‘You should go to an NFL game whilst in Florida’ was the throwaway comment from my Pittsburgh Steeler loving workmate in September 2012 just three weeks before a long-time planned first ever family holiday to Florida. Not being too great on Floridian geography I asked ‘Where could I go?’ ‘Tampa is about 90 minutes away’ he reliably informed me. My last real interest in the NFL expired in the early 90’s and the three things I knew about the Bucs were:-
1) Vinny Testaverde was their Quarterback (who happened to be colour blind)
2) They wore orange and cream uniforms
3) They sucked!
For an ex-loving NFL fan who thought those days were behind him, I was straight on to Ticketmaster’s American website exploring Tampa Bay Buccaneers fixture list.
Week 6 – Kansas City Chiefs v Tampa Bay Buccaneers – tickets available
Week 7 – New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers – tickets available
Great, I thought to myself, the Bucs are playing away both weekends we are in Florida. Of course, for someone who has been a football fan (although I detest the term, I am referring to soccer) the home team is always listed first in the fixture list. Foolishly, I had adopted the same philosophy with American Football and it took a while for the penny to drop when I noticed that both games were to be played at the Raymond James Stadium. What? Two games at Tampa and both have tickets available!
Although I never really had an NFL team, there has always been something about the Kansas City Chiefs that I liked – whether it was their history, their name perhaps even their colours with me being an Aberdeen FC fan – therefore, without running the risk of upsetting Saints fans, it had to be the Chiefs game for me and my son.
For those who have ordered tickets online from Ticketmaster, it is as straightforward as can be. Select the game, select the section of the stadium, select the seat(s) and, boom, ticket is yours. For someone who has a disabled son, trying to find a wheelchair seat complete with a carer seat seemed not quite as straightforward. Now I am from the North East of Scotland and although I don’t think that I have a particularly broad accent, the thought of talking to someone on a transatlantic phone call whilst trying to describe that I am looking for a wheelchair and carer seats in a stadium that I have never been too for an event that I had never been too filled me with nothing but dread.
So, with trepidation, I phone Ticketmaster America. Within minutes I have secured the required seats at the rear of the lower level right behind the posts. Unbelievable I thought. Unfortunately, the next 15 minutes were spent trying to record my name, address, credit card details et all. To give you an example:
Sales person – ‘First Name?’
Me – ‘Stuart’
Sales person – ‘Could you repeat that, Sir?’
Me – ‘Stuart’
Sales person – ‘Could you spell that, Sir?’
Me – ‘S for States, T for Tampa, U for United, A for America, R for Ronald, T for Tampa’
Sales person – ‘ah, Stoort,
Me – ‘Groan!……..’
Once the personal details had been recorded I heard the magic words; ‘Your payment has been accepted and you can collect the tickets at the Will Call counter on the day of the game’.
I had three weeks to carry out some research on the Bucs before the big game as it would be nice to appear to be a genuine fan as opposed to a tourist although the pale white skin, drink problem and unhealthy diet only emphasis’ the fact that I am Scottish. With the Internet at my fingertips I was ready to go. What I wasn’t ready for was the revelation that not only the Bucs are one of the dominant teams of the late 90’s and early 00’s, they won the Super Bowl too! What? The Bucs? I had no idea who Tony Dungy, John Gruden, Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Simeone Rice, Mike Alstott were. Within the space of a decade of my self-imposed exile from the NFL, the Bucs had become World Champions! Unbelievable.
Finally, game day. I still cannot put into words how nervous I felt about attending this event. I was driving a car bigger then my house on the wrong side of the road on a road system which at best resembled a scene out of Wacky Races with my then 12 year old son who has no form of communicating with the exception of shouting noises. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing as it turned out. We arrived at the stadium in plenty time, picked up the tickets and just casually hung about outside the ground soaking up the amazing tailgating parties – not much tailgating goes on pre-match at Scottish Premier League football games at a wet and windy Pittodrie Stadium on the North East coast of Scotland! After my son was decorated with coloured beads, we were soon through the security checks and up the ramp to level one at the incredible Raymond James Stadium. Like most tourists we went straight to the club shop. One home 24 jersey (Mark Barron) and one home 5 jersey (Josh Freeman) later and we were ready to go. To this day, the sight we encountered when we came out of the shadows of the foyer to get to our seats was incredible; the noise, the colour, the smell, the sound. Unbelievable.
Within minutes, the official pre-game ritual had begun. A rather impressive American flag was unfurled across the pitch and a local female singer was then introduced prior to the national anthem. Now, as mentioned previously, I am Scottish and must admit the Flower of Scotland doesn’t get my juices running as a national anthem. I have no issue with the lyrics I just personally find the tune a bit on the slow side and therefore not very uplifting. What I wasn’t prepared for was how emotional I was soon to become when hearing a foreign national anthem in the flesh for the first time. Taking my cue from my fellow Bucs fans, I stand up with them in preparation for the Star-Spangled Banner. Normally, I let my son shout when he likes, however, I was prepared to stop him shouting for the duration of the anthem but I needn’t have worried, he was dead quiet. Me on the other hand, about half way through the anthem had turned into a quivering wreck barely able to contain myself. Tears were flowing like a tap! Talk about caught up in the moment!
From that moment I was completely overawed by the whole occasion. Although lasting for 3 1/2 hours, the game seemed to pass in a flash. From memory, the game itself was a stroll for the Bucs. The Chiefs were very poor (they ended the season 2-14) whilst the Bucs, after a slow start moved the ball forward at will and ran out comfortable 38-10 winners.
Leaving the stadium was a mixture of ecstasy and agony. The ecstasy being that we had just had the perfect Father and Son day and witnessed our newly adopted team win. The agony being that we might never be back.
Turns out I was wrong on that count. We have been fortunate to return to the Raymond James Stadium several times since although had to wait until the Jacksonville Jaguars visited Tampa in 2015 before witnessing the Bucs win since that first visit.
If I am being honest, the more I go, the more I enjoy the game itself as I can see the routes developing, the different coverages offered by the defense, the tactical battles and just how physical the game is.
As a sheer experience nothing will ever compare to that October Sunday in 2012 when a dad and his only boy had the best day out ever.
Stuart is a big NFL fan who loves the roller coaster of emotions that comes with being a Buccaneers fan. When he isn’t watching the NFL he is busy daydreaming about spending the rest of his days on Clearwater Beach with a Tampa Bay Cheerleader. P.S. Don’t tell his wife that. Stuart can be followed on Twitter @stuarty1973.