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Sinatra, nudists, Bern’s and upsets: A history of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowls

John Romano | Super Bowl 55 will be Tampa Bay’s fifth time as the NFL’s super host. Here are 55 reminders of past Super Bowl stories and quirks in Tampa Bay.
Will Super Bowl 55 be as memorable as the previous four that Tampa has hosted?
Will Super Bowl 55 be as memorable as the previous four that Tampa has hosted? [ Times ]
Published Sep. 11, 2020

We have made a career of being Super Bowl stand-ins. The faceless fans who fill up a stadium all fall in preparation for the rich, famous and lucky who show up in limos for the final game of an NFL season.

We did it in 1984 and again in 1991 at the old Tampa Stadium. When Raymond James Stadium came along, we reconvened in 2001 and 2009. Always on the outside, looking in.

Not this time. The Buccaneers have the quarterback and the chutzpah to become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. And, if so, provide about three times as many fans a chance to get tickets for Feb. 7.

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That is, as long as they’re letting people in the stadium. And the game is actually played.

Yes, it would be just like Tampa Bay’s luck to have a dream Super Bowl in a pandemic nightmare.

In case it somehow escaped your attention, Tampa Bay is scheduled to host Super Bowl 55 at the end of this season. It is the bay area’s fifth time as host, putting us right behind Miami, and tied with New Orleans, for most Super Bowls in the past 40 years.

In preparation of the big event, here are 55 reminders of Tampa Bay’s history as Super Bowl host.

1. If you’re hoping for tickets, better start saving now. The price for most seats in Tampa Stadium for Super Bowl 18 was $60. By the time Super Bowl 25 rolled around, tickets had more than doubled to $150. At the last Super Bowl in Tampa in 2009, tickets ranged between $800 and $1,000. These days, face value is more than $2,500 per ticket.

Super Bowl tickets from the 2009 game held right here in Tampa.
Super Bowl tickets from the 2009 game held right here in Tampa. [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2009) ]

2. How far have Super Bowl halftime shows come? In 1984, the halftime show at Tampa Stadium featured the UF and FSU marching bands playing a selection of songs from Hollywood musicals. In 2009, the halftime show at Raymond James Stadium was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

3. Bern’s Steakhouse is usually booked from open to close during Super Bowl week. During Super Bowl 25, Giants offensive line coach Fred Hoaglin managed to get a table for his eight linemen. They combined to eat 11 pounds of steak and 15 pounds of lobster. The bill was $1,436.97. That would be $2,733.62 in today’s dollars.

The Burgundy Room at Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa.
The Burgundy Room at Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa. [ Times ]

4. The 2000 Super Bowl was practically promised to Tampa by commissioner Paul Tagliabue if the city passed the referendum to build Raymond James Stadium. Yet the commissioner waffled when owners were voting a few weeks later in 1996, and the Super Bowl was awarded to Atlanta. Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer then stood up and blasted the league for reneging on its word. To appease Glazer, the owners added the 2001 Super Bowl to the agenda and awarded it to Tampa.

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5. Super Bowl 18 was held in Tampa and featured the Washington team and Raiders. So who wants to explain why Bears legend and Minnesota native Bronko Nagurski was chosen for the honorary coin flip?

Pro Football Hall of Famer Bronko Nagurski, who played with the Chicago Bears, is pictured on the field at Tampa Stadium, Jan. 22, 1984, prior to tossing the coin at the start of the Super Bowl.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Bronko Nagurski, who played with the Chicago Bears, is pictured on the field at Tampa Stadium, Jan. 22, 1984, prior to tossing the coin at the start of the Super Bowl. [ Associated Press (1984) ]

6. Weather beneficiary, Part I: Atlanta was the clear frontrunner to host Super Bowl 43. When owners gathered in Washington D.C. in 2005 to vote on the 2009 Super Bowl site, Miami and Houston were eliminated on the first two ballots. The host city is supposed be named on at least three-quarters of the ballots, but owners were deadlocked with just Atlanta and Tampa Bay remaining. So the rules were amended for a simple majority vote. With memories still fresh of an ice storm in Atlanta during the 2000 Super Bowl, owners chose Tampa Bay.

7. Gasparilla problems, Part I: One of Tampa’s pitches for Super Bowl 25 was moving the date of the Gasparilla parade so that it coincided with Super Bowl week. It was a great plan until the world discovered Ye Mystic Crewe was an all-male, all-white club. Instead of immediately integrating, the club pulled out of the Gasparilla parade.

8. Weather beneficiary, Part II: Super Bowl 55 was originally awarded to Los Angeles, but the NFL wants a stadium to be open for 18 to 24 months prior to the big game to provide time to fix any flaws. Heavy rains in southern California in 2017 put construction of the new stadium behind schedule, so the NFL instead offered Super Bowl 55 to Tampa Bay. Los Angeles will get Super Bowl 56.

