Last weekend I was down to my final two stadiums and headed back down to Florida to hit the state’s third NFL venue in Tampa. Despite it being the first weekend of December, it was as humid as ever. Seriously, when is that turned off? On my flight down I was glued to the SEC Championship game, as were many people sitting around me. The muffled cheers and fist pumps were prevalent as we pulled for the Gators during the first half of the game. I don’t think there were any ‘Bama fans present as no one was screaming “Roll Tide Roll” during the flight. We landed and I was picked up by a former radio station coworker, Richard. We grabbed a pizza and watched the remainder of disappointing game at his family’s house. If Florida had a halfway decent quarterback they would’ve won. Their defense played so hard- such a waste! With that conclusion we turned on the Big Ten Championship game and flipped between it and the ACC Championship the rest of the night. Michigan State and Iowa had a good old fashioned slugfest which was Big Ten football at it’s core. I was glad Sparty pulled it out- best to lose to the best IMO. Too bad two (or three!) teams from the same conference can’t get into the playoffs. Nothing went the Buckeyes’ way and that’s just a great life lesson learned the hard way- you can’t rely on anyone. If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself. It’s not a fun lesson, but true nevertheless!
Despite all my college football consumption on Saturday, I was not footballed out and got dropped off at Raymond James Stadium bright and early as Richard and his brother Tim took off to the Browns Backers bar for what would end up being a disappointing afternoon. My day however was on the up and up as I walked through the tailgate lots to say hi to George M. Steinbrenner Field, Spring Training home to my Yankees. There were some guys warming up and whatnot on the field and I watched them for a little bit before walking back across the street to rejoin the pre-game festivities. Baseball seems to sidetrack me a great deal in my football adventures! Both teams have the same color schemes and I quickly realized my outfit could pass for fan of either the Bucs or Falcons- I was completely incognito today. The tailgate lots were fairly full around the stadium with fans grillin’ and chillin’. As I passed through, I was impressed by the amount of Falcons fans present, flying their flags and yelling “Rise Up!” at one another.
Raymond James Stadium wasn’t too fancy on the outside, a concrete fortress decorated with some large player banners and logoed flags along the top. Ramps winded their way on each corner of the stadium and from my loop around the stadium I saw that both end zones were open areas housing large outdated scoreboards. Those would be gone after this season as a two phase renovation process. There was a fan fest set up in the street along the south end zone and I spotted a fellow Browns fan and we lamented with one another for a little bit. By now the gates were opened and I entered the stadium, eager to see the pirate ship. There it was in all its glory in the north end zone and I was disappointed to find I wasn’t allowed on it. It’s closed to the general public, but special fans and whatnot looked joyful walking around on it before the game. I was jealous. At least there was plenty of room to take pictures in front of it and a deck area to hang out on that was elevated from the rest of the large end zone concourse. Looking around from deck I noticed this stadium had the same set up as Nissan Stadium in Nashville, but with pirate flair. I love when teams fully embrace their mascots and run with a theme. It was very Pirates of the Caribbean and I dug it.
I decided to loop around to the south end zone so I could get a nice picture with the full pirate ship behind me. The main concourse runs under the stands on either sideline, but is still wide and fairly open allowing in natural light. The concessions ran from local establishments to stadium favorites. They had bright displays that sharply contrasted the stadiums concrete foundation. I came back out to sun and a wall of mist that was just natural Florida weather. Any desire to move to Florida has been dashed thanks to my last three stadium visits. It’s too wet for me, especially in a winter month. The south end zone was very similar to the north end zone, but with a party deck instead of a ship. There was plenty of standing room over here and some picnic tables for fans to sit and eat. What was a little odd was the concession stands didn’t match the pirate theme going on across the field. In retrospect I wonder if they wish they had gone for consistency. I milled around and found a Bucs fan to take my picture with the field background. God bless him because he took maybe 10 pictures of me. There was bad lighting or fans behind me ruining my “perfect” staged moment. His patience and willingness to help a girl out was appreciated! Getting a good picture at every stadium has been almost as daunting a task as chasing this Guinness World Record.
With under an hour to kickoff, I called my team contact, Chris and met him under the east stands of the main concourse. He was one of the nicest people I’ve met on this trip and took me on a mini tour that ended up on the field for team introductions, the anthem, and the lowering of the ship’s sail. They also honor a former military member by having them ring a bell as the sail is lowered. I was pleased to see a female at the helm. That has been something I’ve noticed in all the military appreciation ceremonies I’ve seen this season, a lack of females. While I understand there are far more males in the military, there have to be some local women that deserve recognition for their service as well. At least one of them was getting her due today… ring that bell loud US Army Lieutenant Ruth Heckinger!
We watched the first drive from the field before Chris took me up to the east side line club which will be redone in phase two of their renovations. It’s a nice air conditioned area with concessions and places to watch the game as well as seats in the lower bowl area. We made plans to meet back in here after the game and I took off to check out the upper levels of the stadium. It was a quick exploration as I winded up the ramp to the upper concourse and watched the game from a couple of vantage points. There wasn’t much going on up here, but the view of the stadium was fine and the crowd was into the game. I watched the Bucs score their first touchdown in the end zone below me and the ship fired off cannons in celebration and many a flag was waved.
After watching the touchdown celebration I made my way back down to the club suite, bought a soft pretzel and found my seat to watch the game. It was hot out in that sun and I ended up moving up under the small overhang to catch some shade. During halftime I skipped out on the Ring of Honor ceremony and cooled off in the air conditioning. Club level tickets had the climate control benefit working for them and you could tell people were opting to stay inside to watch by looking out at the stadium. The club level seats were fairly empty outside, but it was packed inside. I went back out for the second half and the game didn’t disappoint. Spuratically throughout the game the song “Yo Ho A Pirate’s Life For Me” would play and there would be t-shirts and necklaces shot into the crowd as flags waved and the cheerleaders danced. Amazing.
While I was watching the game, a young man who claimed to be 22 (I’m not buying that) inquired if I was there alone and struck up conversation with me. Since I was by myself, he asked if I’d like a “city boyfriend” for the day to take me around town. I’m very out of the loop when it comes to hip, new age dating, but is this really a thing? I politely declined as Richard was picking me up after the game and I had a flight to catch, but this kid had me thinking- have I been living my life all wrong? I should be getting city boyfriends all over the country to take me to games and show me a good time around town! Ha. I’m kidding, I would never rely on a guy and that sounds incredibly sketch.
The Buccaneers won thanks to a last minute touchdown drive and I’ll admit I enjoyed watching Jameis Winston play. I hope his off the field antics stay a thing of the past. Can we pause and laugh that Publix is a major sponsor of this team though? The crab legs incident was a silly, harmless thing, much like free tattoos to joke about. I thought it was hilarious. After the game I met back up Chris and we ended up talking about all sorts of football things. I had to tell him to run away, as once I start talking to you about sports and it’s vibing, I can’t/won’t stop. It’s a trap! He walked me out of the stadium and I hurried over to where Richard and Tim were parked in front of the Yankees’ stadium. They had spent the day watching the Browns get spanked by the Bengals and were depressed, whereas I had just seen the team I was cheering for win. There’s something to be said about not seeing the Browns lose on a Sunday… changes your whole outlook on life!
Remember I am raising money for the Ronald McDonald House in Central Ohio. Please donate by clicking here.
Special thank you to Chris for his time and assistance during my visit!