TAMPA — Nearly four years ago, Zack Johnson had one request as he, wife Becky and 14-year-old son Lucas looked for a home in West Virginia.
Johnson, a movie fanatic, wanted a space all to his own where he could display his signed memorabilia from Stan Lee, the kids of It, Star Wars’ Billy Dee Williams and others.
But the space wouldn’t just be dedicated to Johnson’s film collection; he knew he needed a large space for his growing Bucs stash. And with a little bit of luck and the right contractor, the Johnsons found their home with a basement big enough for a man cave.
“(It’s) bigger than my living room,” Johnson chuckled. “For me this is the best way I can show how much I respect the team and the players. It makes me feel like a part of the team, albeit a small part. The players give 100 percent on the field so the least I can do as a fan is give 100 percent.”
Johnson, 44, grew up in Lakeland until his freshman year at Kathleen High School when his mom married and the pair moved up north to West Virginia in 1992.
“The only thing I brought from Florida was my love for the Bucs,” Johnson said.
He didn’t have the luxury of going to games — although seeing the team’s ups and downs back then in-person might have been too harsh of a reality — so he watched from afar on TV every weekend and caught up on stories in the newspaper. As a University of Miami fan at the time, he kept a close eye on wide receiver Horace Copeland and quarterback Craig Erickson, who ended up on Bucs’ rosters.
Johnson’s collection started small — literally. The Barrackville, W. Va., resident started amassing mini helmets , which grew into a full-sized helmet collection. From there, Johnson started looking for game-worn jerseys — which he found cheaper than the authentic retail ones — and other items that made his man cave distinctive.
“I like to be different from everybody else,” Johnson said. “Once I got the first (jersey), it was all downhill from there. It was like I have to get every single one that I can get my hands on.”
On a side wall, he has 10 white “away” jerseys in numerical order. On the back wall behind his recliners, he has 13 red “home” jerseys. Some jerseys are more special than others because they’re signed by the players, such as defensive back Jordan Whitehead.
Among those in his collection: a Ryan Griffin quarterback jersey, four of the starting defensive players from the 2002 Super Bowl team, a multi-game-worn Dexter Jackson defensive back jersey and a game-worn Josh McCown quarterback jersey from the “Tank Game” in 2014 that secured the No. 1 overall pick to draft FSU’s Jameis Winston.
Sometimes it’s the luck of the find, but other times it’s just staying determined in the hunt for a specific player.
“When I first started it was to get everything I can to fill the space,” Johnson said. “And then once the space was filled it was like, okay, quality over quantity. ... I don’t have any more room, so now it’s trying to find ones that are a little bit harder to find or players that I really, really like.”
Other items in his collection include a signed pair of gloves worn by Antonio Winfield Jr., a handmade Mike Evans championship belt and an Amish-made Jack Daniels barrel glass-top table with the old Bucco Bruce logo.
Johnson, a utility company supervisor, estimates he’s invested $40,000 into his collection. He has 31 jerseys (all of which are game-worn except a team-issued, signed Scotty Miller home jersey) along with eight paintings and 40 prints, all of which he’s commissioned from artists like longtime friend Michael Tressler and Brandon Beech, who has become Johnson’s go-to for memorable illustrations.
The investment also comes in how he preserves his collectibles. All the jerseys are stored in a casing, about $2,200 each. The art of trading has worked well for Johnson, too, when it comes to an item he really wants.
It’s not an easy hobby, but it’s well worth it for the die-hard fan who only makes it down to a Bucs game once or twice a year. This season, he’s attending both of the games against Atlanta. The rest of the year, he’ll watch the games on his 75-inch TV in his cushioned black leather recliner, grabbing a Coke or White Claw from his Bucs-themed mini-fridge when the mood strikes.
“Yeah, I’m a little extra,” Johnson said, “(but) when I’m into something, I’m all in.”
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