Welcome to Champa Bay, Florida’s scenic and successful sports city. Home of the Lightning, the Buccaneers, and the Rays, the city of Tampa has seen some astronomical highs and lows in its athletic history. We combed through the records to compile this list of the five worst and best moments in Tampa Bay sports teams history.
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Let’s talk about the high points first. These are five of the most glorious moments in Tampa sports history.
The year 2008 was a hallmark year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Finishing in last place the year before, they had something to prove. Prove it they did in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox. It was a grueling series, with the Rays dropping Games 5 and 6 and looking like they may lose their first real shot at the World Series. At the bottom of the eighth, bases were loaded, and rookie pitcher David Price was called in to save the game. Three strikeouts and one grounded ball later, the Rays were headed to their franchise first World Series. More on that later.
Speaking of stealing from Boston, let’s talk about the biggest contract Tampa Bay has ever seen — signing legendary athletes Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski in 2020. The massively controversial move from Brady, considering his 20-year relationship with the Patriots, ushered in a new era for the Bucs. It doesn’t hurt that Gronk left his retired life to join Brady in Tampa Bay. Bucs fans know how this one went: A 43-year old Brady led the team to its second Super Bowl appearance and brought home the W.
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Manon Rheaume played in only one preseason game for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but one game was all it took to make history. A goalie, she was the first woman to appear in an NHL game and the last. Still, Rheaume’s impact can’t be understated. A legend in women’s hockey in her own right, her National Hockey League debut at Amalie Arena signaled the possibility of gender equality on the ice. While we still have miles to go there, it’s important to remember if it can happen in 1992, it can happen again.
By 1977, the newly minted Tampa Bay Buccaneers had played 26 games and lost 26 games, achieving one of the worst NFL records of all time. Shoutout to the Detroit Lions for joining the Bucs in the National Football League loser's circle — it was getting a little lonely in there. Finally, on December 11, 1977, the Bucs’ bad luck ended.
In the first meeting between the Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints, the Bucs scored 33 points and secured their first victory. It also became the origin story for the rivalry between the two franchises, which lives on today.
It’s hard to imagine, given their dominance over the last couple of years, but there was a time when the Tampa Bay Lightning had not yet held the Stanley Cup. That all changed in 2004 when Ruslan Fedotenko scored two goals in Game 7 of the series, securing the Lightning’s first championship win. Coming off an incredible season, having secured 39 points in regular games, Fedotenko brought some glory to the franchise and a sparkle that has yet to dull.
Now let’s take a look at the lows. Cue sad, slow violin music.
Coming off the high of winning the Superbowl in 2003, you’d think the team was ready to put their best feet forward in the next. You’d think. Strained relationships off the field doomed the team that year, as loyalties divided the players.
In December, general manager Rich McKay left the team to join the Falcons, and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was traded to the Dallas Cowboys, following some bumps with coach Jon Gruden. In the end, the Bucs were just another victim to the “Super Bowl hangover,” experiencing a quick fall from grace.
The Rays’ triumphant march into the 2008 World Series at Tropicana Field had all the makings of a historic run. They went from the worst team in the league to the first, overcoming the odds and doing so in style. Then came the rains. Bad weather in Philly delayed several nights of the World Series, and in the end, the Rays lost the championship, four games to one.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking element here is how close they got. There was a spirit in the roster that year, and the Rays were spinning a story the whole nation could get behind. Sadly, they couldn’t get it done, and to this day, the Rays have never won a Major League Baseball championship.
Like the Rays, the Lightning knows the pain of coming so close to winning it all. Entering the playoffs as the fifth-seed, the Lightning’s prospects didn’t look too hot after three dropped games against the Penguins. Miraculously, the team fought back, took the series, swept the Washington Capitals in the next one, and set their sights on the Stanley Cup. In the end, the Boston Bruins would beat them there, winning Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final. It was a painful loss for most Lightning fans as their unexpected hot streak came to a crashing halt.
This kind of a thing stays with a player, and it has certainly stayed with Bert Emmanuel. With 51 seconds left to play and one successful possession away from a spot in the Super Bowl, the Bucs had a lot to lose and a lot to gain. After a big catch from Emmanuel brought the Bucs to the Rams’ 23-yard-line, things were looking up. That is until refs inexplicably called the catch incomplete after further review.
Claiming Emmanuel had used the ground to control the ball, the Bucs lost their edge and chance at the Super Bowl. The NFL rewrote the rule on caught balls because of how controversial this call was. It was both a historic and heartbreaking moment for Bucs fans.
There was no better team on the ice in 2019. The Lightning set records throughout the regular season, tying the NHL record for regular-season wins and earning the envy of many with Nikita Kucherov’s 128-point season. They even won their franchise’s first President’s Trophy. And because that wasn’t enough history for this team, they also became the first President’s Trophy winner to get swept and shut out of the first round of the playoffs. The Blue Jackets destroyed the Lightning in a surprise to everyone. Womp womp.
Tampa Bay may have experienced its share of losses, but that doesn’t stop fans from showing up week after week to cheer on its teams. Whether it’s at the Trop or the Ray Jay, these Floridian fans know patience and loyalty always win in the end.
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