Welcome to ‘Champa’ Bay (PHOTOS)

In March 2020, Tom Brady made national headlines when he announced he would be moving south and joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Some people were shocked, and some savvy observers say they called it.

Me, I was flabbergasted. “Huh? Can 2020 get any more bizarre?” Full disclosure: For those that do not already know, I’m a born and raised St. Petersburg native.

Growing up we had a team that wore Creamsicle-orange uniforms and wasn’t a title-owning franchise yet.

When we did win the Super Bowl in 2003, beating the Raiders, 48-21, it was a pretty big deal for us. Our team had finally made it on the elusive Super Bowl champion map.

I would never have thought this was the year we’d do it again.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made history as the first NFL team to not only head to the Super Bowl in its own host city, but to win. That’s insane.

“What a better opportunity to step up and show the world that big events can happen again,” Brian Ford, chief operating officer of the Buccaneers, says.

Tom Brady walked away with his seventh Super Bowl ring and the Buccaneers nabbed their second Super Bowl victory.

But it was truly a victory for the whole region, Ford says, adding that everyone from the Coast Guard to the local police chiefs, to the fans, all made it happen.

Thanks to coronavirus safety protocols, only 22,000 fans were allowed in the stadium Sunday, including 7,500 vaccinated health care workers that were invited by the NFL.

“We’ve never been more proud of how all of our ‘Team Tampa Bay’ partners rose to the unprecedented, and unique, challenges that we collectively faced throughout the host effort,” Rob Higgins, president and CEO of the Super Bowl Host Committee, says. “It took relentless hard work, and ingenuity, by countless partners but our hometown made it happen and the result was our region shining bright on the biggest of stages.”

ESPN posted up behind the TradeWinds Island Grand Resort on St. Pete Beach, CBS Sports had a presence near the Hillsborough River behind Armature Works. The backdrop for news programs showed off the area in all of its glory.

If you lived anywhere else, you would probably be a little envious at the picturesque backdrop. Yes, you do wish you lived here.

“This was a brochure for Tampa Bay,” Ford says.

At press time, the economic numbers were still being calculated, but they will show, in better detail, how much money came into the region, from restaurants to hotels. But the clout that comes from being a “championship” town, as MasterCard likes to say, is priceless.

The year 2020 had a lot going on. But for Tampa Bay area sports, it was a banner year.

The Tampa Bay Lightning brought home the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Rays went to the World Series and came home American League champs. The Tampa Bay Rowdies won the Eastern Conference.

Call us “Champa Bay” or call us “Title Town,” but don’t call us underdogs anymore. Our major-league sports teams have proved they are the ones to beat.

“If there’s one thing I could share with your readers, it is a big thank you for your support,” Ford says. “This is a sports town.”

And we couldn’t be prouder.

Photos by Mike Carlson, Matt May and Kyle Zedaker | Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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