In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, works continues on the interior of SoFi Stadium and preparing to raise the circular Oculus video board in Inglewood, Calif.
In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, works continues on the interior of SoFi Stadium and preparing to raise the circular Oculus video board in Inglewood, Calif. [ GREG BEACHAM | Associated Press ]

9. Gasparilla problems, Part II: By Super Bowl 35, Ye Mystic Crewe had integrated and the parade was back on for the Saturday before the game. It was a great plan until traffic became snarled in Tampa for hours. When Tampa’s steering committee included another Gasparilla parade in the application for Super Bowl 43, the NFL said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

10. Florida put its unique stamp on Super Bowl 35. The Lake Como Family Nudist Resort staged the Buff Bowl between the Totally Tans and the Bare Buns. Sports Illustrated wrote about it, and CB covered it. In case it slipped your memory, the Tans won 12-6.

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11. Super Bowl 25 was held barely a week after the start of the Persian Gulf War. It became the first Super Bowl to have hand-held metal detectors at the gate. Fans were not allowed to bring in cameras, TVs or radios, but were given small U.S. flags on their way into the stadium.

12. Former head of U.S. Central Command Gen. David Petraeus did the coin toss for Super Bowl 43.

Gen. David Petraeus, commander U.S. Central Command, right, tosses the coin before the Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009.
Gen. David Petraeus, commander U.S. Central Command, right, tosses the coin before the Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009. [ DAVID J. PHILLIP | Associated Press (2009) ]

13. One of Tampa’s biggest supporters before being awarded Super Bowl 18 was the New York owner. Not the Giants. Not the Jets. It was Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. The longtime Tampa resident counseled Tampa’s steering committee to divvy up and call each NFL owner before the vote to push Tampa’s strengths. The Tampa bid was approved 24-2 with two owners absent.

14. Tampa has hosted two of the previous 19 Super Bowls. Tom Brady has played in nine of the previous 19 Super Bowls. Their paths have yet to cross.

15. The Lightning were not yet around before Super Bowl 18, but visiting fans were not without alternative sporting options. John McEnroe, who was the No. 1 tennis player in the world, had an exhibition match against Guillermo Vilas before 5,000 fans at St. Petersburg’s Bayfront Center two days before the game.

John McEnroe plays Guillermo Vilas in an exhibition at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg in 1984.
John McEnroe plays Guillermo Vilas in an exhibition at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg in 1984. [ Times (1984) ]

16. Tampa was the backdrop for an Everybody Loves Raymond episode when Ray doesn’t bring Debra with him to the Super Bowl in 2001. The show was filmed in California with Tampa posters and paraphernalia on the set. Much of the cast did come to Super Bowl 35 after filming to promote the show.

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17. Curiously enough, the previous four games in Tampa have been among the lowest-rated Super Bowls in the past 40 years. Super Bowl 43 is the 13th-highest rated Super Bowl. The other three games are all lumped in from Nos. 27 to 35. Practically the only games they top are from the 1960s and 1970s.

18. Memorable Super Bowl performance, Part 1: Marcus Allen’s reverse direction, 74-yard run against Washington in Super Bowl 18 was the longest in Super Bowl history and his 191 rushing yards was the most in history in 1984. Both records have since been eclipsed.

Raiders running back Marcus Allen (32) scores on a 74-yard touchdown run.
Raiders running back Marcus Allen (32) scores on a 74-yard touchdown run. [ Times (1984) ]

19. Not saying that concessions have evolved for the best, but Tampa Stadium only offered Budweiser, Miller Lite and Stroh’s in 1984. On the bright side, a large beer was $3.25. A souvenir cup was 50 cents extra.

20. Best pregame performance: Whitney Houston national anthem before Super Bowl 25.

Whitney Houston performs the national anthem at Tampa Stadium in 1991.
Whitney Houston performs the national anthem at Tampa Stadium in 1991. [ Times (1991) ]

21. Best pregame performance, runnerup: Ray Charles’ America the Beautiful before Super Bowl 35.

22. Best pregame performance, honorable mention: Jennifer Hudson national anthem before Super Bowl 43.

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23. Long known for his thrifty ways, former Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse helped Tampa’s Super 25 bid by kicking in the $350,000 he stood to gain from concessions at Tampa Stadium.

