(Editor's note: ESPN's Bob McClellan grew up in Central Florida, and his father bought six Buccaneers season tickets in 1976. His brother maintains four of them to this day.)
This will be the 10th time I’ve watched quarterback Tom Brady in a Super Bowl, but the first time I’ve rooted for him.
I’m probably not the only Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan in that ship. It’s nothing personal. The New England Patriots were favored so heavily so often, and I’m just not the kind of guy who pulls for the overdog.
But in March 2020, after 20 seasons in New England under the guidance/thumb of coach Bill Belichick, Brady went from somebody else’s guy to my Tommy.
I rejoiced and texted the news to my brother, Bill, who took over our family’s Bucs season tickets in 2003 after my dad passed away.
Here we are 10 months later, and the signing of a lifetime has already paid off. The Bucs will be the first team to play at home in the Super Bowl. It’s like holding a lottery ticket that has hit all the numbers and now you’re just waiting on the Powerball to see how many vacation homes in far-flung locales you can afford.
My family’s history, my career, many of the best moments of my life, are tied to the Buccaneers franchise. So I guess there are a few things you should know about why Brady’s accomplishment means so much to me. Why I screamed, yelled, admonished and cajoled Brady and coach Bruce Arians during the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers while alone in my house in Franklin, Tennessee.
My dad bought six season tickets for the Bucs' inaugural season. His thought process behind six was one for him and a buddy, one for Bill and a buddy of his, and one for me and a buddy of mine. We’d pile into my dad’s van, my mom would pack food for a tailgate, and we’d drive the 80 miles from my hometown of Ocala, Florida, to Tampa. We’d leave at 10 a.m. for 1 p.m. home games, giving us plenty of time to find a place to park, eat and walk to the stadium.
We had great seats, too. Originally six on the aisle, six rows up, at about the goal line in the West stands. I was just a kid, but what a blast it was back in the day. Lee Roy Selmon, Richard “Batman” Wood, Mark Cotney, Doug Williams, Ricky Bell, Jimmie Giles. Some names you’ll remember even if you’re not a Bucs fan; some only a Bucs connoisseur will recall. Yes, I was there the first time the Bucs won a home game (too bad it was the franchise’s 28th game, but whatever!). Yes, I was there when the Bucs played at home in the 1979 NFC Championship against the Los Angeles Rams.
In 1977 at the age of 12, I wrote a letter to the team and asked to interview coach John McKay. I was young and stupid -- I didn’t even include a return address. But the team replied a year later to the sports editor of the newspaper in Ocala and invited me to come down to practice and sit with McKay afterward. Imagine that. Williams missed practice with a broken jaw that was wired shut; the team PR guy let me interview him while we watched practice. McKay took me back to his office after practice, just me and him. He sat behind the largest desk I’d ever seen, lit up the fattest cigar I’d ever seen, and proceeded to answer all of my questions. The Ocala Star-Banner ran my Q&A with my first byline.
It’s 43 years and countless bylines later, and I’ve been a professional sports journalist for more than 30 of them. Bill, an attorney in Orlando, has gone on to have two sons (Billy, 28, and Connor, 25), just as my parents did. And he began taking them to games when they were boys just as my dad had. The seats have gotten better over the years. After I left Florida to work at the newspaper in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2000, my dad and Bill cut back to four tickets. The seats are four rows up, still on the aisle, around the 25-yard line, same West stands.
My father died six weeks before the Buccaneers won their first Super Bowl after the 2002 season; in fact, Bill got the word of his passing while he was on the way to the Bucs-Falcons game in December 2002 with Connor. They were to have met my dad and a cousin at the game.
Bill found out Tuesday via email from the Buccaneers that because of his standing as a season-ticket holder and the fact he opted in for this COVID-affected season (he ended up with tickets to three games), he’s in a lottery for two Super Bowl tickets at face value. There’s no mention in the email if it’s a weighted lottery; I hope a guy with at least four tickets for 45 years has a better chance than someone who has had two for two years, for example. The email says he’ll find out if he’s won the lottery on or before Monday then has 24 hours to purchase them.
Bill is 58 now. Always been a fairly quiet guy unless you knew him well. Even those who know him well don’t know this, because he’s not been public about it: He beat cancer this year. Almost assuredly because of early detection.
He’ll watch the game with Billy (in fact, the Bucs beat the Packers on Billy’s 28th birthday). Connor has moved to Nashville, and I spoke to him Sunday night about coming to my house for the game. He said he’s in, then we spoke briefly about his grandfather and the last time the Bucs made a Super Bowl.
“I don’t know if this really happened, but I remember when we got the call about grandpa and turned around and went home,” Connor told me. “I swear I was watching the game on TV and saw a shot of our four empty seats.”
I got a little choked up. I’m just glad I didn’t lose another family member this year before a Bucs Super Bowl.
Go get it, Tom.