TAMPA — In the video, Raymond Bussey Jr. prances around the yard to a familiar lyric from Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ games: “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.”
“Argh!” Bussey yells, pirate-style, his signature line, and his friends melt into laughter.
It was Jan. 24, and the Bucs were playing the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship. Bussey had been nervous all night, said his lifelong friend André Torres, and not his usual boisterous “life of the party” self.
But when victory became imminent in the last seconds of the game, Torres fired up the pirate song on his Bose speakers. The Bucs were in Super Bowl 55, and Boisterous Bussey was back again. They took the party outside.
A friend now thinks of Bussey’s jig as his last dance. The 44-year-old collapsed in the yard and stopped breathing about 20 minutes after the video was taken. Friends desperately performed CPR while waiting for the ambulance. Doctors at Tampa General Hospital spent more than an hour trying to revive him, family and friends say.
Bussey died that night, before he could watch the Super Bowl in his city, featuring his team, the team he’d loved his entire life, the team emblazoned on his 50-piece hat collection, the team he’d stuck up for when the seasons weren’t this good.
“The timing was really cruel,” said Torres, 43. “It’s just a tough pill to swallow.”
It’s not clear yet exactly how Bussey died, family and friends told the Tampa Bay Times. They think it was a heart attack. Bussey had high blood pressure and a family history of heart issues, said his father, Raymond Bussey Sr.
“I think he just got a little overboard,” his father, 70, said. “And when he gets excited, he gets excited. That was his team.”
‘If Disney World was a person, it’d be him’
Raymond Bussey Jr. was born in Okinawa, Japan, where his father was stationed with the Air Force. The family moved to Tampa when he was 2, and the younger Bussey would spend almost his whole life there.
He grew up in a part of South Tampa known as South of Gandy, a tight-knit neighborhood where he met most of the friends he was with the night he died. Growing up, he played Little League and ran track. In the latter sport, his father said, he’d slow down if he was too far ahead of the pack. He didn’t like to leave anyone behind.
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He attended Robinson High School and joined the wrestling team. In the 10th grade, he met Torres, who had just transferred from Tampa Bay Tech and went by “Dré.”
“Dré! That rhymes with Ray!” Torres remembered his friend telling him when they met at a party. Torres thought it was a dumb joke, but the two hit it off, bonding over Tampa Bay sports teams — even the more obscure ones.
They graduated class of 1995. Torres went to Jacksonville University to play football. Bussey joined the Army, where he worked as a tank crewman. He served for several years, and did tours in Iraq, then Korea.
Then it was back home to Tampa, where he resumed life with his crew, going out to bars or watching their friend Jimi Onisawa spin records as DJ Jimi-O.
They went to as many Bucs games as they could and watched the ones they couldn’t go to. Sometimes they scoped out the team at training camp, where Bussey loved trying to pick the team’s future stars. One of his picks was linebacker Lavonte David.
His favorite player was another linebacker, Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. Bussey always got a kick out of Brooks’ 2003 United Way commercial, when the Buccaneer directed a school bus full of kids as they sang, begrudgingly, about their favorite player. That was also the year the Bucs won their first Super Bowl.
Later, Bussey met and befriended Deanna Bianco-White through her god-sister. One night, at a get-together at her god-sister’s house, Bussey walked by as Bianco-White was dancing, and she turned to dance with him. They started dating in 2010.
“I used to joke and say that if Disney World was a person, it’d be him,” said Bianco-White, 48, “because he’s the happiest man on earth.”
They took on the world together, buying a house in Brandon, traveling, bonding over live music and, of course, the Bucs. On the day of the NFC Championship, she stayed home, saying goodbye when he left that afternoon to head to Torres’.
Euphoria, then tragedy
The friends who were there that evening are still processing how such a perfect night turned so quickly.
Army Col. Sunny Ko Mitchell remembers sitting next to Bussey on the couch, chatting about something as mundane as his kitchen renovation plans. She wishes she hadn’t left during the fourth quarter.
Will Sheffield remembers the evening light as they poured into the front yard, how perfect it was, just dusky enough to see the fireworks, then performing chest compressions on his friend, so many he was exhausted when the adrenaline wore off.
Onisawa, the DJ, remembers how sweaty Bussey looked, despite the cool temperature. If he had known about his friend’s high blood pressure then, Onisawa said, maybe he could have intervened sooner. He wants to check up on all his friends now, on their health and medications, so he knows what to look for.
Most of Bussey’s friends still plan to watch the Super Bowl together. Sheffield, normally a Dallas Cowboys fan, will wear a Bucs jersey to make up for the one they’ll be missing. Torres isn’t sure how it’ll go without his best friend, or if he’ll even be able to watch at all. But he’s going to try.
Bussey’s father will be watching, too, in his son’s honor. He’s always been a Cleveland Browns fan, but this time, he’ll be pulling for the Bucs.
He has this feeling that they’re going to win.
“This is all about my son,” he said. “He was backing them all the way, so I’m backing them all the way.”
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