BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 01/25/2021

Thiel: Will Tampa Bay become, uh, Titletown?

Thanks in part to Tom Brady, Tampa becomes the first Super Bowl host city to have its own team. And it’s only the latest success for the once-moribund sports market.

At FedEx Field in Landover, MD Jan. 9, Tom Brady helped lead Tampa Bay over Washington, the Bucs’ first playoff win in 18 seasons. / All-Pro Reels Photography, via Wiki Commons

The Tom Brady haters are pulling obliques, hamstrings and biceps in their communal retch over his arrival at another Super Bowl, the 10th for the Anointed One. That’s fine — we all prefer villains for our pretend lives, rather than our political lives.

But if we hold off our Brady annoyances for just a bit, I’d like to offer some attention to the fact that SB LV is the first in which the host stadium has its own team.

Yes, in 1980, the 49ers played in Stanford Stadium, and in 1985, the Los Angeles Rams played in the Rose Bowl. But there’s no quibbling about the perversity of a larger truth regarding the Bucs’ reward — on Feb. 7, few Bucs fans will see it in person.

Yet, it is a better deal than was had by baseball and hockey fans in Tampa.

Three months ago, the Rays made the World Series. And fans watched all six games against the champion Los Angeles Dodgers played in Texas. Four months ago, the same thing happened when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup — in Edmonton.

It has to be a sports first to have teams from the same market play consecutively in a Stanley Cup, World Series and Super Bowl. But to have all events inaccessible to nearly all of their hometown fans . . .

In the bigger picture of the pandemic, it’s a teensy cruelty. In pro team sports, to be closed out of the pleasure of pinnacle achievements three times in months is a random deed most foul.

Take note, Seattle sports fans: Hang on to the memory of the Sounders’ 2019 MLS Cup won in front of 70,000-plus at the Clink until fingerprints are visible.

The NFL says 22,000 socially distanced fans will be allowed into 66,000-seat Raymond James Stadium when the NFC champs meet AFC titlist Kansas City.

Among the lucky are 7,500 health care workers from around the country who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, including at least four from each NFL marketplace. Their tickets are free, and are non-transferable. The cheapest face value of the remaining 14,500 tickets is $9,450, and reach $24,750 on the 50-yard line, 13 rows up.

So between the pandemic and the economics of scarcity, the average school teacher in Hillsborough County has a better chance to see a herd of camels pass through the eye of a needle than see the hometown team win a title in the hometown stadium.

Despite the absence of presence, the advance of the fifth-seeded Bucs after their 31-26 win at top-seeded Green Bay Sunday (box), and the advent of sports success in the Tampa-St. Petersburg, is remarkable.

After so many wretched years, to have the free-agent randomness of the football Terminator ending up in Tampa, is payback for at least some of the historically massive grimness.

They didn’t call them the Succaneers for nothing.

In their first 20 years after joining the NFL in 1976 as Seattle’s expansion twin, the Bucs had three playoff seasons (the Seahawks had four in the same span). The run included 14 consecutive losing records.

After interrupting the pathos with a 12-4 season in 2002 and a 48-21 win over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, the Bucs did not have another playoff win for 18 seasons.

The streak was broken three weeks ago when they beat the Washington Football Team, 31-23, the first of three road wins in a row to reach the Super Bowl in their two-thirds empty stadium. Since the Bucs were 7-9 last season, and Brady will be 44 next year, I’m guessing this was the unicorn moment that presages another 18-year drought.

Nevertheless, after bolting from New England and Bill Belichick, Brady had no training camp or preseason to work with his new teammates or coach Bruce Arians, thanks to the shutdown for the virus.

Which makes the feat more impressive, no matter his three interceptions Sunday, and no matter whether they sustain it.

Impressive too, was the Rays’ ascension, although their accumulation of young talent had been foreseen for a long while. They won the the American League East bitty season with an AL-best 40-20 record, then beat the Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros to reach the Series against the Dodgers.

With a $28.3 million payroll, the Rays lasted six games against the Dodgers and their $108 million payroll (salaries pro-rated because of the pandemic). The Rays’ lineup added together might be 43.

The largest sports success in Tampa rests with the Lightning, which won the bubbled-up Stanley Cup 4-2 in Edmonton over the Dallas Stars Sept. 26. It was the franchise’s second Cup (first was 2004), and some credit goes to Tod Leiweke. Lured away from his job as Seahawks CEO in 2010, he became the Lightning’s CEO and a minority  owner. He left in 2015 to be the NFL’s chief operating officer, and has returned to Seattle and his first sports love of hockey to run the expansion Seattle Kraken show.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s a Stanley Cup win in September, a World Series appearance in October, and, at least, a Super Bowl appearance in February. Just for fun, the NBA Toronto Raptors, denied their home and native land because Canada doesn’t want America’s cooties, are bivouwacking with the Lightning at Amalie Arena for at least part of the NBA’s 72-game season.

We the North has become We The South. But at 7-9, the Raptors bring shame to the regal sports scene on Florida’s Gulf Coast, a sports market that has gone from historic ridicule to ridiculously successful in five months. In spite of (or because of?) a pandemic.

It’s good to know some place and some people are having fun. Even if they have to peer through the fence to see it in person.

