After the Glazers came to own our football team, a newsroom colleague had this crazy marketing idea.
The family patriarch, Malcolm Glazer, was proving aloof, or at least hard to read, for this little-big Southern city that likes to know its players well enough to decide how we feel about them.
A lot of us loved having New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner around, but he was, well, George Steinbrenner. Maybe we also loved him because he loved us back. The story of Steinbrenner sweeping up cigarette butts at the Florida State Fair when he was on the Fair Authority is often told, as are his acts of generosity in these parts.
The Glazers would turn out to be giving, as well, but the father stayed distant even as he built a Buccaneers team that won the Super Bowl. Some citizens did not love that sweetheart deal for a new stadium. And there was Glazer, an oddish, quiet rich guy who, even with that red beard, you wouldn't expect to see dressed as a pirate rubbing elbows with the wealthy hometown boys on the big ship at Gasparilla.
Speaking of that beard, my colleague had this idea that might have better connected Glazer to people filling the stadium seats. Instead of buying bobbleheads, fans could purchase an official Bucs "Weird Beard." Red, of course, although whether it would be made of fake beardish material or of cardboard on a stick for fans to hold to their chins was in debate. (Reporters need something to do between elections and indictments.) But if Weird Beards caught on, it could mean live game-day shots across America showing a sea of red-chinned fans — old guys, little kids, burly men, pretty women — seemingly in solidarity with the team owner.
I thought back to this when Glazer, who did a lot in a place he never seemed to be a part of, died this week at 85. Would he have appreciated the Weird Beard? Been offended? Seen its intended spirit?
And maybe there was for some a small, darker twist in the relationship between team owners and some in the city.
Former Mayor Dick Greco told me had never seen such hate mail as when the Glazers were buying the Bucs. He did not say anti-Semitic mail — Greco does not like to talk about such unpleasantness — but this was a thread that ran through some corners of town. Former Mayor Sandy Freedman told me of a big event early on with the Glazers at which a local notable next to her said, "Why do they all have such big noses?" It was a theme that Freedman, who is Jewish, continued to hear, quietly, when it came to the Glazers.
On another front, Greco tells a story of watching a game with Glazer when the other team intercepted. It was called back — great news if you were a Bucs man — except Glazer said, "Isn't that sad?" The man who intercepted must have felt bad. And, probably, it was best at that moment he was not out in the red-and-pewter-wearing, beer-sloshing masses, being less diehard fan than businessman.
When Glazer acquired Manchester United, a sports reporter calling from across the pond complained to Greco about this new American owner being all about the business and not the soccer. Who better? Greco said.
Would Malcolm Glazer have seen the potential in a Weird Beard, in a town not his own with fans who didn't really know him? From what we do know of him, if it did anything to build his Bucs and ours, probably so.