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November 11, 2010 @ 9:56 am
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2010 Midseason Awards Issue

Bucs Becoming A Team Worth Cheering For

WRITTEN_BY Scott Reynolds Scott Reynolds
RB Cadillac Williams scored a TD with 10 seconds left to help the Bucs beat the Rams, 18-17.
Scott Reynolds


The Buccaneers’ youth movement, spearheaded by quarterback Josh Freeman, has created a buzz in Tampa Bay and it’s time for fans to take notice – in person at Raymond James Stadium.
Step right up!

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!
Last modified on Monday, 29 November 2010 11:26

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Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds

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  • avatar

    Nice article. It's a young, exciting team on the rise, easy to fall in love with. But I think that unless ownership does something dramatic, the empty seats will remain. Sure there are a scattering of $40 tickets available on the Bucs site, but the vast majority of the unsold tickets are $100 or more. I am referring to tickets bought from the Bucs which are the ones that need to be sold to avoid the dreaded blackouts. 20,000 more tickets at $100 each is going to be tough in this economy. I challenge the owners to come up with a dramatic new plan to bring the season ticket holders back next year. Reach out to all the ones who left after ten years and offer the chance for them to restore their season ticket status-maybe even their seat deposit position. Same price as they had before and seats as close as possible to their old ones. Then we need a new aggressive marketing plan to convince new fans to purchase season tickets with a significant discount and some game day enhancements (free drink, hot dog, maybe parking, meet and greet etc). It needs to become cool to be a bucs fan again. From a 26 year season ticket holder's perspective.
  • avatar

    Good idea article, and response from csidedave. I can only speak from my perspective as a charter season tix holder who let my 4 seats go after 10 years. The price is now out of reach for the average non corporate fan. The last 3 years of our contract WITHOUT a failed economy was getting "hard to swallow". We ended up moving after lay-offs to the state of our eventual retirement (NC). We used to enjoy one of the larger tailgate parties in Tampa, and every one of the 40 or so "regulars" were planning on heading this way in the next 10 years. Our big splurge this year was a purchase of 4 tickets to the Bucs/Panthers game in Charlotte. We got lower bowl endzone seats in Charlotte for $52. Throughout the state, we saw several Buc jerseys on our drive. So, it seemed that a lot of the " Buc faithful" have migrated to N.C.'s Wall Street and Silicon Valley already. My point being that it's going to take a lot of "give" on the part of the owners to get others into the seats. I remember going to the games at the Sombrero and there being maybe 20,000 attending. Take a look at what was done then, and adjust for the times. Maybe PR can write a letter to the Glazers and let them know that most companies are hurting as much as they are, have cut a lot of jobs (and salaries). Tell them to take a look at their portfolios, and try to imagine someone with a smaller one who is also losing.... So, how can we be expected to absorb the high prices? Unfortunately, sporting events isn't on the "necessities of life list" at most households. Go Bucs! We love our young guys, they're gonna be great!
  • avatar

    As a season ticket holder since 1976 I think I have some experience in gauging the mentality of the Tampa Bay fans. Yes, there are a reasonable amount of die-hard fans who adopted the Buccaneers in 1976 and at certain points since. But usually only when the Bucs showed some spunk or there was the "buzz" Scott mentioned. Over the years, some even pretended to set aside their allegiance to the Dolphins, Redskins, Bears, my hometown Steelers and the Cowboys. But many maintained closet loyalty to their former colors. When it became vogue to be a Bucs fan in 1997 the fence-sitters joined in and the car flags flew proudly. The team hit it's peak with the championship and the transplants no longer rejected the team of their new locale. Ah, but then came the Indy game in 2003 that signaled the start of the decline. Back on were the Bears caps and Steeler jerseys as the fans on the back of the bandwagon steadily jumped off as the excuses spewed from their mouths. It's the cheap Glazers, it's the economy, they cut Derrick Brooks, Jon Gruden is an egomaniac, "Radio" Rah is over his head. But the reality is, they were never real fans of the Bucs. They were fans of the team out front. So once again the Bucs are showing signs similar to the second half of 1996. If the team finishes strong suddenly the economy will look better, the Glazers won't look so cheap and Raheem won't look like he rode the short bus to school. Back in the closet will go the stupid cheese heads, the Flying Elvis caps, the Viking horns and the Cowboy hats. How bout them Cowboys? Go Bucs!
  • avatar

