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I remember it vividly. The big pink plastic bowl of Cheetos Puffs. The veggie platter with almost no ranch left and almost all the veggies left (this was long before cauliflower’s current moment; I imagine that’s the first to go at parties these days, even before Guy Fieri’s Out-Of-Bounds Buffalo Chix Big Flavor Biker Dip). Between the inhumanly loud sounds of my dad’s teeth crunching down on pretzels, I could hear John Madden, sleep-deprived from a cross-country bus trip, praising the pewter pirates for a great season in a game that was pretty much over after three quarters. The final whistle blew, and as Jon Gruden ran onto the field after besting his old team in January 2003 I remember thinking, “The Bucs frickin’ did it!” (I was 8)
“We’re Super Bowl champions!”
And we were. But that “we” doesn’t look quite the same anymore.
I’m Jared, I’m 24 years old, and I’m currently changing from a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan to a citizen of Packers Nation. And while I know a sizable percentage of the U.S. population (if not the majority) looks down upon this “traitorous” act with contempt and rage typically reserved for awful Twitter rants about their own teams, I implore you to hear my case before casting judgment.
I’m from the Tampa Bay area. Born and raised. Birth through high school graduation. Conception (I think?) to 18. I came into this world a Buccaneers fan, and a Buccaneers fan I was. Not a diehard fan by any means, but a respectably casual fan who supported his hometown team. I grew up watching one of the best defenses ever assembled shut down the NFC Central (which, ironically and against all logic, included the Packers) and NFC South while earning seven (!!!) playoff berths from my birth in 1993 through 2007, including a win in one of the most one-sided Super Bowls ever played. My family had a pair of season tickets at one point during this span too, meaning unlike most Tampa Bay sports fans I actually took the time to attend some of my team’s games (more on this later).
So after all that, allow me to quote Talking Heads and ask for you, “How did I get here?” Why am I now ditching a team that had so much success during my formative years?
If the answer were a simple and concise, “Because they haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years,” I’d hate me and I’d want you to hate me too. Luckily (not for the Bucs), it’s a lot more than just that.
The whole slide started back in 2008. After starting the season 9-3, the Bucs had one of the worst Decembers in NFL history. Not only did they lose franchise-making DC Monte Kiffin, who announced he was leaving to join the original Lane Train at Tennessee at the end of the season, but they lost out as well, dropping to 9-7 and missing the playoffs.
This negative momentum carried into 2009; the Buccaneers went 3-13. Ticket sales subsequently plummeted, and that’s what led to the multi-year blackout.
Between the years of 1973 and 2014, there was an official NFL policy in place that stated home games would not be televised in local markets if at least 85% of seats had not been sold 3 days prior to kickoff. And when you combine a major sports market like Tampa Bay that’s notorious for not filling seats (Lightning excluded) with a bad previous season, there’s a good chance that policy’s going to kick in. This is why not a single regular season Bucs home game was televised in the Tampa Bay area in 2010.
This meant far less attention paid to the Buccaneers as a whole, and caused casual fans like myself to pretty much just stop caring. You can easily make the point that this means I was just never a huge Bucs guy to begin with, and I wouldn’t disagree with you. But any policy that punishes and essentially alienates the majority of a team’s fan base — the casual contingent that knows the team’s record but couldn’t name off the whole O-Line — is going to instigate the loss of a chunk of that fan base. As if a policy that punishes fans for not being more involved ever had any other outcome than creating less involved fans.
It’s worth mentioning that the Buccaneers had, by all measures, a good season in 2010. They went 10-6, only missing the playoffs on account of the NFC South being the NFL’s best division that year. But that great record didn’t give ticket sales the boost they needed, probably because — and I might be going out on a limb here — nobody could watch them play half the time so why give a shit what their record was? Which is probably why five of the Bucs’ seven home games were blacked out in the local market the following year as well.
The final two seasons I lived in the Tampa Bay area, 2009-2010, were the ones wherein the Bucs went 3-13 and then suffered the first blackout. It felt like the beginning of a slow decline towards death, and my casual fandom was fading fast (as was my ability to fit into my only Bucs jersey, a way-too-tight child’s large #20 Ronde Barber alternate). This era was bookended by my move to Wisconsin, which meant it was actually somehow even harder to watch Bucs games even if I wanted to (I didn’t really), but which also opened my eyes to a degree of NFL fandom I never knew existed: Packers fandom.
Until you step foot in the state of Wisconsin, you’ll never truly know the extent to which Packers fans support their team. If you ever do step foot in the state of Wisconsin, you’ll feel it instantly. My undergrad tenure at the University of Wisconsin-Madison began just 6 months after the Packers won the Super Bowl, and the hysteria that surrounded the start of the ensuing season was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. The day of that season opener, I swear to you 40% of the student population was wearing Packers jerseys. Not cheap Chinese knockoffs, either; NFLShop.com legally-licensed jerseys. Ones you knew cost each wearer a birthday or Christmas present at some point in their lives.
The team went 15-1 that season, and with each passing week I grew more and more intrigued by what it was like to be around people who cared so much about something I was used to seeing people care such an average amount about.
“Maybe it’ll be a little more chill now that they’re not going for the repeat,” I thought before the following season’s opener.
To this day, I’ve never seen such a large amount of people (an entire goddamn state!) care so strongly about a sports team, at least not in America. I’d sometimes borrow friends’ Packers shirts on Sundays during undergrad and say, “They’re my second favorite team,” but I knew deep down that I supported what was going on up there much more than I ever could what was going on back down south. That’s why before the 2017 season, I decided I’d officially begin walking the Buccaneers’ plank and start supporting the Packers as I jumped ship.
Okay Yeah Fine The Bucs Kinda Suck Right Now And That’s Partly Why
Despite all that happened between me and them, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I would still be shifting to Packers fanhood had the Bucs been a legitimate playoff contender over the past 10 years. If they’d gifted me a few postseason runs during that span, who knows? Maybe I’d still be the same casual fan I always was and would stick around for the potential at hometown glory. But, in what ended up being a blessing in disguise, they blew ass and opened the door for me to reconsider my allegiance.
I’ve already been called a bandwagonner multiple times (despite my first season supporting the Pack being 2017’s shitshow), and I expect it to happen plenty more. But if you’re doing so for the right reasons, I legitimately think it’s more important to throw birthplace to the wayside and support a team you actually want to support rather than one you’re forced to. Luckily my parents get that; I recently opened up an oval G hat and vintage Pack tee on Christmas Day.
Is this article me trying to convince myself that something I know is wrong isn’t? Is it me pulling a Duda and exchanging controversy for pageviews? Or is it just me reminding Will, Dave, and Dillon that I’m still only 24 years old and thus like 10 years younger than all of them?
Probably all three, but who cares.
Go Pack Go..
P.S. Rumors that I’m only dating a girl from Wisconsin as a means of legitimizing my claim to Packers fandom are greatly exaggerated. It is a great perk, though.
Image via Shutterstock