The anticipation began to build shortly after 8:00 p.m. ET on Thursday night when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell officially put the Indianapolis Colts on the clock.
It built over the next half-hour as a series of trades rewired the top 10 picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, including one that moved the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from pick #5 down to pick #7. Finally, at 8:44, Goodell strode to the podium on the Radio City Music Hall stage and read from a card handed in by the Buccaneers.
The reaction to Tampa Bay's selection of Alabama safety Mark Barron was universally well-received, but in no single location did it garner a more raucous response than the East Club Lounge at Raymond James Stadium.
That's where a good portion of the enormous crowd that made up the Buccaneers' Official Draft Party Presented by Miller Lite had congregated for the moment of truth. When Goodell announced Barron's name, a passionate roar arose from the crowd. Given the location of Thursday's party, that was likely just the first of many huge crowd reactions that Barron will create at Raymond James Stadium.
That moment was one of just many that made for a memorable evening for those Buccaneers fans who chose to take in the much-anticipated 2012 NFL Draft together at the team's game-day home. It was by far the biggest turnout ever for the Bucs' annual draft party, indicating a growing excitement in the Bay area community about the team's immediate future.
And, as always, it was a wonderful opportunity for those fans and their team to mingle. Among other things, Draft Party attendees were treated to appearances and autograph sessions by some of the most prominent current and former Buccaneers players.
"It's a pretty cool experience to have the players around, a cool atmosphere," said party attendee Josh Mclean, 21, of Tampa. "We definitely needed somebody on defense and we needed somebody in the backfield like that, so I think it was a good pick."
Tim Shively of Sarasota made the trip to the Draft Party for the second consecutive year after enjoying himself thoroughly in April of 2011. Not only did Shively have a good time with his eight-month-old son, Connor, and wife, Rebecca, but he came away impressed with some of the players who will be roaming the Tampa sideline this season.
"They're just awesome people, great fans, and I love being here," Shively said. "Can't wait to bring Connor to his first Bucs game this year; I'm happy, we're going to be good. I met Dave Moore, Vincent Jackson, Adrian Clayborn. They're unbelievable guys, really nice; very good group of kids."
In addition to enjoying discounted prices on concessions, checking out official team and NFL Draft merchandise and (for those 21 and older) trying beer samples, fans at the party interacted with a mixture of fresh faces and Buccaneer alumni who were on hand for the festivities.
DT Gerald McCoy, the Bucs' 2010 first-round pick, and 2011 first-rounder DE Adrian Clayborn were joined by newcomers G Carl Nicks and WR Vincent Jackson as they experienced the thrill of their first Bucs draft party.
"It's been great," Jackson said. "Obviously, this kind of event is nice, for us to come out here, to be new in town, shake some hands, meet some fans, and it's been fun. There are some wild fans out here, and everybody's excited about the draft, so I'm glad I came out."
Jackson may have met Buccaneers fans of all kinds, but one unique group in particular caught his attention when he was making the rounds in the crowd.
"I met the Buc Wild Boyz, and they're pretty well known around here," he said. "I see everybody coming up and talking to them. They wear the mask and the paint and the big costumes and everything. They say they pretty much run the stadium on Sundays. It was cool to meet them. I took a picture with their big poster and everything."
Alumni in attendance at the draft party included WR Reidel Anthony, DE/DT John Cannon, DT Chuck Darby, S Kenny Gant, K Martin Gramatica, CB Corey Ivy, DT/DE Marcus Jones, FB Jamie Lawson, LB David Lewis, RB Michael Pittman, P Mark Royals, T Jerry Wunsch and Moore, color analyst for the Buccaneers Radio Network.
Buccaneers cheerleaders also greeted guests and signed autographs, while a live broadcast from the Buccaneers Radio Network provided on-site analysis and interviews. Fans in attendance also heard from Head Coach Greg Schiano, General Manager Mark Dominik, and even Barron, following his selection at No. 7, in a live interview broadcast from New York City exclusively on Buccaneers.com.
As fans took in the rest of the first round, whether on the NFL Network's coverage on the club's HD video walls and television monitors, 620 WDAE's live broadcast or the Buccaneers' live Twitter feed, the excitement for next season continued to grow throughout the night, thanks to the selection of Barron and the eventual trade back up to take Boise State RB Doug Martin at pick #31/
Current Buccaneer LB Dekoda Watson was quick to point out the buzz surrounding the draft created by the fans, which caused him to turn his attention to the new football season on the horizon.
"There was a lot of energy, and I think they're looking at a better season ahead," Watson said. "They're very optimistic, very energetic, and that's really where it starts – with the fans. The more fans we have, the more we want to perform, and the more success we will have."