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For Vipers fans, less is more

Cheap tickets and innovative rules are the way to a football fan’s heart in Tampa Bay.

TAMPA — It doesn’t take much to get Tampa Bay fans out to a football game on a Saturday afternoon in the springtime.

Cheap tickets? Check. Interesting game format? Check. Local players with some name recognition? Check that, too.

But what necessarily makes 18,000 fans stick around nearly three hours? Based on a sampling of those who came out Saturday afternoon to Raymond James Stadium for the XFL Vipers home opener the answer is less is more.

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Less time invested, less money spent. Of the 25 people interviewed before and during the Vipers’ 34-27 loss to the undefeated Houston, nearly all expressed a preference for the rebooted XFL’s speed-up rules.

“The kickoff is good,” said Jarrod Mace, 51, of New Port Richey. “I like the (point-after touchdown), too. If I was a coach, I’d be going for three every single time. The transparency of everything (in the booth) is also cool.”

Mace and his family weren’t afraid of losing the elements they’ve grown used to seeing on television on Saturday now watching the game in person, either.

Fans like Toiaya Crawford, 38, of Brandon, also came to the game with a general curiosity about how the XFL plays out in-person. She appreciated seeing a local star back in Raymond James Stadium.

“The locals, like Quinton Flowers, are (another selling point),” said Crawford, a USF alum. “There are a lot of people here that want to support Flowers. Everybody wants to see him.”

Needless to say, Crawford was overjoyed to see Flowers score the first offensive touchdown in Vipers history. She thinks the XFL is a great development for families and general sports interest. She said spring training baseball and hockey don’t draw her attention as much, and the XFL gives her the chance to watch football year-round.

The idea of games that are 30 minutes to an hour shorter than some NFL or major college football games is appealing. So are tickets as inexpensive as $24 and splitting the schedule between Saturday and Sunday games, said Crawford’s friend Vicki Grimes, 45, of Tampa.

“You can plan around these,” Grimes said. “I hope (the XFL) lasts.”

Many fans said enjoyed the overall atmosphere. While some decked out in snake-themed onesies and other vibrant costumes, others opted for the team’s general colors of green and gold. The energy was constant in the lower-bowl.

“This is what you can’t get on the TV,” Neil Williams, 54, of London, who was visiting Florida this week for a car show in Miami.

Inside the Snake Pit — the family-friendly fan zone in the south concourse near Bucs Beach — two ultra Vipers fans stuck out from the crowd.

Allie Goodman — dressed in a snake-themed onesie, yellow tutu, Vipers cape with black wedge heels and a neon wig — and Bill Downing — dressed in his own Vipers football uniform with a neon green helmet and a gorilla mask — held their own photo shoot with fellow Tampa Bay fans. The couple couldn’t part ways for at least five minutes as fans walked up to them one by one.

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“I’ve been making these costumes for years,” Downing chuckled through his gorilla mask with a hand-painted canvas of Vipers running back De’Veon Smith in hand.

Goodman, 29, said she loves the rule changes to the league, particularly how fast-paced it is. And Downing, 50, of New Port Richey, also loved the new playing format having watched Arena Football, previously.

The two ultra fans didn’t come together but they look forward to watching more XFL games and see the league as a long-term commitment.

Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.