From Elaine Sumner’s porch in West Tampa — an old-school neighborhood of modest homes, tidy yards and long-established Hispanic families — you can hear the Buccaneers play.
On game days, you can listen to the fans roaring (or groaning, depending) and hear the cannons boom for a touchdown just a few blocks way at Raymond James Stadium.
And for as long as there have been Bucs and a stadium for them to play in, West Tampa has been part of a grassroots entrepreneurial enterprise blessed long ago by city officials.
“Since we’ve been in the house,” said Sumner, a Tampa-born accountant whose family moved into their home in 2006, “we’ve parked cars for the Bucs games.”
This is tradition. Along narrow streets, some residents put up signs for parking that’s tantalizingly close to the stadium without actually being stadium parking. Cars get parked nose-to-nose, five or 10 deep in yards and driveways for a fee that’s what the market will bear. Churches, private lots and small businesses get in on the action, too. It’s a short walk to the stadium with potential for serious tailgating.
“I’ve seen Big Green Eggs out there, people smoking brisket all day,” said Missy Martin. There’s Cuban sandwiches and catered trays from Mr. Empanada. “We’ve got some serious tailgaters, and we’ve got some amateurs. It’s kind of fun to watch.”
Parking is in her history. Her grandmother Felisa Roche, a cigar maker and housewife, and Roche’s sisters parked cars around their homes on a block the family owned near the stadium.
“That would be her little bit of cash, her grocery money for the week,” Martin said. The family pitched in, parking cars at $15 or $25 each.
Roche — whose nickname was Happy — had regulars who trusted her with their keys while they went to the game. When she passed away in 2010 at 94, some of her regulars came to the services.
Roche’s small house has since been knocked down. About five years ago, the family established a parking company that parks cars around their insurance business, where Martin works as a compliance officer. It’s the same land where her grandmother’s house once stood.
“We went from my grandmother flagging in cars to now we have parking attendants to do that for us,” she said.
City Council member Charlie Miranda, first elected in the 1970s, said back then Tampa was looking to compensate residents for what they put up with on game days. So a city ordinance decrees that off-street parking is allowed in the area during stadium events.
“It works beautifully,” Miranda said. “I’ve never had a complaint on it that I can remember.”
(Later in his political career, Miranda would dress in mourning black to protest taxpayer financing of the current facility that replaced the old sombrero-shaped Tampa Stadium in the 1990s. To this day, he has never set foot in Raymond James, but that’s another Tampa story for another day.)
It is no surprise that COVID-19 changed things, even in a neighborhood that flies more Bucs flags than most, many of them a faded testament to stubborn faith.
With no fans at the 2020 Bucs home opener and limited attendance at games, “there hasn’t been enough of a crowd to hear the roar,” Sumner said. No one booked her yard during the regular season. “This year, honestly, you really wouldn’t have known there was a game.”
When the hometown team beat Green Bay two weeks ago to clinch a spot in the Super Bowl, Martin, a Bucs fan, found herself tearing up. Which was no surprise, really, given the year it’s been.
“It’s something nice and positive to look forward to, something outside politics and the virus,” she said.
Within days of posting her Facebook ad for Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sumner had filled up, pre-booking 10 cars at $50 each, or $500 for the whole yard.
In the week before game day, parkwhiz.com advertised spots less than a half mile from the stadium at between $189 and $400. Martin estimates prices for parking at homes and lots alike will range from $50 to $400.
(And program note to anyone going: Please wear your mask.)
Residents wonder if people will pay to park even if they don’t have tickets, just to be close to the action. Again, it’s been that kind of year.
Already, someone asked Martin if it would be okay to bring along a goat wearing a Tom Brady jersey — goat as in Greatest of All Time, an acronym fans have yet to tire of. Sorry, no livestock, she had to tell them.
“Sunday should be fun,” Sumner said.
To avoid a hometown advantage, it has been decreed the cannons won’t fire when the Bucs score, as is tradition. Though if they win, you will hear them.
And in West Tampa, they will be particularly loud.
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