Bucs have massive fan club in jolly old England
Q&A with Europe's biggest Bucs fan
Obviously, the circumstances could be better. For openers, the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-6) are off to their worst start in 24 years and today leave for a fun-filled weekend in London where Sunday they'll face the New England Patriots (4-2), fresh off a 59-0 victory over the Titans. "It's not really the ideal vacation," offensive lineman Davin Joseph deadpanned.
If the NFL had a mechanism for flex scheduling with its regular-season international series this matchup would have been swapped out weeks ago. But the game must go on, and there's a faction of pewter people who could not be happier about it. Yes, still. "Real fans support their team in all situations," said Paul Stewart, 44.
Make no mistake, the Bucs UK are real fans — and really loyal. Yes, the Bucs have a fan base in England, a rabid, 25-year-old club that even from across "The Pond" managed to survive a league-record 14 straight losing seasons back in the creamsicle orange days.
Stewart, of Weybridge, Surrey, some 20 miles southwest of London, founded the club with the Bucs' blessing in November 1984 and nearly two decades later took his enthusiasm to another level by launching BucPower.com., one of the best fan Web sites on the Internet, featuring highlights from Stewart's library of 438 Tampa Bay games on video.
Since the Bucs-Patriots game was announced last December, the 300-plus members of Bucs UK have been gearing up for a weekend that starts with the arrival of the club tonight at Heathrow, features a flag football game against the much younger UK Patriots club Saturday and the game Sunday at 1.
NFL Films is doing documentary on the club for the NFL Network and Stewart will join the Bucs radio crew of Gene Deckerhoff and Dave Moore in calling the game. . Should be fun. Probably worthy of a few pints being tipped.
"We promised to match a beer for every yard rushing the [ Carolina] Panthers gained Sunday at the club meal," Stewart said of last week's 28-21 loss in which the Panthers rolled to 267 yards on the ground. "Naturally, we were disappointed at the Bucs run defense, but we back our drinking abilities to the hilt."
Here's more from an e-mail swap with England's biggest Bucs fan. Stewart attends at least one Tampa Bay game each year and, yes, was in San Diego when the Bucs crushed the Oakland Raiders 38-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003:
How is it, of all the NFL teams, you guys picked the wretched Bucs of the '80s for an overseas fan club?
The first game of American football I ever saw was in December 1982. Channel 4, a new TV station over here, started showing a one-hour packaged program with highlights of the previous Monday night game, other game clips and features explaining the rules. The first one I watched was Tampa Bay vs. Miami. The Bucs won 23-17 and I thought, 'Hey, that team in orange must be pretty good, I'll support them.' ... DOH! ... For other club members, a lot follow the Bucs because they have been to the bay area on vacation, some felt sorry for them during the losing. Some jumped on the bandwagon following the Super Bowl win."
When did the Bucs first learn of your club?
Rick Odioso, the PR Director [at the time] gave permission for an official booster club from the start. When he realized it wasn't a joke, he was incredibly supportive and sent over programs, media guides, stickers etc. When I first came out to Tampa in 1988, the Bucs made a huge deal of my visit and I watched the game from the sideline as a guest of Ray Perkins. ... I first met the Glazers [team owners] in 1997 and they have been incredibly supportive of the club and the Web site since. Each time I come over, I have been able to stop by and see them and thank them for what they have done for Bucs UK members in helping us get game tickets, etc."
How popular is the NFL in Europe, relative to the other football?
It is more than just a minority support, but is naturally way behind soccer, rugby and cricket. The live game broadcasts have healthy viewer ratings. The reason NFL Europe failed is because British fans were knowledgeable enough to realize it was second-rate football. The Germans accepted it more readily, hence why most teams ended up there."
What was it like seeing the Bucs from afar transform from laughingstock to Super Bowl contenders?
Just like in the song by Savage Garden, 'You can't appreciate true love until you've been burned,' you can't appreciate winning unless you've been through the losing. And heck, being a Buc fan in the '80s and '90s, you saw enough of the losing. But the 1997 season [and first playoff berth in 15 years] was really special as it began to turn around and then having got so close in 1999 (we banned Ricky Proehl from our fantasy league for life for scoring that touchdown in the NFC title game), it made the Super Bowl so special to know we had been there since the start."
What did you think of the firestorm when Malcolm Glazer and his sons bought Manchester United? Did you defend them to the homefolk? And what are they saying about the family now?
They are good business people and the chance to acquire the biggest sports franchise in the world was one that they took with both hands.British soccer fans traditionally believe that 'their teams belong to them' and foreign ownership is something that they have had to accept slowly and painfully. It's a business not just sport. I knew that Bryan and Joel [Glazer] would stay out of the way of the on-field events just like they do with the Bucs and take care of the business side.I did say this many times on British TV and took some pretty nasty responses from United fans over it too. But now in 2009, Man-United is still hugely successful, sellout every game, win more championships and cups than other teams, and there are far worse foreign owners who have come into the sport since the Glazers did.You will never convince all of the fans of the move but the aggravation has died down almost completely now."
You knew this was coming. The team is 0-6 and conjuring up memories of those comical creamsicle seasons. Worse, they're facing a Patriots team that beat Tennessee 59-0 in the snow last week. How does that temper enthusiasm for this landmark event? Do you wish the Bucs weren't coming?
Not at all.The motto of the Bucs UK during the 1980s and early 1990s was 'There's Always Next Year,' and this is no different.Real fans support their team in all situations.OK, so it may feel like we are supporting Leonidas and his 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, but going through a tough season makes the brighter future ahead more exciting when it arrives."
Chris Harry, Orlando Sentinel 25 October 2009