Tampa area and the remainder as guests from each of the league’s other 31 teams. The health care heroes were grouped by team in the stadium, which seated just fewer than 25,000 fans for the game — its capacity is larger than 65,000. The rest of the “crowd” was made up of the ever-familiar cardboard cutouts.
Albrektson, a loyal Bruin who attended UCLA for his undergraduate work and for medical school, playfully threw a little shade at Rams fans seated nearby. While he and two others with the Chargers had their jerseys, the Rams’ heroes sported a Mark Sanchez jersey — from his days as quarterback at USC — in addition to a Kobe Bryant Lakers jersey, a Pat Mahomes Chiefs jersey and a Brady Buccaneers jersey.
“There was no Rams gear on the Rams fans,” the doctor said, later noting that one of his own compatriots also violated the “decorum” — wearing street clothes.