As sure as the shaved ice from Amalie Arena finds its way into local beer mugs, our community is enjoying the most glorious sports era it has ever known.
Two Stanley Cups, a Super Bowl and a World Series berth never will occur in succession on our shores again — at least not in a dizzying span of nine months and change. And considering the Rays’ record and Bucs’ roster, this surreal wave we’re riding may not crash any time soon.
But for deliberation’s sake, let’s narrow our time span from eras to hours and pose the following question: What is the best sports day this area has experienced?
Was it July 7, when the Lightning clinched the Cup at home hours after the Rays pulled off a pseudo-historic doubleheader sweep at Tropicana Field? Was it one of the Bucs’ two triumphant Super Bowl Sundays? Does another area twin bill top the list?
We dug — and dug and dug — into our past and came up with what we deem the five most viable contenders. You won’t find a single day featuring a win by the Bucs, Lightning and Rays; that trifecta never has occurred.
5. Aug. 11, 2020
If this wasn’t quite the most exhilarating day in local sports history, it certainly was the longest.
It began with the Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets opening their Eastern Conference first-round series with the fourth-longest playoff contest in NHL history. Six hours and 13 minutes after the first puck was dropped, Brayden Point brought things to a merciful end with a goal midway through the fifth overtime for a 3-2 Tampa Bay triumph.
The marathon would serve as an extended opening chapter for the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run. Meantime at Fenway Park, the Rays were putting the finishing touches on an 8-2 romp of the Red Sox for their fourth consecutive win.
4. Feb. 7, 2021
Had the pandemic not put a mild damper on Super Bowl 55 festivities (such as limited attendance), this night may rank higher.
As it was, game MVP Tom Brady and the Bucs completed the franchise’s mesmerizing one-year transformation with a 31-9 embarrassment of the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium, making Tampa Bay the first NFL team to win a Super Bowl on its home turf.
Problem was, only 24,835 saw the game in person due to COVID-19 restrictions. Not that social-distancing guidelines did much to stifle the raucous celebration along Dale Mabry Highway afterward, or that pleasant little boat parade three days later.
3. Oct. 19, 2008
Poignance, pomp and a dude named Price converged on a magical Sunday night to give the area one of its greatest sports evenings.
The Bucs honored fullback/folk hero Mike Alstott (forced to retire the previous year due to a neck injury) at halftime of a nationally televised 20-10 triumph against the Seahawks, which improved Tampa Bay to 5-2.
Conveniently, Jeff Garcia finished his dissection of Seattle (27-for-36, 310 yards) in plenty of time for he and his teammates to watch David Price and the Rays upstage him in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Tropicana Field.
Indeed, many Bucs were watching on locker-room TVs as Price was summoned with two out, the bases loaded, and his team up by two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. The 23-year-old rookie left-hander struck out Sox all-star J.D. Drew with a 97-mph fastball to end the threat, then retired the side in the ninth to send Tampa Bay to its first World Series.
2. Jan. 26, 2003
Subtract a USF women’s basketball loss to Louisville at the old Sun Dome, and the area’s second-greatest sports day was bereft of a home game. No matter.
Three time zones away in San Diego, the Bucs staged a Tampa-2 defensive clinic (five interceptions, three returned for touchdowns) in a 48-21 rout of the Raiders in Super Bowl 37. With respect to the original Rowdies (a North American Soccer League title in 1975), the triumph gave this community its first major sports title.
An old-fashioned street parade (remember those?) was held two days later in downtown Tampa.
1. July 7, 2021
On any other afternoon, the Rays’ doubleheader sweep of the Indians — which included five pitchers teaming for a seven-inning no-hitter in Game 2 — would dominate the local sports news cycle.
But on this day, it regressed from preposterous to prelude in a few hours.
That evening, across the water at Amalie Arena, the Lightning clinched the franchise’s third Stanley Cup (and second in a row) with a 1-0 victory against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5. The triumph set off a raucous celebration inside and outside the arena, not to mention arguably the most memorable press conference in local sports lore (see Kucherov, Nikita).
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The Tampa Bay Times will commemorate the Lightning’s second consecutive Stanley Cup title with a new hardcover coffee table book, Striking Twice. Pre-order now.
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