The horns, they are a-honkin’. The flags are flying high. If you’re not a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, this town will look foreign to you in the coming days. They will come out of the woodwork, these fanatics decked out in beads, face-paint and bandannas.
Today is their day. Yesterday was, too. You can bet they will be celebrating before and after work tomorrow. And fans this weekend will trade their button-down collars for their favorite jersey and trade their ties for shoulder pads — well, some of them, anyway.
This weekend promises to be crazy in Tampa Bay. The local TV market was at the top of the ratings list during the NFL Wild Card Playoff game on FOX between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. And the Bucs weren’t even playing. This town loves its football.
But, even more than that, it loves its Bucs.
Monday morning at 2 a.m., the Bucs team returned from its victorious trip to Philadelphia and was greeted at the stadium in Tampa by a reported 25,000 fans. The game ended a little after 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, and within minutes, traffic began to build up on Dale Mabry. It wasn’t as bad as a Bucs home game, but judging from the way some of the fans were dressed that night, you wouldn’t have been able to tell.
Face it: They’ve been waiting 27 years for this. Their team is in the Super Bowl. The Bucs, who went 0-26 to begin their franchise history. The Bucs, who were called the Yuks not that long ago. Tampa Bay, the place no coach wanted to come after the firing of Tony Dungy and the debacle with Bill Parcells. The Bucs, once the laughingstock of professional sports — historically one of the worst teams ever — have vindicated themselves.
No more jokes. No more mentions of cold-weather games. This team, the 2002-03 group of 53 players, did it. They did what no other Bucs team could before. The Bucs tried in 1979, when they were one game away. Score: 9-0, Los Angeles Rams. You can bet they had their sights on it 20 years later in 1999, when Shaun King brought them to the NFC Championship game. Score: 11-6, St. Louis Rams.
But Sunday, the story was different. Call it third time’s a charm. Call it a fluke. Say the Eagles didn’t come to play. Say whatever you want. To Bucs players and fans, it doesn’t matter. Score: 27-10, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And that’s why this is so important. That’s why they’re not going to sit down, even if you ask politely. They’re not going to stop honking, no matter how annoying it seems.
This is their moment. They’re going to relish it.
The flags, they will be a-wavin’. Go ahead, wave back. Stick your finger in the air. Honk your horn. Yell until you can’t yell anymore. Cry if you must.
This is the day an entire city wanted and grasped at, but kept missing. This is the day the rest of the world bet wouldn’t happen. But on any given Sunday, all that betting and wanting and grasping could be for naught. All that cold-weather nonsense and Philly fan madness didn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy game.
Last Sunday was the day hell froze over. The day the Buccaneers put out a ban on the term “Suckaneers.” It was the day for Tampa Bay fans to stand up and be proud.
This Sunday is the day for them to sit back and enjoy. Their team is in the Super Bowl.
Contact Will Albritton at firstname.lastname@example.org