On Tuesday, when asked what would be the biggest key to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finding success in 2013, Head Coach Greg Schiano had this succinct reply: "Play as a team, and stick together." Given the audience for this exchange, Schiano's message couldn't have been more appropriate.
Schiano was one of a high-powered group of Buc representatives who took the stage at Tuesday's "Back to Football Chalk Talk with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers." Since 2011, the Clearwater, Greater Tampa and St. Petersburg Chambers of Commerce have combined forces to stage the Chalk Talk as a kickoff to the new NFL season, in the process combining what used to be a series of similar luncheons and breakfast gatherings.
"This is the third year that all three Chambers have joined together to celebrate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," said Greg Celestan, chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber. "This is just one more example of how these three organizations of the Bay area work together. In this respect, we can also work together as fans to throw our full support behind the Buccaneers this season."
Joining Schiano on the Chalk Talk stage were Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer, General Manager Mark Dominik, quarterback Josh Freeman, safety Dashon Goldson, running back Doug Martin, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and cornerback Darrelle Revis. As the thousands of luncheon attendees enjoyed the event's program, which was dominated by a lengthy Q&A session for all of the Buccaneers on the stage, he could see how the Bay area community is united behind its team.
"I think [the event] is always a great opportunity to talk about the football team, to talk about the offseason and why those certain players are up on the stage, how they got there…and then just kind of get everybody excited," said Dominik. "The community can come together – Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater – and that's what you want to do as a football team, come together and win for everyone. That's what today was."
Glazer, who delighted the crowd at one point by saying that Tampa would definitely be making a bid this fall to serve as the host for the next available Super Bowl, got the same feeling from the room on Tuesday that he has noticed throughout the offseason when interacting with fans.
"There's just a different energy out there this year," said Glazer. "There's a new enthusiasm and you can see it reflected in ticket sales, and you'll see more of the Buccaneers on TV this year. That comes from people believing in the team, believing in where it is headed. And that's exciting."
Fans at the luncheon sent questions to Glazer and the other Buccaneer guests through the afternoon's emcee, T.J. Rives of the Buccaneer Radio Network. Those directed at Revis focused on his recovery from last year's knee injury and how eager he is to get back in action on Sunday against his former team, the New York Jets.
"I just thank God that I got a second chance to play the game I love," said Revis, insisting that he drew no extra motivation from this particular opponent. "I'm excited about this week, as I'm sure everyone else is, too. I think I can speak for all [of the players]: We're all motivated to go out there and perform at the highest level. I'm approaching this like a regular week – my only goal is to go up there and get a win."
McCoy, who described himself (accurately) as "one of the most talkative guys on the team," surprisingly waited well into the program before a question was sent his way, and then drew laughs when he belatedly introduced himself and lobbied to get two questions in a row. There were other light-hearted moments, such as when a very hoarse Goldson suggested he had lost his voice yelling at practice, or when Schiano explained why he keeps the replay-challenge flag in his sock instead of his pocket on game day. (For the record, the sock-storage method is designed to make Schiano think extra long before deploying the challenge flag, as opposed to just blithely pulling it out of his pocket.)
The fans in attendance got some laughs and a nice lunch, and at the end of the program they also had a chance to approach the stage and collect autographs from and pictures with the players and other Buc reps. As they left, the attendees were even handed battle flags from a spirited group of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders.
"It's great when we get to see the fans, interact with them, talk with them," said McCoy. "It will be even more exciting after we go play this game. We're planning to get a big win so it's going to be great."
Added Goldson, the former 49er, after his first Buccaneer Chalk Talk: "I think today was a good turnout. It's always good to be a part of something like this, for sure. It's great to see how happy the fans are out in the community to get this thing rolling."