As I was writing our 2002 Buccaneers history article, I shed a tear hearing Gene Deckerhoff yell (as he does) about Ronde Barber's interception return for a touchdown. Because at that moment, a lifetime of being a fan of Tampa Bay sports paid off.
The Bucs were going to finally beat the Eagles.
The Bucs, our Bucs, my Bucs, were going to the Super Bowl.
I was born in Clearwater, Florida to a family that had been living in the Tampa area for a while, so being a Buccaneer fan is something that came to me by birth. The Rays and Lightning didn't exist when I was born, so being a Tampa sports fan meant supporting the Bucs, and that's what I did from the earliest of ages.
As a youngster I had an Alvin Harper jersey that I would wear with pride, unaware of just how big of a disappointment he was. It didn't really matter to me. I was just happy to show off to all of my friends that I liked the Bucs.
Because growing up in Southwest Florida, I was a bit of a rarity as a Bucs fan. I knew plenty of Dolphins fans, and kids whose parents moved to the area from "up north," meaning they were fans of various other teams.
But I didn't care. I stood up for my team. I used them all the time in Tecmo Super Bowl (even though there were so many better options). I wore my jerseys and shirts as often as my mother would let me. Being a Bucs fan was what defined me to many of my friends at school.
My first game that I can remember attending was sometime in the early 1990s at the Big Sombrero, sitting in the upper deck to watch the Bucs take on the Bears. Our seats were right in front of a couple of 30-something Bears fans who were drunk before kickoff, and kept chirping random trash talk at us.
But I didn't care. I didn't even care that the Bucs lost the game.
However, as I got a bit older, I did start to care that the Buccaneers lost games, and I did start to care about people trash talking my team. Luckily, the team entered the Tony Dungy era while I was in middle school, lining up nicely with my increased awareness of what football actually was.
I remember having angry moments with friends who mocked me over the Bert Emanuel catch. I remember being so frustrated with that one particular moment that I would remind myself "Bert was robbed!" by naming all of my fantasy teams "Bert was Robbed" the next year.
But then, it all paid off. When I a sophomore in high school, the Buccaneers hired a new coach, and went 12-4. They won their division. They destroyed the 49ers in the first round of the playoffs.
This was all new to me. It was almost surreal.
But the Eagles were next. The freaking Eagles. I hated the Yankees, and I hated the Chicago Bulls, and I hated the Dallas Stars, but no team was higher on my "hate list" than the Eagles.
And Duce Staley's early touchdown nearly broke my heart. The Bucs were going to lose to the Eagles again, and it was more than I could handle.
But as I watched my favorite player on the team, Joe Jurevicius, rumble away from defenders and pull away for a 71-yard reception on a key third down early in the game, I started to sense that something was different.
And when Ronde Barber cut inside of Antonio Freeman to snag a Donovan McNabb pass and took a few steps into open space on his way to the end zone, I knew something was different.
The Buccaneers that I had rooted for in the past, the ones that couldn't win for losing, were gone. This team was different.
The Super Bowl was an incredible experience, watching my favorite team thrash their opponent in the biggest game of the season. But none of the moments were quite as memorable as the game before, watching the Bucs get revenge on their rivals and earn a trip to the Super Bowl for their efforts.
Since the Super Bowl, I've remained a fan of the team, although I definitely grew frustrated with the franchise in the late 2000's. But despite efforts to force myself to change allegiances, I couldn't bring myself to stop loving the Buccaneers. I couldn't pry myself away from the love of my hometown team.
So while yelling in joy about the exploits of Mike Alstott and John Lynch turned into yells or anger over the poor play of the team in the decade since the Super Bowl, I've been constantly drawn back in to supporting the team in the city I'm from.
Because unlike the Rays, or the Magic, or the Lightning, being a fan of the Bucs is truly a part of who I am. I was born into being a Bucs fan, and it's a part of how I identify myself.
So what about you? Share your story of how you became a Buccaneer fan, and tell us about your fondest memories and most agonizing moments of frustration.