So, those of you who follow football – and at least some of you who don’t – are probably aware that the Super Bowl is this weekend, with a match-up I’ve been anticipating for close to 30 years, now….ever since I, a native Floridian born and raised in Tampa, found myself relocated as a consequence of Uncle Sam’s whims to Kansas City, Missouri.
Despite my Tampa heritage, the first seven years or so of my life were defined by frequent moves thanks to my father’s military service. Tampa to North Carolina, then on to Honolulu, Hawai’i (where my sister was born), and from there to Long Island, New York, before finally making our way back to Tampa. All of that happened before I completed the second grade, but Florida was where the family would remain. I would finish high school there before beginning my next little trek around the country and the world with my own time in the service, which eventually landed me here in KC.
I was eight years old when the National Football League announced it was adding two teams, and Tampa would be home to one of them. I was a fan from that very moment, and remain so to this day. Upon arriving in Kansas City on New Year’s Day, 1993 (ice storm and all), I knew we were — for the first time in a long while — relocating to a town that had its own sports teams possessing somewhat tumultuous histories along with passionate, die-hard fanbases. As someone who’s endured similar “hardship,” this was something I could respect. It’s easy to be a fan when your team is a perennial winner or at least hearty contender, but sticking with a team during its down-n-out years, be they few or many (:: fist bump to Cubs fans ::) is the mark of a True Fan.
So it was with the Bucs.
Beginning with their inaugural season in 1976, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tested the patience of even their most loyal fans. Going 0-26 until finally — FINALLY — notching their first win against the New Orleans Saints in the penultimate game of the 1977 season, then closing out that year with a second win, was like getting that first drizzle of rain after a long drought. Even though it evaporates as soon as it hits the parched soil, there’s hope more might be coming, amirite? Such was the case with the Bucs, who beginning with those two paltry wins started to turn things around. Two seasons later, in only their fourth year of existence, they came within 9 lousy points of going to their first Super Bowl.
There would be a couple of additional playoff appearances over the next few years before the long, downhill slide which consumed the team for the better part of two decades. The mid 1980s through most of the 1990s was a tough time to be a Bucs fan, and of course it was in the middle of this period of extreme mediocrity that I found myself in Chiefs country. It was a time when this team was on its way up, becoming an annual playoff contender under coach Marty Schottenheimer. Among the few games I’ve attended at Arrowhead Stadium was the 1995 playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, during which we froze our asses off in ridiculously cold weather as we watched the Chiefs lose 10-7 because of missed field goals and too many interceptions. I’m not sure my feet thawed out until March.
The other games we attended? The Chiefs were playing the Bucs.
Over the years we’ve lived here, it’s been fun to watch not only the Chiefs but also Kansas City’s major league baseball team, the Royals, pull themselves out of their respective basements and become consistent competitors. At the same time, I kept cheering on my Bucs, who slowly yet surely were righting their pirate ship and its bedraggled crew to become regular playoff contenders, themselves, and then it all finally came together in 2003 when they won their first Super Bowl by basically feeding the Oakland Raiders their own playbook. After that, it was back to the ups and downs, swapping seasons featuring early playoff exits for truly abysmal years, up through the last handful of seasons which brings us to this Sunday, the return of the Bucs to the Super Bowl in eighteen years.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs were just here last year.
Make no mistake: I’ve cheered the Chiefs pretty much the whole time we’ve been living in Kansas City. Over on the baseball field, I started paying attention when the Royals hired Ned Yost to manage the team, and his approach to competing gave me an appreciation for the game I’d never previously possessed. I learned to enjoy watching baseball the way my father tried to teach me when I was a kid, but back then it seemed “slow” and “boring” compared to football or basketball. Like most kids, I was an idiot. Ned Yost and the Royals made me a baseball fan. It was also nice to see loyal fans including friends of mine finally rewarded for their years of devotion. Those World Series games were something else, weren’t they?
As for the Chiefs? Yeah, I root for them every week…except when they’re playing the Bucs. I cheered for them last year when they won the Super Bowl, and rooted for them all this past season while at the same time watching the Bucs with growing anticipation as it became ever more likely the two teams would face off for all the marbles in “the Big Game.”
And now, here we are.
So, why the continued attachment? It’s a fair question, considering I’ve lived in the Kansas City area for 28 years — longer than everywhere else I’ve ever lived combined. As Jerry Seinfeld might ask, “What’s the deal with that?“
It’s simple, really. The Bucs came along when I was at the age where such things take root. My father and I had season tickets. I worked at the stadium as a vendor. Back in those days, the team was available for public events, meet-n-greets, photo ops and autographing in a way that’s just not done anymore. On game days and during opening warmups, we could literally walk up to the wall separating the field from the stands and get autographs and pictures taken with the players.
(And the cheerleaders, which was its own special thrill to 15-year-old me, but that’s another story.)
Even before the Bucs came along, I attended the very first event at what was then Tampa Stadium, and attended the very last Bucs game ever played in that facility before it was replaced by the team’s current home, Raymond James Stadium. I even got to work the first Super Bowl Tampa ever hosted, in 1984.
The Bucs were an integral part of my early life. There remains a connection, not just to the team and its history but also my hometown. Yes, Florida is the butt of many a joke….the vast majority of them justified. “Florida Man” stories are really a thing, rooted from a reality that’s impossible to escape, because…well, shit. Florida, man. Such is the case with Tampa. Though I don’t see myself relocating back to the city (or state) of my birth, my sister and her family still live there so there’s a an obvious and cherished tether linking me to what really was a very fun time in my life.
So, where does that leave us? With a bit of a conflict, I must confess, as two teams I’ve supported for years are set to meet on the biggest football stage there is. I can’t say I’ll be disappointed no matter which team wins. If I’m being honest, I’m rooting for the Bucs and the Chiefs.
But just a little bit more for the Bucs.