Smells like team spirit in here

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

After Baptist, the Buccaneers are Tampa Bay's predominant religion.

The men wear their Bucs jerseys and ballcaps and rehash the last game until the next one is played.

Women who wouldn't know an option play from a Broadway play still put on their Bucs earrings and tank tops and head out on Sunday afternoons.

Maybe that's the way St. Louis is about the Rams. In Cape Girardeau, we were a little more insulated from NFL fervor. I owned one piece of Ramswear the whole time I lived in Missouri -- a Kurt Warner T-shirt purchased from Kmart so I could participate in a Friday jeans day at work. I'll bet I'm not the only one with a one-shot Rams item.

I also attended a sole Rams game on season tickets purchased from a co-worker who couldn't go. If I'd put The Other Half on my shoulders, he could have touched the roof of the TransWorld Dome from our seats.

Here, where the Bucs' stadium and my apartment are just a few miles from the Bay in opposite directions, there's no escaping football fever. So when my boss offered me two free club-level seats for a Bucs game -- right on the 50-yard line -- I excitedly said, "Wow! Now I have to find someone who's worthy of such great seats!"

He said, "I was thinking you could take your husband."

I said, "Oh, yeah."

It was a Saturday night, preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, a cross-state rival. There was plenty of aqua and orange in the stands -- wimpy colors for football, if you ask me -- but much, much more red and black. The Other Half and I made our way through the clubhouse to our excellent seats. You could almost smell the anticipation. The smell also could have been us since it was at least 90 degrees in there.

The Bucs scored the first field goal. Then the Dolphins scored one. Then I called my friend Guy to brag about our great seats. Then we watched some football follies on the giant screen. Then I talked to The Other Half about another friend's romantic problems.

Finally, it was halftime, also known as Time to Spend Crazy Amounts of Money on Booze and Snacks. The mini pizza was $7.50. My margarita was $7. Mr. Half's multiple Coronas were who knows how much. This was after we paid $20 to park.

Then it struck me. I liked football a lot more in Cape Girardeau, parking free in the First Baptist Church lot, sitting on cheap bench seats, watching Southeast and eating popcorn and drinking Diet Coke sold by people working for tips for the Boys and Girls Club or some other worthy organization.

And while I was grateful to be picked for what other people would give their left arms for, I realized that, for me, the bond to the hometown team and socializing with people you know are the most important things about sports. It made me a little homesick, frankly. We left early but found out later the Bucs won.

Until I can get back for a Southeast game, I'm going to work on my Bucs love. There might even be tank tops and earrings.

Heidi Hall is a former managing editor of the Southeast Missourian who now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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