In London, winless Bucs win something: a following
Paul Stewart lives in a suburb of London. He works for IBM, is a terrific golfer and was even struck by lightning once. He is also one of the biggest Tampa Bay Bucs fans on the planet. Ask him for the most obscure piece of Bucs trivia he knows and this is what he comes up with: From 1977-85, there was a Bucs linebacker named Cecil Johnson. Who was his brother? Johnson's brother, Robert, was the drummer for K.C. and the Sunshine Band.
Stewart actually knows stuff like that, so you can imagine how thrilled he is that the Bucs are playing in London on Sunday. Tampa Bay is taking on New England at Wembley Stadium in a game sure to be so lopsided that even the guards at Buckingham Palace will break out in laughter for the first time in recorded history.
For a fan like Stewart, the Bucs playing at Wembley will be like the Beatles playing at Shea.
"It really is amazing that the Bucs are going to be playing in my own backyard," Stewart wrote in an e-mail. "All those times I and the other UK fans have flown across the Atlantic and taken vacations around games. ... Now we will see them play in London."
Stewart saw his first Bucs game in 1982 on British television. Tampa Bay beat Miami on a Monday night. "They won and I thought: 'That team in orange must be pretty good. I think I'll support them,'" Stewart wrote.
By 1984 Stewart had formed "Bucs U.K.," a fan club that had six original members. Each month a fan magazine was distributed. After 197 magazine issues, a Web site called Bucpower.com was launched in 2002, and it really is quite impressive. The site contains details of every game played, every individual and team stat. It also has a profile on every player and draft pick since 1976. There are over 7,400 Bucs images on the site.
From its humble beginnings, the club now has over 300 members in the U.K., and many travel annually to Tampa to see the Bucs play once a season. Stewart himself has seen several games in person. He was in San Diego when the Bucs won the Super Bowl, and has also watched a game from the owner's box. Know anyone else with 85 percent of every Bucs game ever played on DVD?
According to Stewart, the Bucs U.K. club members have a block of 300 tickets behind the Bucs' bench for Sunday's game. Stewart and the Bucs U.K. club will be playing the U.K. Patriots in a touch football game Saturday afternoon. NFL Films is planning on making a documentary on Stewart and the club.
And Stewart will also be in the Buccaneers' radio booth to call an offensive series with Gene Deckerhoff, which is to say his U.S. radio debut should be short-lived. Of course, the Bucs have yet to win a game this season, and it is realistic to think they are staring down the barrel of 0-16.
Clearly there is a lack of talent on the team, and many blame owner Malcolm Glazer and his sons for not paying to put a competitive team on the field. Perhaps too much of the Glazers' money is tied up in Manchester United, a professional soccer team in England and the most lucrative sports franchise in the world.
In a surprising turnaround, the Glazer's image is now more positive in England than in Tampa, according to Stewart. "The protests at United have all but disappeared as the Glazers have done exactly what they said they would ... stay out of the way," Stewart wrote.
Stewart and his club do not seem too surprised with the Bucs' abysmal record, nor do they seem especially disappointed. They harbored no illusions at the beginning of the season.
"Like any fans, we want the Bucs to win," Stewart wrote. "But I guess we're more realistic than the Florida-based fans. And remember, the motto of the Bucs U.K. magazine was 'There's always next year.'"
Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald/Tribune 25 October 2009