TAMPA — This is why people move here, isn’t it?
A boat, some friends, a few beverages and an 83-degree afternoon in mid-February.
It was all that, plus thousands of adoring football fans and the gleaming Vince Lombardi Trophy on Wednesday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrated their Super Bowl 55 victory with a boat parade on the Hillsborough River.
Sure, Tom Brady has won a few Super Bowls, but sitting at the controls of his custom, 40-foot Vida A Vida — just call it the GOAT boat — in the perfect Florida sunshine with his son on his lap must beat doing this in icy Boston.
One boat back, Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans and Cameron Brate danced on the bow of a smaller vessel, beers in hand. Brady bravely tossed over the Lombardi trophy — about 10 yards, underhand — and Brate’s reliable hands saved it from taking a dip. (No such luck for wide receiver Chris Godwin’s phone. He said receiver Scotty Miller dropped it in the river.)
“If I had dropped that? I think I would’ve had to retire,” Brate said of Brady’s trophy pass. “That was amazing. He pointed it at me. We talked about it earlier. It was a great throw. I mean, what do you expect from Tom Brady. A great throw.”
Organizers said a day earlier that fans were not allowed to participate in the boat parade. Fat chance. They cruised alongside players in bass boats, jet skis, yachts and one pirate ship called the Lost Pearl.
Coast Guard boats kept watch, and at the front of the flotilla a Tampa Fire Rescue boat blasted water cannons to clear a path.
Thousands of fans lined the Riverwalk, the bridges and both banks of the river behind the University of Tampa and along the downtown waterfront, showing up hours before the 1 p.m. parade to claim a spot.
Some wore masks, as was required by mayoral order. Many did not.
“It’s Tampa, completely,” said Gulfport’s Tim Hershberger, 42, who showed up, masked, with beach chairs, an umbrella and a rolling cart of snacks. “It’s perfect.”
Clearwater’s Annie Schodt was appreciative the city was able to organize a celebration for Bucs fans who have been starved of such a moment for 18 years, and that so many fans showed up with less than 24 hours notice.
”It’s what we have to do right now,” said Schodt’s boyfriend Clayton Francis, 48. “I’m just ecstatic that they won. Parade on land, parade on water, I’m taking it.”
Bryan Williams, a longtime Patriots fan, left from Sarasota at 6 a.m. to get a good spot. It paid off. He was positioned not on the Riverwalk, but on a dock that would put him even closer to his beloved Tom Brady.
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“There’s no love lost from any Pats fans,” he said. “We all were rooting for Tom.”
Tampa native Lorenzo Laporte brought a megaphone, leading non-stop chants of “TAMPA — BAY.”
Laporte, 28, doesn’t remember the Buccaneers’ last Super Bowl win, but remembers years of “atrocious play, blackouts because we couldn’t fill the stands, free tickets to everybody and all-around irrelevancy.
”There’s never been a Super Bowl win as sweet as this.”
Alika Rainford, 37, watched her 1-year-old daughter run around her stroller and play with a Bucs flag. Another mom with young kids seeking an autograph held a sign reading, “Maybe if you sign this, my school will use this as an excused absence.”
“Is anyone working today?” Brady jokingly asked Tampa Mayor Jane Castor when the boat she was on pulled up alongside his.
A group of players including Gronkowski and Godwin tried to convince the mayor to take a shot aboard the Pirate Water Taxi. They ended up sipping champagne in a toast from plastic cups.
Gronkowski, shirtless just minutes into the parade with a giant strand of beads around his neck, would have looked at home at the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, postponed this year due to the ongoing pandemic.
Headed to the boats, Jason Pierre-Paul was carrying a boom box, Antoine Winfield Jr. had a WWE championship wrestling belt slung over his shoulder and general manager Jason Licht carried a 12-pack of beer.
After the parade, the team sailed to Port Tampa Bay for a private-but-televised post-parade celebration.
Vita Vea surveyed the scene calmly from the upper deck of a yacht, smoking a cigar and wearing a t-shirt featuring a young Brady’s infamously sad-sack photo from the 2000 NFL combine. Linebacker Kevin Minter wore one too.
Players came ashore to the sounds of the Buc-Beat drum line and a DJ playing SpotemGottem’s BeatBox as cheerleaders danced on a balcony above.
The team danced on the stage, some holding children on their shoulders, until Castor took the microphone to thank “our health care workers that got to come cheer us on at the Super Bowl,” but “mostly, thank you to the team for ... making history in Tampa Bay.
“Today we partied like nobody else can,” she said. “We did it the Tampa Bay way.”
Coach Bruce Arians, holding a Bud Light, quickly turned his attention to the future. The Buccaneers have some crucial free agent decisions to make in the offseason.
“We goin’ for two, and we ain’t stopping. We’re gonna keep this band together,” he told the crowd. “You beat COVID, and you beat every damn team you lined up against.”
Then Vea dumped a cooler of ice water over his head.
“Wooh!,” Arians said. “Again?”
Star linebacker Lavonte David, one of those free agents, spoke of the future, too.
“I made Tampa my home. I want to be back. I’d love to be back. I’d love to do it again,” David said. Then Arians grabbed the microphone to interrupt and say, “Your ass ain’t going nowhere!”
When receiver Chris Godwin and defensive end Ndamukong Suh spoke, Arians interrupted them, too, suggesting they were staying put.
“No, you ain’t going nowhere either,” he said as Suh spoke, drawing cheers.
Brady did not speak after the parade, but was spotted walking in, with another man helping guide him. Some speculated the quarterback, famously intense about what he puts in his body, had let loose a little bit.
When ESPN posted a Times reporter’s video of the scene on Twitter, Brady jokingly replied, ”Noting to see her...just litTle avoCado tequila.”
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