Buccaneers Owner/President Malcolm Glazer stopped to greet some of the 2,000 supporters at Raymond James Stadium on Friday
It took veteran TE Dave Moore eight years in a Tampa Bay Buccaneer uniform to experience a day like this. That's nothing. Howard Stanley has been waiting for what seems like a lifetime.
A noisy but well-mannered crowd of at least 2,000 fans gathered at Raymond James Stadium on Friday for a chance to personally send off their team. The Buccaneers boarded buses outside the north end of the stadium and headed to the airport to began a trip that would decide the NFC Championship. Howard Stanley, a lifelong fan and Tampa native, was among the well-wishers on hand.
"This may only happen once in my lifetime," said Stanley. "I'm 60 years old and I don't know how much longer I've got, so I figured I'd better be here. I'm hoping for the best. If we can error-free football without any turnovers and not allow them to make any special teams touchdowns, we can beat them. I think we can win if we keep the score under 21. This whole town will go crazy if we win. Like I said, I'm 60 years old, I was born and raised here, and I would LOVE to see Tampa Bay get a Super Bowl trophy."
The Bucs won't come back from this particular trip with a Super Bowl trophy, but they could earn the right to play for one the following weekend by defeating the St. Louis Rams in the Trans World Dome this Sunday. The Rams have been installed as favorites by the oddsmakers, but that was far from the prevailing mood of the 2,000 who gathered at Raymond James Stadium on Friday.
"The Buccaneers! Shaun King! Alstott! Green!" said, er, screamed superfan Geri Manley of Holiday, Florida. After another heartfelt and high-pitched shriek in the direction of the car of the passing Kevin Dogins, Manley shared her own prediction. "We're going to win 21-17, and we'll be here when they come back!"
The Buccaneers were greeted a by a similar crowd upon arriving back from Chicago several weeks ago. Tampa Bay had clinched the NFC Central Division title and a first-round playoff bye with a win over the Bears on January 2, and a throng of supporters was on hand at the team's One Buccaneer Place facility when the team buses pulled up later that evening. Friday's crowd matched that group in both size and decibel level. Many held signs, with one common theme: 'Believe.'
Moore, who joined the team midway through the 1992 season but didn't see his first playoff game until 1997, navigated his car through the crowd, then marveled at its enthusiasm. "I've never seen anything like this," said Moore. "A couple years ago, we had some good crowds when we made the playoffs, but nothing like this. This is crazy. It's great, man. I never thought I'd see this."
Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise. Friday's crowd was stocked with long-time Buc supporters who have waited years for an opportunity such as this. Since Malcolm Glazer purchased the team in 1995 and installed Tony Dungy as head coach in 1996, the team has been on a steady and exhilarating climb. Now that the team is just one game from reaching the NFL's ultimate game, die-hard fans are only too happy to voice their approval.
That's the way Mike McAllister of Tampa feels, at least, "I've been a Bucs supporter for the last 20 years," said McAllister, "and I'm all excited about it. My whole family backs the Bucs and I thought I should be here to send them off."
And what a sendoff it was!