On December 11, 1977, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured their first win ever, blasting the New Orleans 33-14 in the Louisiana Superdome on the strength of three interception returns for touchdowns. Hours later, the victorious Buccaneers returned to Tampa, took the short bus ride from the airport to old One Buccaneer Place…and were confronted with a scene unlike any other in the team's short history.
It was the proverbial "sea of orange." More than 8,000 fans crowded the streets and sidewalks around old One Buc, cheering madly and sharing in the joy of an unforgettable moment. That night remains an iconic moment in the nearly four-decade tale of the Buccaneers.
Nowadays, the Bucs wear pewter and red, train in a new and technologically-advanced One Buccaneer Place and have a Lombardi Trophy in their lobby. But the "sea of orange" still washes into the Bay area from time to time – to the utter delight of Buc fans new and old – and that wave just happens to be cresting again this week.
This time it is the Saints who are making the trip to Tampa, where they will be confronted with an orange-clad Buccaneers team at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. It's Throwback Week in the Bay area, and the stadium will be awash in brilliant orange from the paint on the field to the highest reaches of the stands.
The Buccaneers, who adopted their new colors and uniforms in 1997, first staged a Throwback Game in 2009, to universal approval. With the white-and-orange helmets and the pirate logo on display for the first time in a baker's dozen years, Tampa Bay shocked the Green Bay Packers, 38-28, in young quarterback Josh Freeman's first career start. Since then, the Throwback Game, and the week that leads up to it, has become a much-anticipated part of the Buccaneers' season, and an unforgettable occasion each time around.
In 2010, the Bucs pulled out their orange jerseys again to take on the Atlanta Falcons in December. Though that one didn't end in another victory – Atlanta pulled out a 28-24 win in a thrilling contest – it was still a festive afternoon. Fittingly, the team posthumously inducted founding Head Coach John McKay into their Ring of Honor that day. Last year, the Bucs combined their Throwback Game with a December contest against another heated rival, the Carolina Panthers, and inducted former tight end great Jimmie Giles into the Ring.
This time, it's Drew Brees and the Saints who will encounter the orange-clad Bucs, perhaps even bringing back memories of that 1977 afternoon for the New Orleans franchise. The Bucs and Saints only became division mates in 2002, but the two teams have a long and rich history of playing against each other. In 2012, it is a matchup of two teams intensely needing a win to get back into the thick of the NFC playoff chase.
And, as always, the team will be pulling out all of the stops at Raymond James Stadium to transport all visitors decades back in time. It starts, of course, with the uniforms.
Once again, Buccaneer players will be wearing gear based on what the team wore during its inaugural 1976 season, right down to the most minute details (though this time produced by Nike). While later decades brought on a brighter and darker orange in the Bucs' togs, the '76 version was a less glaring shade that has proved to be extremely popular with Tampa Bay fans. Three years into the ongoing process of embracing the nostalgic orange uniforms and the team's rich history before red and pewter, there is sure to be more orange-clad rooters in the Raymond James Stadium fans than ever before. In addition, Buccaneer coaches, cheerleaders and team personnel will have their own versions of orange-based clothes.
The stadium will once again get its own orange-and-white outfit, too. Fans who were surprised at the level of commitment to the original Throwback Game at Raymond James Stadium in 2009 now know fully what to expect this Sunday. The original pirate logo will take center stage on the field, with bunting and dressings throughout the venue completing the look. In-game entertainment will carry through the feel, right down to the musical choices and the look of the videos on the BucVision videoboards.
Most importantly, the orange is sure to invade the seats all around Raymond James Stadium. The Throwback Game has become a popular treat for Buccaneer fans, who get to simultaneously cheer on a new team trying to establish a winning culture while remembering the best moments in orange and white. Few were better than that late night at old One Buc, with that sea of orange engulfing McKay and his fellow first-time victors on their return from New Orleans. The Saints are back, the orange is back, and this Sunday is a chance to make many more lasting memories.