TAMPA — As the final minutes counted down Tuesday night to the much-anticipated first episode of the Bucs on HBO's Hard Knocks, the excitement could be seen in more than just living rooms across the bay area.
The Bucs and HBO hosted a Hollywood-style red-carpet premiere downtown, with VIPs and former players gathering at the Tampa Theatre, which became something of a Home Bucs Office for the night.
"We're excited to bring people out and showcase this and give them a glimpse," said Brian Ford, the Bucs' chief operating officer. "This is a big deal, and we're excited to have everybody be a part of it. We're excited for what's to come, and I can't wait for the nation to be introduced to Tampa."
At 10 p.m., fans got to see the first episode, introducing the key elements of this Bucs team — Jameis Winston taking you through his hometown of Bessemer, Ala., and Gerald McCoy playing with his children. The relationship between Dirk Koetter and Winston will be a central theme of the show, it's clear.
NFL Films has had cameras on every aspect of the Bucs since the start of training camp on July 27, recording an estimated 350 hours of footage to be culled down to each week's one-hour documentary.
About 400 people gathered at the Tampa Theatre, but one group that decidedly wasn't among them: the Bucs themselves, with players and coaches instead getting ready for an 8:45 a.m. practice the next morning and trying to not make the show any more of a distraction than necessary.
Koetter has talked about minimizing the distraction enough already that he's now trying to minimize talking about the distraction. Asked after practice Tuesday morning if he had a hope for the show, he was blunt.
"My hope is that we quit talking about it in my daily press conference," said Koetter, whose wife, Kim, attended the premiere. "That's my main hope, because my job is to coach the football team, not to worry about that."
The Bucs barely missed the playoffs last year with a 9-7 record, and that just-missed aspect was intriguing to HBO and NFL Films, according to the show's director, Matt Dissinger, who took questions from the audience before the show started.
"It's not often we get an opportunity to be with a team that's on the cusp of being in the playoffs," he said. "This team is a different story than some of the teams we've had before. It's not about starting from scratch. It's 'How do you take that next step?'"
Koetter and the Bucs' biggest stars — Winston, McCoy and others — will see their national celebrity go up a notch with five weeks of the popular training-camp chronicle. It's a spotlight not every player wants to have during an important buildup to the season, as former Bucs fullback Mike Alstott admitted as he entered the premiere.
"Personally, I wouldn't have been all into it," said Alstott, now 21 years removed from his rookie year. "But times have changed. I didn't have my first cellphone until I got into the league.
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"But it's great marketing, great promo for the players and the organization. We have a great group of kids with talent, and it's great for them to get some publicity."
For five weeks, the Bucs have a rare spotlight cast on them, one they only hope can continue with a successful season to follow.
"I can't wait for the nation to meet our young roster, our coaching staff and most of all, our community," Ford said. "We have the best fans in the NFL, and tonight the nation's going to see them."