Ahh the first week of the season
You forget about being a Buc fan on a Sunday night for eight months. Listening to Gene and Scott, watching Kev and Nick on Sky Sports, the whole NFL thing just fades into distant memory during the spring and summer. But bring on Week 1 of a new season and it all comes flooding back.
Having got my weekend golf fix out of the way Saturday morning, attention in my household switched to mundane chores such as cutting the grass, doing the ironing etc. Well, how else do you persuade her indoors to let you commandeer the television for three hours on a Sunday evening before disappearing upstairs for five hours on the internet? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.
5.30 rolled around, the Sky credits rolled too and there was me old mate Kevin Cadle sitting in the studio that I spent seven hours with him in last January watching Tony Dungy's last game in charge of the Bucs. Kudos to Karl Baumann and Sky for celebrating the 20 years on American Football in the UK by bringing Nicky Horne in to the studio, and real respect for the excellent piece penned by Nick Halling in which he predicted Atlanta were guaranteed to win the SuperBowl.
And then we were off. Falcons at Packers and the chance to drool over Michael Vick for two hours. You see, I drafted the talented one in the first round of the 2001 FFL draft knowing it would be some time before the selection paid off. But after his first score, and the obligatory instant phone call to John Davies who I am playing in Week 1 of the 2002 FFL season, everything from previous years just came flooding back.
You know the feeling - the look of dread from your family that this is just Week 1 of a 16-game season. How excited you are when Nick Halling doesn't predict the Bucs to win the SuperBowl and thereby put the kiss of death on them. And when watching someone do the Lambeau Leap is actually still marginally a novelty. The obligatory phone call to Phil Jones followed as I waxed lyrically about Michael Vick and the possibility of my even buying an Atlanta No.7 shirt in tribute to my fantasy hero. "You'll get your ****ing head kicked in if you do" the Bucs UK Vice-President eloquently replied to my thought.
And then Buc time rolls around. The usual fun and games getting the internet radio connection to work and then as if by magic, Al Keck's pre-game show comes through the headphones and countdown to Gene and Scot can begin. US-based fans just have no idea of what we go through over here. When you have a young daughter as I do, you learn to celebrate silently. Hence Martin Gramatica boots a fieldgoal from one end of Raymond James Stadium to the other, and hundreds of UK Bucs fans celebrate in the form of a mime artist.
Midway through the fourth quarter, and depression over the 20-10 deficit is only countered by all the fantasy points that Charlie Garner has scored for me. Small consolation but as the Bucs take the game into overtime and Sunday turns into Monday morning, there is still hope. Until just before 1am and Tom Tupa shows everyone why he is now a punter and not a quarterback. Kerrie, trying to sleep in the bedroom next door, hears the first audible word in three hours come out of the spare room. "Bollocks".
"So they lost then" says my other half in her best Sherlock Holmes analytical way. The NFL's back.
Paul Stewart, September 2002