The changing face of sports in Tampa
It was not that long ago that Tampa was one of the worst sports cities in America. The Sporting News used to run a feature on this each year and there was Tampa, down amongst the likes of Des Moines, Alberqueque and Springfield as places NOT to go for top quality sports. Not any more.
For the Buccaneers, it turned around of course in 1997. I was fortunate enough to be in town for the Bucs' 5-0 start that season and the whole atmosphere surrounding the franchise had changed. No longer did fans hope to win - they expected to win. And for the past decade, most of the time the Buccaneers have done so.
And over that decade, the other sports in the town have all had their moment in the spotlight having spent a fair amount of time in the proverbial cellar. I have often thought that you can only really appreciate winning when you have been through losing, and any Tampa sports fan will know all about losing.
The first team to start to turn it around was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kicked around various locations, kicked around the NHL, the Lightning were a joke team for many years until it began to change under coach John Torterella in 2002. I was one of those UK-based fans who stayed up until gone 4 in the morning to watch them win Game 7 over the Calgary Flames and see Dave Andrecheyk acheive that lifelong ambition of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
And most recently, and amazingly of all, the Tampa Bay Rays (nee Devil Rays) lead all of Major League baseball right now and have been the No.1 talking point in the sport as they have stormed to the top of the American League East.
And you can throw in college football in the form of the South Florida Bulls (ranked No.2 at one point last season) and the Tampa Bay Storm (Arena Bowl champions) to complete the resume of sporting success in the Bay Area. Tampa also hosts a PGA Golf event (the PODS event at Innisbruck GC) and several major fights have taken place in recent months in town too.
So forgetting for a moment that the Lightning slipped back into the doldrums last season (Torterella being replaced by the mulleted Barry Melrose), this is a sporting mecca right now for fans of all major sports. It started with the Bucs and will always be led by the Bucs, but it is great to see other Bay area sporting teams getting their turn at recognition too.
Paul Stewart, 3 July 2008