ST. PETERSBURG — I asked, and you responded. More unified, it turns out, than I would have imagined.
When I mused aloud about which of Tampa Bay’s four major sports champions — the 2002 Bucs, the 2003-04 Lightning, the 2019-20 Lightning and the 2020 Bucs — resonated most with readers, I was expecting a mixed bag of responses.
That was true for the most part, but there was one area of common ground.
Y’all agreed I’m kind of a doofus. By itself, that isn’t terribly surprising, but it was your willingness to be so specific that I found endearing.
I was a doofus for excluding the Rowdies’ 1975 NASL championship in the poll. I was a doofus for not including the Rays’ 2020 American League pennant. I was a doofus for not realizing fill-in-the-blank was the obvious answer.
And, when you think about it, that’s why we love sports. They allow us to be passionate and obstinate. To feel joy and heartbreak. To always have hope that better days are right around the corner. And to appreciate those rare moments when a team and a town come together to create a memory that will last forever.
So was there an official determination of Tampa Bay’s four championships? Not really. In an unscientific Twitter poll, the 2020 Bucs came out on top with 39 percent, with the ’02 Bucs (26 percent) and ’19-20 Lightning (25 percent) not too far behind, and the ’03-04 Lightning in last (10 percent).
And yet, based on the emails I received, that ’03-04 Lightning team got more love than the other three teams.
“Tampa was smaller. Hockey was less popular. The players were so approachable. Like the time I ran into Brad Richards at the (International Mall). I said hello and invited him to join me and a few friends for a drink. And he did! … Or the time I ran into Marty St. Louis at Bed Bath & Beyond. He stopped and spent time chatting it up with me and my kids … For me, the 2004 Stanley Cup felt exhilarating and personal.”
Ellen Hazel, Valrico
Many of the emails included personal reasons for their choices, but they also shared some common themes. A lot of people, for instance, talked about the pleasure of watching the 2002 Bucs gradually evolve into a championship team. The early years with Tony Dungy, the disappointment of losing the NFC Championship in 1999, and finally the arrival of Jon Gruden and the dominance of that ’02 defense.
“I grew up in Buffalo, I was a Bills fan. I watched every year in high school the Bills lose the Super Bowl. I moved to Tampa after high school … became a Bucs fan. My wife and I married in 2000 and we had our first child in 2001. I wanted my kids to be hometown fans. People sometimes give me flak because I didn’t grow up here and I ‘switched’ teams. So I tell you all of this because the 2002 Buccaneers literally brought tears to my eyes when they won the Super Bowl. The heartbreak of four years being a Bills fan was washed away with that win.”
Aaron Smith, New Port Richey
There were fewer emails about the 2019-20 Lightning than any of the other teams, including the ’20 Rays. It’s almost as if fans felt they deserved that Stanley Cup after the heartbreak of the first-round sweep against Columbus in 2019.
“I think we all felt this was going to happen at some point with this group. It’s just a shame they couldn’t have a full house to celebrate it. P.S. Let’s be honest, they are all great!
David Ball, Clearwater
While the rest of the world was captivated by the Tom Brady story in Tampa Bay, most of the emails I received didn’t even mention him. There was a greater appreciation for the distance traveled by the Bucs in such a short amount of time leading up to last month’s Super Bowl.
I honestly thought nothing could ever top our first Super Bowl win, but the one we just won has to be not only my favorite but the biggest shock. When the Bucs won the first time it was a years-long process. Lost conference championships, lost playoff games, etc. A slow trip to the biggest game. But I have to confess that this year’s success took me by total surprise. There are times almost every day that I just look at the newspapers I saved or see a Bucs logo and literally shake my head in disbelief.”
Cherryl Gleghorn, Tarpon Springs
I thank everyone who took the time to respond, and I apologize we only had room for a handful of edited emails. But trust me when I say your thoughts and stories were all fascinating.
It was like seeing different vantage points of the same celebration, with everyone offering their unique twist to the moment. And, ultimately, that’s what sports and championships do for us. They are memories that are somehow shared and still personal, and will last forever.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.