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The Loop

God help us, Tampa Bay is now the best sports town

September 25, 2020

Al Bello

Before August, the last time I bothered thinking about the city of Tampa Bay in a sports context (or any context), it was when they were threatening to send their baseball team to Montreal for half the season. That story was somehow real, a bit funny and a bit sad, and still might happen in 2028. Go Expos.

But now, months later, I opened my eyes and it's a whole new world. Look at the madness that is happening right now:

1. The Montreal Tampa Bay Rays have just won the AL East.

2. The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the Stanley Cup finals, and are leading 2-1. Which proves what I've been saying for years: Tampa Bay is hockeytown.

3. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, previously known for winning the world's most boring Super Bowl with the world's worst Super Bowl-winning quarterback and holding the worst franchise record of any active NFL team, are now home to Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Leonard Fournette, and are arguably one of the three most fun teams in the NFL. We don't know if they're any good yet, but they beat the Panthers!

Regarding the Tampanaissance (tm), it's tempting to say something like "well, this is classic 2020." But I would argue that it is, in fact, not classic 2020. This year's go-to move is to hasten the hellish spiral by rewarding the most malevolent entities and generating the worst possible outcomes in order to stomp on the remains of our hope. That's the modus operandi of the current simulation. This...this is not quite the same thing. Tampa Bay is not Boston.

It's also tempting to call the whole thing inspiring, and to cast Tampa Bay as the plucky underdog. This, too, is wrong. I'm sure Tampa Bay has some good NFL fans, but so does every city; it's easy to have a thriving NFL culture. I want to talk about their baseball fanbase. In the Rays, you have one of the strongest, smartest teams in MLB, who routinely out-perform their own miserly payroll with savvy management and who even made a World Series . . . and nobody will turn up for them. Any time the Yankees or Red Sox are in town, it's a home game for the visiting team, because all the northeastern transplants outnumber the "regulars." When those teams aren't in town, Tropicana Field is just empty. I grew up in upstate New York, and our closest MLB stadium was Stade Olympique in Montreal. Even as a kid, I understood that the Expos fanbase was laughably bad, and I thought I'd never see anything worse in North American professional sports. Rays "fans" have proved me wrong.

But look . . . reality is reality. Tampa Bay is now an athletic hub, and probably the hottest sports city in America today. Plus, if the NBA is your jam, the Miami Heat are one game away from the NBA finals, and since Tampa doesn't have a team, most of its residents are probably Heat fans. (I hope none of them bother rooting for the Magic.)

How do we cope with that? I don't have the answers. But I'll say this: If they're going to horde the nation's sports mojo, then the rest of us should make it our mission to horde Cigar City beer. They're Tampa too, and are probably the best craft brewery in the country. Don't let them have championships and great beer. Steal our sports, and we'll steal your alcohol. It will be like the Boston Tea Party all over again, but cooler, and drunker. Strange situations in strange times call for strange solutions. Someone get me a Jai Alai.