Memo to the Buccaneers: Give Tampa Fans Back Their Bucs
"We waaant Joe. We waaant Joe."
My earliest Buccaneer memory: Sitting in the south end zone after Vinny Testaverde tossed his umpteenth interception to a Joey Browner/Carl Lee-led Minnesota secondary. The south end zone was hot. Fans were hotter.
Bucs backup Joe Ferguson remained parked with headset on sideline. Ray Perkins remained unamused.
"Give me three of your finest general admission tickets."
The ticket lady at Sombrero's parking lot ticket booth smiles. Still got general admission tickets, but the attempt at a free upgrade was appreciated by the gameday help.
The Sam Wyche-led Bucs squeaked past the Bungles in a half-full stadium, and 5-2 was celebrated by Wyche in the face of Tampa media geeks. Of course, it became 7-9 and Wyche was fired. Oh well, the ride was fun for the month it lasted.
You never got the idea the Bucs were ever really trying in those days. Daddy Orange Pants' (Hugh Culverhouse to everyone but me) days of caring for the fans had long since passed.
In 1995 ticket upgrade attempt above, the team was in Stephen Story-led trust limbo after Culverhouse's passing.
As a former team president once told me, Culverhouse thought little of Bucs fans' intelligence. Hugh called the prez to his office about raising the Bucs raising ticket prices after a Bucs three-win season.
"We can't announce that," the prez said. "We're not announcing anything," a menacing Hugh replied to the former army general, "YOU ARE."
Prez was less than thrilled at being chosen for the announcement. "Hugh, we won three games and we just raised prices last season," prez angrily said. "We're losing fans. How much do you want?"
"I want it all." Culverhouse replied.
That should have been the Bucs sales pitch that season.
But as the Glazers took over, soon followed by Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin, and the ascension of Rich McKay, hope arrived in Tampa Bay. We all started to care...some for the first time.
The Warrick Dunn, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Hardy Nickerson, Donnie Abraham and John Lynch gospel spread. Our homegrown boys made good. Hope was surpassed by playoff accomplishment. Days were good.
But somewhere after Dungy's shortcomings and Jon Gruden's Super Bowl championship, this team began to think they were doing the fans a favor by playing an NFL season.
Ticket prices escalated each year, regardless of on field results. Parking became $25 a game and nearby lots went private. Seat licensing became the norm.
Money was held from the 10-year seat license holders...money to be applied to your new license, the Bucs said. Of course when those licenses were originally sold, naive fans were told that money was to be given back to the purchaser.
A cattle call of losers, with everyone from David Boston, Darrell Russell, and Jerramy Stevens were given their chance to be part of the Tampa Bay community. Each year's lineup consisted of stopgap starters after draft picks failed.
The coach picked which essential player from one season was to be trashed the next (see Galloway, Jurevicius, Alstott, etc.) The GM and coach were arrogant to fans, but kind enough to let us all know how little we knew and understood.
When that regime met its demise early in 2009, the old days were returning we were told. We were promised a coach who has never coached a game as a coordinator would cut his teeth as our new Dungy.
We were told that releasing the best player in the franchise's history with five minutes notice to him was a good thing.
That bringing back Stevens (and his horrible history) was beneficial. That the offensive centerpieces will be two career malcontents, Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow.
We were told Brooks' departure was to get younger, but Quincy Black, Geno Hayes and Adam Hayward will again be on the bench, only this time behind 30-year-old converted safety Jermaine Phillips and free agent signee Angelo Crowell. The former Bill missed all of last season after his second knee surgery. Youth, eh?
We are told that being $30 to $40 million under the salary cap, as well as looming sale the land around One Buc and Raymond James Stadium that was once Tampa Bay Center, is not in relation to the owner's debt in his soccer adventure.
Once again, we're being treated like we're stupid.
To reconnect, the Bucs must show that this year's class of Josh Freeman, Kyle Moore and Roy Miller can be built upon. Morris must show growth as the season progresses, from someone who appears to be a head coach a few years before he's ready, to one who isn't so wide-eyed to the entire experience.
The team doesn't need to go out and blow cash, but must address items such as linebacker Barrett Ruud and left tackle Donald Penn being allowed to play into the final year of their contracts. If players like those two are allowed to walk, with what exactly is this team building?
The team must also regain its touch of finding players like Shelton Quarles, Brad Culpepper and Karl Williams in the later rounds and as free agents.
These are guys fans root for because they are the underdogs, and because guys who earn there way into the league seem to better appreciate everything they get.
Most importantly, fans must be treated with a level of respect this team has not had to shown in years: since Buccaneer ticket gurus created movie trailers that were shown in theatres across the Bay area to create a buzz to a potential 1997 breakout season.
Respect not shown since the head coach ordered players out of the tented area during Fan Fest to sign autographs.
Attending a Buc game this season is not in the future of many around me. My parents ended their 10-year run as a season ticket holder prior to the 2008 season for the above reasons.
Still others can't see the point of contributing money to a franchise that has turned back the clock to 1988.
Until this franchise rededicates itself to quality people, shows a true commitment to winning, and regains the class it lost cutting loose Brooks, many seem unlikely to rush to the turn styles.
No orange pants, but this franchise again wants it all from its fans.
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