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Bucs' pirate ship scores with fans

Published Sep. 13, 2005

The euphoria over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new stadium will go away soon. But what about the nagging little problems that cropped up Sunday?

One day after Raymond James Stadium opened to mostly rave reviews, Tampa Sports Authority executive director Henry Saavedra said the facility will undergo constant work and maintenance.

Some escalators at the stadium were not working. Some toilets didn't flush. Minor painting needed to be done, and water dripped from some pipes. The next home game is in two weeks.

"I can't tell you at this point all the problems will be resolved in two weeks," Saavedra said. "I can say there will be improvement in two weeks and even more after that."

Judging from fan reaction Sunday, one thing that needs no improvement is the festive pirate ship just beyond the north end zone.

Fans crammed into the walkways around the 103-foot ship, which fires T-shirts, socks and rubber footballs to fans in the stands. Workers on the ship raise and lower team flags and also let loose cannon volleys when the Bucs score.

While the ship was a hit, construction officials responsible for building the stadium _ and having it open on time _ worried that it would keep them from completing their task.

"I thought it was an awesome idea," Saavedra said. "But my first gut reaction was that it would keep us from finishing the stadium on time."

Team vice presidents Bryan and Joel Glazer got the idea of having a pirate ship in the new stadium and had architect HOK Sports draw up designs.

Then, only five months before the stadium was scheduled to open, they took those designs to Bill Nassal, who owns an Orlando company that builds "large signature icons."

"I thought it was an excellent concept," said Nassal, whose company has done work for FAO Schwartz, Universal Studios and Planet Hollywood in Disney World.

Joel Glazer still wanted to get one thing straight with Nassal, though. "Joel asked me the question: "Can you assure me it can be done on time?' I said yes."

To make sure the ship was ready, Nassal's crews worked non-stop while separate contractors were working on the stadium itself.

"They worked 24-hour days at first so they wouldn't interfere with our work," said Saavedra, whose agency manages the stadium.

Said Nassal: "Anything that needed room, we'd do when no one else was there."

Nassal said his company, which he founded in 1984, has had other pressure-packed jobs in theme parks where work had to be done at odd hours. The experience paid off, he said.

"We built it in 71 days," Nassal said.

In comments compiled by the Bucs, Bryan and Joel Glazer said the ship was the centerpiece of a theme they wanted fans to enjoy.

"The bottom line is that we are in the entertainment business," Bryan Glazer said. "It's not just a football game. We want our fans to enjoy the games as well as the entire experience."

Many fans seem to join in with what may be a new tradition at Raymond James Stadium _ Mardi Gras beads. Or, since this is Tampa, Gasparilla beads. The Bucs helped out by handing out strings of colorful beads.

"It was a natural idea to make Buccaneer Cove as much fun as possible," said Rick McNerney, vice president for Bucs marketing and communication. "Because of Gasparilla tradition we thought beads and throwing them out to the fans would be very popular with the fans _ and it was _ because that is Tampa."

The crew stands watch on the pirate ship in Buccaneer Cove during Sunday's debut of Raymond James Stadium. After Bucs touchdowns against the Chicago Bears, the pirates launched souvenirs into the crowd. Fans gave Buccaneer Cove and the pirate ship rave reviews.