TAMPA — The pair of friends drive a 1984 red Chevy Van older than Raymond James Stadium every game day.
For the past 20 years, Ed Ryon and longtime pal Bradley Ware stake out their tailgating spot, just off-center outside of the north end zone.
When parked, the 63-year-olds from Oldsmar pull out their custom-made foldable tiki table, hula-thatched umbrella and the alcohol. It’s been this way for the past decade, and it’s always 5′o’clock somewhere with these two around.
They shared drinks with friends Thursday — yes, even Cowboy fans — and bonded over their love for the NFL. It’s how game days should be, and something they — like many others — missed last season with COVID-19 protocols.
It’s why Thursday’s season opener was all the more special for the pair, who have been season-ticket holders for more than 20 years.
“This is what it’s (supposed to be),” Ryon said.
Ryon and Ware were among thousands who flooded the grounds surrounding Raymond James Stadium before kickoff.
Ware enticed those around with his famed margaritas — 1800 Tequila, habanero simple syrup and fresh-squeezed lime juice. It was the perfect refreshment after a bite of cowboy chili.
“We’re fired up,” Ware said. “We’re very excited.”
Game-themed meals and good times
Roddy Fields woke up at 5 a.m. to smoke the brisket for his family’s tailgate. Roddy, wife Theresa, sister Rebecca and father Rod have been tailgating for years as season-ticket holders.
As the Fields family pulled into the parking lot, Theresa saw tailgate parties trading food and drinks.
“It feels like home again,” she said. “That camaraderie of sharing with your neighbors ... make it feel like home.”
The Tampa residents prepared a Texas brisket, charcuterie, mac and cheese bites and Mexican street corn dip — all made from scratch.
They have held season tickets since 1976 — the inaugural season — and are familiar with the ups and many downs of the franchise.
“It feels different this year having come off of such a big win,” said Theresa, 33. “We know what the start of the season normally feels like. We almost don’t want to get too excited because of our history.”
It’s all about family
Mike Keating stood out in the back fields behind the south end zone playing catch with 8-year-old son Tripp. The pair threw the baseball through a light Florida rain shower. It was the perfect pre-game.
“It’s fantastic,” said Keating, 39. “Last year was a little rough.”
Keating — who has been cheering for the Bucs since the 1990s — wife Emma, Tripp and 6-year-old daughter Harper make their way down from Chicago to attend games. It’s a commute they’ve grown familiar with over the past three years as full season-ticket holders.
“It’s great being out in front of everybody,” Keating said. “And it just sucks (that was missing in 2020); last year was such a huge year for us.”
Where Brady goes, he goes
As a lifelong New Englander, David Riel has always been fond of Tom Brady. His attire said it all as he donned the creamsicle “litTle avoCado tequila” T-shirt from the Bucs’ Super Bowl boat parade.
The New Hampshire native moved to Punta Gorda six months ago. And unlike many of his fellow Patriots fans, Riel had no problem adding a Bucs allegiance when the then-six-time Super Bowl champion moved south.
“Once he left, a lot of Pats fans turned their backs on him,” said Riel, 40. “But to me, we would have nothing without him.”
Riel estimates he’s seen Brady play in person more than 20 times, but he’s never been to a game a Raymond James — furthering his excitement for the opener.
“It’s super exciting,” Riel said. “We’re super jacked up for the (banner game). They’re always fun, the festivities, everybody is just crazy.”
Being around a Florida tailgate scene was a little bit of an eye opener for Riel, however, after spending much of the pandemic under stricter protocols in the Northeast.
“I mean, it’s awesome obviously to be around people again,” Riel said. “This is like normal almost.”
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