Personal memories - Wayne Hough
Like so many club members, I have been a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for more years than I care to remember. I started watching the NFL in 1984 when it first appeared on our screens on the newly launched Channel 4. Every Sunday evening at 6pm I used to settle down and watch my new favourite sport from the comfort of my Dad’s arm chair. I kept that up for a whole season, right up to my first live game… The Super Bowl!

At this point I have to admit two things… (a) During my inaugural season following the sport, I didn’t really support any particular team. I enjoyed the spectacle of the game as a whole

(b) I never even made it through to the kickoff of my first SuperBowl! It was my first live game and I had no idea what all the pre game build-up was going to be like and I was young and tired.

Unfortunately that was it for a few years and I didn’t watch another game until I tuned in for SuperBowl XX to watch the Bears stuff those Pats (oh that would have been so sweet to see again at Wembley). Watching the Super Bowl all the way through reignited my enthusiasm for the game and the following season I once started to follow the NFL, only this time I was a little older and took a little more interest in the game, the tactics and the teams.

For this first season back I chose to support the Dallas Cowboys… Yes I know and yes, I probably was jumping on the Cowboys bandwagon. I stayed a fan for that whole season and only jumped ship when I came to realise that supporting ‘America’s Team’ didn’t really set you apart from other NFL fans as at that time, as nearly every NFL fan you came across was a fan of either the Cowboys, Bears, L.A. Raiders, Redskins or 49ers as those were the only teams you could get any merchandise for over here at the time (so nothing much has changed there then either). So my search for a new team was on.

At the time, a mate of mine had a new game, Statis Pro Football, where you chose plays like a coach, selecting play and player whist the other player, on defence, tried to guess your move and counter it. Once this had been done you used the stats on the player cards and a dice to see how many yards you got (or not) on the play. Unfortunately my mate was one of those nice types who insisted on mastering a new game before allowing anyone else to have a go, and he wasn’t above ‘bending’ the rules to aid him on his way to victory!

One Sunday afternoon we settled down to anoher game (aka my getting another drubbing) and decided to have a ‘battle of the bays’! As was his way, he thought it would be nice to give me the underdog Tampax Bay Buccaneers to play so that he could hammer me again. Unfortunately for him I got the better of him that day and the Bucs triumphed over the Pack.

So I sat there and decided that the Bucs were the team for me. They weren’t very well known over here at the time; they had a cool kit and were the perennial underdogs. And that was how I became a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

There then followed many, MANY years of futility! Years and years of hoping that the Bucs could actually beat the Pack in real life. Years of waiting for a winning season, where the Bucs UK motto of “There Is Always Next Year” came to mean so much to me and every other Buc fan alike. During all those years of support I actually got to see the Bucs once at the old Tampa Stadium (as it was knows then), a 26-6 drubbing at the hands of Da Bears on the 4th November 1990.

Two further trips to Florida didn’t result in a game unfortunately (first trip, the Bucs were away at the Bears again the 1st week of my holiday (and lost again) and had their bye the second week and my second trip was in July). I did think about making my second game in San Diego when the Bucs got through to some event or other one January (in 2002) but alas it wasn’t meant to be as my employer at the time, BSi, decided to make me redundant at that time (I bet the comment about me being the bloke peeing up the side of the BSi building in Gunnersbury makes a bit more sense now Ian).

So imagine my surprise when I get into work one Monday late last year, to be greeted by an email from a colleague in the USA (and Lions fan) telling me that my beloved Bucs would be playing in my own back yard this year… After carefully checking the date (nope, not April 1st) and several other news sources I eventually came to the conclusion… Go BUCS! So on to last weekend.

As soon as we realised that the Bucs really were coming to Wembley, Carrie and I decided that we would make a full weekend of the event rather than coming down just for the Sunday as we usually do. Fortunately a friend stepped into the breech when I realised a couple of weeks before the game that I’d forgotten to book a hotel and she let us stay at her apartment in Knightsbridge.

So Friday evening off we set for the Smoke, excitement building throughout the journey. We made our way to the desired stop on the tube only to realise that aside from the Museums and Harrods, I had no idea where anything was in that area of town! All is not lost however, my new phone has Sat-Nav built in so I’ll use that I think… Oh how wrong I was!

