TAMPA — Stormy weather often chased the Bucs indoors during their Super Bowl season in 2002. And by indoors, we mean in the upper level of a parking garage in an office building on the corner of Westshore Boulevard and Spruce Street. Some employees in the building were asked to move their vehicles. The ceiling was almost too low to pass, much less punt or kick.
Over the years, the Bucs have made countless bus trips to Tropicana Field and had a practice that ended around midnight at the University of South Florida. Sometimes it was an attempt to beat the heat. Other times, it was to avoid inclement weather.
Last year, the Bucs erected an oversized, no-wall tent behind their practice fields, using it to get their team out of the sun for a half hour each day during walk-throughs.
Well, here it is. Raise the roof. Finally. An indoor practice facility that will be hard to top.
The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, is spending $20 million to build a state-of-the-art, 100,000-square foot indoor practice facility that will have a bleacher-seating capacity of 3,500.
The steel frame is nearly erected and is awaiting installation of prefabricated insulated wall panels. The west and north elevation will have 30-foot wall panels of glass. Completion of the project by EWI Construction is expected by the start of the regular season Sept. 10.
Courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs owners believe the indoor facility will give their team a competitive advantage.
"We want to give our team the best opportunity, with all of the resources possible, to put the best team on the field and it comes from the top, from the Glazer family," said Bucs Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford. "It is truly going to be a state-of-the-art facility and is yet another example of the commitment on and off the field that the Glazer family has to the community and to the franchise."
The indoor practice facility is just the latest example of the Glazers' investment in the Bucs. The team will have spent an additional $125 million when all the renovations are completed at Raymond James Stadium.
"It's first class all the way," said Casey Ellison, EWI Construction's CEO. "We've gone through multiple designs and every time you turn around the Glazer family is making a little tweak here and there to make it even better."
Among the bells and whistles for the new field, which is being built in the southwest corner of One Buc Place:
• The latest FieldTurf surface, with their Revolution 360 fiber that has the heaviest infill system to prevent injuries. The Bucs play at least two NFC South games each season on an artificial surface.
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• Remote cameras mounted throughout the indoor facility to film practice. The eye in the sky is one of the biggest tools for NFL teams. Normally, camera operators have to ride a strategically-placed cherry picker to videotape practice. All filming will be done from pre-mounted cameras operated inside One Buc.
• 4K high-definition video monitors will be placed throughout the indoor facility to provide full coverage for the team's use and fan viewing.
• A 20,000-square foot outdoor plaza on the east side of the indoor practice facility with a stacked stone and railing system that buttresses up to a retention pond.
The distance from ceiling to floor inside the facility is 96 feet. "I don't think there's a punter in the NFL that can hit it up there," Ellison said.
How will a new indoor practice facility translate into wins? There are several ways, but primarily the indoor facility will have two main functions:
First, it enables the Bucs to keep players in better physical condition. Dehydration is always a problem in football. But when temperatures reach the mid 80s — even in December in Tampa Bay — there is no relief.
Bucs trainer Bobby Slater and nutritionist Kevin Luhrs carefully monitor the hydration level of each player with daily urine tests before and after practice. But there is no substitute for simply being able to allow players the ability to recover by practicing in a climate controlled environment.
An offensive or defensive lineman can lose 10 to 20 pounds of water weight during an outdoor practice. Dehydration can put players at greater risk for soft tissue injuries. Starting this season, all walk through and installation periods will be held indoors. That alone provides players with about three hours per week of less exposure to the elements.
"In my coaching career, I go from Arizona State to Jacksonville, to Atlanta, to Tampa. And one thing that's become very apparent, I've heard other coaches who coach in the south and the Southeast talk about it, is over the course of a season, the heat does take a toll on your players," coach Dirk Koetter said.
"It takes the elements out. Also, it can help you manage the heat. It gives you a sterile environment when you bring guys in to work out. It gives you a turf field. It's something that I've pushed for. I thank the Glazer family for making it happen."
Secondly, weather no longer will disrupt the daily schedule, which includes film study, meetings and meals.
"It will be a flagship, one all others are modeled after," Ford said. "It will be fan friendly and utilized for next year's training camp and special events. Most importantly, it will enhance the players' and coaches' ability to perform deep into the season."