It’s Friday. Let’s talk football.
The first time I attended a professional football game was in August 1974.
Oakland Raiders vs. Detroit Lions, preseason, at Tiger Stadium.
It rained so hard the freeway flooded. I remember players flopping around in the mud, the way football was meant.
I’m not 100% certain, but I think Nixon resigned that night. Pretty sure it was unrelated to the game.
The Pontiac Silverdome opened the next year. An 80,000-seat monster, it was the baddest football stadium on the planet.
My friend Jeff reminded me the other day about wide receiver Ray Jarvis’ wristband. The game was over, fans were hanging over the wall as players walked through the tunnel, and Jarvis tossed up his wristband.
Jeff grabbed it right in front of a little kid. Jeff went on to a successful career in radio. I’m sure that little kid turned out just fine. Or not.
I’m loaded with Lions memories as my Tampa Bay Bucs take on Detroit this weekend in the next round of the NFL playoffs. The winner is a step closer to the Super Bowl.
The matchup also represents something brand new:
My Florida allegiances vs. Michigan ones.
We live in such a funny sports state. Great professional sports teams and fans. Yet, the oddity of every single Rays, Bucs, and Lightning home game is they’re loaded with fans from the visiting team.
I blame Spring Training for this. It has conditioned Floridians to cheer for someone else. We’re this melting pot of sports fans from across the country who feel right at home in their Red Sox jerseys or Packers Cheesehead.
I made the call right away. Once relocating from Michigan to Florida, I became a homer right off the bat.
I’ve cheered on the Bucs vs. the Lions in Tampa, but this is different.
The Bucs have won two Super Bowls, and we’re conditioned to winning. The Lions, not so much.
The Lions watched as Detroit’s other major sports teams — the Tigers, Pistons, and Red Wings — have all won championships while the football team languished.
Not this year. And it’s a safe bet that nearly all of Michigan is going nuts in supporting the Lions. Ford Field on Sunday will be LOUD.
Most memories are related to Bucs games.
My friend Rob and I were walking into a Sunday night game at Raymond James when a stranger stopped and asked what beer we drank.
“Budweiser!” I said happily.
The guy handed us two end-zone tickets for free. I felt obligated to drink $75 worth of beer that night.
I attended the last game at the old Tampa Stadium and afterward jumped onto the field to grab a clump of turf. Years later I was wearing that same jacket when I reached into the pocket and thought, “How’d all this dirt get in here?”
Deb and I attended the Bucs final game one year against Atlanta — Jameis Winston’s final game as a Buc. We saw his final pass — an interception returned for a touchdown in the first play of overtime. Right in front of us. The visiting Falcons fans were beside themselves.
Strictly from a fan base excitement level, the Lions have this won hands down. Of course, we’re happy in the Tampa Bay region for the Bucs in the playoffs. But in Michigan, believe me, it’s an out-of-body experience.
I knew I had to upgrade my Bucs wardrobe, so I bought a Bucco Bruce sweatshirt and wore it to Thursday’s County Commission strategic planning retreat. Got several attaboys.
The Lions are the favored team, but this is playoff football so anything can happen. I’ll be rooting for the Bucs while secretly admiring the Lions, recalling those days long ago growing up with the boys in silver and Honolulu blue.
That was then. Allegiance matters.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.