Were you ready for some foooootballlll? Well, tough cookies. Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans who couldn't get to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday missed the season-opening win against the Cleveland Browns, courtesy of a television blackout. In an age when practically everything is available instantly, on demand, straight to your eyes, the NFL said no. Because the game didn't sell out, it became the first regular-season game in stadium history to not air locally. We found some local fans with creative ways to enjoy the game — TV or no. We sent one of our own to try to scalp a ticket. After all, hard times spark innovation.
The black Volvo with the flapping Bucs flags zipped into a Madeira Beach parking lot, car radio buzzing.
Big third down!
Patrick and Colleen Wehner lingered for a minute, then climbed out to unload beach chairs and the portable radio.
"It used to be tailgating and rush, rush, rush," said Patrick, 55. "Not anymore."
On the sand they arranged Bucs paper plates, a Mike Alstott bobblehead and a cooler of pastrami and pumpernickel. They garnished Blue Moon beer with orange slices.
Touchdown, Cleveland Browns!
The Wehners met years ago on AOL personal ads — under interests, he had written "Bucs, Bucs games, a couple cold beers, sporting events." They live and work in Tampa and have had Bucs season tickets for 12 years — Section 342 with the sun in their eyes. This year, they considered the bill and opted out.
For them, the blackout solution was simple. Beach. Beer. Breeze.
The Bucs are picked off!
Colleen, 47, groaned from under her Bucs hat. The Wehners want the team to win, they just don't expect it. Maybe if the glory days return, they'll buy season tickets again. Maybe if … wait.
"First down and goal at the 3?" said Patrick. He slid to the edge of his beach chair and peered into the silver boom box.
It's a touchdown, Tampa Bay!
The Wehners whooped and traded fist bumps. Patrick opened a new beer.
Twitter buzzed with updates — bummed fans at home, fans in the stadium, fans watching outside the blackout radius. Here are some of their observations, typos and all.
@ryan_dorrell: Was all excited to sit down on my couch and watch the Bucs...oh yeah...maybe not. Stupid blackout rule.
@WFNYTD: Wow. Raymond James Stadium in Tampa looks half empty.
@MontegaDub: Can somebody give me and update plz on the bucs vs browns game
@keithmccloud: At the BUCS game. It is HOT - Did I SAY IT'S HOT!!!
@incubowles: My poor grandfather is bedridden all day, everyday and he can't even watch the Bucs game on TV.
@OfficialBrowns: It just began raining here at Raymond James Stadium.
@hamiltondl: At the Bucs vs Browns game. I wish people would sit their behinds down and watch the game! I can't see!
@louischestman: Walking out of Raymond James a winner. Love em Bucs
If driving 75 miles to a Fort Myers sports bar to watch their hometown team wasn't insult enough, nearly 30 fans spent a two-hour journey with Phil Dimenna of Brandon, who had the audacity to wear the chocolate jersey of that other team.
"Are you allowing the Browns fan on the bus?" Holiday's Steve Boylan asked moments before "the Blackout Tour" pulled out of Derby Lane in St. Petersburg. "Is Browns money good in Tampa? I don't think so."
Steven Isbitts, one of the tour organizers, said he didn't check allegiances up front. That would be discrimination.
Everyone paid $24.95 for round-trip transportation in a 29-seat bus, plus bottled water, soft drinks, one beer and one plate of wings at the Fort Myers Lee Roy Selmon's, where the big screens were tuned to the game.
Dimenna, who moved from Ohio about 12 years ago, knew he would make enemies. As soon as he boarded, the inevitable:
Dimenna laughed and sat down.
"It's all part of recreating the stadium experience," Isbitts said. "It gave us somebody to heckle."
The . . . game?
I headed to Raymond James Stadium with $10 in my pocket.
My logic: If the game is blacked out, tickets aren't selling, right? And if tickets aren't selling, it's a buyer's market, right?
"Ten bucks?" scoffed the first sharp, an hour before kickoff. "Get a beer and watch it outside."
Well, not with the blackout. But fair enough: A $10 ticket would be a miracle score. Still, every scalper was bullish. I found a single upper-decker for $75; another in the end zone for $90. The menu was full of chateaubriand, but I wanted a Steak-umm.
Kickoff came and went, and I never saw a ticket cheaper than $40, which went to a desperate dad using his boy as guilt-bait. Even into the first quarter, scalpers were getting $75 per ticket.
At halftime, I found a nearly pristine club ticket lying near a trash can. Worth a shot.
You know how this ends. At the gate, I was told the ticket had already been scanned and I was sent back into the rain. Think of it: Someone paid $195 to sit in Section 238, Row U, Seat 20, then walked out after two quarters.
That's when I knew I was done. I retreated to my car, which I'd left in a yard near the corner of Himes and Abdella.
Parking there cost me $10.