Lesson 1… If you are going to use an app on your phone to guide you through unfamiliar territory, it is always a good idea to learn how to actually use the app before you set off! Due to this oversight, we did get to see quite a lot of the surrounding area on our way to the apartment and you know you are in an affluent area when you don’t bother counting the Mercs, BMWs or Porsches and about every fifth car parked in the street is a Bently!

Anyway, we eventually got to the apartment and settled down ready for the early start the next morning, having seen the Museums, Harrods, the Museums again and the Royal Albert Hall en route.

Next morning saw us set off bright and early for Richmond Park tube station, only to find that due to weekend engineering work the line stopped at West Kensington. So, following a shorter than expected tube journey, a replacement bus service and lots of manic texting, Ian Papworth met us outside the head office of my old employer, BSi, at Gunnersbury tube station.

Unfortunately, following an interesting turning manoeuvre, our journey was interrupted, as Ian exchanged insurance details with another driver. Fortunately everyone in the car was OK (although the boys in the back had a bit of a rude awakening) and we were soon on our way to the flag football game.

At this point I have to say a HUGE thank you to Ian for giving us a lift to the game as, given my previous nights navigation game, I doubt we would have actually made it to the game if he hadn’t stepped in and offered us a lift.

Got to Richmond park a bit later than expected but in plenty of time to chuck the pigskin around in the car park for a while before the cheerleaders and three ex-players arrived, Lee Roy Selmon, Shelton Quarles and Mike Alstott. There then followed a quite intensive photo and autograph session with all present during which I was pleasantly surprised to find out the following…

(a) The cheerleaders are not the air-heads everyone expects them to be. They were lovely girls who were a pleasure to talk to;

(b) All three ex-players were true gentlemen, chatting to us all, signing anything we thrust in front of them (sorry Mike that you got my belly to sign) and having their picture taken time and time again. It was an honour to shake all of their hands and great to put right an image that many professional athletes think they are “to good for this crap”;

And (c) Most of the people playing catch in the car park before the flag football game can probably catch better than the current batch of Buccaneers receivers (Mr Clayton). In fact at one point during the flag football game one of the cheerleaders actually said that perhaps we should put some of our guys in for the proper game the following day!

We then played the flag football game… A couple of the Bucs players got in for a couple of plays to show us how it should be done then we took over and made a complete pig’s ear of things… Only joking, we managed to beet the UK Patriots twice in the end and they even let me substitute in for a couple of plays too.

We also got to mob the Patriots mascot in retribution for the UK Patriots mugging Captain Fear (although he probably deserved it as he had just nicked a tray of cakes from them). There were a couple of presentations of a signed game ball, for services to the club, congratulations to Lee and Gary, and the obligatory champagne spraying and, despite what Mr Bromfield has said to the contrary, my spraying was much more impressive than his.

At this point we had to leave the park and head back into town to make the final arrangements for the evening’s entertainment, but I understand that the remaining players managed to beat the UK Patriots at flag football… again!

Before we got back to the flat, we did stop by Harrods to look at the NFL merchandise they were selling. Well when you are staying a 10 minute walk from the store (as we discovered the night before), you have to really, don’t you? When we got to the sports department, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the display was actually a manikin in full Bucs uniform including pads. It was just a pity that the range of merchandise on sale wasn’t as impressive.

After a brief nap (for me at least) we set out to the Texas Embassy Cantina for the pre-game meal. Imagine my surprise to walk through the doors and be confronted with red Bucs shirts everywhere (although mostly standing at the bar – Lee). So my initial fear that no one would turn up turned out to be unfounded!

Eventually we got upstairs, spoke to the Embassy staff and distributed some natty little cards that I’d printed out detailing everyone who was on the list’s name and meal choice. Why did I do this? Well I thought it would be a good idea to remind everyone what they ordered and help me keep track of who paid what at the end of the evening and surprising for one of my ideas, it actually worked quite well in the end!

