As I began my journey back to Minnesota following the ‘Travesty in Tampa,’ the sunshine replaced the gloomy haze from the sky over Georgia. Everything in my path lit up. It was a beautiful morning.
Cruising down the freeway at 80 miles per hour, I was a bit puzzled when all of a sudden a person walked across the road 100 yards in front of my car.
‘What the hell?’ I thought to myself… ‘Why is there a person walking across the freeway at 7am?’
About 3 minutes later, it started making sense.
Brake lights appeared in the distance. Then multiple highway patrols. Up ahead, no less than 20 police cars lined the right side of the road.
Must be an accident, I figured.
I got a little closer.
A white car was totaled in the ditch alongside the trees. I couldn’t tell if it had hit a tree, the median, or both. A massive dent appeared on the driver’s side along with dark marks that streaked down the entire length of the car.
As I pulled even with the car, checking to see if everyone was okay, something unexpected happened.
Much to my surprise, I saw a man handcuffed and kneeling in front of the white car. He was surrounded by police. There were no ambulances in sight.
‘What is going on?’
Just then, my dad called. I explained what I had seen.
“It must have been a police chase,” he said.
“Whoa. Nice!” I replied, putting it all together just then. The guy walking across the road earlier must have been setting up cones to close a lane.
At that point, I needed a little excitement. Road trips can be SO boring. They’re like watching the Vikings’ offense. You can be lulled to sleep by the predictable routine and then every so often something crazy happens. This trip was no exception.
Raymond James Stadium has always been one of my favorites. As someone who enjoys the architecture and energy of a stadium almost as much as the gameday experience, it’s an impressive, symmetrical, well-designed structure that’s conveniently surrounded by parking.
I was first there in 2008, when the legendary Jeff Garcia quarterbacked the Bucs. This time around, things were quite a bit different.
First, Covid-19 limitations held the capacity to 16,000 fans. In order to enter the game I had to fill out a questionnaire in order to receive a green check mark indicating I had not been exposed to anyone who tested positive for the virus within two weeks. There was extra staff in place to help fans who had questions.
Even with beautiful weather conditions, the bustling energy that typically reverberates around an NFL stadium on gameday was noticeably reduced. There was no tailgating in the parking lots. As my cousin Tim and I walked from the car to the stadium, a security guard told two adult men (one in a Vikings jersey, the other in a Bucs jersey) to stop throwing a football to one another. It seemed a bit unusual as the activity appeared to be harmless, but, that’s 2020.
“This is the first exercise I’ve gotten in three years and you’re telling me to stop,” one of the gentlemen jokingly told the guard before he peacefully obliged.
Once inside the stadium, masks were required at all times unless eating or drinking.
Important note: The chicken tenders were decent — spiced well but a little stringy. The waffle fries were very crispy and probably the best I’ve had at a football game. Also, I may or may not have had four Yuenglings.
The spacing of seats in my section worked like this: There were three, two-person clusters in every other row. In my row was myself and my cousin (seats 23/24), a couple in the middle (seats 11/12), and another couple on the other end (seats 1/2). Behind us was an open row. Then the following row was the same as ours. This configuration looked to be fairly consistent throughout the stadium, and obviously adjusted based on section size.
Another major difference: the home team. Tampa Bay has not only upgraded quarterbacks since the Garcia days, the rest of the team is considerably better, too. And the stadium reflected that, decked out with giant banners of players from the Bucs’ fantasy-football-like roster.
The tepid Tampa crowd of 2008 was nowhere to be seen. It’s been replaced by a much rowdier, rambunctious fanbase that’s eyeing it’s first Super Bowl since 2003.
Still, of the 16,000 in attendance, there was a considerable amount of purple. I would guess it was close to a 50/50 ratio in the area I was sitting. And it was impossible to ignore the energy coming from the Vikings fans, knowing how big of a game was at hand.
The national anthem was sung remotely by a choir over Zoom. A four-jet flyover followed.
Shortly after kickoff, things looked promising for the visitors. The Vikings utilized extra blockers in the run game and had a terrific opening drive. They marched down the field and put up six points. Of course, the extra point was missed.
But as the game progressed, a feeling of déjà vu struck me. I had seen this game before. And sure enough, the same exact storyline of each and every Vikings road game I’ve ever attended came to fruition:
The Vikings looked impressive out of the gate, got off to a decent start, took the lead, then slowly but surely they gave back the lead. And because of self-destructive mistakes, they ultimately lost the game. It’s a formula that hasn’t failed.
The offensive line was porous. The defensive line was ineffective. The officiating was bad — some of the worst I’ve ever seen. And the field goal kicking was even worse. What’s more, the Vikings lacked confidence. They simply did not have the swagger needed to win on the road, let alone against a good Bucs team.
It was a concerning performance, and honestly, I didn’t care. Not this day. It was 80 degrees and sunny. I was drinking a beer, watching a game I love next to one of my favorite family members. I didn’t realize how much I missed being around other human beings. For a few hours, things felt almost back to normal again.