Thousands of Tampa Bay Buccaneers' fans emptied out of Raymond James Stadium, their heads hanging low after another disappointing loss Sunday. But for a diehard group of Christian rockers, the afternoon seemed to be just starting.
People in the group, about 4,000 strong, raised their arms, swayed rhythmically and crowded close to the goal post at the stadium's south end to hear Christian pop rockers the Newsboys in a post-game show for Bucs ticket holders.
Despite the team's 28-13 loss to the St. Louis Rams, its fifth in a row in the season's last home game, most who stuck around seemed to quickly shake off any doldrums. With their children running around the field tossing mini footballs, many of the faithful raised their hands and shouted out lyrics.
"I haven't been to a game in three or four years, but my husband decided to get us tickets," Brook Coblentz, 32, of Bradenton, said, straining to be heard above the guitars. "This is great. It's definitely better than the Bucs game, since they lost."
The concert, preceded by a 10-minute, Christian-themed talk by Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, was timed to coincide with the holidays. It was also part of a broader strategy aimed at putting fans in the seats.
The team has staged several themed events this season to appeal to longtime and new Bucs fans. Among them were the Throwback Game, when the team donned Creamsicle-orange jerseys to remember the pre-1997 years, and the Ring of Honor game, which recalled the 1997 team that reached the playoffs after a drought that dated to 1982.
The Bucs said they hope to make Christian "faith and football" concerts regular Christmas season events.
Other teams have embraced the concept, too. The Kansas City Chiefs held their fifth annual Faith and Family Day on Aug. 10 after their game against Arizona. The Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Orlando Magic basketball team have staged Christian concerts as well.
The Bucs said chief ticketing sales officer Paul Rothenberg came up with the idea after joining the Bucs in May. Previously, he was a vice president at Universal Orlando where he helped coordinate the annual Rock the Universe Christian music festival.
The Newsboys, which have been nominated for four Grammy awards, coaxed an impassioned response from the crowd. Many fans, still clad in red and pewter jerseys, raised their arms and closed their eyes, singing and swaying to the songs.
"I love the idea of this," said John Campbell of Seffner, who sees a handful of Bucs games yearly but came Sunday because of the postgame show.
"I heard about this on the radio," he said. "I love football and I love Christian music. It seems like a good idea to bring out families. It was definitely worth it."
His cousin, Bernie Fernandez of Tampa, clad in a No. 47 John Lynch jersey, played with Campbell's son, daring the youngster to knock him down like a fullback.
"I don't really listen to Christian music but I love this band," he said, adding he heard about the concert last week from his cousin.
Diane Hackney of Tampa said she didn't learn about the concert until she and her 12-year-old nephew, Jacob, showed up at the stadium. It made the Bucs' loss easier to swallow.
"Maybe they'll win next week in Atlanta," she said.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.