Every football game begins with a kickoff, and every season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at least for the last four years, has begun with a Kickoff Party.
The 2008 version featured numerous Bucs players and dozens of cheerleaders, along with team mascot Captain Fear. Hundreds of faithful fans decked out in pewter and red joined them, packing the Channelside District Courtyard in downtown Tampa Friday night for the Bucs’ fourth-annual Official Season Kickoff Party, presented by Miller Lite.
Throughout the event, which began at 7:00 p.m., numerous Tampa Bay players – including Gaines Adams, Ronde Barber, Alex Smith, Barrett Ruud, Earnest Graham, Sabby Piscitelli, Jovan Haye, Maurice Stovall and Greg White – strolled down a runway crowded on either side with Bucs fans and took the microphone atop the large stage that had been erected in the courtyard.
In between performances by a number of Bucs cheerleaders, the group of players told the gathered fans how much they enjoyed their support and how big of an impact they made on each and every home game. Although the Bucs open the 2008 season on the road, many of the players took time to remind the fans that the home opener against the division rival Atlanta Falcons was just over a week away, and that their boisterous encouragement would be critical in picking up a win.
The players, cheerleaders and Captain Fear also threw out handfuls of beads and autographed mini footballs to the crowd gathered around the front of the stage.
Of course, most Buccaneer players will tell you that they are already fully motivated for Sunday’s game against the Saints. If a season-opening matchup against a division rival won’t get them amped, nothing will. That said, Friday night’s party, during which players and fans mingled and shared their hopes for the upcoming season less than 48 hours before it was due to begin, only added to the excitement.
“When you get on stage and see all the fans out there and how excited everybody is, not that you need any more motivation, but it definitely gets you going a little bit,” said tight end Alex Smith.
Added defensive end Gaines Adams: “It feels good just to know that you have a lot of support and to come out here and join the fans and have a good time. That’s what it’s about – us going out and playing hard on Sundays and at times like this, just gathering with the fans to show that we appreciate everything that they do.”
After the Buccaneers-themed festivities with the players and cheerleaders concluded, the fans in attendance were treated to a concert from a nationally-known recording artist, Saving Abel.
As for Smith and Adams, they enjoyed the celebration, especially the chance to get some up-close interaction with their fans.
“We have things sprinkled all throughout the year, like Fan Fest and the Kickoff Party,” Smith said. “Those are two of the things where you can really interact with the fans. It’s a good time and I enjoy it.
“You really don’t get too many opportunities to do that. Walking off the field after a game, you don’t really have a chance to just mingle with the fans, so it’s good to hang out every now and then.”
Said Adams: “It feels good. Usually they just see me on the field or on TV, so to be able to come out and show my face and get to meet new people is a blessing.”
But above all else, the event boosted the level of excitement for both the players and fans as kickoff against the Saints looms. For Adams, the chance to share that with the fans was a special thing.
“That’s what brings excitement to the game is the fans,” Adams said. “Without the fans, who knows what football would be? But our fans, I love them to death and I’m glad we have those fans.”