Raheem Morris a big hit with hockey crowd

The man who got the biggest ovation at Tuesday’s NHL playoff game between Tampa Bay and Washington might not have been a hockey player.

It might have been Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris. His appearance was brief, as his faced flashed on the scoreboard for maybe 10 seconds as the Lightning showed video greetings of Tampa Bay dignitaries and MC Hammer, who has no formal ties to the area that I’m aware of. Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria drew big applause.

But the cheer when Morris’ face appeared was much bigger. In fact, much of the crowd probably wasn’t able to hear what Morris said. I couldn’t make it out entirely. But it was some play off the Lightning’s “All In’’ marketing campaign and Morris wished success to the local hockey team.

This was significant on several levels. It shows Morris’ popularity is growing. There was a time when he was first hired, when not many people would have recognized him. There were times during his first season, a 3-13 campaign in 2009, when people didn’t want to recognize him.

But it’s amazing what the Bucs’ 10-6 record last season has done. It’s helped make Morris into a very popular figure in Tampa Bay and it’s a good thing that he’s not just staying in his lane. He’s gone out to Rays’ games and formed a close bond with Rays’ manager Joe Maddon. That’s great because their jobs allow them to relate to each other.

Speaking of relating, the willingness of Morris and the Bucs to film the spot that was shown last night was a very smart move. The Lightning are selling out right now. But that’s largely because they’re deep in the NHL playoffs. They haven’t always sold out.

That’s been a problem for the Rays and Buccaneers as well. The Bucs were unable to sell out Raymond James Stadium a single time last season. Kind of surprising that attendance figures have lagged at home games for all three of Tampa Bay’s major sports franchises at a time when all three have had some recent success.

Yeah, they all may be competing for the same disposable-income dollars. But it’s nice to see the teams working together (running back Cadillac Williams and linebacker Adam Hayward were in the stands as fans Tuesday night) and building good relationships. Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer talked at the NFL owners meeting in March and one of the topics was how the team has had talks with the Rays and Lightning about the challenges they face in selling tickets and how they’ve shared ideas with each other.

That’s a great thing. The Bucs, Lightning and Rays don’t need to view each other as competitors. They need to view each other as teammates because they’re all in the same boat and the economic water in these parts is choppy right now.