Our Tampa Bay Lightning have done it again! Back-to-back Stanley Cup wins! With their win over the Montreal Canadians, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers favored to repeat in this year’s upcoming Super Bowl, it’s safe to say it’s a good time to be a local sports fan. Although we are often overshadowed by rival Miami’s sports pedigree, we can argue with our current run of trophies, that Tampa is the pro sports capital of the state. After all, we are “Champa Bay!”
Three Teams With Plenty Of Background
We’re so proud to boast about our three professional teams in our area, that we decided to look at each respective history, and dig up some fun tidbits you might not know. We wanted to explore the locker rooms of the Buccaneers, Lightening, and Rays.
Facts About Pro Tampa Franchises
Football Starts With The Tampa Cardinals
The original Buccaneers iteration was the Tampa Cardinals, led by the legendary Jim Thorpe in 1926. An exhibition game was organized on New Year’s Day against the Chicago Bears. In front of a crowd of 10,000 spectators, Thorpe fumbled the ball early, leading the opposition to get on the board first. The Cardinals didn’t do much in the game, falling 17-3.
As the year progressed, the team played under a handful of identity changes, including swapping Tampa for three other names: St. Petersburg, Haven-Villas, and Lena Vista. Thorpe and Co. then folded after a disappointing 0-4-1 record and a complete disinterest from fans.
Nearly The San Francisco Devil Rays
Can you imagine the Bay Area without their Giants? It nearly happened.
35 years after they left New York, the Giants signed a memorandum agreement with a group of investors in the Tampa Bay area in time for the 1993 season. Signs were immediately made in Northern California that read “Don’t Tampa With Our Giants” (a familiar play on words slogan, see the Tampa Bay Colts).
Instead, the commissioner and the league nixed the transfer, rebuffing our city for a lesser offer that kept the Giants in San Fran. Since then, they’ve won the World Series three times, in comparison to the zero accumulated by the Rays (sigh).
Lightning Struck Last Decade
Named after the “Lightning Capital of North America”, our NHL team has electrified home fans. It took some false starts to get there.
Created in 1992, the team took just four seasons to make a playoff run. After that, the franchise slipped across the ice for six seasons, before skating their way back to the playoffs.
Their biggest success occurred over the past decade; the team is fifth in overall record during the span of the decade, including the second-best record of all time in the 2018-19 season, equalling the all-time leading 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings’ 62 win run.
Woeful Pro Football Beginnings
Our city wouldn’t see a professional football franchise until 1964 when the AFL staged exhibition games at the University of Tampa’s Phillips Field. Once again, because of sparse attendance, the league bailed on returning due to what they perceived as indifference to pro football.
Two years later, the Miami Dolphins utilized Boca Ciega High School as the site for their training camp. The newly administered sod was placed on top of seashells, causing significant injury to the practicing athletes. Their hotel was near the bay and the players were woken at odd hours by barking seals. The team lasted less than a month, before fleeing.
MLB Expansion Woes
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays acquired 35 players in the 1997 expansion draft, chosen alongside the Arizona Diamondbacks as the newest MLB franchises.
It wasn’t an easy start; while the D-Backs went on to win the World Series four seasons later, making them the fastest MLB expansion team to win a championship, the Devil Rays dropped an average 98 games over eight years.
In their first 20 seasons, the team compiled a miserable 645-972 record. It took dropping the “devil” from their name for the winning ways to shine through.
The Construction Of Tampa Stadium Changed Everything
Phillips Field was trash.
From 1936-1967, the antiquated stadium served as the despised home field for the University of Tampa. Other schools didn’t want to play there because of limited capacity. The location was incredibly small, sitting less than 20,000 across sparse bleachers.
The mid ‘60s saw the formation of the Tampa Sports Authority. First priority on the agenda: getting a new stadium to supplant the outdated building. On 255 acres of city property, Tampa Stadium was erected for a total price tag of $4.6 million. Aluminum bleachers could accommodate nearly 52,000 fans.
The remainder of the decade saw 11 NFL exhibition games played in Tampa, including three Baltimore Colts home games.
Setting Stanley Cup History
With their victory in the 2004 Stanley Cup, the Lightning hold the distinction as the southernmost team ever to win the Stanley Cup. Prior to our victory, the Dallas Stars captured the honor in 1999.
For an apparently Canadian sport, no Northern team has won the Cup since 1994, with the Lightning stopping Montreal from doing so this year. With our 2021 Stanley Cup Championship victory, our beloved hockey squad is the tenth team to pull off a title repeat.
New Name, New Baseball Team
In 2008, majority owner Stuart Sterberg implemented a new name change. The name was shortened to the Tampa Bay Rays, after the bright yellow beam of the “Sunshine State of Florida”.
The change was a complete exorcism of their losing past; the team became the first franchise in modern MLB history to hold the best record in the league through Memorial Day after having the worst record the year prior. Their best home record led the squad to their first ever World Series, eventually falling to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games.
Nearly The Tampa Bay Colts
Because most staged NFL exhibition games garnered around 35,000 fans per game, interest peaked with nearly 52,000 visitors attending an exhibition game between the New York Jets and Detroit Lions in 1971. The turnout prompted rumors of the then Baltimore Colts to come to Tampa Bay. A bumper sticker was even popularized in the area, that read “Don’t Tampa With Our Colts”. When the Colts decided to temporarily stay in Maryland, the NFL proposed expansion for two teams, competing the Tampa-St. Petersburg against Seattle, Phoenix, and (inexplicably) Honolulu. Tampa was named as the 27th franchise in 1976, costing $16 million; Seattle was selected as the 28th.
The first decade saw the Lightning crashing into stormy financial seas. The broke Bolts had numerous money troubles, contributing to murky ownership, rumored money laundering schemes for the yakuza, and back tax issues. Owner Takashi Okubo, who bought a stake in the team through his golf resorts company Kokusai Green, may not have even existed; no one in the NHL or our continent ever met the man in person.
After failing to sell for over two years, the team was purchased twice in 1998 and 1999, respectively, with ownership receiving a money pit hemorrhaging nearly $20 million a year and $100 million in debt overall.
The Buccaneers’ started their Tampa tenure really, really poorly.
Sure, it’s never easy for expansion teams (see the start of all three of our franchises), but our Bucs started with an NFL record 26 game losing streak. Their first win didn’t come until defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in the final game of their second season.
It took until 1981 for the team to have a winning record (9-7), after enduring four years of losing. In the divisional playoff game, Tampa was blanked by the Dallas Cowboys 30-0, behind four interceptions and four sacks. After another trouncing by the Cowboys next playoffs, Tampa Bay was the worst team in the league from 1983-1996, posting an NFL low record of 64-158.