They went out of their way to make sure a watershed moment in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history was properly celebrated. Bryan Glazer went out of his way to make sure they were thanked for their dedication to the Buccaneers.
Earlier this month, former Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, becoming just the second player in the Hall who spent most or all of his career in Tampa. The event drew fans in an array of NFL colors to Canton, Ohio to cheer on the seven 2013 inductees, among them plenty of Buccaneer faithful sporting red and pewter. Glazer couldn't help but notice the Bay area faithful in the crowd, and he was impressed.
Throughout the day, in the corridors of the Hall and the aisles of Fawcett Stadium, where the induction ceremony was held, Glazer engaged visiting Buccaneer fans in conversation. At the end of each conversation, he asked for their contact information. He didn't tell them why.
Chris and Liz Sugg of Zephyrhills, Florida were two such fans who ran into Glazer in Canton.
"We saw him and wanted to introduce ourselves and thank them for what they've done since their family took over," said Chris Sugg. "We've been Bucs fans all our lives, since Day One."
"We got a new stadium, we got new colors, we got a whole new franchise," added Liz Sugg. "He revitalized our franchise and we wanted to thank him."
Kevin and Susan Houghtaling and their grown son, Donald, ran into Bryan Glazer in Canton as well. Donald, a former Florida state 5A football champion at Venice High School, recognized the Buccaneer owner outside of a team function and approached him with similar thoughts. Four weeks later, he found himself in Tampa, attending the Buccaneers' preseason game against the Washington Redskins and watching it all from the best seats in the house. That was certainly not what he expected when he relayed the Houghtaling's contact information to a Buccaneer representative in Canton.
"I thought maybe we'd get a hat or a t-shirt," he said, "and now we're in the Owners' Suite, so this is incredible."
The Houghtalings and the Suggs were among 30 fans who were invited to watch Thursday night's game from the Glazers' suite at Raymond James Stadium after meeting Bryan Glazer in Canton. Reaching out to the fans on game day has become something of a tradition for Glazer – he also went up into the stands and pulled 18 random Buccaneer rooters into the Owners' Suite on Thursday – but Sapp's induction offered a special opportunity for the franchise to reach out to its faithful. Those who took the time to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony were merely building on a lifetime of supporting the Buccaneers, and Glazer was quick to recognize that level of devotion.
"We were standing outside the Buccaneers' VIP party [in Canton], and I recognized him," said Donald Houghtaling. "I've seen him for my whole life. So I said, 'Hey, Mr. Glazer. I appreciate what you're doing for the team.' He took the time to talk with us – blew me away, blew my Dad away, blew my little brother away. He walked over, had a conversation with us, shook our hands and really thanked us for making the effort to go out there to support the Buccaneers, which is what we've done our whole lives."
Kevin Houghtaling previously worked for The Tampa Tribune before moving his family to New York, and as such he attended more than a few games in the suite directly to the north of the Owners' Suite at Raymond James Stadium. "We could see that they had better stuff in there," joked Houghtaling. "This is an awesome suite."
Whatever vantage point he had to watch Sapp wreak havoc on opposing backfields, Houghtaling enjoyed it. The experience was memorable enough to him and his family to make their trip to Canton a no-brainer.
"We were there when he was drafted," he said. "We're from Florida originally, and we wouldn't have missed that for the world. He was the best defensive tackle in the league."
The encounter with Bryan Glazer added a second level to the experience, as the Houghtalings chose to accept the team's invitation and make a long week out of it in Florida, visiting former friends in Venice. Thursday night was definitely the highlight of their trip, however.
"This has been awesome," said Susan Houghtaling. "Everybody is so nice and friendly. Every wish that we have, they want us to be comfortable and happy. It's really a great experience."