Friday, October 25, 2013

Carolina Panthers 31 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13 - October 24, 2013

After witnessing Minnesota's Monday meltdown, I left New York early Tuesday and arrived in Tampa on Wednesday evening, an 1,100 mile odyssey that took nearly 18 hours over those two days. It was actually great to be out on the road again, although I do find that more and more drivers don't understand how to use the passing lane. I've seen guys drive miles in the left lane, oblivious as the line of cars grows steadily behind them. That is far more dangerous than going 80 on an clear day, as traffic gets backed up, and others start to pass on the right. Always remember: Slower Traffic Keep Right. Thank you.

Anyway, I received a complimentary ticket courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and to pick it up, I had to drop by the head office, which is just a couple of blocks east of Raymond James Stadium and easily found by the huge flag flying next to it (above). I arrived early and was happy to see that the office also doubles as a bit of a museum, and includes the Lombardi Trophy from the Buccaneers' Super Bowl win in the 2002 season. This is the 16th Lombardi I have seen so far on the trip (6 Pittsburgh, 3 New England, 4 NY Giants, 1 Indy, 1 Hall of Fame).

I also snapped a picture of myself reflected in the football part of the trophy; a new type of selfie that should soon be all the rage among NFL fans.

The office is open Monday to Friday during normal working hours and the public is welcome to stop by if you are a true memorabilia buff. There is a guardhouse, but you will be allowed in and parking is free. The picture below is taken from the parking lot.

After that, I had a few hours to kill before game time. I was hoping for a good pre-game scene like in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, but was sorely disappointed. There was no Bud Light tent or anything resembling a party at 4:30, just a few booths waiting to get set up. Even then there were a few fans, but they were pretty bored as well, and tailgaters had yet to show up. I took a few pictures of the exterior, but as you can see, it is not that exciting.

As I was wandering around, I saw one of the buses carrying the Carolina players and followed it in. As they would be flying out immediately after the game, all the players had small bags or suitcases which had to be inspected by what I assume was a bomb-sniffing dog. I never realized that players had to go through the whole security bit just like us fans.

Just a few steps away was the Buccaneers parking lot, and a gauntlet of fans were lined up to greet the players and coaches, who arrived one-by-one. I had never seen such access to the players, but then again, in all the other stadiums there was more of a pre-game party going on which took my attention. Many players hugged certain fans who I guess are season ticket holders of some sort, and most signed a few autographs. Below is receiver Tiquan Underwood, who has a bad case of helmet hair. Actually, what surprised me is how small some of these guys are. When wearing equipment, they seem huge, but many of them are no bigger than 5'7 and would not be recognized on the street.

After that, it was another hour until gates opened. I sat around and watched the crowd develop; it was the quietest pre-game I've seen so far, perhaps because it was Thursday night. Some employees were dressed up in elaborate pirate costumes to greet fans, a nice touch, and there was some live music, but I felt there was something missing without a beer tent.

At 7 p.m., gates opened (far too late for the 8:25 start) and the first thing I did was rush upstairs to take a picture of the sunset, which was very impressive.

Of course, I then had to take my requisite pictures of the stadium from different angles.

As you can see, there are no upper end zone seats here, and the east and west blocks are not connected. You can do a lap on the lower concourse, which includes plenty of concessions with names like "The Galley" and "The Captain's Table".  If you are a collector, you can get the souvenir helmet with ice cream for just $10.

The icon here is the pirate ship in the north end zone. It fires cannons when the Bucs score (and a few times when they don't) and is used throughout the game in other ways. Fans are not allowed on the ship during the game, but you can walk around and snap pictures.

With that done, I headed to my seat and was very surprised with its location, just 5 rows up from the south end zone. It was by far the best seat I have ever had for an NFL game. It was right in front of the tunnel from which the Buccaneers emerged, below is Vincent Jackson leaping through smoke.

The other advantage is that you are right in front of the cheerleaders; I believe they are the best in the league, but that is likely biased by my proximity.

The Buccaneers came in having lost their first 6 games of the season, and there were some very unhappy fans who blamed everything on autocratic coach Greg Schiano. There is no doubt that the team is a mess, and they made so many fundamental errors that lead me to believe they want Schiano to be fired. Bad snaps, dropped passes, penalties, and poor defense doomed the Bucs from the beginning.

Carolina scored first when Cam Newton avoided a sack and found Greg Olsen (#88) all alone in the end zone on the play above. I was focused on Richie Brockel (#47) instead, but you can see Olsen getting open as well.

Tampa QB Mike Glennon (#8) started and wasn't horrible but those simple errors committed by his teammates caused every drive to sputter. The Bucs managed a couple of field goals in the first half, but Carolina added another touchdown to make it 14-6 at the break.

In the third quarter, Newton scrambled a couple of times, with the second one resulting in another touchdown that essentially clinched the game. The first shot below is Newton running for the sideline, the second is him zooming into the end zone.

After Carolina scored yet another touchdown off a muffed punt, Tampa Bay finally gave their few remaining fans a reason to cheer with a garbage-time touchdown (below).

Your final score:

This wasn't a terrible game when compared to the Monday nighter in New York and Tampa is not that bad from what I could tell. In other words, it is not a lack of talent that has caused them to be winless. Football is a game where mistakes kill you; it is difficult to overcome sacks, penalties, fumbles, and maintain a scoring drive. The Tampa Bay players just don't seem to care right now. I think if Schiano is fired, the Buccaneers will be respectable again soon enough, but who knows when that will happen.



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