Recap - Falcons 43, Buccaneers 28
My 2nd roadtrip of the football journey is an extended one – starting with a Thursday night ESPN game in Tampa and then onto a Sunday game in Miami.
I can’t think of a better place to spend a long weekend of football in November than the sunshine state – especially with the weather back in NJ starting to turn very nippy.
This morning I took an early flight out of Newark down to Tampa. I was a bit bleary eyed since I, like a whole lot of other folks in the country, stood awake late watching the Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years! And doing so in extra innings! Following a 9th inning rain delay!! I, along with a lot of fellow baseball fans, are really happy for them. The next few days in Chicago are probably going to be insane!
I got into Tampa around 3 PM and checked into the Le Meridan Hotel which is an old converted courthouse. I rested up and grabbed an Uber to the game around 5:30. It was a gorgeous evening – clear skies and 75 degrees
It was a bit of a crawl once we neared the stadium and I got out and walked the last half mile or so. Traffic and parking were a mess and a lot of the residents in the ‘not so upscale’ stadium neighborhood were offering to sell parking spaces on their driveways and front lawns. There were actually hand painted signs some with backwards letters and misspelled words.
Raymond James Stadium (aka "Ray Jay") is located on about 5 miles from downtown Tampa on the Dale Mabry Highway in a mainly residential area. Right next door across a small footbridge is George M Steinbrenner Field, the spring training facility of the New York Yankees. There was a lot of activity outside the stadium, lively fans, street vendors, musicians, etc. There were palm trees galore and a huge marquis in front of the stadium with the team’s current slogan ‘Siege The Day’ (the Pirate theme was pervasive here).
I went through the security and ticket scan, up the escalators to the main concourse - there I was blown away by the coolest thing I’ve seen in a football stadium so far. The stadium has 2 huge end zone plazas, one of which has a stunning $3 million pirate ship which is by far the most eye-catching feature of the stadium. The 103-foot-long replica of an early 1800s pirate ship is the focal point of what they call 'Buccaneer Cove'. The 20,000-square-foot cove extends the entire length of the north end zone. In addition to the pirate ship, the cove includes a weathered, two-story pirate village facade, complete with concession stands and other amenities. There are actors and actresses dressed in full pirate regalia staging shows on the pirate ship involving the fans in the acts which was a lot of fun. The south end zone offers guests a fantastic view of the field with the opportunity to dine at picnic tables. Palm trees surround the area, making it a pleasant place to eat and watch the game, while mingling with other fans.
Ray Jay was built in 1998 and has seen it's share of play - but it doesn't seem old. The open areas by the pirate ship and dining pavilion is perfect for Florida
autumn evenings (maybe not so much September 1 PM starts). The dining area has lots of concession vendors offering mostly standard ballpark fare - pizza, chicken fingers, burgers, etc. Despite having one of the best breweries in the US (in my opinion) just miles away - none of their beer was available. Mostly crap like Bud.
After eating, I headed over to my seat. The fans were really friendly and talkative in my area (except for one strange dude sitting next to me who spent most of the night talking to himself). Right before kickoff - there was the 'pump up' video on the big
screens - then the Bucs players came charging onto the field with the usual fanfare of exploding flames and blaring music. A recent tradition of Thursday night football is something called 'Color Rush' . This is an odd and somewhat disturbing thing where the players jerseys and pants are the same color with no contrast. The Bucs charged onto the field looking as if they were wearing children's pajamas. The cheerleaders however thankfully were wearing what they usually wear!
Tonight's game is an NFC South divisional matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. There were plenty of Falcon fans in the stands many who took either the short flight or made the 7 hour drive down south to Tampa.
The game was a rout with Atlanta in control the entire way. Matt Ryan threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns, helping the Falcons tighten their grip on first place in the NFC South with a 43-28 victory. Julio Jones had eight receptions for 111 yards and a TD. Tampa Bay has dropped two straight on the heels of a three-game winning streak that got them back to .500. Jameis Winston threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns for the Bucs, including scoring passes of 3 and 24 yards to Mike Evans, who had 11 receptions.
After the game, it was almost impossible to get a cab or an Uber. That's one of the problems with night games – getting out of the stadium and back to hotel if you don’t have a car can be tough. I never had this issue at baseball games. I was able to locate a shuttle van taking people back to hotels for $10 each. I was one of the first ones on and was soon joined by a bunch of drunken , rowdy Falcon fans who kept shouting "Rise Up" the whole ride back to their hotels.
It was great to have all Friday to kill in Tampa. It's such a fun city and this was a great time of year to be here. I spent the morning exploring some of the more interesting neighborhoods including Channelside, took a walk down Riverwalk, then rented a kayak and paddled along the Hillsborough River past Derek Jeter's mansion. At night, I grabbed an Uber and headed over to Ybor City, which, on a Friday night, was brimming with people and energy. I had amazing Cuban food in the legendary Columbia Restaurant then headed over to the Tampa Bay Brewing Company, where I pounded a few of my favorite beers - Reef Donkey APA. Such a huge contrast from downtown Tampa to laid back St. Petersburg.
Onto Miami tomorrow.
Fans - - B - Most were talkative and friendly. Probably as many Falcon fans as Buccaneer fans. Nice 'Thursday Night' energy
Features - A - The End zone plazas, the palm trees, the tiki huts, the picnic benches near the concessions and , of course, the awesome pirate ship.
Location -D - A slow crawl from downtown. Not much in the area to do afterwards except for a few strip bars which I would imagine are quite scary
Food - - C - Basic hamburgers, hot dogs , fries ,etc. Good prices though
Game - C - Falcons dominated from the 2nd quarter onward. No real drama. Nice watching Matt Ryan and Julio Jones work though.
Overall Experience - B - Fun night out at a fun stadium. Would be great if this were in downtown Tampa