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A trip to the Empire State

Something I saw on a recent trip to NYC sparked a question I always had wanted to ask, but never was in position to make happen. How do other cities and states view the Buccaneers?

2017 US Open Tennis Championships - Day 7 Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

A family outing to Manhattan and Brooklyn for a wedding gave rise to a question I had always wanted to ask but never was in a position to do so... until a week ago. As I arrived at Newark Airport I saw a faint creamsicle glow in the distance, a throwback Tampa Bay Buccaneers cap was being worn. I approached the older gentleman and kindly asked if he was a fan, to my dismay he wasn’t at all and the hat just happened to match the outfit. As a an impromptu follow up back to myself, the gentleman asked if I was and returned with asking how it felt to root for a team of “thugs”. Maybe this gentleman was referring to Jameis Winston, but I was wrong. The man in question couldn’t care less about the quarterback, the “thug” in question was DeSean Jackson. This random conversation made me think aloud and sparked me asking many individuals throughout the city in sports bars, department stores and at the wedding alike, “What do you think about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?”

My first venture out where the opportunity arose and arose often was at Three Monkeys, a popular sports bar within the Theater District. Sporting my Buccaneers cap, the questions started off from others to me, thanks to the recent publicity the team has dealt with. The conversation overall was a surprise as it was void of nasty remarks involving Winston and much more built upon the fall of the team in general in the late 2000’s to present day. The true fans of the sport found at this particular bar were far more disappointed in the teams inability to create a stable foundation than anything else. There was disappointment with the actions of some players and again, Desean Jackson came up as a bad apple, again to my surprise. With the Winston ordeal fresh in many fan minds I polled as many willing participants as I could and in total I received 37 votes.

Of the 5 votes stating Jameis will fall out of the league by 2020, two were actual Tampa Bay fans, a father and son combo from Panama City in Florida. Buccaneer fans were without a doubt the harshest on Jameis Winston.

The next opportunity to bring up the Buccaneers was at the 3-Stripe Flagship store on 5th Avenue. While most fans were sitting on the bleachers inside the store and glued to every second of the soccer game, there were still some actually perusing about the store itself. An older gentleman was sporting a Lawrence Taylor jersey and noticed my hat, gave a typical nod of approval and so I asked, “What do you think of the Buccaneers?” It was this man who gave probably the best and most honest response of everyone. “Nobody is perfect, athletes aren’t role models, no means no, many athletes struggle with the opportunities that are bestowed upon them and many more struggle to separate reality and fantasy.” The ladder part struck with me the most and I asked for a bit more on that piece.

See, the fact is that “we” as a society give athletes, celebrities and the wealthy free reign to mess up and clean those messes up after them. This gentleman in particular felt Jameis is not necessarily a bad person, but in essence is a young man built up as invincible and simply struggles to separate himself from the real world and the king he has been raised to believe he is. While this may or may not be true and that is completely debatable, the first two pieces of his original response should’t go without revisiting. Athletes are not role models and nobody is perfect. The latter is absolutely true but the former sadly is not the case. It would be great if all children looked to the parents as their sole role models but this just isn’t how it works, many children don’t have two parents in their lives, have unstable situations and a plethora of other circumstances that we need not to get into at this moment. That said, athletes are role models, like it or not, they are. How many of us grew up wanting to do what our parents do? Not me, I wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. Or I wanted to hit a game winning three-pointer. I wanted to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Guess whose parents didn’t do any of those things? This guy’s. Aside from this interaction, turns out the Three Stripes store was filled with a bunch of soccer hooligans, many of which didn’t know of Jameis Winston or the Buccaneers at all.

The wedding day turned out to be the best day to stir up controversy. With many members of my side of the family (a.k.a. the brides side) being Buccaneer fans and the grooms side being a bunch of Eagles and Giants fans, there was plenty of room for arguing, name calling and other shenanigans. In total, 24 in attendance were Buccaneer fans, seven of which are season ticket holders of 15-20+ years. 16 in attendance were Giants fans and five were Eagles fans with a large portion leftover who were essentially numb to the idea of football talk at a wedding.

Before I circle back to the conversations that took place, I’d like to bring up the great individuals writing here at Bucs Nation and our collective coverage of the entire Jameis Winston and Uber driver saga. What happened in that vehicle is unacceptable taken at word from what the driver said happened. That’s without question. We’ve written extensively about that. We have also written about “fixing” a broken image and how winning changes everything for an athlete.

Circling back to the wedding conversation and before Winston bashing could commence (admittedly by the season ticket holders), a cousin of the groom (Eagles fan) brought up the Michael Vick signing and resurgence of his career. Michael Vick dazzled and won his way back into the hearts of Eagles fans and Vick fans nationwide. Yes there were and still are people upset for what he allowed to happen on his property and it’s tragic, but the magic he brought to the field overcame his darkest of times that involved a stint in prison. Like some Buccaneer fans, this particular cousin felt the outcry was in part over reactive for somebody that stands to face no charges or jail time at all for a drunken incident. The Giants fans at the venue were quite blunt and made a complex issue seem relatively simple. It’s a notion that morally may be wrong to some but is the realest outcome of all. If Winston plays decent and the team wins, all is good in the world.

The Giants fans also touched on the importance of winning soon with Winston’s salary expected to see a fantastic jump in the coming years. This is something fans in Tampa Bay are well aware of. As for my portion of the family and specifically the season ticket holders. The conversation essentially began and ended with accountability and true leadership. With Jameis, being accountable on and off the field and leading by example in both areas. This means beyond football and at all hours of the day. There’s a major lack of trust and for my uncle, debate of ending season tickets all together after 20+ years of attending games. There’s a wish that Jameis has turned a new leaf since this incident happened and as Jameis himself has stated, alcohol is no longer a part of his life.

Good for you young man and good for your family.

For my uncle, his season ticket stretch possibly ended as it turns out this is more about accountability from this team’s front office, coaches and ownership as a whole. Hollowed words about the team’s ability to succeed and innovate on both sides of the ball have grown old. A lack of consistent winning and playoff droughts have turned the team into perennial bottom dwellers. Inconsistency with coaching and more importantly, poor coaching, have made the trip to the stadium fall short of being worth the traffic and expense. The in-game experience that was once exploding in the late 90’s and early 2000’s leading into their Super Bowl win are long distant memories that are fading. For the season ticket holders at the wedding, Jameis Winston and his off-field issue resulting in a suspension may just be the final straw, but it’s far from the only reason the love for the team is fading.

Talking with different generations of fans as well as non-Buccaneer fans while in New York was a culmination of vast opinions and personal experiences as fans. It taught me that DeSean Jackson ticks people off on other teams, it taught me that Jameis Winston is a nobody to many fútbol fans and unless the connection to Manchester United and the Glazers was made, the Buccaneers weren’t too well known by those visiting from other countries. Philly fan (still riding the high of their most recent victory) apparently have gotten somewhat over Ronde Barber crushing them over a decade ago and that Michael Vick rising back up from the proverbial dead is reason enough to believe Jameis Winston can and will get fans to overlook his flaws and see his potential (should that potential finally shine through this year) is worth the headaches he’s given to many.

The trip to New York taught me that some fans (my own family included) will never get over Jameis Winston and his past/present and may never love the team like they once did until as a whole, the players, coaches and owners come together and put a product worth cheering for back on that field.

Ultimately what my trip to New York taught me is that sports bring people together and spark conversation. This being especially true while sitting through penalty kicks to decide the Croatia/Russia game while in a packed Shake Shack in Dumbo, Brooklyn only to see strangers completely embracing one another as Russia goes down.