Tampa's fans aren't ready to pass the Bucs

December 09, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

TAMPA, Fla. -- Two decades ago, when the late Carroll Rosenbloom was sending out signals that he might be interested in moving the Baltimore Colts here, bumper stickers started appearing in Baltimore with the message: "Don't Tampa With Our Colts."

Things have come full circle.

Now, football fans here are worried that Baltimore -- or some other city -- might come after the Buccaneers.

"I have concerns. Yes, definitely, I think it's going to be a sad day if we ever let them go," said Gene Anderson, an accounts manager for a Tampa-based corporation, as he tailgated outside Tampa Stadium last Sunday.

Even though owner Hugh Culverhouse hasn't threatened to move, the signs aren't good.

The team already has clinched its 11th straight losing season and has trouble attracting fans. Many of those in the crowd of 49,035 who watched the Bucs lose to the Washington Redskins, 23-17, last Sunday were rooting for the Redskins.

The result is that there's much talk in Tampa about the possibility of a move, though the team hasn't made any threats.

"I think the continuing threat of them moving is demoralizing. It's in the paper quite a lot," Anderson said.

Despite all the poor seasons, Anderson doesn't want to lose the team.

"We're very lucky to have them. My chant is: 'Consider the alternative.' There was an article in the paper last week which I kept and I'm going to pursue. It suggested everybody should get behind the Bucs and let's keep them here and be very grateful that we have them. I feel very strongly about that," he said.

"It's all well and good to say we want a winner. It's going to happen one of these days. The point is we've got a team. People are dying to have them and here we've got it."

Anderson said he hopes Culverhouse sells the team to a local group that is committed to keeping it in Tampa.

New spirit needed

"I think that change is sorely needed, new uniforms, new logo, new spirit. That's going to make the difference," he said.

Culverhouse, who has cancer, apparently doesn't plan to keep the team in his family when he dies.

He has set up a group of trustees, including Jack Donlan, the former head of the NFL Management Council, to run the team for his estate.

Culverhouse has denied reports that the trustees will sell the team for his estate, although there has been much speculation to that effect.

The unanswered question is whether the trustees would sell to an out-of-town group.

"I think if they were to commit themselves totally to staying here, I think it would make a big difference, to have that as a provision if they'd sell the team. I think those [local] people are already in the wings," Anderson said.

The team's orange uniforms seem to be a problem with the fans.

Bob Chouinard, a bicycle parts wholesaler, said: "They could use new ownership, change the uniforms and change the attitude, but we're glad to have them here."

Is he worried about the team leaving? "Yeah, I worry about them leaving. It's great entertainment," he said.

'It would be devastating'

"I suspect they'll stay because of the new infusion of all the major-league sports teams in Florida. It would just be devastating for this franchise to leave Tampa," he said.

One of Culverhouse's severest critics was a retired, white-haired man who didn't want to be identified.

"I've been coming for what is it, 17 years now? I think Culverhouse is an old penny-pinching man and until he's gone and his family is gone, the Bucs will never amount to anything because of lack of support with the money," he said.

"They've made so many mistakes over the years in losing people like Steve Young," he said.

He'll remain a season-ticket holder, though.

"I sit on the 50-yard line, 14th row," the man said. "If I don't buy the tickets, I'll lose my priority. If somewhere down the road they have a winner, I want to be here and the stadium will be packed with 73,000 and they'll be scalping the tickets for $100 and up. The fans are ready. They were that way in the beginning. Now, they do well to have 40,000."

Why didn't he want to be identified?

"They'll take my tickets away," he said. "I don't want to tell you my name because I don't trust them."

When he was told it seems unlikely that team officials would try to take a fan's tickets away for criticizing the team, he said: "I can tell you haven't been around here very long."

SUNDIAL ON NFL

On Sunday, we asked readers to call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, and vote on whether Baltimore should pursue an existing NFL team. The results through yesterday: 989 yes, 106 no.

We'd like to hear what you think about the possibility of the Washington Redskins moving to Laurel. To vote and to comment on Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke's announcement, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County, 836-5028 in Harford County, 848-0338 in Carroll County). Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6130 after you hear the greeting.

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