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Are the Bucs worth saving? // Yep!

Published Jul. 6, 2006

The anger is understandable. For some, it is all that remains.

The disgust is inevitable. Another pro sports team wants to dig deeper into your wallet, and so the temptation is to slap its hand.

But the contempt? That is misplaced. Frankly, that is silly.

There are those who would respond to the Tampa Bay Bucs' talk of moving by opening the door. "Let them go." You hear it every few minutes. "The hell with them." Fans are frustrated, beaten down, weary of the seemingly endless task of saving this franchise. Some of them would actually hint that we would all be better off if it left.

All of that is understandable.

But it also is wrong.

Indignation comes cheap. Anyone can afford to slam down a fist, point out that Malcolm Glazer's W-2 is somewhat healthier than the rest of ours, and decry the high price of sports. Granted, there is enough truth in the complaint to give it muscle, and you don't have to take out a loan to pay for it.

Are we really ready to say, however, that the Bucs are not worth saving? Are we prepared to assume a pro football team is a bad thing for our community? Get real.

Should we save the Bucs at any cost? Of course not.

Should we save the Bucs at a fair cost? You bet.

Again, the emotions are easy to figure. If you think about it, there were similar emotions not long ago, when baseball worked overtime to keep the San Francisco Giants from moving to Tampa Bay. The outrage at the time was staggering. A friend of mine wanted to propose that we burn down the ThunderDome and salt the ground so nothing would ever grow there again.

Instead, the community spent more money, and made more of an effort, and eventually, it won the Devil Rays.

Ask yourself: Was that a mistake? Are we worse off for having a baseball team? Would we be better off without it? Would we be better off if the Lightning had not been pursued or retained?

Of course not. And we wouldn't be better off without the Bucs, either.

Ask yourself this: What city ever thought it was better without a team? St. Louis? Oakland? Baltimore? Why has every one of them tossed millions after millions in the pursuit of something they let get away for a very cheap price? Are those towns really so stupid? Do they think so little of their tax monies? Are our priorities really so much better?

Or, perhaps, do they know something we do not about the emptiness of a town that has lost its team?

I know, I know. The price of sports has risen so high it is choking us about the neck. There is an inherent unfairness of a team suggesting it is partners with its fans, then threatening to pull out if it doesn't get a new stadium. For all of us, there is a line in the dirt where the spending becomes too much.

This, however, is why Glazer's proposal is palatable. He is not asking the town to build him a stadium. He is willing to meet the community halfway, which doesn't sound as if he is asking us to make a long journey. No town in America can build a stadium as cheaply as Tampa.

The best quotation in the history of sports was from North Dallas Forty, when a frustrated football player snarled at a coach: "Every time I call it a business, you call it a sport. And every time I call it a sport, you call it a business."

It is true that there are different ways of looking at the Bucs, too. You want to look at them like a business? Fine. Experts say the team means an economic impact of nearly $100-million a year. The all-but-promised Super Bowl means an estimated impact of $400-million. It is a business that spends some $35-million a year on salaries to its players, not counting front-office people, coaches, stadium workers and, perhaps, construction workers.

Some would tell you other businesses could mean the same if they came to Tampa. That's doubtful. But ask yourself this: If so many businesses want to come to Tampa, why don't they? Are the Bucs standing in their way?

Another way of looking at the Bucs, unfortunately, is down the nose. There are those who, in the name of nobility, decry the emphasis on sports, pointing out other higher-minded priorities, as if football is the predator of everything they deem tax-worthy. Well, of course there are other needs, and of course our priorities are skewed. If not, rock stars would not make millions while teachers struggled. But does letting the Bucs go suddenly free up money for education and police? Of course not.

Neither of those are how I like to look at a pro football team, however. More than anything, more than any other sport, it is a point of unification for a community. It is fun.

People will tell you it is a business, and that is true. But do thousands go around wearing the colors of, say, IBM? Do people care how a business like, say, the St. Petersburg Times, fared over the weekend?

It is wonderful to see a community in love with a team. Did you ever walk around Buffalo in the snow and see a nun wearing a team sweatshirt before the Bills went on to yet another Super Bowl loss? Ever go through the streets of Dallas and count the kids in Cowboy jerseys? Ever drive though Cleveland and hear old rock 'n' roll songs reworked to contain lyrics containing exploits of the local football icons? Ever see downtown Pittsburgh when the Steelers are on a roll?

Suddenly, the communities become one, and the pulse beats a little quicker. At such times, the economic impact is merely an added benefit to a suddenly vibrant city.

Sometimes, when the Bucs are in one of their minor winning streaks, and the stadium is hopping, it is easy to see Tampa Bay that way.

Sometimes, when people turn their head and try to convince themselves that such things simply do not matter, it is easy to see them gone.