It’s an odd time here in Tampa Bay and not just because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic that has turned this, and pretty much every other city, on its head.
No, it’s twilight zone time in Tampa Bay because our sports teams have given us nothing but winners. This year’s been like a night out at your local casino where you collect on every single slot machine you cram a dollar into.
There is no denying we’re one of America’s great sports towns but we haven’t had all that much to celebrate the last fifteen years. The Lightning have been competitive over the last seven seasons but it wasn’t until this year that we finally saw them seal the deal. It’s been a while since anyone in their right mind could call the Buccaneers competitive. Heck, only a few years ago, they were struggling to get fans into the stands, which is somewhat ironic considering these days NO ONE can go. (You remember back when televised games were blacked out in the local market, essentially strong-arming fans to attend games in person? Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the NFL reversed that ridiculous rule.) These days, Tom Brady is our quarterback and the playoffs, at a minimum, at least look likely. After all, this guy doesn’t lose to anyone but Eli Manning and he’s long since retired. Finally, the Rays, perennially considered afterthoughts in an American League East where the rest of the division spend three times the money, are one win away from the World Series.
All this adds up to Tampa being smack dab in the middle of its very own sports Twilight Zone, for it is perfectly conceivable (have a seat, Tampa fans) that we start calling this area Title Town… or at least Title Bay (can I trademark that?)
Imagine, if you will.
During Week One of the NFL season, I gathered round the tube with friends and loved ones to ultimately watch the Buccaneers lose to the New Orleans Saints. I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t completely odd to see Tom Brady, the ringbearer himself, in a Buccaneers uniform. Most of us are still pinching ourselves. It’s like having a yard sale and someone offering you a million dollars for your raggedy old trinkets. Keep in mind, this is a franchise that has never really had a franchise quarterback then somehow managed to land the most decorated one in NFL history. His signing made immediate contenders (not to mention media darlings) out of an already talented team that could not put two and two together.
There have been some bumps in the road early (losses to New Orleans and Chicago, the occasional berating of teammates and the late-game loss of down count) but there is plenty of season left to be played. Don’t be surprised if the Buccaneers eventually put it all together and are one of the last NFC teams standing.
We all know about the Lightning. I don’t know how many more celebratory posts (LOTS MORE!!!) we can write about the Stanley Cup. But what the Rays have done on a limited budget is nothing short of spectacular. There are still plenty of players on this roster that I don’t even know. Don’t get me wrong, that’s because I don’t watch baseball anymore. But a shortened season without fans suits this Rays team to a tee since no fans show up to seem them anyway. Either way, considering their payroll is a stingy 27th out of thirty major league baseball teams, these kids are most definitely, as they say, balling on a budget. Manager and Tampa native Kevin Cash has done his best to make lemonade out of lemons, improving this team’s record in five of his last six seasons. Their young, pitching staff is among the best in baseball, the bullpen spectacular, their defense crafty and perhaps most importantly, they finally have players who can put the bat on the ball, which has been their bane for ages.
Yes, despite having to wear masks everywhere we walk, those of us who live here in Tampa are currently blessed to be in the Bay, and not just because of the weather. Everywhere you turn, our sports teams are chalking up W’s. We expected Lightning greatness but the rest of this is icing on the cake.
Cup’s here to stay? Rays one win away? Brady by the Bay? I can’t tell you how many sports fans, both fringe and fanatic, have come up to me simultaneously elated and in disbelief. Wouldn’t it be something, they ask, if the Rays, Bucs and Lightning all won titles in the same year?
I’d call that Title Bay, friends.
It’s not as far-fetched as you might think. Now, about that trademark.