table of contents
- The Future Is Anything But Grimm For Cody
- Bucs Have A Great Chance To Finish 2010 As Winners
- Pewter Report 2010 Midseason Grades
- Pewter Report 2010 Midseason Awards
- Pewter Report Conversation: WR Mike Williams
- The Foundation For An Offensive Juggernaut
- Bucs Becoming A Team Worth Cheering For
- The Underdogs Give Bucs Plenty Of Bite
- Pewter Prospect: DE Ryan Kerrigan
- Pewter Prospect: OT Derek Sherrod
- In The Lab: CB Myron Lewis
- Is Gerald McCoy A Bust?
Come one, come all!
There will be thrills, and spills and chills!
There will be thunder and plenty of plunder from these pewter pirates!
Come together to Unite and Conquer!
Over the past two years the Buccaneers have hired a new general manager in Mark Dominik, a new head coach in Raheem Morris, a new offensive coordinator in Greg Olson, got a new quarterback in Josh Freeman, hired a new director of public relations fresh from the nation’s capitol in Jonathan Grella and came up with a catchy new Unite and Conquer marketing slogan for the 2010 campaign.
All that’s left to do is get a carnival barker, or perhaps a circus ringleader to get fans to come see a new, exciting brand of Buccaneers football at Raymond James Stadium. The only way you’ll see this team play in Tampa is with a ticket as every home game will be blacked out because of a massive depletion of the team’s season ticket base over the last two years.
I suppose it’s the media’s job to play town crier and let Bucs fans – both die-hard and fair-weather – know that there is a new day in Tampa Bay (again). And that’s the purpose of this column.
Having been in a lot of Tampa Bay locker rooms over the past 15 years I’ve been on the Buccaneers beat, I can say without hesitation or prejudice that this is a team chock full of good guys and soon-to-be heroes and fan favorites. Players that Bucs fans will be excited to see on the field and in the community.
More importantly, this is a team that Tampa Bay fans can be proud of, and that has been the driving force in Dominik’s rebuilding project. Having a 15-year history with the franchise, Dominik has seen and been a part of the team drafting a roster full of players that Bucs fans and the community absolutely adores in the likes of linebacker Derrick Brooks, fullback Mike Alstott, running back Warrick Dunn and cornerback Ronde Barber among others.
Barber is the lone Buc left of that glory days bunch, but there are plenty of future stars waiting in the wings, starting with Freeman, wide receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Not only are those players talented, they are also good, fan-friendly guys.
Since 1979, Tampa Bay has always been a town that has favored defense and a strong running game in its pro football team. After all, the Buccaneers won the NFC Central division title that year and came within a game from the Super Bowl thanks to the rushing of running back Ricky Bell and the sacks from defensive end Lee Roy Selmon. The love affair of great defense and a strong ground game continued in the mid-to-late 1990s when Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin put together one of the best defenses of the modern day, full of Pro Bowlers and a couple future Hall of Famers. Not to mention the WD-40 backfield of Dunn and Alstott.
The Bucs haven’t had a buzzworthy ground game for some time, although the highlight runs of rookie LeGarrette Blount show promise. Tampa Bay’s once proud defense still lacks talent at key positions and is a shell of its former self. That combination, plus a roster full of new, young and mostly unproven talent that suddenly replaced established, fan-favorite players has turned some Bucs followers off.
So have reports and commentary in the media and on sports talk radio suggesting that the Glazers are treating the Bucs like a stepchild and caring mostly about their Manchester United soccer team in England. The Bucs have spent the least amount of money on team payroll over the last couple of years, and warranted or not, the Glazers have been labeled cheap and uncaring by the fans.
Ownership hired Grella to help defend the Glazers’ reputation and put them and the team in a better light among the fans and the media. But that will take time, just like it will to fill Raymond James Stadium again.
They say that winning cures all ills and that’s exactly what it will take to stem the tide of negativity that has been built up from sports talk radio, Internet message boards, the media and fans paying overpriced tickets and turn the Bucs’ ship around.
If Tampa Bay, which is a surprising 5-3 through the first half of the 2010 season, posts an improbable winning record in the middle of rebuilding following a 3-13 mark last year, the Glazers won’t be considered cheap and uncaring anymore. Instead, their calculated plan of giving with a youth movement – which essentially forces a team to act cheap because rookie contracts are less expensive than veteran contracts – will be seen as genius and ultimately the right thing to do.
Fans will then worry less about putting money in the Glazers’ coffers and will instead focus on their desire to see Freeman throw touchdown passes to Williams and Benn. Fans’ decisions to go to games will be less about the grudge they might have against ownership and the perceived unwillingness to spend much in free agency, and more about the young, ascending players and the Bucs’ plan to build through the draft.
