TAMPA — Bucs fans returned to Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night for the first time since celebrating their team’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.
The NFL draft party was exclusively for about 7,000 season pass holders who enjoyed food, drinks and a chance to visit various stations on the playing surface where the Bucs won the Lombardi Trophy.
“Who’s ready for football?” Bucs chief operating officer Brian Ford said. “This is fantastic. Just to thank all our fans for coming out. We’ve got the best fans in sports here in Tampa Bay. I only wish we could open up full. Right now, this is just for our season pass members and it’s a limited group. But we’re working with the league, and with the city and the county and the sports authority, and hopefully in the future we can open it up a little it more.
“But a great night to have the draft. The schedule is coming out on May 12 but this really the start of the 2021 season and our defending the world championship. How’s that?”
The field was chalked for soccer, left over from the CONCACAF Champions League game played at RJS earlier this week between Toronto FC and Cruz Azul.
But that didn’t stop fans from gathering around the Bucs logo at the 50-yard line to take pictures.
“What a great fan-friendly event with a lot of fun and an on-field experience,” said Debra Davis of Tampa. “We wouldn’t miss it.”
Of course, while fans arrived by 7 p.m., they knew it could be nearly five hours before the Bucs made their first selection.
“I can get used to picking 32nd,” Ford said. “But we have a great night here. I just wish everybody could come out.
“It’s amazing. What Jason Licht, our general manager, and his whole scouting department have done to bring everybody back, and Coach Arians and his coaching staff to bring everybody back, it’s just been amazing. We’re excited. 2020 was an exciting feeling. As Coach Arians said, we’re looking to do it again.”
The Bucs return 22 starters and several key backups from their Super Bowl 55 team. The list of free agents re-signed includes Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh and Antonio Brown, to name a few.
“We’ll get the best fans back in a packed Raymond James Stadium to cheer on the Bucs,” Ford said. “I’m going around, and if I could, I would thank everybody personally.”
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