Patriots May Own Sunday, but Saturday Belongs to Bucs' UK Fans
Mike Alstott's 1-yard touchdown run sparked Tampa Bay to an 14-0 win over New England Saturday. No joke. Alstott really did score one of the red team's two touchdowns. The guys wearing blue jerseys had zero. "Nil!" Paul Stewart said.
He broke out a bottle of champagne and passed it around. If ever a team deserved to savor a little success, it's the Bucs' UK fan club -- it beat the Patriots' fan club on Saturday in a flag football game. The other Bucs team was presumably watching film or sacrificing goats or whatever you do when you face that other New England team.
That'll happen Sunday at Wembley. Saturday at Richmond Park in Southwest London was the preamble. The oldest NFL fan club in Britain (the Bucs) met the fan club of England's most popular team (the Patriots).
When these two teams meet, you can't throw the record book out the window. There isn't one to toss. And if there were, the receivers would probably drop it. "We're not really that good," Stewart said. "We relied on [Jon] Gruden's playbook. Expect we made it work."
Spoken with snark, like a true American football fan. And there may be no truer fans anywhere than in the group Stewart formed 25 years ago.
Bucs fans in America just have to turn on their TV to get their weekly dose of disappointment. These poor blokes have to go out of their way to cheer the Bucs to another loss. A lot of them have been doing it since Doug Williams' arm was wild enough to overthrow the Queen. "I was 12," said Lee Bromfield, who's now 39, of when he became a Tampa Bay fan.
His family was vacationing in St. Petersburg and the Bucs were on TV. They actually won that Sunday, and a young man from Manchester fell under some mysterious Creamsicle spell. Same thing happened to Stewart, who caught a Monday Night game the Bucs won on a last-second interception. "Hey, that team in orange must be pretty good," he thought.
It was, only it took another 15 years to get there. The Bucs UK club has survived Leeman Bennett and Ray Perkins. It has withstood the boycott by Bo Jackson, the signing of Alvin Harper and the disappearance of Gaines Adams.
There were the good Tony Dungy years leading to that Gruden Super Bowl. But being a Bucs fans in the UK was like being a Chernobyl fan in the U.S. -- you can't explain it, you just admire the perseverance of 300 football souls.
Especially on Saturday when you looked across the field at all those snazzy blue jerseys. "Bandwagon fans," Bromfield said.
It's not that everyone has jumped on since Tom Brady arrived. But New England claims to be the most popular team in Old England, and nobody's arguing. What the Bucs fan club lacks in recent converts, it makes up for in guile.
Members were told Williams might show up Saturday. He couldn't make it, but the Bucs did send a car over. Out popped Alstott, ex-linebacker Shelton Quarles and Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon. Stewart started pleading for them to join the seven-on-seven contest. Selmon's been retired 25 years and didn't feel up to a comeback. The other two couldn't resist a little international bonding.
But was it fair to have two ex-Pro Bowlers in the lineup? "We're 0-6 and they're coming off a 59-0 win," Stewart said. "Who cares if it's fair?"
So Alstott ran one up the gut. A couple of guys had on Tedy Bruschi jerseys, but they definitely were not Tedy Bruschi. The A-Train scored and the rout was on. Quarles and Alstott went to the sideline early, but it didn't matter. It was as if the 2003 Bucs inhabited the bodies of the 2009 fan club. The Pats hadn't looked so outmanned since the '85 Super Bowl.
Not that anyone seemed too upset at the score. "They were keeping score?" John Smith said. He was the lone Patriots player with NFL experience, and that experience was as a kicker from 1974-84. There were no goal posts, though Smith tried a fake field goal for the crew from NFL Films.
That's right, the company that made the slow-motion spiral famous is making a documentary on the Bucs' UK connection. It recorded every slow-motion play on Saturday. Unfortunately, NFL Films will probably include some footage of Sunday's game.
Any predictions? "I think the Pats will win 31-14," said Chris Chinoy, a member of their fan club. "What?" said Smith. "I don't know if they're going to score two touchdowns."
That would be two more than the Patriots scored Saturday. "Nil!" Stewart repeated.
When you're a Bucs fan, you take a win any you can get it. Even if you have to get it yourself.
David Whitley, Fanhouse AOL.com 25 October 2009