Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad for Tampa Sports
If you’re a Tampa sports fan, you’re taking this year and running with it
If you’re a Tampa sports fan, you aren’t taking this past year lightly. Let’s be honest: in a year that has fueled the fire within us all, testing all of our very fibers and challenging us as a society, as a species, there wasn’t much to look forward to, or to look back upon with joy.
Unless, of course, you’re a Tampa sports fan. In which case, you have been met with success at almost every corner.
The 2020–2021 sports seasons were among the most unusual ever played, mostly due to the pandemic, which forced us to create new work-arounds, and get creative. Many sports were played in front of empty stadiums and arenas, or, later on, ones with limited capacity. That, however, did not stop Tampa sports. It, in fact, may have fueled their fire.
We will begin with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Of course, when the 2019–2020 NHL season was drastically suspended in March 2020 due to the raging pandemic, nobody — no players, coaches or fans — knew what was to come. It was eventually decided that the NHL regular season would end, and the playoffs would be played in a bubble format in Canada.
The Lightning eased their way past the Columbus Blue Jackets to the second round, to take on the highly-competitive Boston Bruins. They were no match for the Lightning, however, as they were eliminated in five games. Then came the real test for the Lightning: the Islanders.
The Eastern Conference Finals were a must watch for any hockey fan, and the only thing missing from it was the raging inferno of the crowd, which would have been insane. Despite that thunder lacking, it did not stop the Lightning, who made quick work of the Islanders, a highly-competitive team, in six games. On to the Stanley Cup they marched, to face the SpongeBob-loving Dallas Stars.
The Lightning did not disappoint. They struck like, well, lightning, and defeated the Dallas Stars in six games, for their first Stanley Cup since 2004. For Tampa sports fans, that was already a Sweet Victory.
A week after the Lightning had hoisted the Stanley Cup and given Tampa their first championship since 2004, the Tampa Bay Rays stormed into the picture.
The Rays, owning the majority of teams throughout their shortened 60-game season, and winning the AL East division for the first time in ten years, cruised into the playoffs, sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays at home, the abysmal dome that is Tropicana Field.
Following this, they left for the bubble, to play their next series at the gorgeous Petco Park in San Diego. Their opponent? The juggernaut New York Yankees, the David to their Goliath. A team with over five times the Rays’ payroll, and the Rays made quick work of them. A botched mess of a Game 2 by manager Aaron Boone and the Yankees’ analytics team essentially allowed the Yankees to dig their own grave.
All the Rays had to do was bury it for good, and this they did.
Although it was a close series, Tampa narrowly defeated the Yankees in a 2–1 victory in Game 5, sending them to the ALCS for the first time since 2008. There, they faced a rematch against the scandalous, cheating Houston Astros, whom the Rays were knocked out by in the playoffs the previous year.
After winning the first three games of the series, Tampa went up 3–0. Only one more victory and they’d surely advance to the World Series. However, they almost became the second baseball team in history to blow a 3–0 series lead, when they went quiet for the next three games, allowing the Astros to win the next three.
On October 17, 2020, it was Game 7 that would decide the Rays’ fate. Would the Astros win that game, launching them to their second straight World Series, and causing the Rays to become only the second team ever to lose a series up 3–0?
The Rays beat the Astros 4–2 that day, propelling them to the World Series. It was their first AL Pennant in twelve years, and it meant that two out of Tampa’s three teams had made it to the championship in the same year. Of course, the Bucs would come later, but we’ll get to that.
Unfortunately for Tampa sports fans, the Rays would fall short in this series, losing the 2020 World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a worthy foe. The Rays simply ran out of gas by Game 6, and were essentially buried. A brutal offseason in which the team’s general manager released the majority of their best players, including trading away ace Blake Snell to the Padres, and allowing ace Charlie Morton to walk in free agency, didn’t help their future.
It is also interesting to note that Los Angeles also had a pretty good 2020 in terms of sports. The Dodgers won the World Series, and the Lakers won the NBA championship, also in the same season. This marks the only time in recent history where two cities won two or more sports championships in the same year (with those cities being Los Angeles and Tampa, of course).