At this point Carrie stepped into the breach admirably and took everybody’s name and distributed the cards expertly. In the end, only three people who said they would attend didn’t make it but they were replaced by about five late entries.

There then followed and evening of great food and lots of drinking and some fantastic banter form everyone in the group. Personally I thoroughly enjoyed myself, thought the Embassy staff did a magnificent job looking after us all and I was immensely relieved to find out that I didn’t get stuck with the bill for the night! Anyway, having donned my beer coat I then took a winding route back to the apartment.

Next morning I awoke bright and early with a bit of a thick head and made my way to the tube for our trip to Wembley. En route we decided a coffee would be welcome and so we stopped at Green Park and found a Starbucks on the surface. Sitting in the park drinking Joe, it was very apparent that the vast majority of jerseys we saw were navy in colour so, filled with a growing sense of dread, we continued to Wembley Park.

Thankfully, when we got to Wembley, the balance of jerseys was put right and I guestimated that the support was probably 50-50 on the day… which was nice. We then joined the mother of all queues to get into the tailgate party! It still amazes me that people will queue for ages to get into the tailgate party as there are always far too many people in the area, the queues for anything are monumental and the entertainment mediocre at best!

Having said that, we did have a fun get together, got to abuse a couple of Patriots fans in fancy dress (and they weren’t happy about that!) and if the truth be known, it was probably your only chance to get a half decent beer at a reasonable (for Wembley) price. Having been filmed again by NFL Films, had a good laugh with other club members and got to talk to a few more cheerleaders, we set off to find our seats for the big game…

And OH MY GOD, weren’t they fantastic seats (thanks Paul for arranging that). Carrie and I were sitting about three rows back from the covered seats, just behind the Bucs bench, with a fantastic close up view of the field! What was even nicer was Mike Alstott and Lee Roy Selmon looking up and being able to make us out and call us down to say hi again (much to the consternation of the steward who seemed powerless to stop us walking down to the front).

Then it all kicked off for real. We had Calvin Harris providing the pre-game entertainment and, although I’d never heard them/him before, they did a good job of getting the crowd going. We had the cheerleaders doing their thang in the middle of the pitch and then some boys in flowery suits unfurled a massive Buccaneer’s flag on the pitch.

At this point I felt a bit of a lump in my throat. The crowd was going mad (or it was around us at least) and it finally dawned on me that I was once again going to see my beloved Bucs play live for the first time in nearly 19 years!

What I did realise however, was that all the on pitch entertainment is definitely geared towards those in the upper decks where you get the full effect of being able to see the cheerleaders routine as a whole and get the full effect of that flag!

The game started off promisingly with the Bucs winning the toss (this year you have to grab a positive wherever you can) but normal service was soon resumed when Josh Johnson threw a pick that was run back for a touchdown and as we all know, things kind of went down hill from there!

As others have said before, the Bucs aren’t built to come from behind but unfortunately they seem to be making a habit of falling behind early this year. Having said that, I did think that the current team do have a core of good players but PLEASE can we learn to catch!!!? Either the ball when it hits you square in the numbers or the opposition when they have the ball?

As a team, the D doesn’t, in my humble opinion, have the speed to allow receivers get past them because we can no longer chase the ball carrier down once they are in the open field and you are not going to sustain offensive drives when the receiver’s would struggle to catch a cold!

On the plus side, we did get to see Josh Freeman’s first regular season snap as the (now installed) Bucs starting quarterback. If he makes it big, I did get a good photo of the back of his first huddle, if not I guess I’ll have to work ‘till in 70 before I retire.

And that’s just about it… After the game we made our way back across town feeling slightly gloomy, but at the same time happy that I had seen the Bucs play again after 19 years and my first live game this year. We stayed in London for a further day to do some sightseeing and recover from the weekends activities before returning back to Cambridge for a rather unproductive week at work. Unfortunately I guess the next time I see the Bucs live will be back in Tampa and I hope to make the journey over there sooner rather than later now.

A big thank you to everyone who helped make the weekend such a huge success. Also, a huge thank you to everyone I’d spoken to over the months leading up too the game for making the meal such a huge success. It was so good to finally put faces to the names I’d got to know so well. Till next time…