TAMPA — On a sweltering Saturday morning, the couple and its three boys — third- and fourth-generation Buccaneers loyalists — stood on the AdventHealth Training Center practice field absorbing polite applause from the audience of several hundred.
Fifty years earlier, Laura-Elizabeth Ware’s grandfather put down season-ticket deposits for a Tampa-based NFL franchise that didn’t yet exist. Blind faith yielded both misery and mirth: two stadiums, two ownership groups and ultimately two Super Bowl titles.
“It’s very personal for me, because it’s always such a family event,” Ware, 46, said of her creamsicle ancestry. “You go to church, and then you go to the Bucs game. It was religious.”
Excluding 2020, when the pandemic limited (or even prohibited) fan attendance, at least one member of the sprawling Ware clan has attended every regular season Bucs home game played in Tampa — more than 350 contests. The family has lived through pewter and putrid, five-dash-two (see Sam Wyche) and the Tampa-Two (see Monte Kiffin), the surreal and the slapstick.
“We still were going to the games when the Bucs were horrible, so we’re true fans,” said Laura-Elizabeth’s cousin, Ricky Ware, who was 8 and a regular attender of Bucs games in the 1976 expansion season.
“I literally can remember games where there would be maybe 15,000 people in the stadium.”
The cousins’ grandfather, Earl H. Ware Sr., was among a contingent of area business people eager to see the NFL come to Tampa and willing to support the cause with a financial pledge in 1972. By then, four cities (Memphis, Phoenix, Seattle, Tampa) were bidding for a franchise, and the old Tampa Stadium had hosted three Baltimore Colts exhibitions that drew an average of 40,000 fans.
“We had tickets before the Bucs were Bucs,” said Ricky’s older brother Mike, a 1976 Jesuit High graduate.
Earl H. Ware Sr., a dad of five who founded a bank, opened local furniture- and door-manufacturing companies and ran a construction firm (among other businesses), would attend Bucs games until his late 90s. The lone game-day void was the company of wife Sally, who died during the team’s 0-14 expansion season in 1976. He remained a widower until his death at 102 in 2014.
By then, his family included 13 grandchildren and a legion of great-grandkids. Over time, the Sunday Ware ritual included early mass in the morning, a festive tailgate, then football.
“We couldn’t wait for the Green Bay Packers to come into town,” said Mike Ware, a father of three who now resides in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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“We would tailgate, and we would have these great Italian sausages, you know, the peppers and everything. And here come the Green Bay fans, and they’re the most hospitable in the world, they’re setting up and they’re doing the brats. And we would have these food exchanges. It was fun.”
Laura-Elizabeth’s older brother, Earl “Chip” Ware III, missed the Bucs’ first home game ever (which he thinks may have conflicted with one of his swim meets) but remembers attending the second — a 14-9 loss to Buffalo that featured Bills tailback O.J. Simpson.
He also remembers cringing his way through a dozen consecutive seasons of at least 10 defeats (1983-1994).
“It was just horrible,” said Chip Ware, a 1977 Jesuit graduate who now resides in Jacksonville. “Sitting in the stadium and just roasting in that sun and just watching them. You went from the Buccaneers to the Suck-aneers, but it’s your city, you stay with them. ... Show your civic pride.”
To this day, Laura-Elizabeth says the family remains embedded in Raymond James Stadium’s lower bowl, on the west side. From where her family sits (Section 109, Row Z, seats 9-14), she says she’s flanked by cousins — and their kids, and sometimes their grandkids — on either side.
To date, that’s five generations of Bucs fans.
“And it will continue,” Chip Ware said.
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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