The first home game of the 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers football season is only a few short days away yet the news is not good in regards to fandom. Both home pre-season games will be blacked out. What's worse is it appears that several of the regular season games may suffer the same fate.
I can understand the pre-season games not selling out. Who wants to pay full price for half the product? But when it comes to Regular Season games - folks I'm sorry, I just can't wrap my brain around it.
Yes, I understand that the economy is terrible and we all know that our community has suffered worse than most. Unemployment is still sky high in our neck of the woods. I'm not speaking to those fans. I know if you could you would be there.
However, there are some of you who have the discretionary income to go to at least a few games but are choosing to stay home instead. Why? What are are you waiting for?
From listening to local call-in shows and reading the messageboards this is what I've been able to gather:
The Glazers aren't spending money on free agents.
So what? The last free agent to come in and make an impact on this football team was Simeon Rice and that was a decade ago. How many free agents have the Steelers signed? How about the Colts? The Super Bowl Champion Packers? Free agency is a crutch for teams that draft terribly.
How many teams that have won the "Free Agency Derby" have won the Super Bowl? Surely not the perennial free agency champions, the Washington Redskins. Jerry Jones' wheeling and dealing has netted the Cowboys bupkis - the last time they were relevant was when Troy Aikman was under center. The Eagles usually make a splash but have never won the Super Bowl.
You say the Patriots? Actually, New England used to never do much in free agency, choosing to build through the draft just like a certain Pewter and Red clad team we know - then they began having reclamation projects. First it was Randy Moss, then Corey Dillon. Now it's Albert Haynesworth and Ochocinco. Since they've started this trend they've been competitive but haven't won the Super Bowl.
Derrick Brooks used to say, "If they want to keep you, they'll find a way to fit you under the cap."
These teams let their free agents go for a reason. Some are over the hill, others are underachievers, while some have personal issues or the market is so barren at their position it is artificially inflated to a contract level they can't possibly satisfy in earning.
These are the players you want the Bucs to add?
While you're fiddling around with these has beens, overrateds and never-will-bes, you're stunting the growth of young players like Mason Foster. Is E.J. Biggers better than Nnamdi Asomugha? Of course not. But he might be just as good one day. How do you know if he gets sat on the bench while some high priced free agent takes his reps for a marginal improvement?
You see, as much as the name you know may be enticing, it's the one you don't yet that could really make all the difference in the world. If the Bucs shot their wad on free agency, they may have never discovered the likes of Mike Williams or LeGarrette Blount. Geno Hayes would have been lost to the practice squad. Dekota Watson would be on another roster.
The Bucs would also lack the cohesion that "growing up together" brings. Veterans come in with different mindsets, values and ambitions. They may align them with team goals but they're never as close nit as this football team is today.
Why would Jon Gruden's teams be good one year and falter the next? He and Bruce Allen drafted horribly and every year the revolving door of free agency kept churning through the retreads.
That's why the Buccaneers turned away from Free Agency after the Glazers relieved Gruden and Allen of their duties. It has nothing to do with being cheap or shipping the money overseas to a soccer team. Its about avoiding fool's gold and allowing your team to grow into a champion, not for one or two seasons but sustained success like the Steelers and Colts have enjoyed.
The Bucs' 10 wins last season were because of a weak schedule
This one truly amazes me. I can remember when this team hadn't had a winning season in 13 years. Now we're so advanced we're nitpicking who they beat during a winning year?
I don't care if they dismantled the Wimuama Whippersnappers - any win in the NFL is precious. New Orleans played that same weak schedule and won just one more game than the Bucs did - yet no one questions their legitimacy.
Alstott, Lynch and Sapp are gone
Yes, they are. Its what happens in the NFL. So you need to ask yourself - are you a fan of the jersey or the name on the back of it? Are you fake like those Atlanta fans during the Michael Vick experience who showed up to every game with their No. 7 jerseys but were no where to be found when he got sent up the river?
Mike Alstott was a great Buccaneer. We all cherish Mean Gene's calls of "Alstott up the gut!"
His time passed and now they have a new bulldozer at running back. For the first time in this franchise's history they have a true, bonafide star at the Quarterback position. They have a wide receiver who makes the most unbelievable acrobatic plays that just leave you in awe. They have a young and hungry (or as Coach Rah says, "Youngry") defense that's only going to get better with experience.
And that's where I'm having the biggest problem here, folks. These are the kind of stars our fans have dreamt of for as long as I can remember. A dynamic offense with a super QB, bruising running game and a defense that seeks and destroys - what more could you possibly want?
Look, I'm no shill for the Bucs and I don't really care if you buy tickets. It doesn't matter to me whether the games are blacked out. I'll be there as I've always been since I was a little boy.
I'm just sad for you, the fringe fan, who's hedging your bets right now. It doesn't matter if you don't like owners or miss the old players or they don't sign some player whose name you only know because he shut down your fantasy football wide receiver.
You're going to miss out on something special. Something fathers will tell their kids about.
"I was there when Mike Williams scored that game winning touchdown on the Saints."
"I was there when LeGarrette Blount hurdled two guys on his way to his third touchdown."
Don't wait too long as the bandwagon may be full when you decide to pile on.
These youngry Buccaneers deserve your support, its a shame you won't give it to them.