Tampa doesn’t have an NBA team, but the Raptors are playing their home games in Amalie Arena in Tampa this year, due to Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions. So, if the Raptors end up winning the NBA championship again, it could technically be said that the Tampa Raptors are the champions, making Tampa the first city to win all four championships in one year. However, we’re just dreaming at this point, as the Raptors certainly aren’t favorites to win.
You might be certain that Tampa’s sports luck would end there, but alas, you’d certainly be mistaken. Rewind the clock to March 20, 2020, nine days after the COVID-19 crisis was declared a pandemic, when Tom Brady, perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever live, left his renowned New England Patriots, the team that was viewed as his destiny, to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
You see where this is going.
If you’re reading this article when it released, which is the day after Super Bowl LV, then you already know what happened. Or, you saw Tom Brady in the cover image and automatically assumed championship. Well, you’d be right.
The Buccaneers navigated through the 2020 NFL season as a strong team, but to many, not a championship-caliber team. Throughout the season, however, they proved people wrong little-by-little, as Tom Brady led them to numerous victories. They were being led by Tom Brady, so of course the team would be turned around. And it’s not a coincidence that in the first year without Brady, the Patriots missed the playoffs for the first time in twelve years.
And that’s exactly what happened. The Bucs stormed into the playoffs, making quick work of the 7–9 horribly-named Washington Football Team, but let’s be honest: any team which would’ve won the crapshoot NFC East, which was decided on the last day of the season, would’ve gotten stomped in the first round, anyway.
The Bucs moved on to their first real challenge: the New Orleans Saints. If anyone was going to get to Drew Brees and the Saints, it was Tom Brady. The Bucs cruised to the 30–20 victory, sending them to the NFC championship game, where they would face the notorious Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Now, there’s something that hasn’t yet been mentioned here, and that is the Super Bowl curse. You see, before 2021, no team had ever played in the Super Bowl in their home stadium, although teams had come close before. The Super Bowl was to be played in Tampa this year, at the Bucs’ home Raymond James Stadium. This location was picked years in advance, as they all are.
It was viewed as a ‘curse’ that a team in the playoffs, in which the Super Bowl was to be played in their home stadium, would be destined to fail, getting eliminated from the playoffs before they could see their dreams of playing in the Super Bowl at their own stadium, in front of their own fans. Just ask the Vikings, for crying out loud.
Well, if there was a team to break this curse, it would be Brady’s Bucs.
The Bucs fought to defeat the Packers 31–26 in a decisive NFC championship game, breaking the curse and advancing to Super Bowl LV, which was to be played at their home stadium, Raymond James Stadium, in Tampa. Off the team flew, back home, to play in the Super Bowl.
Two weeks later, on February 7, 2021, it was game time.
The Bucs were facing the oh-so-powerful, juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs. Led by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, they were the favorites to win the Super Bowl. There always seemed to be nothing the Chiefs could not do.
Well, aside from draw penalties. And draw, they did. This gave Brady plenty of chances against the Chiefs, and the Bucs made them pay. The Bucs absolutely demolished the Chiefs by a score of 31–9, embarrassing the Chiefs in front of the Bucs’ home fans. The Chiefs’ performance in Super Bowl LV was comparable to that of The Weeknd’s halftime show: abysmal and nauseating at every corner. I mean, who can forget the horrid, motion sickness-inducing portion of the halftime show, in which The Weeknd handheld a camera and jumped around everywhere with weird mask-wearing zombie men? Not me.
Either way, the Bucs broke the curse by not only making it to a home Super Bowl, but by winning the whole thing as well. This topped off a year for Tampa sports teams in which they went 2–1 in championships, with the Lightning and Bucs winning their respective championships, and the Rays making it, but falling short.
Regardless, if you’re a Tampa sports fan, or a general sports fan who’s into curse-breaking and magic, you have to be satisfied with how the 2020–21 seasons played out. And this is all coming from a New York sports fan, for crying out loud.
Sports are a unique and amazing accomplishment for humans. They represent our drive to be competitive, to win, but do so in a civil manner. Rather than hunt and kill each other in competition, we battle it out in a civil manner on the field or court, for recognition and fame, filling that competitive nature.
And no city is feeling that right now more than Tampa, Florida.
Chris is a writer and publisher who travels America, and loves doing it. He also loves pizza, video games, and sports, and can tell you a thing or two about each. Follow him on Medium to be informed of new articles.