TAMPA — It has been 14 years, but the memories have hardly faded for Greg Schiano.
The current Bucs coach traveled to Tampa in 1998 as a member of the Chicago Bears' defensive staff for the first regular-season game at Raymond James Stadium. All these years later, what unfolded remains imprinted in his mind.
"I'll never forget it," Schiano told business leaders at a local civic event Tuesday. "It was hot and the crowd was crazy. We jumped out to a quick lead. I said, 'This is a beautiful thing.' And you know what happened?
"Seventeen straight points later, in the heat, the Bucs prevailed. They beat the Chicago Bears. And I can't wait because I just remember the pressure on our team. The fans were yelling at us. We need to get back to that so when every football team comes out of the tunnel, they go, 'Oh, man, we're in for a long day.' We'll do our part if you do your part."
It was part of an impassioned plea by Schiano to motivate those in the audience to support the Bucs, a franchise in the midst of a years-long slump in ticket sales that continues this season. Sunday's regular-season opener against the Panthers is potentially headed for a local television blackout despite the team's aggressive efforts to mitigate the situation.
Schiano, co-chairman Bryan Glazer and general manager Mark Dominik made good use of the appearance at Tuesday's "Chalk Talk" event at the Grand Hyatt, an annual gathering bringing together the Clearwater Regional, St. Petersburg and Greater Tampa Chambers of Commerce.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson, running back Doug Martin and safety Mark Barron also attended.
Before an influential audience that included the kind of corporate customers the team needs more of, Glazer made his "pitch," as he called it.
"We're going to need you in our corner when we kick off at 4:25 this Sunday so we can re-establish an atmosphere that will fuel our team and frustrate our opponents," he said.
He reiterated the team's efforts to close the sales gap created by a recessed local economy and apathy about the team. Glazer cited efforts to maintain or lower ticket prices. He also said the team asked for later kickoff times for early-season games to address the heat-related concerns of fans.
"(The league) listened to our request," he said, noting that the Sept. 30 game against the Redskins also begins at 4:25 p.m.
The team's most recent update on sales, provided Friday, indicated it was 9,000 seats shy of the threshold at which the NFL will lift the television blackout. The Bucs were one of a handful of teams to avail themselves of a new rule that permits clubs to lower the blackout threshold. Now, just 85 percent of non-premium seats must be sold 72 hours before kickoff for a blackout to be lifted.
Schiano just hopes the Bucs can get back to the environment he experienced on that day in 1998, when the Bucs won 27-15. The Bucs went 6-2 at home that season, while finishing 2-6 on the road under coach Tony Dungy.
"I promise you that we will make you proud," Schiano said. "Proud of the way we play, proud of the way we live. But I need to ask you guys something. I let Bryan handle the business part. Now I'm going to ask you the second part. In addition to coming to the game and buying suites and all those things, I need you to do one simple thing: In the upcoming three, four, five weeks, when you're at the (country) club, when you're at the restaurant or when you're at the office, you need to grab hold of the one on your left and the one on your right and start talking about the Bucs.
"We need to make the Bucs the buzz again. I promise you these (players) and my coaching staff, we are going to do our part on the field. If you will do your part in your communities, we will make that stadium, Raymond James Stadium, the biggest homefield advantage in the National Football League."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.