When Bryan Glazer took the podium early in Thursday's 2011 Chamber Chalk Talk Luncheon, he couldn't help but think of the moment a year earlier when he addressed a very similar crowd.
The annual season-kickoff luncheon is a long-running tradition between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the community that supports them, though it recently has grown even more enjoyable due to a more unified approach by the Bay area. Rather than separate luncheons and breakfast meetings, the Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Greater Tampa Chambers of Commerce now combine their efforts into one very impressive event.
It's an event that Glazer, Buccaneers Co-Chairman, enjoys every September, as do the hundreds of fans and businesspeople who get to hear from him and such other Buc luminaries as General Manager Mark Dominik, Head Coach Raheem Morris, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, running back LeGarrette Blount and wide receiver Mike Williams. Glazer knows that each year's luncheon is filled with supporters eager for the start of the NFL season and another run at the playoffs by his team.
Still, the 2011 Chamber Chalk Talk felt a little different to him than the one in 2010. The reason was probably as simple as 3-13 and 10-6, and the growing confidence the Bay area has in its Buccaneers after that three-win 2009 season was followed by double-digit victories in 2010. For Tampa Bay fans, that's reason to be excited for the 2011 campaign about to kick off; for Glazer, it's reason to be thrilled about many seasons ahead.
"At last year's Chamber lunch, I stood up here and tried to make believers out of all of you, to make all you Buc fans eager for a return to glory," he told the crowd as knives and forks clinked on lunch plates. "We were coming off a 3-13 season, and I tried to get you excited about our plan to build a long-term contender."
Glazer recounted how he had spoken of a plan to build a lasting contender, just as the franchise had done in the late 1990s, and just like current NFL powerhouses Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Indianapolis operate. He invoked the unforgettable names of that previous Buc contender, from Sapp to Brooks to Alstott to Lynch to Barber. Then he linked them to another group of players that may soon make a similar journey.
"That group went from promising to powerhouse to champions and ultimately to icons," said Glazer. "But they were something else before that, and they might not remember it now. They were 'youngry.'
"Now we have Freeman, Blount, Williams, Clayborn, Foster, McCoy, Price, Benn, Bowers and more. It's been a year since I've talked about it, but Mark and Raheem have continued to implement the plan. It's our version of a proven model that has worked pretty well in places like Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Green Bay."
'Youngry,' of course, is the word recently concocted by Morris and then adopted by the team as an unofficial motto. It is, of course, a matchup of 'young' and 'hungry,' and it underscores how much youthful and still-developing talent the Bucs roster now has on it. The Buccaneers believe that they have the franchise poised on the brink of a long run of success, and hopefully a championship or three. Judging from the response of the luncheon crowd on Sunday, the Bay area community feels the same way.
T.J. Rives of the Buccaneers Radio Network emceed the brisk and entertaining event at the Tampa Hyatt Regency in downtown Tampa. In addition to Glazer, Dominik and Morris also spoke, further elaborating on the Buccaneers' method for building a team that the whole Bay area can be proud of. Morris spoke of his "mentality before reality" motto, explaining how he motivates his young players to be their very best selves. Dominik emphasized that, even on the NFL's youngest roster, youth and immaturity are not the same thing. Both stressed that they want players who are as impactful in the community as they are on the field.
Dominik also said he was impressed to see the three Chambers come together to host the single event, which was attended by each town's mayor – Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Bill Foster of St. Petersburg and Frank Hibbard of Clearwater. To Dominik, it spoke to the common goals of the Bay area and the Buccaneers. And to many of the business leaders in the room, the Buccaneers are an important part of those goals.
"The impact of the [Buccaneers] organization on the community is exponential," said John Byczek, Board Member of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. "As a business entity, their economic impact cannot be calculated just by sales, but by the marketing opportunities they provide for the entire Tampa Bay area throughout the season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are committed to positively impacting the lives of the fans throughout the Bay area. Players, coaches, front office staff and their families are involved in community appearances, partnerships with non-profit organizations, charitable donations, outreach programs and NFL youth and football initiatives throughout the year. The Bucs are also key contributors to the spiritual and cultural identity of our community. Since being awarded a franchise in 1974, Tampa Bay residents have relished more than three decades of gridiron passion. I can't wait to see what's coming this year."
The Buccaneer visitors talked about that, too, and not in prepared statements. Rather, they spent a good portion of the luncheon engaged in a rather entertaining and wide-ranging Q&A session with the audience. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders roamed the room, picking up index cards on which members of the audience had written questions. The cards were delivered to Rives, who read them with relish and frequently teased additional information out of the Buc guests.
Among the topics introduced by the crowd members: players game day preparation quirks; the iPad playbook revolution; the uniqueness of Tampa Bay fans; childhood mentors; pregame rituals and more. Williams shared that part of his pregame routine is to call his mother, who once told him to "break a leg" before a game, perhaps unknowingly transferring the popular stage saying to the world of sports. Despite the saying sounding much more gruesome in his line of work, Williams now insists that his mom say the same thing to him before every game.
A question about training camp roommates prompted a particularly humorous response from Blount after a little coaxing by Rives and Morris. For some reason, however, almost every other question seemed to elicit another story about family members out of the players. Blount swore that he learned his signature hurdle move from his sister, Williams said that his mother taught him how to play football and Clayborn referred to his mom as his inspiration. That proved fortuitous for the young man when another index card came to the podium from none other than his mother, who happened to be in the audience and wanted a shout-out.
All three players talked repeatedly about their moms, and perhaps that's what you would expect out of such a young group. As Glazer himself pointed out, Bowers is the first Buccaneers player born in the 1990s. It's a youngry group, and that is perhaps the most important thing that has developed since Glazer's last speech to the Chamber Chalk Talk crowd. Chances are, he'll be speaking to a similar group next September, and the one after that. He might soon have even better days to reflect on.
"A year ago, I told you I wanted more Super Bowl rings," said Glazer. "So do these guys. They want it all, and they want it badly. Last year was one of the most enjoyable seasons I've had as an owner. It wasn't just that the plan was coming together. It wasn't just that we were winning. But I could see what was blossoming, and that the greatest days were ahead of us."