24. Super Bowl rings in 1984 cost the Raiders $2,400. The Chiefs just spent $12,500 on each ring in 2020.

A fan takes a photo of Super Bowl rings before the Super Bowl 54 in Miami Gardens.
A fan takes a photo of Super Bowl rings before the Super Bowl 54 in Miami Gardens. [ PATRICK SEMANSKY | Associated Press ]

25. Memorable Super Bowl performance, Part 2: Scott Norwood could have won Super Bowl 25 with a 47-yard field on the game’s final play. He missed wide right and the Bills went on to lose four consecutive Super Bowls.

26. As far as the rest of the nation can figure, Tampa is a breeding ground for boy bands. New Kids on the Block were in the halftime show in Super Bowl 25, the Backstreet Boys did the national anthem before Super Bowl 35, and N’Sync performed with Aerosmith during halftime of Super Bowl 35.

The Backstreet Boys sing the national anthem before Super Bowl 35 in Tampa.
The Backstreet Boys sing the national anthem before Super Bowl 35 in Tampa. [ DAVE MARTIN | Associated Press (2001) ]

27. CBS, NBC and ABC have all broadcast Tampa Super Bowls. Al Michaels did play by play for 25 and 43 and John Madden did color for 18 and 43.

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28. Biggest name in concert the week of Super Bowl 18? Frank Sinatra at the SunDome. (Runnerup: Van Halen.)

29. Biggest name in concert the week of Super Bowl 25? Frank Sinatra at the SunDome. (Runnerup: Jimmy Buffett.)

Frank Sinatra woos his audience with a song in a concert at the Sun Dome in on Jan. 22, 1984. He was a favorite performer at Tampa Super Bowls.
Frank Sinatra woos his audience with a song in a concert at the Sun Dome in on Jan. 22, 1984. He was a favorite performer at Tampa Super Bowls. [ Times (1984) ]

30. Buffalo’s hurry-up offense scored 95 points in two playoff games before Super Bowl 25. But New York’s ball-control offense and its mastermind defensive coordinator held the Bills to 19 points. A copy of that defensive game plan is in the Hall of Fame. The author? Bill Belichick.

31. Before Tampa was awarded Super Bowl 18, only six cities had ever hosted. Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston, Pasadena and Pontiac. The list is now up to 21, if you count Detroit and Pontiac, as well as Glendale and Tempe, as separate cities.

32. I wouldn’t call it an omen, but Bucs coaching staffs have not always fared well when the Super Bowl is in town. Ray Perkins was fired by Hugh Culverhouse the month before the Super Bowl 25. Eighteen years later, Jon Gruden was fired by the Glazers less than two weeks before Super Bowl 43. In between, the Bucs fired offensive coordinator Les Steckel about two weeks before Super Bowl 35 in 2001.

33. Pat Summerall narrated the video for Tampa’s winning bid for Super Bowl 18.

34. Coin flip before Super Bowl 35 was shared by Tom Flores, Bill Parcells, Marcus Allen and Ottis Anderson, who were the winning coaches and MVPs from the previous two Tampa Super Bowls.

35. Memorable Super Bowl performance, Part 3: One of the greatest regular-season defenses of all time put together one of the greatest defensive Super Bowls of all time. The Ravens defense held the Giants scoreless in Super Bowl 35 (New York’s only score was on a kick return) while sacking Kerry Collins four times and intercepting him four more.

Giants quarterback Kerry Collins goes down on a sack by the Ravens' Adalius Thomas in the 2001 Super Bowl.
Giants quarterback Kerry Collins goes down on a sack by the Ravens' Adalius Thomas in the 2001 Super Bowl. [ Times (2001) ]

36. Offensive tackle Glenn Parker is tied for the most Super Bowl losses in NFL history with five. Two of his losses (25 and 35) were in Tampa.

37. Believe it or not, Barry Manilow was practically a cutting-edge choice for the national anthem in 1984. Up until that point, it had mostly been marching bands or choirs. Charley Pride and Diana Ross had bee the only previous country or pop singers.

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38. Anyone want to call the convention center and visitor’s bureau? The game-time temperatures for Tampa’s four Super Bowls have been 69, 74, 71 and 69. There has not been a drop of rain at any of the four games.

39. The Bucs have had three former quarterbacks go on to win a Super Bowl. Only one — Trent Dilfer in Super Bowl 35 — did it in Tampa.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer hoists the Vince Lombardi trophy following the Ravens' 34-7 defeat of the New York Giants in Super Bowl 35 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer hoists the Vince Lombardi trophy following the Ravens' 34-7 defeat of the New York Giants in Super Bowl 35 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press (2001) ]

40. Tampa Super Bowls have favored bold bettors. The Raiders and Giants were both underdogs when they won in 1983 and 1991, and the Steelers failed to cover the spread when they won in 2009. Only the Ravens’ victory in 2001 went as expected.

