The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made it clear on an invoice and in an e-mail that season ticket holders had until Dec. 7 to purchase playoff tickets. On Dec. 19, the Buccaneers sent out a press release to the media notifying them that individual playoff tickets would go on sale on Dec. 22 at 10:00 a.m. The press release said, “Tickets are limited and are expected to sell out fast.”

Yet 11 days after playoff tickets went on sale and just five days before the Buccaneers host the New York Giants on Sunday, January 6 at 1:00 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium, tickets are still available. Despite advertisements on radio, in newspapers and on Buccaneers.com this past week, the home playoff game is not sold out.

Attempts to find out from the team exactly how many tickets remain for Sunday’s playoff game were unsuccessful, but a Ticketmaster official estimated that there was less than 1,000 seats left. However, as of Tuesday morning, seats in all three levels at Raymond James Stadium were still available.

Tampa Bay has only hosted six other playoff games in the franchise’s 32-year history. The Bucs beat the Eagles, but lost to the Rams in the NFC Championship game in 1979, were victorious over the Lions in a 1997 Wild Card game, beat the Redskins in a 1999 NFC Divisional playoff game, triumphed over the 49ers in a 2002 NFC Divisional playoff game and lost to Washington in a Wild Card affair in 2005. That’s a proud, 4-2 home playoff record for Tampa Bay.

But the thought of a Buccaneers’ home playoff game not selling out after 11 days? This is surprising and disappointing for the Tampa Bay area, although some members of the Buccaneers organization would not go that far when discussing why Sunday’s playoff game is the not-so-hottest ticket in town.

“No, I’m not disappointed,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. “I’m confident that it will be a great crowd and it will be an enthusiastic one, and hopefully we get it sold out.”

But one would think that after yet another NFC South division title and a return to the playoffs after a dismal 4-12 season in 2006 that fans would have been excited enough to gobble up the remaining playoff tickets in a matter of hours – as has been the case in prior years when the Bucs made the playoffs – not over the span of two weeks.

“I’m sure more than likely it will be sold out,” Bucs tight end Alex Smith said. “I don’t know what people are waiting for. I guess people are taking their sweet time. I know we didn’t have the playoffs last year, but you would think that Tampa would be excited to have the playoffs this year.”

Yes, you would. You could see this happening in Miami or Arizona or some other fair-weather football venue, but with Tampa being such a football town, the fact that this playoff game has not been sold out yet should be embarrassing to Bucs fans.

“We went 6-2 at home,” Smith said. “That’s not a bad record to have. I think our fans have been great all year long. I don’t see any reason why they would stop now.”

Smith is right. Take a look at the Bucs’ 2007 home games from a sheer entertainment perspective. The season opener against New Orleans was an exciting 31-14 rout, giving Tampa Bay its first win of the year and a key victory over the defending NFC South champions. Another rout took place against St. Louis the following week in a big-play affair that ended in a 24-3 Buccaneers win.

It was a defensive struggle in Week 5 against Tennessee, but the game included a cliffhanger ending, 13-10, as Jeff Garcia and Ike Hilliard keyed a last-minute scoring drive with kicker Matt Bryant sealing the victory. Even the Bucs’ first loss at home, a 24-23 defeat to Jacksonville, was an exciting nail-biter with the game going down to the wire.

The next week’s game against Arizona should have been a 24-3 blowout, but red zone woes caused the Bucs defense to have to step up and make a late fourth quarter stand in a 17-10 thriller. No home game was more filled with drama than the tense contest against Washington. After losing Garcia on the first play of the game, the Bucs defense recorded six turnovers and denied the Redskins a comeback win in the game’s final seconds with a 19-13 victory.

Tampa Bay’s rout over Atlanta was certainly action-packed, featuring the team’s first-ever kickoff return for a touchdown in a 37-3 domination over the hapless Falcons. The crowd was hyped after Ronde Barber’s interception return for a touchdown gave the Bucs an early 7-0 lead. Micheal Spurlock’s 90-yard kick return TD pushed the score to 14-3 and the crowd went ballistic.

“That Atlanta game, I’ve never seen the fans that much into a game,” Smith said. “My parents were at that game and they said they did ‘The Wave’ six times. We’ve never had that type of atmosphere here.”

Bucs fans even did the “The Wave” several times at the season finale` in which the team lost to Carolina, 31-23. The game featured several reserves for Tampa Bay in a meaningless game as many starters had the week off to rest up for the Giants. Still, the game went down to the wire and there were several big plays to keep fans entertained.

So after one of the better slate of home games in recent memory, a home playoff game is still in danger of not selling out and being blacked out locally? Surprising indeed.

“Well, if the fans don’t have the chance to go, then they might not be able to see it,” Hilliard said. “Whether we have a capacity crowd or not, some fans are going to be there to see. Hopefully it’s a sold out game so everybody can see it. We need them all, there’s no question.

“People have to do whatever they have to do, I guess. If they are going to sit at home and watch the game, then that’s fine. You’d like to have the fans in the stands, but at the end of the day you have to be sensitive to the pricing situation and whether or not everybody can afford to bring their entire family out to the game. That’s understandable. Whether they are in the stadium or at home watching, we’ll have enough support and we appreciate it.”

Ticket prices, which are set by the NFL – not the Buccaneers, are more expensive than regular season games, but that has not deterred fans from selling out previous playoff games in a matter of hours or perhaps a day or two. With each day that passes, more and more New York Giants fans could be purchasing tickets and travel packages to come down and try to take away Tampa Bay’s home-field advantage, although Ticketmaster has restricted access to tickets to buyers with a Florida zip code.

“It's important for everybody to be there and for everybody to be watching because we don't just do it for ourselves, we do it for the city of Tampa and the people that are watching and live and die for Tampa Bay Buccaneers football,” Tampa Bay wide receiver Michael Clayton said. “It means a lot to them and it means a lot to us for the fans to be there and supporting us, cheering and giving us all of the help they can because they do help us. Not everybody is blessed to have a home playoff game. One way to take advantage of it is to have your crowd into it. I'm pretty sure they'll be involved.”

Maybe it is the fact that the Bucs have won just once out of the last four games of the 2007 season, but Bucs tight end Anthony Becht said the team needs the fan support and can’t imagine not playing in front of a less than capacity crowd at Raymond James Stadium.

“I think people will buy the tickets,” Becht said. “I can’t think of any reason why fans wouldn’t want to come to this game. There are plenty of people in the Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater community to come out. It’s an opportunity for them to support us. I hear fans every week calling in to talk radio, to talk about our team. They need to come out and bring their friends out to the game. We got to the playoffs, we got them a home game. We need their support. It does need to be full. All fans need to be out there. I remember being out there in 2005 with the flags waving and everything. It was an awesome environment. I’m really looking forward to seeing that again. I would be very disappointed if we didn’t see that.”

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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