Church times may vary. Devotion, however, begins promptly at 1:10 p.m.
It starts with a pitch, segues to a puck drop and crescendos with a coin toss. For a sports fan in Tampa Bay, this is a month of Sundays wrapped up in one seven-hour bender in front of the television. Or televisions. Or tablets. Or laptops.
The Rays are in a pennant race, the Lightning are closing in on the Stanley Cup and the Buccaneers will hand over their huddle to a rock star with a Super Bowl habit.
Chicken wings, anyone?
Maybe this isn’t a big deal in New York or Boston, where trophies, pennants and cups are passed down like heirlooms. But Tampa Bay, as a market, has an esteem problem when it comes to this sort of thing.
We won a Super Bowl 18 years ago and a Stanley Cup two years after that, but for the most part, we have been the comic relief of the sports world. Not enough wins in football, not enough customers in baseball and too many Maple Leaf fans in hockey.
To appreciate an afternoon like this, you have to recognize how distant it seemed to a 12-year-old in Tampa Bay in 1975. There were no Bucs, no Lightning, no Rays. On a single block, you might find kids wearing Steelers, Bears, Browns and Dolphins jerseys.
Forty-five years ago on this weekend, your Sunday viewing choices included a couple of out-of-market football games, championship wrestling and the Doug Dickey Show.
Hot dogs, anyone?
This isn’t just unusual, it is unprecedented. The Bucs, Lightning and Rays have all played on the same day twice before (on Oct. 7, 2001 and Oct. 5, 2008) but never with so much at stake.
The scheduling this time is courtesy of COVID-19, which forced the NHL to delay its postseason by four months. So it’s like winning the lottery — the Lightning and Rays are chasing championships simultaneously with Tom Brady’s Bucs debut.
In the best of times, sports can bring people together. Athletes and storylines cut across cultural barriers and remind us what it was like to care only about the next pitch on some rocky ballfield with your best friends. Shared memories of games can bond parents and children, brothers and sisters, spouses and friends.
In a pandemic, sports can be a lifeline.
For months, we have sacrificed, willingly and begrudgingly, with Netflix and Hulu as our companions. Talk shows are done remotely, first-run movies have all but disappeared and watching a Frasier rerun feels like our best shot at sophistication.
That’s what made the return of live Rays games on television in late July seem heaven sent. It was, for the first time in months, programming that felt both carefree and unpredictable. Then the Lightning began the playoffs with a stretch of overtime thrillers. And, now, the Bucs join them for the ultimate weekend of TV and junk food indulgence, while being socially distant and guilt-free.
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A month ago, the Rays were in Boston on their second road trip of the season with no fans allowed and no family or friends along for the ride. The visiting clubhouse at 108-year-old Fenway Park is a mess of modern amenities crammed in horse-and-buggy-era accommodations, and yet most of the players were fixated on the TVs tuned to a hockey game in Toronto.
The Lightning were playing Columbus in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The game had started shortly after 3 p.m., when most of the Rays were arriving at the ballpark.
“The players, coaches, clubbies, we’re all locked in on the game,” said Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier. “The game is tied, we all go out on the field to hit for BP, and we get back in the clubhouse thinking the game is over, and they were in the third overtime.”
Since then, the Rays have had the TVs going in every clubhouse. And on a rare day off in the middle of the season — the day his wife, Marisa, told Kiermaier she was expecting their second child — the couple settled in to watch the Lightning beat the Islanders in Game 2 on a buzzer-beating goal.
"Oh yeah, I’m watching,” Kiermaier said. “We were expecting another overtime game, and when (Nikita) Kucherov scored that goal with seven seconds to go, my wife and I went nuts on the couch.”
Previous Super Sundays
This is the third time the Bucs, Rays and Lightning have all played on the same day in the past 20 years, but never before have the games meant so much in the standings. Not to mention for pandemic-starved TV viewers.
Oct. 5, 2008
Rays: Lose Game 3 of the American League Division Series to the White Sox 5-3, but clinch the best-of-five series the next day.
Lightning: In one of five consecutive losses to start Barry Melrose’s tenure as coach, the Bolts drop a 2-1 game against the Rangers in New York.
Bucs: Second-half comeback falls short and the Bucs lose 16-13 at Denver in Jon Gruden’s final season.
Oct. 7, 2001
Rays: On the final day of the regular season, the Rays lose 1-0 to the Yankees for their first 100-loss season.
Lightning: In the second game of a season with just 27 wins, the Lightning go down 5-0 against the Panthers at home.
Bucs: Mike Alstott scores on a 39-yard run in the fourth quarter to beat the Packers 14-10 and improve to 2-1.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.