Buccaneers Owner/President Malcolm Glazer (right), Tampa Mayor Dick Greco (center) and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue lay down the first building blocks of an NFL YET center
Eight years ago, the National Football League decided this about the Big Bang that is the Super Bowl: it should create something lasting in the cities it graces.
The NFL YET initiative was born.
Unfortunately for Tampa, the Super Bowl was last here 10 years ago. Since, NFL Youth Education Towns have been erected in Los Angeles, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, Phoenix, New Orleans and San Diego.
Now, it's Tampa's turn.
On Thursday, the NFL announced funding of $3 million for two YET centers in the area, one at Tampa's Jackson Heights neighborhood and one in Hillsborough County's University Community area. Among the major contributors to the effort is the Glazer Family Foundation, which provided the funding for the football field at the Jackson Heights Center.
"The Glazer Family Foundation is so happy that they can be a part of this," said Buccaneers Owner/President Malcolm Glazer. "We're proud to donate this football field that's going to be used year after year by all the people in the area who can play football, enjoy it and move on to greater and better things.
"Who knows who will be playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the future? Those from this very field (might be Buccaneers). We think it is a great honor to be here."
Glazer was one of a procession of notable speakers at Thursday's presentation, which included the presentation of a $1 million check, groundbreaking on the facility to be built on the premises and the announcement of plans for $1 million worth of computer equipment to be donated to the two centers.
The latter part of that donation was announced by former Super Bowl MVP Steve Young, a one-time Tampa Bay Buccaneer who found his NFL success with the San Francisco 49ers. His Forever Young Foundation is working in conjunction with Sun Microsystems and the Foundry Network to provide the technological backbone for the YET centers across the nation.
Young has long been involved with the YET initiative and was at the opening of the first center in South Central Los Angeles in 1992. This week he returns to the city where he began his NFL career in 1985 and '86.
"I knew I'd figure out a way to make it to a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay," said Young, amusing up the crowd before announcing the plans for computer support that will 'smoke' and allow the centers to 'cross the digital divide.'
YET centers provide educational, recreational, culture and professional development programs to youth in underserved communities. The Tampa Bay initiative marks the first time the program has created two separate centers during one Super Bowl visit. Other contributors to the project in the Bay area are Allegany Franciscan Foundation, the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, Publix Super Markets Charities, The Duckwall Foundation, Capital One, Rooms to Go, The Jim and Amy Shimberg Charitable Lead Trust, Home Shopping Network and Home Depot.
Tampa last attracted a Super Bowl in 1991 but waited a decade for it to come back, a return prompted by the construction of Raymond James Stadium, one of the league's most impressive stadiums. That has allowed the Bay area to reap the benefits of the now well-established YET program.
"You're joining with something here that's not just experimental, it's not pie in the sky, it's something that's working for tens of thousands of kids and parents in a number of different cities around the United States," said NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. "You are joining something that's already moving ahead and has proven to be successful. We'll be thrilled when we're back here for the next Super Bowl to come and visit these two YET centers."
Tampa Bay Executive Vice President Bryan Glazer, also on hand Thursday for the inspirational announcement, also found encouragement in some of Tagliabue's words.
"This YET center and the other one are going to be here for a long, long time," said Glazer. "It's a legacy we're leaving after the Super Bowl. I've heard the Commissioner twice talk about future Super Bowls here. As soon as this one is over, we plan on targeting that date when we can bring it back to this community."
Tagliabue will be more than happy to see the Super Bowl, and the YET initiative, return to Tampa, where he believes the NFL's community presence is well represented.
"I met four Buccaneer players last night: Derrick Brooks, Rabih Abdullah, Steve White and Anthony McFarland," said Tagliabue. "To hear them talk about their commitment to the community, the roles they play in the community, was tremendous for me because it shows that we have so many players that understand what this is all about."
After the check presentation, Tagliabue, Malcolm Glazer and Tampa Mayor Dick Greco helped lay the first bricks in the foundation of the Jackson Heights center, which should be completed in November. The whole party then retreated to the football field provided by the Glazer Family Foundation. Though the field is not quite completed, a flag football game between two teams of area youngsters was staged.
It was the first game played on the field, but will be far from the last. The sight of the dozens of children playing their own game just days before Super Bowl XXXV underscored Tagliabue's overall message.
"We recognize that the (Super Bowl) takes about three hours, that fans will talk about it for days, but that what we're doing here will last for years and decades," he said. "So, in many ways, this is the most important thing we're doing here this week."