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Two decades between Super Bowls? Worth the wait for Bucs fans

After almost 20 years of heartbreak and falling short, these fans are thrilled to see the home team in Super Bowl 55.
Longtime Bucs fan Ron Cupler, 71, of Clearwater, has been to four Super Bowls (three in Tampa) and has never missed a home game. He has more than 100 pieces of memorabilia displayed in his Bucs den, spanning the franchise's entire history.
Longtime Bucs fan Ron Cupler, 71, of Clearwater, has been to four Super Bowls (three in Tampa) and has never missed a home game. He has more than 100 pieces of memorabilia displayed in his Bucs den, spanning the franchise's entire history. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 1
Updated Feb. 4

Bucs fans will be the first to say it’s been a long 18 seasons. If being a Tampa Bay fan was easy, everyone would have hopped on the bandwagon at the beginning of this season.

The 2020 season will be remembered for many milestones: Tom Brady’s arrival, turning a 7-5 season into an 11-5 finish heading into the postseason, then knocking down Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay all on the road to reach Super Bowl 55. Which is at Raymond James Stadium, no less.

The ride hasn’t been easy, but it’s been well worth the wait.

Never missed a Bucs home game

This section of the goal post is from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first home win, when the Bucs defeated the (St. Louis) Cardinals 17-7, on  Dec. 18, 1977. The collectable was acquired by Ron Cupler, of Clearwater in 2020 and is displayed among the memorabilia he keeps in his Bucs den at his home in Clearwater.
This section of the goal post is from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first home win, when the Bucs defeated the (St. Louis) Cardinals 17-7, on Dec. 18, 1977. The collectable was acquired by Ron Cupler, of Clearwater in 2020 and is displayed among the memorabilia he keeps in his Bucs den at his home in Clearwater. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Ron Cupler knows exactly where he’ll be for every home game during the NFL season: Raymond James Stadium.

Cupler has had season tickets since 1979. Before that, he bought individual tickets to each Tampa game. He even attended last season’s “home” game versus Carolina in London.

The 71-year-old saw the team’s Super Bowl 37 win in San Diego back during the 2002 season and has been to three of the four previously hosted marquee games in Tampa (Super Bowl 18 in 1984, 25 in 1991 and 35 in 2001).

He’s hoping to get tickets this year, too.

Related: Remembering Tampa’s experience hosting Super Bowls over the years

“If we don’t get picked in the lottery, then I have to think about it,” Cupler said. “We just bought four cemetery plots, so I was thinking of trading the four cemetery plots for four tickets to the Super Bowl.”

Cupler drives his bright red Volvo and hangs out in the Bucs den in his Clearwater home. To date, he has collected more than 100 pieces of Bucs memorabilia, including a section of the goal post from Tampa Bay’s first home win (versus the St. Louis Cardinals on Dec. 18, 1977).

The Pittsburgh native moved to Florida when he started college at the University of Tampa. When the Bucs’ franchise kicked off in 1976, it didn’t take long to figure out which team he was rooting for.

“If they’re wearing red and pewter,” Cupler said, “I’m rooting for them.”

‘I didn’t want to believe it’

Season ticket holder and Buccaneers fan Paul Bullara III poses in front of a framed Mike Alstott jersey at his home in Land O' Lakes.
Season ticket holder and Buccaneers fan Paul Bullara III poses in front of a framed Mike Alstott jersey at his home in Land O' Lakes. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

In July, Paul Bullara III didn’t know what to expect as an unprecedented season amid a pandemic approached.

The Brady factor was still setting in for the 64-year-old Land O’ Lakes resident, who was about to call his season ticket membership quits until the future Hall of Famer’s signing.

In his 43 years of attending games, he had only missed five. This season, he missed seven after the imposed two-game limit on season ticket holders (he saw the Packers and Rams games).

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And the Bucs pulled off the near impossible as Bullara watched last season’s 7-9 team make it to the Super Bowl.

Related: Fan’s view: Tom Brady the Patriot? Smug. Brady the Buc? Hugs

“I didn’t want to believe it,” Bullara said of the Bucs being one game away at Green Bay on Jan. 24. “There was always this thought in the back of your mind that something (bad) was going to happen because we’re so used to something happening.”

After the 31-26 win over the Packers, Bullara was exhausted. The excitement didn’t sink in until he watched highlights during the Chiefs-Bills game.

“I was sitting there going, ‘Gosh, we won that game. Gosh, we’re going to be playing in the Super Bowl in Tampa.’”

