Right before the Bucs kicked off at the old Tampa Stadium, a guy inside Tampa Bay Center near Sears belted out to no one in particular, "Tampa."
Somebody at the other end, probably down by Burdines, shouted back: "Bay."
Soon nearly every shopper took up the chant and the whole mall reverberated with the cheer: "Tampa — Bay! Tampa — Bay!"
It's one of my earliest memories after taking up residence here, and it helped me embrace Tampa Bay as a moniker of regional pride.
More than 20 years later, I struggle to understand why people continue to argue, "Tampa Bay is a body of water."
We. Are. Tampa. Bay.
It happened after a recent column in which I promoted the need for Tampa Bay's established leaders to embrace aspiring young professionals instead of allowing them to leave for other regions.
A reader and third-generation Tampa native responded:
"I AM NOT A FISH! While I don't object to the use of 'Tampa Bay Region' or area, when referring to our city, we should use its name. … Perhaps those newcomers to our city would be well-advised that the use of the incorrect name serves only to alienate the 'establishment' and make us less likely to embrace the influx of new leaders into our city. … To make an impact on the future, one needs to understand the past and embrace it, understand the present and respect it."
Of course, I believe I show a clear understanding of the past. The term "Tampa Bay" has been used to promote a regional perspective since the establishment of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1974. In the years that followed, it has been embraced by sports teams, businesses and institutions.
It goes back even further if you consider Henry B. Plant's Tampa Bay Hotel (1891).
But if you only start with the Bucs, that's 38 years of Tampa Bay as a brand that seeks to unite the region instead of dividing it. Surely, in 38 years, the vast majority understands the reference.
As evidenced by the RNC's Tampa Bay designation as well as Super Bowls using "Tampa Bay" as the host location, it's clear the nation and the world sees us as Tampa Bay. With the area striving to distinguish itself in this new economy and outperform competing areas, the benefits of this regionalism cannot be underestimated.
Still, the "body of water" argument rises among residents on both sides of the bay because they believe it an attempt to wipe away the unique histories of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and other communities. I understand why people want to retain those identities and I understand the rivalrous relationship that once divided and continues to be a factor in our governing today.
However, Tampa Bay allows each city to stand under one banner while retaining its distinct origins and traits. To suggest that Tampa or St. Petersburg or Clearwater can't retain its identity while contributing to a larger regional identity would be like suggesting Ybor City or West Tampa can't retain its identity and heritage while being part of Tampa.
Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island each have unique characteristics. But to any outsider, it's New York. Five distinct boroughs, one banner.
I shared these thoughts with the reader. She didn't yield:
“While I agree with you that we need to market ourselves as a group, I cannot agree with referring to our city as Tampa Bay. During many occasions during my business travels, I have had to explain that I am not from Tampa Bay, I am from Tampa. I will fight it until my last breath."
In reply, I can only ask, "What's wrong with being from both?"
That's all I'm saying.