Not all attendees at the 2004 Buccaneers FanFest were as decked out as Sylvia Huddleston, but it was a marvelous day for all at Raymond James Stadium
The Raymond James Stadium gates didn't open for the 2004 Buccaneers FanFest, presented by Winn-Dixie, until 9:30 a.m. Moreover, Tampa Bay Buccaneer players weren't scheduled to arrive for the event until 10:00 a.m. Minor details, really. Nothing could stop several thousand Buccaneer fans from arriving at the stadium early to get their autograph vouchers and vie to be first in line.
"We're huge Buccaneer fans and big (Jon) Gruden fans," said Sylvia and Tom Huddleston of Riverview, summing up the motivation for most of those in line.
Though the Huddlestons arrived early and were among the first in line at the Main Concourse autograph area, where vouchers were not required and players were lined up 20 deep to sign, they were amid a sea of red-clad Buc fans. However, they managed to separate themselves from their fellow rooters thanks to their elaborate outfits.
Sylvia, a.k.a. 'The Pirate Lady of Tampa,' sported a red dress with a black vest, black boots and – the signature piece – a pirate hat with feathers, the brim rolled up on one side to reveal the words 'Pirate Lady' in glitter. Her husband, Tom, was dressed in a white shirt with a black vest, black pants, black boots and another pirate hat, this one featuring a lucky stuffed bunny that Gruden had signed the previous year. Both fans were also adorned with a plethora of beads, which they promised to distribute to young Buccaneers fans to make their day even more special.
"This is a great day for Buccaneer fans and we just want to make it a special as possible for everyone," said Sylvia. "We're big fans and we enjoy having a good time and want everyone else to enjoy themselves too."
Consider that goal met. Like the ones before, the 2004 version of FanFest was packed with activities and opportunities for every Buc fan, from multiple autograph opportunities to interactive games on the Raymond James Stadium field.
After proceeding through the main concourse autograph section, which featured team owner Malcolm Glazer, General Manager Bruce Allen, Gruden, Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks and Personnel Executive Doug Williams, the Huddlestons took to the field to explore the other activities at FanFest.
Good move. On the field, the team and its Pewter Partners collaborated to make Saturday a special day for fans of all ages.
Thunder 103.5 FM and WDAE 620 AM – the new homes of the Buccaneers Radio Network – both hosted live broadcasts, while Dodge displayed its new 2005 model cars and trucks and Advance Discount Auto Parts distributed red and white Buccaneer foam footballs. University Community Health provided free blood pressure checks, Coca-Cola hosted its Football Town USA game area, in which fans tried their hands at running, passing and catching footballs, and title sponsor Winn-Dixie gave out free drinks to thirsty fans. In addition to the Coca-Cola games, young fans could also get their faces painted, test their climbing ability on a rock wall, play on inflatable games and have balloon animals made for them.
Those activities alone could have kept a crowd of 20,000 happy on a day that featured short bursts of rain and mostly bright blue skies. But the autograph opportunities remained the most popular portion of the event. At the beginning of the day, the team provided vouchers to get autographs from some of the most recognizable Buccaneers in the air-conditioned Club Lounges of the stadium. Seated at small tables in four different locations inside the lounges were players such as first-round draft pick Michael Clayton, Brad Johnson, Joe Jurevicius, Brian Kelly and Shelton Quarles. The players signed items that included mini-helmets, footballs, t-shirts, jerseys, photos, magazines, hats, visors and calendars. The players accommodated the long lines in a pair of two-hour shifts, and had a good time interacting with the team's supporters on a one-on-one basis.
"It's a great time," said Quarles. "It's fun to be out seeing people that you haven't seen in a long time and meeting new fans."
"It's been a great day," he said following his shift. "A lot of the fans come out here and they get to meet a lot of the players and there aren't a lot of times where you can get this experience. The fans get to run out on the field, sometimes for the first time. It's just a great event."
There was a segment of the crowd who found an even bigger thrill than interacting with the players – meeting the new-look Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders. Since forming the new squad on May 18, the cheerleaders have been practicing and preparing for their trip to the World Bowl this upcoming week. FanFest provided the perfect opportunity to unveil fresh faces to the hometown fans before the cheerleaders jetted overseas.
"I'm so excited to meet them," said twelve year-old Dania Dzerin. "I want to be a Buccaneers cheerleader when I get older and to meet them is just the best."
Most fans, young and old, left the stadium with a similar feeling. Whether the goal was to obtain player autographs, meet the cheerleaders, run on the Bucs' playing field or spend an active afternoon playing a variety of games, FanFest provided wonderful opportunities for every Buccaneer fan.