Note: This is the full unedited version of the article that appeared in the Ray Area.
I have no aspirations of die-hard fandom, but I know the national sports media does their best to hire the personalities to “analyze” all things sports. One pattern I’m seeing that has to stop is the lack of any perceived respect for “all-things” Tampa.
The Rays, Bucs and Lightning, the primary forces of Tampa’s pro-sports, have all seen their share of futility and successes.
The recent decades have been kinder than most considering the relative short history. The oldest franchise is the Buccaneers which started in 1976. Of course, who could forget the inaugural winless 0-14 season which stood as the record until the 2008 Lions surpassed them going 0-16, but enough about the history lesson.
In the past decade, Tampa has seen the most success from its franchises (aside from the lesser Arena Bowl titles from the Storm) with the Bucs winning the Lombardi Trophy in 2003, the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup the following year and the Rays making it to the World Series in 2008. Winning was relatively rare in prior decades. When they won it all though, there was no attention from the president. Not even a phone call. The story is always the same (except for the Rays who fell to the Phillies), “loveable losers finally win it all.”
Whenever I go on ESPN, SI or Fox Sports within their influential spheres, a central focus of attention goes on the lack of attendance, especially when it comes to the Rays and more recently, the Bucs. I see the Jim Romes and Ken Rosenthals alike continuously comment on the struggling attendance as if Tampa is being singled out and the “only city in America” having these sorts of problems. The glaring economic problems they often ignore mask their profound ignorance as if they’re trying to criticize Tampa as somehow being a second-rate sports market.
At last I checked, the Lightning had no problems selling out their playoff games. Do the national media do their diligence to report that? Hell no!
Nowadays when you see the recent success of the Lightning, I see analysts like the former Lightning coach, Barry Melrose who seems to always pick against them, which of course is his right. The analysts are focusing on what went wrong with the Capitals and the Bruins instead of focusing on what the Lighting are DOING RIGHT.
Now the Rays have seen an improvement nowadays when the analysts are not focusing on the attendance, but the question remains the same, “can they keep up with the Big Boys?” I don’t know has two division titles in three years not answer that question? Even in their slow start, Boston still garnered the attention as to “what the heck happened?” Now that everything is leveling off, maybe instead of the Rays success all the attention is gone to Jorge and his drama along with the “what is going wrong with the Yankees” debacle with their losing streak.
Now I understand that it is kind of hard to be taken seriously when you have a major league franchise named the Tampa Bay Rays located in St. Petersburg and you have the spring training home of the New York Yankees in Tampa across the bay. I mean I understand all sides what it would mean for Tampa’s economy should they lose the Yankees, but they should have thought of that when the major league baseball came knocking on their door with a new team. With the Yankees’ presence, you’re far less likely to ever ween those Yankee fans over to the Rays.
I also resigned to the fact aside from traditional college football diehards (i.e.: UF, FSU, UM), most of Florida is comprised of transplants. Even the Marlins have trouble drawing despite winning two pennants and a love-hate relationship with the owners. The Bucs have had a loyal following with the house of players that Tony Dungy built. The goodwill quickly ran out with the economy and jaded feelings with the Glazers as Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik have the uphill task of re-winning the fans over.
To fix this problem will take time and dedication. We have to realize that Tampa, as much as it has a reputation of being fair-weather, just have to put up with it. Tampa teams seem to strive when they’re placed in the “underdog” role. Yes, I know the 2004 Lightning won the Stanley Cup as a no. 1 seed. Yet, somehow that was so long ago comparatively. I noticed the slight increase on fanfare recent days as more attention comes slowly but surely to the likes of Stephen Stamkos, Simon Gagne and unsung playoff hero Marc-Andre “the other” Bergeron.
If Tampa is to get the respect it needs to get from the national media, we need to build on those very same traditions that made our rivals (i.e.: Boston, NY) so prevalent in their history to steal a line from Raiders owner Al Davis, “Just win, Baby!”