The morning started out cooler than your typical September day in Tampa. It was a Tuesday, but unlike any other Tuesday, the future of the bay area’s football team was hanging in the balance.
The Bucs broke in their new coach, an unknown named Tony Dungy, the Sunday before. Like so many Sundays in those days, the Bucs were taken to the woodshed by the Green Bay Packers, losing 34-3.
As the Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud recalls, Dungy thought he had doomed the franchise.
“I was nervous because I thought we’d blown the whole deal,’’ Dungy had said.
He wasn’t the only one. Opposition of the Community Investment Tax was very strong. The tax would include provisions for schools, the police department and other community based improvements - but most knew the truth. This was a stadium bill and traditionally, stadium bills do not fare well with voters. Many had said the Bucs had to win their opener to create positive momentum for the vote. They failed miserably.
The Glazers purchased the Bucs a couple years earlier after the death of Hugh Culverhouse. Almost immediately, rumors began to swirl about the future of the team. The Glazers outbid George Steinbrenner, a group that included owners of the Outback Steakhouse chain and a group from Baltimore hoping to buy the Bucs and move them to the football vacant city. Paying an (at the time) astronomical price for $192 million for the franchise, the Palm Beach billionare was looked on as an outsider. He wasn't local like Steinbrenner or the Outback guys.
It didn't matter who bought the team - a new stadium in Tampa would be needed for the Bucs to remain. After the purchase of the franchise, the Glazers worked hard with then mayor Dick Greco to try and find a solution. Unfortunately, it didn't look promising and the Glazers' eyes began to wander.
Baltimore was desperate for a new team after losing the Colts and were courting both Art Modell and the Cleveland Browns, along with the Glazers. In late November of 95, Modell struck first (likely because he felt the Bucs were close to relocating), and announced he was moving the Browns.
So the Glazers' shifted their focus to Los Angeles and the now vacant Cleveland market. L.A. was, well, L.A. It was ripe for the taking after both the Rams and Raiders left for seemingly greener pasteurs and there was certainly a desire from NFL owners to get back into the market as quickly as they could.
Cleveland was the jilted lover. They were angry that they lost the Browns and wanted a replacement. The city managed to retain the Browns name and color scheme, so if they received another franchise the Browns would live again and hopefully kick the hell out of the Baltimore Traitors or whatever they would be called.
So there it was, the Bucs on the brink. Trent Dilfer, who played as you'd expect Trent Dilfer to play, completing less than 50% of his passes for less than 200 yards and throwing 4 interceptions, was asked after the game if he felt the Bucs' performance would impact the vote.
"I hope not," Dilfer said. "I think it's a bigger issue than one game, and I would have said that even if we would have won."
An enterprising Hillsborough County Commissioner, Joe Chillura, crafted the Community Investment Tax. It was a brilliant strategy. Say No to the Bucs and you were saying no to better schools, roads and fire and police improvements.
I think it's something you'd likely never see again.
Yet even with that compelling argument, there was a sense of dred that Tuesday morning.
I remember buying a Miami Dolphins shirt, because I damn sure wasn't going to be a fan of the LA Bucs or the Cleveland Bucs. I hated it. Just looking at the t-shirt felt wrong. Everything about it was wrong. I was angry. For the two decades of my life, I had endured ridicule for be a "bucs fan" and proudly wearing the orange of Bucco Bruce.
The Pastel footwipes from the Tropics, they were once called (and a lot worse). All that devotion and dedication, and they were leaving me! How dare they! Would some hollwood starlet in L.A. care as much as I did about the Bucs?
In the end, I probably would have continued to be a Bucs fan - even in L.A. It was in my DNA. There wasn't anything I could do about it.
It's why in my older age I understand and I'm sympathetic to those who move to Tampa but continue to support their old teams instead of the local clubs. It used to anger me seeing so many Bears jerseys or Packer jerseys in the stands - but honestly, if I had moved anywhere else - would I be any different? It was hypocritical to think so. You spend your life rooting for a team, you can't just turn it off. Even when they hurt you badly.
I could never truly wear that Dolphins t-shirt (which I believe I turned into a rag - a proper ending).
By some miracle, the referrendum passed and what would become Raymond James Stadium was built. The Bucs, under Tony Dungy, would win on the football field, too, eventually culminating in a Super Bowl championship in 2002 a year after Dungy was replaced by Jon Gruden.
I absolutely hate relocation. I think its terrible to rip a franchise away from a fanbase. I felt badly for the folks in San Diego and St. Louis, as I do now for those in Oakland.
I know the Raiders will be fine in Vegas. Many of the fans from the old L.A. Raiders days will come over and support them. And hey, it's Vegas.
Still, I remember that feeling on that unusually cool September morning when I thought I was about to lose my team. I know one day Ray Jay will be considered obsolete and we may face the question again.
So feel for Oakland today, my Buc fans. It could've been us.