People are always asking me why I support the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Well, maybe not in exactly those words.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Are you high?”
“No son of mine is a Yucks fan!”
A guy in a faux-dive hipster bar in Brooklyn in 2005 insinuated I liked the Bucs only after Jon Gruden arrived and took the team to the Super Bowl. I insinuated we could take the conversation outside if he wanted to see if I bled crimson and pewter.
Actually, I bleed orange and white as a result of exposure to the sun’s radiation reflected a thousand times over off the bleachers in the Big Sombrero at a young age.
How, then, to answer the question? What the hell is wrong with me? It’s simple.
Every American loves an underdog.
I love the underdog, and I really love schadenfreude, a German word which translates to “satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.”
Let me give Detroit Lions fans an example: feeling glum because your team went 0-16 last season? Well, it’s not as bad as 0-26, which the Bucs were across two seasons starting in 1976, their first year.
How can a Bucs fan take pleasure in that misfortune? The Bucs aren’t the Saints or the Cardinals, the first two teams who lost to the Bucs, an act so unforgivable both teams’ head coaches were fired afterwards. Ah, satisfaction.
Eagles fans can forever rest uneasy knowing the Bucs closed out their beloved Veterans Stadium with a playoff win January 19, 2003 and then opened the new Lincoln Financial Field with another win September 8, 2003.
Every team in the league can quake in fear of the "Tampa Bay Curse," which states that any team which loses to the Bucs in the regular season will not go on to win the Super Bowl.
But it’s not all schadenfreude directed at other teams for me. I also take a sick pleasure in seeing the bumbling Bucs.
Up until Michael Spurlock took a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in 2007, I could look forward to seeing a graphic on the TV screen telling me this was, say, the 1,779th kickoff the Bucs had fielded without returning one for six.
Other teams have their best seasons led by names like Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning, Bob Griese, or Joe Montana. The lone Super Bowl quarterback in Buccaneers history is Brad Johnson, and he was outscored by his own defense that game.
It’s not that Brad Johnson is the best quarterback to ever play for Tampa Bay, either. Doug Williams, Steve Young, and Trent Dilfer were drafted by the Bucs before winning Super Bowls elsewhere.
Vinny Testaverde could have been Tampa’s Brett Favre, the only Bucs quarterback anyone under, say, age 25, would remember playing.
Bo Jackson’s not a quarterback, but don’t get me started.
Those were the bad old Hugh Culverhouse days, but even after his death the team struggled.
Tony Dungy couldn’t coach his teams to a championship.
Jon Gruden coached Dungy’s team to a championship then went 7-9, 5-11, 11-5, 4-12, and 9-7.
The Bucs were 9-3 heading into December last year, but messed the bed, finishing 9-7.
Gruden wound up fired.
Phew. That’s a lot of self-directed schadenfreude.
But isn’t that what fans need? Don’t we need the lows to balance out the highs?
Patriots fans fully expected a return to the Super Bowl at the start of last season, despite posting the worst 18-1 record in sports history the year before. Tom Brady’s knee got blown out in week one and all of Beantown was swearing vengeance on “the fackin’ dahkie who done this to ya, Tawm.”
Steelers fans thought Ben Roethlisberger was set for back-to-back championships in 2006. Everyone but Big Ben will remember 2006 as the year of the concussion for Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger will remember 2006 once stem cell technology allows for repairing damaged brain tissue.
Being a Buccaneers fan keeps my blood pressure down. The wins are so much sweeter when your team is expected to lose. And if they do lose, no big deal, they weren’t supposed to anyway, right?
Despite the rich tradition of losing, I have always been and always will be a Bucs fan. It warms the soul to be a litmus test of terrible for other teams, while providing enough barbs to needle other fans with, and that is truly a unique fan experience in the NFL.
Plus they have a freakin' pirate ship in the freakin' stadium.