Lightning is gone, but, stigma will linger

Epic playoff collapse now permanent resident of Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay Lightning fans like Chris Danes (left) and Lisa Danes (right) were among those disappointed by the Bolts' 7-3 loss to Columbus on April 16, 2019, a defeat that capped the Blue Jackets' first-round sweep and ended what to that point had been the best season in Tampa Bay hockey history. ALLIE GOULDING  |   Times
Tampa Bay Lightning fans like Chris Danes (left) and Lisa Danes (right) were among those disappointed by the Bolts' 7-3 loss to Columbus on April 16, 2019, a defeat that capped the Blue Jackets' first-round sweep and ended what to that point had been the best season in Tampa Bay hockey history. ALLIE GOULDING | Times
Published May 17

ST. PETERSBURG — The Lightning is done but Tampa Bay is an astounding place to live. We have a world championship in football and one in hockey. Why us?

We don’t deserve to be Buffalo.

By the way, I mentioned Buffalo recently in a column about the Lightning’s epic nose dive.

A few days later, a Bills fan emailed me.

[ MORE LIGHTNING: Erik Cernak seemed to come out of nowhere ]

Marty, read your article about the Bolts demise this morning. Bringing Buffalo into it caught my attention. Stay in your lane, Bro. At least we won playoff games.

This is what it’s going to be like.

Buffalo looking down on us.

Stigma, anyone?

The Lightning juggernaut is done. No use lingering around the autopsy table. Tampa Bay’s humiliating first-round hockey collapse has been registered in the book of the dead, burned into this town’s collective sports psyche. It has taken up permanent residency. If stigmas can own a voter’s card, this one does.

It’s now just a matter of how long those seven days in April will echo in Tampa Bay sports history.

“You can either be motivated by it or you can just not pay attention to it,” Lightning center Brayden Point said two days after the Lightning were swept into oblivion by Columbus. “We know what happened. I don’t think we’re going to look at those things and be offended by it. We can use it as motivation.”

[ MORE LIGHTNING: Tampa Bay season in review, player by player ]

But do they really know what happened?

Do they have any idea?

Boston is a city of champions these days. The hockey Bruins are tracking that way. But think people in Boston knew what they were getting themselves into when their Red Sox traded Babe Ruth? Well, they knew it by the time Bucky Dent carried the Green Monster or the baseball went through Bill Buckner’s wickets. It took forever to shake the stigma.

It was that way in the Twin Cities when the Vikings lost a fourth Super Bowl? Or when Gary Andesron missed that kick. It is that way in Cleveland with the Browns and Indians.

The Lightning made a mess. I don’t want to read about them. I don’t want to hear about them. If I saw any of the players in the mall, I’d go into one of those bedding stores, where no one ever buys a bed, just to hide.

These guys are Stigma carriers.

Why does this whole town have to be part of it?

[ BUCS: Five reasons the Bucs will make the playoffs, and five reasons they won't ]

Why should an entire community have to wear the horns of shame, the scarlet letter, the mark of the pentagram, all of that?

Not only that, but if you look around, we’re shaky all over.

We’ve got a football team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 years, hasn’t won a playoff game since Super Bowl night in 2003. Even with Bruce Arians on the job, it’s a desperate situation.

The Rays? They’re off to a great start, love the way they play, but they want a new home that no one in Tampa Bay wants to build them. Packing boxes await.

That’s our sports town right now, folks, the lousy Bucs, the antsy Rays and a hockey team that doesn’t know what greatness entails.

It’s a lousy deal for all of us.

We don’t deserve it.

But there it is.

We own it.

It will be with us for a long while.

Ask Boston.

But maybe there is a way out.

Again, ask Boston.

Just don’t ask Buffalo.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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