 


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YourThoughts

  • Coop

    I’m most impressed with Brady’s ability to see the talent on the Bucs (some of it raw) he felt could be shaped into a Championship contending team. You know he wasn’t going to sign with just any team to play out a final year (and possibly get killed). With help he brought that offense up to another level. I just . . . I can’t dislike him this year. Super impressive.
    That said, defense wins championships, and Tampa’s is seriously good. Happy for Vita Vea.
    But KC is going to win by 7.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Agreed. KC by 10 in the Tampa Bowl. As good as Tampa’s defense was Rodgers still completed his first eleven passes. KC will score on them.

      • art thiel

        Tampa’s defense, if healthy with Vea and safeties, would have a good shot. But KC has too many weapons.

    • art thiel

      Actually, Brady didn’t have much choice. Teams were few with a QB vacancy that were willing give away a year of development for a younger franchise QB. It had to be a good defensive team that could hire single-year FA help to fill other voids. And the Bucs were 7-5 before things jelled.

      We’ll keep secret your sudden affection for TB12.

  • Husky73

    Speaking of our political lives, it was reported that Tom Brady had a MAGA hat in his locker. 1cool, did you place it there?

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      I read somewhere that his supermodel wife (evidently the brains of the outfit) told him to get it the f out of there. One would have to be pretty s_____ to have that hat displayed.

      • art thiel

        Unless it was deliberate.

    • art thiel

      Well, it’s a souvenir now. If he needs the cash, Brady should probably contact Antiques Roadshow.

  • skabotnik

    I’ve hated Brady for so long but I think that was more about his abundance of success in New England before those insufferable fans, combined with my pure envy. Now that he’s switched teams and pulled off this remarkable feat, I see him more as the GOAT he’s been for so long time now and can’t help but root for him to give long-suffering Buc fans a second title. In the end, though, the pure creativity and athletic splendor that runs through KC has me feeling like this will be a Chiefs repeat. Some of the plays the Chiefs dialed up yesterday were just magnificent, and holy cow, is there anything more exciting than watching Tyreek Hill with the ball in space?

    • art thiel

      That’s good self-awareness. It’s entirely reasonable that you didn’t like anyone who was part of the Evil Empire, but once he left the dark side, he looks good in the light.

      The Chiefs offense is a marvel. I love Reid’s Mahomes-to-Kelce shovel pass for a TD. It was almost as good as the Seahawks’ punter-to-fat-guy TD in the 2016 NFC title game. Until Sunday, it was the worst thing to happen Rodgers in an NFC title game.

      • Husky73

        You’d think the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator would get a head coaching gig………..

        • art thiel

          You’d think. I saw the Texans just hired a guy for head coach that is a head-scratcher, particularly with Bieniemy’s availability.

  • Kirkland

    Even without a pandemic, the large distribution of tickets to the other teams, corporate sponsors and glitterati means a home stadium Super Bowl doesn’t automatically result in a “home field advantage”.

    The 1984 Niners may have had a majority of support in Candlestick because neutrals appreciated the presence of that Walsh/Montana dynasty. However, the 1979 Rams would’ve been outcheered in the Coliseum thanks to the Steelers’ national fandom, and Florida’s huge snowbird population and great fall weather means the pro football teams, even the Brady-led Bucs, have to put up with huge sections of opposing colors in their stadiums.

    I think if we had a full Raymond James Stadium, there would be as many Mahomes jerseys as Brady ones in the stands. Besides the Kansas City fans gleefully escaping winter, a lot of neutrals would love to see the rising star QB repeat instead of Brady winning another one.

    (Personally, I’m not watching the game. Once the Seahawks were bounced, I was mostly interested in seeing those long-suffering Browns fans being rewarded with a championship. Other than that, I don’t have much casual interest in non-Hawks NFL anymore.)

    • art thiel

      My thought is not so much about a cheering advantage, but getting a seat at the event for local fans as a reward for surviving the decades of humiliation. You’re right that a lot of SB tickets get sucked up by the corporate sponsors and non-partisan fans. Nevertheless, as someone who worked the three Seattle Super Bowls, the Detroit crowd was nearly all Steelers, and New York and Phoenix heavily for the Seahawks, FWIW.

  • Alan Harrison

    January 1980 was the (Vince Ferragamo) Rams-Steelers in the Rose Bowl and 1985 was the 49ers-Dolphins at Stanford, but the point is well taken. Oddly, the national presence of a team seems to make the game a home game, not the local one. I remember hearing screams for the Seahawks from the Meadowlands. And the Cowboys, whenever they’re in the game, don’t only draw oilmen from Texas.

    • art thiel

      So much of SB ticket sales are to corporate buyers without allegiance, except for betting. It’s just too bad Tampa fans won’t get much slice of the in-person action.

  • jafabian

    I thought Seattle had a good chance at getting the Titletown moniker but the Seahawks ruined that idea and anyhow the M’s pretty much keeps Seattle grounded.

    IMO the Bucs will be hard pressed to get past the Chiefs depending how healthy Mahomes will be. I shake my head when I realize that Mahomes was age 6 when Brady got his first ring.

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    • art thiel

      I share your lament about the age differential. Although Seahawks fans weren’t lamenting the precociousness of Wilson nine years ago.