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Tampa Bay Tuskers beat Las Vegas Locomotives to clinch UFL title game berth in first game at Tropicana Field

ST. PETERSBURG

Move over, Bucs. At least one Florida pro football team will play for a championship this season. The first-year United Football League made its Tampa Bay area debut Friday night at Tropicana Field, and the game had its share of glitches, from half the pregame pyrotechnics fizzling out during the starting lineups to the more than three-quarters empty stands (the announced 11,354 was more like 5,000). But the fans who did show were treated to some drama in a 27-24 come-from-behind victory by the Florida Tuskers (4-0), who beat the Las Vegas Locomotives to clinch a berth in the UFL title game. The fans who showed said they had fun, dancing to piped-in music from Michael Jackson to Miley Cyrus between snaps, posing for a "flex cam" and celebrating as former Buc Matt Bryant delivered the winning field goal with about four minutes left. "That's the best Florida football team we've got right now," Shane Van Gorden, 28, of Port Richey said.

Sights and sounds from the Florida Tuskers' 27-24 victory over the Las Vegas Locomotives at Tropicana Field on Friday night:

Gesture of the day

Thanks to the Rays, the Tuskers celebrated by sipping — and spraying — bottles of champagne in the locker room.

"I didn't expect that at all," cornerback Ricky Manning said. "It's not like we're celebrating like we won the pennant or anything. But hey, the Devil Rays gave us some champagne, so let's have some fun."

Offensive play of the day

Tuskers WR Marcus Maxwell, a late addition to the starting lineup, came up big with a 46-yard TD reception from Brooks Bollinger three minutes into the third quarter, tying the score at 14.

Former Buc of the day

The Tuskers' Matt Bryant, the most accurate kicker in Bucs history who was cut before the season, delivered in the second half, making a 31-yarder to tie the score at 17 in the third quarter. Then Bryant hit the winner, a 40-yarder with 4:38 left, and is now 7-for-9 with the Tuskers.

Sign of the day

"Orlando Take the Bucs! Tampa wants the Tuskers"

Fan friendly

For Ryan Bayko, a 27-year-old father of three from Spring Hill, getting VIP treatment made his night. Bayko said he e-mailed a Tuskers independent blog site, uflaccess.com, on Friday morning and was one of several fans to get a field pass (where he took a picture of former Buc Mike Alstott) and receive free Tuskers hats for him and his kids, as well as food vouchers. Cameron, 8, Jordan, 3, Lindsay, 2, and wife Amberly enjoyed the game, with Jordan yelling "Go Tuskers!" from his dad's lap.

Ralph Vuono, UFL's marketing director, said 20-25 fans a game who e-mail the blog site get the "VIP Access" to meet league executives and players. Players signed autographs after the game.

"It's very fan friendly," Bayko said. "It's hard for them to compete with the NFL for fans, but I think if people gave it a chance, it's pretty cool. It's excellent football."

College atmosphere

The game wasn't as fast-paced as, let's say, Arena Football, but there was always something going on. Music was piped in between each snap, from Michael Jackson to DMX to Miley Cyrus. T-shirts were flung into the stands. Kids took off their shirts to pose for the "flex cam" on the Jumbotron.

Most of the stands were empty, so it didn't get too loud, with the biggest section behind the Rays dugout (and Tuskers sideline). A youth drumline played the halftime show.

"Go to a Rays game two years ago, this is the atmosphere," Joe Carducci, 21, of Clearwater said.

Would he come back? "Why not? I paid $6 for parking, and I could get a ticket outside for five bucks. If you take your kids to the movies, it's $10 a ticket."

Joke of the day

"I just can't seem to crack that .500 barrier."

Rick Mueller, the GM for all four teams in the United Football League, who won (and lost) Friday

Concert crowd

The Tampa Bay Rays found postgame concerts a secret to their Saturday night success in the stands, often drawing more than 30,000 fans to Tropicana Field. So the Rays, minority owners in the Tuskers, brought in Grammy-nominated band Switchfoot to play after Friday's game.

Deanna Kimble, 45, didn't hide the fact the show after the game brought her from Lutz.

"I didn't even know they were forming a league," she said.

'Celebrity' sightings

Okay, so it's not like the "faces in the crowd" from the World Series, the Jay-Zs, the Matt Lauers, the Kate Hudsons. But there was former Ray Toby Hall, as well as a Tampa Bay favorite, former Bucs fullback Mike Alstott, who was on hand to do the coin toss. Alstott ended up sharing hugs, and taking pictures, with a few of the nine former Bucs who are on the Florida Tuskers.

"It's cool; being out here, it's kind of like a reunion here with all the former Bucs playing here," Alstott said.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Tuskers beat Las Vegas Locomotives to clinch UFL title game berth in first game at Tropicana Field 10/30/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 31, 2009 12:31am]

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