The Tampa Bay fan base has never really had a true franchise quarterback before, and it will likely be Freeman, the team’s first-round pick in 2009 who appears to have the traits of an elite NFL QB, who will lead the fans back into Raymond James Stadium. Former quarterback Doug Williams was revered in Tampa Bay despite a completion percentage below 45 percent, because of his ability to throw the long ball and hand off to Bell in the team’s heyday back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Steve Young had a Hall of Fame career, but only after being traded to San Francisco. Vinny Testaverde and Trent Dilfer, the Bucs’ last two quarterbacks selected in the first round prior to Freeman, were false prophets that never lived up to expectations or their draft status.
The more success Freeman has, the more he entices Tampa Bay residents to become fans again or become Bucs fans for the first time. And the more the team wins. The more the team wins the more buzz there is about the Buccaneers.
“I think the town is really buzzing,” Morris said. “I think we’re starting to get a little national attention because of … me – to be honest with you. I’ve seen me on TV more than anything. My mom called me and said she has seen me more on SportsCenter than she has seen me in person.”
Morris fired a shot across the bow of the rest of the NFL when he proclaimed his Bucs, who are the youngest team in the NFL, to be the best team in the NFC over the past two weeks after wins against St. Louis and Arizona propelled them to a 5-2 record. Morris’ swagger has helped inspire confidence within the team and create a sense of urgency to not spoil a hot start and start playing like a team full of rookies and inexperienced players.
It also drew national attention to Tampa on ESPN and elsewhere, which local Bay area residents that hear far too much about bigger East Coast cities like Boston, Philadelphia and New York love.
“I think the buzz is starting to happen from the young football team, the energy it brings, how we’re winning and how we’re calling games,” Morris said. “If you came to our game [on Sunday in Atlanta], you saw a flea-flicker, you see an onside kick, you see a reverse, you see Bonzai blitzes, you see all-out blitzes, you see all-out pressures, [58-yard] touchdown [catches], back-shoulder catches in the end zone, a fourth-and-inches that we get stopped on. It’s an exciting brand of football that Tampa is trying to sell to people. You’ve got to have a buzz about it. Coming out of that game, you guys felt like you watched a good game.”
With four fourth-quarter come-from-behind games this year and an action-packed, nail-biting loss in Atlanta, Morris is right. The Bucs are playing an exciting brand of football right now and they are worth seeing in person.
The Bucs players realize the local economy has a lot to do with a lot of empty seats in the stands, but when Pittsburgh and New Orleans fans numbered in excess of 15,000, that was even more bothersome.
“When you are on the road you know what you are dealing with,” Bucs tight end John Gilmore said. “You are walking into the lion’s cage. You know it’s going to be loud. You know you are going to have to deal with that as a distraction. A lot of times when we’ve played at home against teams like Pittsburgh and New Orleans – and I’m not throwing out any excuses – but half the stadium was black and gold. That kind of throws you off a little bit.
“I think this Buccaneers team can change the fan base here in Tampa Bay. This is going to be a good team. People are going to start following this team after this year and we’re going to get back to more red and pewter in the stands. When we go on the road, we actually look forward to it. When we play at home, you never know what you are going to get. It kind of catches you off guard when we’re at home and we can’t hear the snap count against Pittsburgh. That shouldn’t happen. I’m a firm believer that you have to win all of your home games. We’ve lost two at home, so now we have to make those up on the road.”
There are plenty of tickets available for upcoming games against Carolina, Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle. All four of those games are winnable, so fans would be getting good value if they plunked down for tickets and walked away with a smile that only a Buccaneers victory can bring.
Yes, tickets are expensive and the Glazers would be wise to lower season ticket and individual game ticket prices across the board next year as a goodwill gesture towards fans and a way to increase its season ticket holder base. But why not go see one game this year to support the hometown team instead of spending a day at a theme park or a night out on the town?
Tickets on StubHub.com for the remaining four home games start at $32 for upper level seats and lower end zone seats start at $58. That’s less than the price of a theme park ticket and concession prices are nearly as outrageous at Disney and Busch Gardens as they are at Raymond James Stadium.
With the unbelievable possibility of a playoff berth looming, the Bucs are both exciting and worth rooting for. Fans who saw the Bucs come back to beat the Browns and the Rams at Raymond James Stadium were treated to some thrilling finishes.
“That’s the kind of games we want to play – meaningful ones,” Morris said.
As the wins continue to mount for the Bucs, the players are hopeful to pick up a few more fans along the way to get Raymond James Stadium back to the way it used to be – full, loud and friendly to the home team.
“I was actually looking at sections of the stadium that were completely empty [against St. Louis],” Gilmore said. “I’m even buying more tickets this year to try to get more people to the games. It’s a tough time for everybody right now. It’s a resource thing. A lot of people don’t have the resources right now to come out to these games and that’s understandable. We have to win more games at home. That’s our job as players. We have to win more at home and have the fans enjoy the games. Once we have the fans back on our side, we will feel that.
“To see whole sections of fans missing – that was tough to see. As a player, once you are locked into the game it doesn’t matter, but we put in a lot of hard work during the week for the fans and it hurts a little bit to not seem them out there.”
Come one, come all!