After winning the 2005 season opener in the noisy, boisterous confines of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minnesota, the currently undefeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers made it clear to reporters this week that they want a loud, proud crowd at Raymond James Stadium this Sunday for the home opener against the Buffalo Bills.
"We want it to be very loud," said Bucs tight ends coach Ron Middleton. "That's the winning edge for us right there. Our fans - I'm sure they are going to be jacked up. It's hard going on the road playing on offense with the play calls and the play checks. It's invaluable. You can't put a price tag on what crowd noise can do to an opponent.
"They fuel us. The crowd noise and the excitement in the stands - that's what motivates us and gets us going. We need it big-time."
With the crowds at RJS not being at full capacity or full volume level over the last year - almost certainly due to the Buccaneers' disappointing 5-11 record that included an 0-4 start - Tampa Bay players and coaches said that they can work together with the fans to make it raucous atmosphere on Sunday.
"We talk about adversity and how we deal with it, and you know, sometimes fans have to deal with adversity, too," said Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber. "I've been a [University of Virginia] Cavaliers fan all my life and it is hard sticking with them sometimes, but I know what it is like to be a fan. It's something you have to take pride in. I know our fans will. They will respond to the challenge. I know they've had enough losing - just like us. I think together we can get it back going."
One of the things that irks players like Barber is when fans leave home games early in the fourth quarter. A couple of the Bucs' furious comeback attempts such as the game against the Atlanta Falcons in 2003, that resulted in a loss on a failed two-point conversion, and on Monday Night Football against the St. Louis Rams in 2000, that resulted in a Tampa Bay win, took place with thousands of Bucs fans already making the drive home.
"Anything can happen," Barber said. "It's not just big night games where everybody needs to stay. Day games are just as important and just as fun. The St. Louis game on Monday night [in 2000] - you think you'd like to be around to see the end of that deal, but people weren't. It's just sticking through. It's dealing with adversity - good or bad - and it's enjoying what you came to watch.
"You'd definitely like to see them stick around. You pay these prices to get in there, so you might as well stay. If you put something good out there or you put something bad out there, I think, good or bad - enjoy the show. Sports is a form of entertainment. We all know that. The fans will start to realize that the more and more we win, the more and more they'll want to stay."
While Bucs fans have had a tendency to get loud on third downs when the Tampa Bay defense is on the field, Middleton, who is also the Bucs assistant special teams coach, tells fans not to just be loud on third downs. He said that he has seen instances where loud crowd noise can distract players on fourth down and cause bad snaps, bad holds and dropped balls by punters and return men.
"You really need the fans to be loud on every special teams snap this week for sure," Middleton said. "These Buffalo guys had six returns last year for touchdowns - three on kickoff returns and three on punts. They had the special teams coach of the year last year and their return man [Terrence McGee] went to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii last year. It's going to be a big challenge for us.
"I would hope our fans come in with a 60-minute plan, just like we're going in with. It's going to be a dogfight for 60 minutes and we need them. We need the crowd the whole time. They can't pick and choose when they're going to turn it up."
The fact that some players and coaches are using the media like Pewter Report to get the message out to fans to be loud at Raymond James Stadium this weekend against the Bills indicates that the fans have not been loud enough for their liking in the past. While many players don't want to reveal their true feelings publicly for fear of the fan criticism and backlash that surrounded former Buc receiver Tim Brown, who made some disparaging comments about the fans last year, others are willing to stick their neck out and let the fans know to pump up the volume this Sunday.
For instance, take this message from defensive end Simeon Rice, who told the Tampa Tribune, "We need it loud. Put it like this, if I'm able to talk to the person sitting next to me and I am able to have a great conversation and hear them clearly, it's not loud enough. We want it to just be a deafening crowd.
"We want a crazy environment, so when [the Bills] walk in, inside our stadium, they understand the aura and they understand that level of intensity that the day will bring."
Barber echoed those sentiments, and said that the fact that Buffalo will be wearing its dark blue jerseys amid 90-degree temperatures combined with a deafening roar from the 12th Man could mean Bills QB J.P. Losman, who is making just his second NFL start on Sunday, is in for a rough day.
"I need two things from this weekend," Barber said. "I need it to be loud as hell and I need it to be hot as hell. We need some energy. I think last week, the offense was playing well and the defense was playing well and we started to feed off of each other. When the crowd gets into it, we will start feeding off them, too. I think that is as important as anything when you are playing at home."
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