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60,000 jubilant fans take the party to Raymond James Stadium and embrace their champions.
[Times photo: Mike Pease]
|Bucs defensive players John Lynch, left, and Derrick Brooks give fans a chance to touch the Lombardi Trophy Monday night during the team's welcome home celebration.|
By TAMARA LUSH, BABITA PERSAUD and THOMAS C. TOBIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 28, 2003
TAMPA -- Tampa Bay's Super Bowl party continued Monday night as the Buccaneers arrived home to Raymond James Stadium and the full-throated frenzy of more than 60,000 pumped-up fans.
Bottling the same energy that exploded in celebrations across the region Sunday night, the 25-minute pep rally produced a thumping, gamelike bowl of emotion.
Around 9 p.m., with the temperature in the mid 40s, Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer strolled into the stadium to a thunderous roar, the silver Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy held high above his head, the end zone cannons sounding blast upon deafening blast.
Twenty minutes later, after a round of speeches, some of the players, general manager Rich McKay and the three Glazer sons -- Bryan, Ed and Joel -- took the trophy around the edge of the field so fans could touch it.
Front and center as the Bucs took the stage at the 50-yard line was Jon Gruden, the popular Bucs coach who has emerged from the Super Bowl as a cultural icon famous for his freckled scowl, his work ethic, his swagger and his nickname, Chucky.
"We've got the greatest coach in the whole world," Malcolm Glazer said. "We've got the greatest fans in the whole world. We've got the best team in the whole world. Go Bucs! Go Bucs! Go Bucs! Go Bucs!"
When it was his turn, Gruden said, "You ain't seen nothing yet, Tampa. We love you." He also repeated the Bucs' gritty new motto for grinding out wins: "Pound that rock!"
Many in the crowd held signs to show their affection.
"In Gruden We Trust."
"Gruden for President."
"Chucky's my Hero."
They also wrote tributes to the rest of the team: "Thank you Bucs for making my dreams come true."
A number of the team's most recognizable members also took brief turns addressing the crowd, including John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson, Dwight Smith, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Mike Alstott and Martin Gramatica.
Another large gathering was expected today with a parade that begins at 3:30 p.m. in downtown Tampa.
Dozens of the fans at Monday night's festivities began arriving at the stadium before lunch, some skipping work altogether.
"It still hasn't even sunk in," said Colby Lockwood of St. Petersburg. He and his wife, Andrea, arrived at 1 p.m, swaddled in puffy jackets and carrying blankets. Bucs blankets, of course.
By 6 p.m., a sea of thousands dressed in red and pewter stood patiently outside the gates.
At 6:30 p.m., the metal gates opened.
And the mad rush started up the ramps. "So much for the security check," said one officer. One man held up a sign as he ran up concrete ramp. "Thank you Glazers."
A short time later, the 35,000 lower level seats were filled. Fans came from as far away as Lakeland, Orlando, Fort Myers and South Florida.
Time of the first cannon blast from the stadium's pirate ship: 7:10 p.m.
To keep the fans occupied while waiting for the players, the Tampa Sports Authority played Super Bowl commercials, game highlights and interviews with some of the crowd's more rowdy individuals on the stadium's two giant video screens.
Rock 'n' roll anthems, including the ubiquitous We Are the Champions, blasted from the sound system. A song commissioned by radio station Wild 98.7 served as the night's anthem:
Welcome to Tampa, home of the Raymond James
Where the Bucs bring it down and they bring the pain ...
Among the first in line was longtime Bucs fan Henry Berndt, 37, of New Port Richey, who came to Raymond James at 10 a.m. Like scores of Bucs fans, he brought children, a son and daughter. "This is a family affair," Berndt said.
To pass the hours, fans came together, asking about each other's lives and reliving the season.
Across from the stadium, vending booths lined Himes Avenue, creating a carnival atmosphere. Fans could pound an old gray GEO Metro with "Raiders S---" spray-painted in black on the hood.
Turkey legs and sausages were on sale. So were Chucky dolls.
"We've got Chucky baby, Chucky," chanted one vendor.
Mitchell Phelps, 18, of Tampa, ran through the crowd, his chest painted half black and half white. "It's freezing," he said. He was suffering like the Bucs did during the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia, he said.
"Anything I can do to get the Bucs to notice me, know I'm a true fan," he said.
Around the stadium, crowds gathered in a family atmosphere, with fathers and sons throwing footballs on the lawn.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the announcer. "Welcome to Raymond James Stadium, home of the Super Bowl champions."
The crowd cheered.
No one seemed to mind the cold. They had been waiting 27 years for a victory like this.
"TAMPAAAAA!" Someone would holler.
The crowd yelled back: "BAAYYY!
Officers were out in force, both inside the stadium and outside. Tampa police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office wanted to make sure the Super Bowl celebration continued to be problem-free. Police reported few arrests from Sunday's impromptu rallies after the game.
On Monday night, Tampa police said they arrested one man who ran onto the field and charged him with trespassing and resisting arrest.
This was the third time in just over a week that local police have supervised Bucs victory celebrations. When the Bucs won in Philadelphia, nearly 25,000 people swarmed Raymond James. And on Sunday night, after the Super Bowl, thousands drove by the stadium to honk their horns and scream in celebration.
By 9 p.m., the crowd was ready to greet the team, having watched live coverage on the stadium video board of the Bucs arriving at Tampa International Airport.
"Everyone's united," said Christo Marino, 33, of Seminole. "Everyone finally feels good to be a Bucs fan."
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