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  1. Bucs

Bucs fans arrive hopeful, leave deflated and early

Bucs rookie quarterback Jameis Winston is run over while tackling Titans linebacker Deiontrez Mount, right, after Mount intercepted Winston’s pass in the first half at Raymond James Stadium. On his first throw, Winston also was intercepted.

TAMPA — Cody Jeffries took the day off on Sunday to set up camp at Raymond James Stadium.

After the morning rain stopped, he pulled on his Jameis Winston jersey, No. 3, and headed off to the tailgating fields. On the brink of what he thought would be a game for the ages, he sipped a Coors Light and boasted about his favorite player, resting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season on the rookie quarterback's shoulders.

"He's the future," Jeffries, 26, said of Winston. "He's bringing people to the stands.

"This is a seriously historic game."

And it was, but not in the way Jeffries and many other Bucs fans had imagined.

Minutes into the first quarter, the Tennessee Titans had scored twice. Winston threw an interception, then another. And it was quickly the other former Heisman Trophy winner in the game, Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, having the epic debut on his way to crushing the Bucs 42-14.

The Bucs had given up those 42 points, the most ever in their 40 season openers, by the third quarter.

The hashtag #BlameJameis started trending then.

And the stands began to empty.

Joining the exodus were season ticket holders John and Karen Heaning.

"We never leave early," said John Heaning, 57.

They'd driven three hours to watch the game live, but by the third quarter they could take no more.

"There was no reason to stay," he said. "We thought we had something to hold onto."

The Heanings weren't the only ones with high hopes for Sunday's season opener. Before the game, sun shined on thousands of fans tailgating, playing cornhole, sipping booze and eating hot dogs.

After a 2-14 season last year and a string of disappointments before that, Bucs fans echoed the same sentiment: not this year.

Dylan Harrison, 22, bought tickets to the game with his parents. He hadn't been to a Bucs game since middle school, he said. They weren't very good, and he never wanted to spend the money. But this season surely would be different.

And this game would indeed be historic: two rookie quarterbacks, both Heisman trophy winners, the first and second picks from the 2015 draft.

"Twenty years from now, we'll be able to say we were at THE game," said Dylan's father, Brent Harrison.

Across the field, Kiahhn' Jackson, 25, felt the same.

"Everyone is ready for us to win more than two games," she said.

She wore Bucs red and a Florida shaped necklace, but no No. 3. She was still a little leery of the former Florida State University player that she spent so many years loathing. She graduated from the University of Florida and fancies herself a diehard Gator.

But since the Bucs picked Winston over Mariota in the draft, she'd been preparing to be his fan.

"I appreciated the off-season to make the transition," she joked Sunday before the game. "We're there now. He looks good."

Christian Kobes, 19, a Tallahassee native, is a fan of Winston because of his FSU roots. He came to Tampa Sunday hoping to be swooned by the Bucs.

He was disappointed.

"I've never been to a football game where we've lost that bad," Kobes said. "We booed on our way out, too."

He blamed the officials and linemen, but stood by Winston.

"Jameis is still the better quarterback," he said.

His friend, Ronnie Flipkowski, 22, wasn't as sunny.

"I bought season tickets this year because of Jameis," he said.

Now, they might be finding their way to ticket broker Stub Hub.

"I'll give them one more game," he said.

Still hopeful, though, were the Heanings from Fort Pierce. Sure, they'd endured six hours, round trip, to watch their Bucs lose bad.

But they've been fans for a decade, been season ticket holders on and off over the years.

"I'm still hopeful," John Heaning said. "We'll be back."

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

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