The Clearwater, Greater Tampa and St. Petersburg Chambers of Commerce combined forces on Tuesday to hold the "Back to Football Chalk Talk with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers"…or what Buccaneer reps and local businesspeople have informally referred to as the Chamber Kickoff Luncheon for several decades.
According to Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik, who spoke at Tuesday's luncheon, the most important word in that official event description is actually one of the shortest.
"It's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," said Dominik. "We aren't the Tampa Buccaneers. We are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and any time we have a chance to reach out to anyone in this community, that's what we want to do, that's what we want to be."
The Buccaneers have always sought to connect with all corners of the Bay area, especially at the start of a new season when the excitement and anticipation about the return of NFL football is so high. Years ago, that meant holding such events in a variety of communities, attending a kickoff breakfast in St. Petersburg, for instance, and hours later holding a similar event at lunchtime in downtown Tampa.
Now, the three Chambers of Commerce unite for one satisfying event, and that's fitting because the Buccaneers are trying to bring the entire Bay area together again to share in their pursuit of another rise to NFL glory.
"These things are so important," said Chuck Black, chair of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce. "The season's ready to start, there's excitement in the air and we really want to get behind the team. It's really good that the three Chambers can work together to put on an event like this. The Bucs really are a regional team and I think the turnout today demonstrates that. We're thrilled to have the Bucs as part of our local community. The impact of the Buccaneer organization is not only financial – it certainly brings a lot of financial benefits to our community – but it also provides for our quality of life. They're really a big piece of the community."
The Bucs brought a power-packed group of representatives to the Chalk Talk: Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer, General Manager Mark Dominik, Head Coach Greg Schiano and three players the team will build around for years in wide receiver Vincent Jackson, safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin. All took turns speaking to the delighted crowds, the players doing so in the form of a lengthy Q&A session.
Schiano shared his thanks for how welcoming the Bay area has been to his family, and promised that, with the help of the community, the team could once again become an NFL power and make Tampa an imposing place for opposing teams to visit. Schiano urged those in the audience to take every opportunity to talk to their coworkers, friends and neighbors about the team.
"We need to grab hold of the one on your right and the one on your left and start talking about the Bucs," he said. "We need to make the Bucs the talk of the town again. I promise this town, we will do our part on the field, and if you will do your part in the community, we will get that stadium, Raymond James Stadium, to become the biggest home field advantage in the National Football League."
The Q&A session was fueled by questions from the crowd, written on index cards and delivered to event emcee Jeff Ryan by a group of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders. The three players amused the crowd with their answer to such topics as their pregame routines, their impressions of Coach Schiano and, for the two younger men, their recent draft experiences. Jackson, in particular, entertained the event attendees, whether he was comparing the relative dangerous of earthquakes and hurricanes or running down the eclectic mix on his iPod…which, yes, includes some country music. The players also stayed at their seats at the conclusion of the luncheon to sign items for a long line of fans.
In his talk to the crowd, Glazer lauded those players on hand as well as several other key additions the team made during the 2012 offseason. He ran down the team's efforts to build a winner throughout the year, from the hiring of Schiano to the aggressive free agency maneuvers to a well-executed draft. And he identified the final piece of the puzzle that will make Sundays at Raymond James Stadium a can't-miss experience once again.
"I think we all agree that Coach Schiano's credo of 'Trust, Belief and Accountability' are values we can all embrace, and 'T.B.A.' is just the right formula that will maximize this team's considerable talent," said Glazer. "Speaking of talent, we've had quite an offseason. Right out of the gate, Greg and Mark worked closely to examine a free agent market and formulate a strategy to make our top targets 'Buccaneer Men.' Now we really need you in our corner so we can re-establish a stadium atmosphere that will fuel our team and frustrate our opponents."