Bullara already has his attire and meal planned out for Super Bowl Sunday.

As he typically does, he’ll theme the meal to the opposition, which means Kansas City barbecue is on the menu. His “Pound the Rock” T-shirt, which he wore during the Super Bowl 37 win over the Raiders — and every postseason game this year — will make another appearance. He’ll wear his old Super Bowl champion hat, too.

“You cherish this because every 18 years, it seems like we make it,” he said. “Who knows when we’ll make the next one, or if we’ll make the next one, or if I’ll even be around for the next one.”

Playoff beards aren’t just for hockey fans

Alex Castillo and his wife, Vianny, pose for a selfie in front of the Falcons stadium. Atlanta was one of two road trips the Castillos made this season.
Alex Castillo and his wife, Vianny, pose for a selfie in front of the Falcons stadium. Atlanta was one of two road trips the Castillos made this season. [ Alex Castillo ]

The Bucs’ win in the NFC Championship Game didn’t hit Alex Castillo until Monday afternoon.

The Tampa Bay season ticket holder of 14 years was watching highlights from Sunday’s game. Then he started to cry. What the Bucs had accomplished finally hit him in full force.

“We’re really doing this,” Castillo said to his wife, Vianny. “We’re really going to the Super Bowl. I can’t believe this.”

Castillo, 44 of Carrollwood Village, has made the most of an unprecedented season. Until this year, Castillo had only missed one home game previously (for a family wedding).

Castillo, 44 of Carrollwood Village, has made the most of an unprecedented season. Until this year, Castillo had only missed one home game previously (for a family wedding).

This season, he went to the home games against Kansas City and the Rams and was even able to go on the road to Carolina and Atlanta.

Related: Can you feel the love for Bucs quarterback Tom Brady?

Castillo and his family have tried to make the postseason games all the more fun. Castillo has taken to growing a playoff beard, which he hasn’t touched in four weeks.

And every time a touchdown is scored, he takes a shot of tequila.

Castillo is the type of fan who celebrates the Bucs every day. He hoists the flag outside his home all year and only takes it down to replace it with a new one (he has more than 20 in his garage).

“I kept saying we have to get in the dance,” Castillo said. “If we get in the dance, we have a chance. To actually get to the Super Bowl (this year), never in a million years (would I have guessed that).”

A Buc’s life is the best life

Paul Luchansky poses for a photo outside of Raymond James Stadium. He has been a Bucs season ticket holder since 1996.
Paul Luchansky poses for a photo outside of Raymond James Stadium. He has been a Bucs season ticket holder since 1996. [ Ashley Auld ]

When Paul Luchansky thinks about the first Bucs game at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 20, 1998, it still brings a tear to his eye.

He remembers the roar of the B-52s that flew overhead, the goosebumps and the way he held his breath watching the team take the field. It still means that much some 22 years later.

Every day is a great day to be a Bucs fan in the 66-year-old’s mind. Win or lose.

He often dons his white Bucs polo, a game-worn shirt from former offensive assistant Andrew Janocko. Luchansky had to forgo the home games this season due to the coronavirus, but that doesn’t diminish his exuberance.

Related: Turns out, not even Bill Belichick can beat Tom Brady

During games, he’ll text daughters Lindsey and Ashley, often speaking in pirate, and smoke a Maduro cigar or two. He kneels in prayer every time the Bucs go for a field goal — “because we’ve had so many bad ones” — and dances after every touchdown.

“I can’t be out in public during a (playoff) game,” Luchansky chuckled.

A season ticket holder since 1996, Luchansky now lives in Sharpsburg, Ga., but considers Tampa a special place.

“It’s just a different breed of people (Bucs fans),” he said. “It’s like a family.”

Best Bucs team ever

Win Weber, 80, moved to Tampa 24 years ago, but one might believe he has been a Bucs fan his entire life.

The Avila resident is a self-proclaimed “football fanatic” and has only missed a handful of home games for conflicting vacation plans and this year’s coronavirus limitations.

He loves going to games just for the experience and the memories. He stays from start to finish, too, no matter how ugly things may get for the Bucs.

And maybe the two glasses of pinot grigio help.

Looking back on this season, Weber believes this team is the “best we’ve ever had.” And he can’t help but admit that it all started when Brady shed his winter clothes.

“Brady, he’s a tremendous team builder,” Weber said. “He’s brought a lot to this team, just in bringing them together.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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