April 24, 1974. It was a warm spring day in Orlando. It was a Wednesday afternoon and (I have no memory of why) there was no school that day. I scampered down the stairs in our home as any eight-year-old would. Focused on only one thing, going outside to play. Little did I know that my day and much of my life was about to make a drastic change.
“Hold on!”, my mother exclaimed. I slammed on the brakes hoping for a snack or something. No such luck. Instead, I was instructed to have a seat at the kitchen table. Was I in trouble? What did I do? I can’t think of anything!
My mom calmly walked up and told me we would listen to a press conference that was coming on WDBO radio.
What!? Why in the world would I want to do that? I had important business to attend to with a Wiffle ball in the front yard. Never-the-less, she instructed me to sit down.
My mother explained to me that someplace I had never heard of named Tampa was about to be announced as having a football team. I was NOT HAPPY. Who cares? Some football team in some faraway land?
Mother Knows Best
She explained to me that this team would be in the NFL. She also made it very clear to me I would be a fan. It wasn’t a suggestion. It wasn’t encouraged. She dictated it. My small brain raced to the Florida Blazers of the WFL. They were in some other league and I loved them. I loved the Vikings because Fran Tarkenton was fun to watch run around (and because I liked the purple uniforms). “So what! Another team?”, I asked. I was told this is in the big football league and Tampa was “just down the highway.”
She explained that we could go to the games. I said “so you mean they will play against Fran Tarkenton? I can see Fran Tarkenton in person?” When I understood that this could happen, but I had to root for this team. She gave me permission to still root for the Vikings.
You might think this was a little strange. Why would I be TOLD I would be a fan of this team? I did not understand what was happening. My father had died in Vietnam a few years earlier. I was raised primarily by my mother and two sisters. This was my mom making sure that I got interested in “boy things”. Times were different then.
We listened as some guy named Tom McCloskey was introduced as the first owner of Tampa’s yet unnamed team. We listened until I could FINALLY get outside to the important things of the day. Little did I know that my life had just changed forever.
Then Everything Changed
Flash forward two years. I remember packing up the Pontiac Catalina for a trip to Tampa to see my first Bucs game. We would stay overnight at someplace called The Hawaiian Inn by the stadium after the game. A bag of orange and white streamers and some poster board was produced and my sisters and I got to decorate the car. What kind of magical experience is this?
We drove the 90 miles to Tampa. Other cars on the interstate were decorated for the game. Apparently this was a thing, and boy was it fun!
I don’t know which game we went to. I took pictures of the scoreboard in the Big Sombrero as it implored the crowd on one side. TAMPA! And the other side, BAY!!! I know little of anything else about that day other than this. When I came home, I was a Bucs fan for life! Well, I also know we lost, but I didn’t even care.
While I had been geared up in orange Bucs t-shirts and gear all school year, the losing continued. I had embraced the fun of this team. Then the season started, and I was picked on mercilessly by all the Miami Dolphins fans at school. As a ten-year-old this did not intimidate me, it steeled my resolve. I would stick with this team no matter what! Little did I know what I was in for.
I was always close to my mother. We always shared a love for the Bucs. I would call her and talk Bucs every day. We would talk about what it would be like if they ever won a Super Bowl. In October 2001 she was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in January of the next year. She was even buried with a Mike Alstott jersey (her favorite player).
The Super Bowl
The next season the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Sure, there is a part of me that is sad that she was not still alive to see it but I always imagined that when she got to heaven, she would have marched right up to God and made one request. Tampa 48, Oakland 21. Yeah. That about covers it.
The Cheap Seats
When we went to that first game, we sat in the cheap seats. My single mom got what she could afford. It didn’t matter. I had the best seats in the house in my mind. My sisters and I cheered with her. We laughed, and all became Bucs fans. I even got season tickets for a couple of seasons.
My view in those days was the best view ever. Since then, I have been on the field and in the locker room for Pro Football Weekly as a photographer. I have sat on the 50-yard line. I was even able to sit in the front row with Big Nasty once thanks to my friend Mark Goodman. All of those were special experiences, but the view was never better than it was as a kid watching from the cheap seats.
I don’t want to see the game like so many experts. I don’t want to over-analyze and learn too much. What you will get from me is the view “From The Cheap Seats”. It’s better here. I promise!
April 24, 1974. It was a magnificent day.