Now are Tampa Bay Bucs fans ready to come back to Raymond James Stadium?

TAMPA — So, there you are.

You, the guy with a wife and two kids trying to figure out how to stretch a dollar and deciding the time was now.

You, and your college buddy, deciding this one might be too good to miss.

You, and you, and yes, even you in the Joe Jurevicius jersey.

Welcome back.

Monday night, you came, you saw, and now we're all wondering — you coming back?

It wasn't exactly the spine-tingling four-quarter performance everyone was hoping for from the Bucs, or even expecting.

It wasn't quite a smashing return to television, where the Bucs used to get on Monday Night Football more than once a decade.

It wasn't the kind of game that sends fans right to the ticket window afterward. Or even next week.

But it was another, dare I say, thrilling Bucs win, the team's 13th in its past 20 games, and the first in front of a full pirate ship of fans.

Like more than a few Bucs wins lately, it was three quarters of uneven play, mistakes, holding penalties and dropped passes, and then one glorious quarter of Josh Freeman lunging and LeGarrette Blount lumbering.

Did the Bucs make the most of their moment in the spotlight? That depends on the patience of fans and viewers.

But inside Raymond James Stadium, the first three maddening hours of Monday's game felt a lot better than it looked from your living room.

It was a sellout. It was festive. It was loud.

From your living room, an old episode of Chopped on your DVR was probably awfully tempting.

The Bucs were facing a winless Indianapolis team that didn't have Peyton Manning. The expectations for a decisive, impressive win in front of a national audience mostly unfamiliar with them were high.

In Manning's place started Curtis Painter, who this past week was the center of a debate: Who is the worst starting quarterback in the NFL?

Considering that the likes of Drew Stanton, Trent Edwards, Chris Redman and Kellen Clemens have beaten the Bucs the past few seasons, that Painter was able to color the Bucs blue for much of the game shouldn't have been a big surprise.

The Colts offense moved the ball enough. Struck for a couple of long touchdowns.

On a night devoted to the past and the present, this could be labeled only disappointing.

After all, though Hank Williams Jr. may not be allowed to sing it anymore, all the Bucs' rowdy friends were here on Monday night, at Raymond James Stadium, for the first time since 2003.

As for the Bucs fans finally returning to RayJay, they looked like the ones who were there that Monday night eight years ago when Manning broke their hearts in a 38-35 loss. They filed through turnstiles in a sea of red No. 40 jerseys, and No. 99 jerseys, and No. 55 jerseys, and No. 24 jerseys, and yes, even a No. 83 jersey.

Tony Dungy was in the house. Derrick Brooks waved to fans. Jon Gruden called the game on television.

The whole gang was back together.

If there was hope this moment might reignite something in Tampa Bay, that the Bucs would seize on the magnitude of the moment, that they would blow Indianapolis out and blow you away, that didn't happen until the fourth quarter.

Freeman stayed on his feet long enough for a crucial first down with a few minutes remaining in a tie game.

The next play, Blount blew through the line for a 35-yard score.

Bucs 24, Colts 17.

The defense held. The offense converted a fourth down.

The clock, which had been stuck on 2003 all night, ticked off the final few seconds.

Fans will remember the first half, the dropped passes and interceptions, the stalled drives and that the Bucs didn't do what everyone thought they would.

But even more, they'll remember the final minutes. They'll remember the Bucs salvaging a less-than-perfect night perfectly, again.

Monday night, you came, you saw, and now we're all wondering — you coming back?

Now are Tampa Bay Bucs fans ready to come back to Raymond James Stadium? 10/04/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 10:09am]

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