My experience in one word….HOT! Like many Michiganders, I have traveled to Florida multiple times during the winter months for even just an extended weekend vacation, but I underestimated and I was not prepared for the late summer/early fall Florida weather. However, when I saw people wearing Bucs’ gear receiving aid from stadium staff, and even a few fans leave on stretchers, I knew that it wasn’t just me and my Michigan blood, but it was in fact really HOT!
It was early September 2011, and I traveled to Florida to visit some friends and also go see my beloved Detroit Lions play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I flew from Michigan to Fort Myers and stayed at my friends place for a few days before a group of 5 or 6 of us drove up to the Tampa area for the weekend. We were all in our mid-20’s and liked to party so my friend booked us a hotel room at the Hampton Inn near the lively nightlife area of Ybor City (historic neighborhood in Tampa). We had a blast, there were several bars within a few block walk of the hotel. Ybor City is an interesting place for sure, I don’t think I would recommend hanging out in this area if you have a family or children with you, but for a group of singles, it was a great time. If you want something closer to Raymond James Stadium, there are plenty of other hotel options that are closer.
On game day morning, we loaded up the car and drove to the stadium area, it was about 6 miles and due to traffic it took about 25 minutes to drive there from Ybor City (be aware of increasing traffic as the time gets closer to kickoff). Raymond James Stadium is located in an open area, pretty close to the Tampa airport. There is plenty of open field parking and tailgating all around the stadium. I can’t remember the exact price, but I think it cost around $25 or $30 to park.
Now to begin, I have to say that the game was a television black out in the local area, so it was by no means a capacity crowd. Once in the stadium, we found our seats in the upper deck at about the 35 yard line. The date was September 11, 2011 (10 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks), and they did a wonderful pregame memorial, with a large American flag and also a fly over. I looked around and I was shocked when I saw the amount of other fellow Lions fans. I would estimate, that of the fans in the stadium at game time, it was at least 30 – 35 percent Lions fans. Keep in mind that this was Week #1 of the season, and the year prior, the Bucs finished 10-6 but did not make the playoffs. I thought that coming off of a winning season would inspire some optimism locally, but after seeing the fan turnout and finding out it was a TV black out, I guess I was wrong. Since there were so many Lions fans, we didn’t get harassed by the Tampa Bay fanbase at all. For the most part, all of the Bucs fans around us seemed pretty well behaved. The stadium itself looked very nice and seeing the pirate ship in the endzone was really cool and it adds great character to the stadium. But, like I mentioned at the beginning, the thing that sticks out in my memory the most from this stadium trip, was the heat. It was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity was also 90%. During the game, fans were going below the stands and laying down on the concrete in the concessions area, stadium staff were then dumping bags of ice on top of them. At one point, I thought I was going to pass out as well, so I put my beer down, went down below the stands, and slammed 2 or 3 bottles of water.
The Lions won! After the game, my friends then drove the short distance to the Tampa International Airport (TPA) and dropped me off. The stadium being so close to the airport turned out to be very convenient for me.
All in all, my experience at Raymond James Stadium was good. Would I go back? Absolutely, but preferably not in September, maybe I’ll aim for December next time!
Name: Raymond James Stadium
Location: Tampa, Florida, United States
Primary Sport(s): American Football
Tenant(s): Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Year Opened: 1998