    scubog, some people never change from their team wherever they move. They adopt the Bucs as their 2nd team and support them if it doesn"t conflict. They are football fans, just not the kind you respect I guess. Personally I grew up a Vikings fan and it took about 5 years after I moved to Tampa in 83 to switch to the Bucs. I probably wouldn"t have switched, but for the fact that the coverage was way better for the home team than an out of state team, even in the same division ( at the time).
  • avatar

    I posted on a site before the season started that this team would be much better and competetive each week. I see a 9-7 or 10-6 possible record this year and predicted before week 1. Go Bucs, play hard and never give up. Plus, this is one of the youngest teams in the NFL and Raheem is steering the ship right. Life is Good!!
  • avatar

    That's quite a commercial. Are the Bucs subsidizing the site?
  • avatar

    Well done, Mr. Reynolds. I am enjoying watching this team grow. We have some exciting players that will only get better. Dom and Coach Rah have shown that they can do a good job with the draft. I am someone bitten by the economy. If I could go to the games, I would. If the Bucs continue to win this year, I think the stadium will fill up again. All I can say is Go Bucs! Take care of Carolina.
  • avatar

    The true fans have still remained loyal to the Bucs. Not all could before, or now, afford season tickets. Sitting in the sun for 3 1/2 hours seems a lot longer and hotter when the Bucs play more like the Yucs, or maybe it is just because I am a lot older. Even when they are the Yucs, as in the past at the old Sombrero when I wore a paper grocery sack over my head, they stlil were my team. Even if the teams I grew up with (the 9ers and Raiders) were in town, I have never worn their colors to a Bucs' game. Even when I boo the Bucs or their coaches for truly rotten performances, they are my team. When "Buc fans" wear the colors of their prior home town teams, I ask them if they would do that to an Eagles' home game in Philly. Sheepishly, NO ONE has said they would.
  • avatar

    I'm not even going to read this article on the grounds that the title is stupid. This team has always been worth cheering for, unless you're a half *censored* bandwagoner.
  • avatar

    buctebow: The ones that really get me are the fans who have lived here since 1983 and teach their sons and daughters to be fans of their former residence before they were even born preventing the offspring from cheering for their own hometown team like Daddy did back in Minnesota. Reverting back to ones former team is akin to being married to a girl for five years but if she got into a fight with your sophomore prom date you're rooting for the girlfriend........usually if she's bigger with a better chance to win. Being from Pittsburgh and the six Superbowl victories I have stuck with the mighty Bucs through a lot of misery.
  • avatar

    You are a Buc fan if you watch them whether at the stadium and or TV. I haven't lived in the Tampa Bay area for 17 years, but I watch every game that is shown on TV. I wear my Buc Jersey proudly on game day and none game days. I gave up my 4 tickets back in the 80's because of the sun and the heat. The Glazers need to lower their prices; just like it is being done in various business services. A strong youth ticket campaign would help to fill the stadium now and also help to maintain a new group of fans as time marches on. All those fancy box seats don't work anymore especially the business box seats. I would open that up and add more seating in those areas of the stadium. They're still thousands of people who would like to be at the game and seated in air conditioning. Lower those prices. .
  • avatar

    skubog well said i work with a ridiculous philly fan he lives here but criticize the city at every chance he gets.Its just the region its a transient region unfortunatley people from other cities will for the most part continue to root for their home team, i truly believe this is why the rays have such a hard time drawing fans. Just my opinion
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