Bring back Saturday night football
Many in the NFL claim that there is no such thing as an ugly victory. Tampa Bay came perilously close to disproving this theory on Sunday with their 17-14 win over the Cleveland Browns. Sadly, the only people in the Tampa Bay area to watch the game on Sunday were the roughly 47,000 souls that braved high heat, humidity and rain. The local black-out was an unfortunate “throwback” to the height of the “Futile Years” of Buccaneer history.

I can recall many a Sunday afternoon growing up as a teen in the 1980’s listening to the radio broadcast of a Bucs home game. Due to the local blackout, I paced the hallway of my boyhood home trying to imagine what was going on across the bay as Mark Champion and then Gene Deckerhoff called the action.

I have faith that the black outs will be temporary. When the Bucs start winning, and yes negative Nellies, I did say “when,” the team will once again sell-out Raymond James and the rest of the Bay Area will be able to watch from the comfort of home.

In the interim I have an idea whose time I think has come. Hey, NFL, let’s go back to the future with the Buccaneers and play home games in September on either Saturday night or late Sunday afternoon. Preferably, Saturday night!

Think I’m crazy? Well, I probably shouldn’t have asked a question I already suspected the answer to. Seriously, at one time September Buccaneer home games were traditionally played either on Saturday night or late Sunday afternoons.

In 1976 the Bucs played their first home game at 1 pm against the San Diego Chargers. Fans melted in 84 degree temperatures and high humidity as the original Bucs lost 23-0. For those not old enough to remember Tampa Stadium, the old Sombrero was a concrete bowl filled with aluminum bleachers. With a hot sun overhead, Tampa Stadium became the gridiron equivalent of a convection oven and all of its patrons became human baked potatoes.

Granted the players on the field suffered as heat indexes approached triple digits, but the fans in the tin foil, I mean stands, also suffered. In fact the original ushers at Tampa Stadium were issued giant spatulas with which to flip over spectators at regular intervals. Okay, I made that last part up.

But in 1977 at the behest of Buccaneer owner Hugh Culverhouse, the NFL allowed the Buccaneers to play their September home games at night or late afternoon. In 1977 the Bucs first home game against the Vikings was played at 8:00 pm on Saturday night. Their second home game against the Redskins was played at 4:00 pm on a Sunday.

In 1978 the Bucs first two home games against the Giants and Lions were played on Saturday nights. Granted theses four games still had temperatures in the 80’s, but those familiar with Tampa Bay weather know that there is a significant difference between temperatures in the 80’s after 4 o’clock and those same temps at 1 o’clock. The sun is less brutal and often there has been a nice shower to take the sting out of the heat.

That was especially true in 1978 and 1979. After their Saturday night games, the Bucs two 4 o’clock Sunday games those years (against the Falcons and Rams respectively) coincided with drenching rain storms that cooled off the spectators.

The trend toward primetime home openers continued in 1980 and 1981. The 1980 game was a rare Thursday night game against the Rams at 9 o’clock. The game was one of those wonderfully named “Monday Night Football: Thursday Night Edition” games. The 1981 opener was a Saturday night game against the Vikings.

1981 was the last time the Bucs opened on a Saturday night and I think the idea should be re-visited. Early September games in Tampa are quite frankly brutal. I recall the 1993 opener against Kansas City and the 2006 opener against Carolina. These were games that made a trek to the concession stand similar to Peter O’Toole’s treks across the desert in “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Seriously, September temperatures in the Bay Area are just as bad as the temperatures in August and last I looked none of the Bucs home pre-season games were being played at 1 o’clock.

At one time the NFL made Saturday night football in Tampa work. The Bucs didn’t win all of them and some were still blacked out locally, but at least the fans that bothered to show up didn’t have to worry about heat stroke. Also, it was a treat to see night football at Tampa Stadium. While it didn’t have the cache of Monday Night Football, being the first game of the NFL season gave Buccaneer fans something to crow about.

I know there are many reasons why bringing back Saturday night openers won’t be accepted: competition with college football, sharing a stadium with USF, television concerns, other NFL teams wanting the same thing, etc. Quite frankly, I don’t care about the reason.

Do the right thing NFL. The Lions and Cowboys can have Thanksgiving in November; give Buc fans Saturday nights in September.