41. Three head coaches from Tampa’s Super Bowls have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Joe Gibbs, Marv Levy and Bill Parcells.

42. Hotel issues, Part 1: Back in the 1980s, Tampa was calling itself America’s Next Great City. It was a nice campaign, but it sort of inferred that Tampa was not quite big league yet. There might be an NFL team or two who would agree. In the first two Super Bowls in Tampa, the city was so devoid of luxury hotels that one team was put in a Holiday Inn. “There is probably only one nice hotel in Tampa,” Bills receiver James Lofton said at Super Bowl 25. “And because the Giants have been in the Super Bowl before, I guess they deserve it.”

43. Memorable Super Bowl performance, Part 4: With 2:24 remaining in Super Bowl 43, Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 88 yards by going 5-of-7 passing for 84 yards and scrambling for 4 yards. On that drive, Santonio Holmes caught four passes for 73 yards, including the game-winner in Pittsburgh’s 27-23 victory against Arizona.

Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes celebrates his fourth-quarter touchdown Feb. 1, 2009, in Tampa. Pittsburgh defeated the Cardinals 27-23.
Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes celebrates his fourth-quarter touchdown Feb. 1, 2009, in Tampa. Pittsburgh defeated the Cardinals 27-23. [ CHRIS URSO | Times (2009) ]

44. Hotel issues, Part 2: Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett was fined $1,000 for being late to a team meeting on a Tuesday morning. He said the hotel did not give him his wakeup call.

45. The halftime show for Super Bowl 25 included a Disney Small World Salute featuring New Kids on the Block along with 1,600 Tampa Bay area children. WTSP-Ch. 10 cut away from the halftime show, however, for a Peter Jennings update on the war. The station was deluged with unhappy parents and ran the halftime show after the game at 10:45 p.m.

46. Which U.S. president attended a Super Bowl game in Tampa? That’s right, it’s a trick question. No sitting president has attended any Super Bowl game, let alone one of the Tampa games.

47. With Super Bowl 55, Raymond James will become the seventh stadium to host three or more Super Bowls. Three of those stadiums — the Orange Bowl, Tulane Stadium and the Rose Bowl — have not been part of the NFL’s rotation in more than 25 years.

48. Mike Tomlin got his first big break as an assistant coach on Tony Dungy’s staff in Tampa Bay. He returned three years later with Pittsburgh in Super Bowl 43 and became the youngest head coach (36) to win a Super Bowl.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, center, celebrates the team's Super Bowl victory in Tampa.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, center, celebrates the team's Super Bowl victory in Tampa. [ Times (2009) ]

49. Jon Gruden had maintained his silence since being fired by the Bucs earlier in the month, then chose the Wednesday before the Super Bowl to open up to ESPN.com. “Chucky will be back and hopefully my teeth will be sharp as ever,” said Gruden, who wouldn’t coach again for nearly 10 years.

50. Quarterbacks have been named the MVP in 30 of the 54 Super Bowls. Yet none have done it here. The MVPs in Tampa’s four Super Bowls have been running backs (Marcus Allen and Ottis Anderson), a linebacker (Ray Lewis) and a receiver (Santonio Holmes).

The Giants' Ottis Anderson was the MVP of Super Bowl 25 played in Tampa.
The Giants' Ottis Anderson was the MVP of Super Bowl 25 played in Tampa. [ Times (1991) ]

51. Warren Sapp was retired but still managed to generate headlines on media day for Super Bowl 43. The Bucs Hall of Famer suggested reporters gave Jon Gruden too much credit for Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl victory six years earlier. “You’re not going to tell me because the little fella on the sideline is yelling and ranting and raving and making faces, that’s why (Oakland) couldn’t move the ball,” Sapp said.

52. Five days after Super Bowl 25, the Bucs and Browns were still without head coaches. Both interviewed Giants assistant coach Bill Belichick. The Bucs ended up hiring Richard Williamson. The Browns hired Belichick.

53. Media day for Super Bowl 35 was dominated by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who had briefly been charged with murder a year earlier in connection with the stabbing deaths of two men in the days before Super Bowl 34 in Atlanta. The murder charge was dropped when Lewis agreed to plead guilty to obstruction of justice. Asked during media day whether he had anything to say to the victims’ families, Lewis famously responded, “Nah.”

54. The MVP of the Super Bowl had traditionally been hired to do a popular on-field commercial after the game, saying “I’m going to Disney World!” Instead of using Lewis, who was the game’s MVP, Disney opted for quarterback Trent Dilfer.

55. In 1981, on the eve of being awarded its first Super Bowl, Tampa Bay committee chairman Leonard Levy had this message: “We’re not looking at this as a one-shot thing. We want it again and again.”