The paths of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders have rarely crossed since the Buccaneers beat the Raiders, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXXVIII following the 2002 season. But the two teams — which did play in the regular season in 2004 and 2008 — are at the center this week of a timeless debate: Does winning lure fans to the stadium in cities particularly ravaged by the recession?
The Raiders followed up their Super Bowl loss by becoming the first National Football League team to ever suffer seven straight 10-loss seasons and play in a market that has an unemployment rate of 20 percent. The team ended a streak of 11 straight non-sellouts at Oakland-Alameda County Stadium — and corresponding local TV blackouts — in resounding fashion Sunday, November 7 by coming back from a fourth quarter deficit to edge their hated rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs, 20-17, in overtime.
The win, the Raiders’ third in a row, raised their record to 5-4 — the latest they have been above .500 in a season since 2002 — and moved them just a half-game behind the first-place Chiefs in the AFC West.
Prior to the Chiefs game, Raiders rookie Rolando McClain implored fans to come to the Coliseum and promised he’d break his year-long silence with the local media if the game was a sellout. “I wanted the sellout because I knew we were about to do something special,” McClain told reporters this week. “I just wanted the fans’ support.”
The Buccaneers, who have been back to the playoffs twice since the Super Bowl win but were expected to struggle again this season after going 3-13 last year, had a big game of their own last weekend, when they visited the Atlanta Falcons in an unexpected battle for first place in the NFC South. The Buccaneers nearly mounted their own fourth quarter rally before they were stuffed on fourth-and-goal at the Falcons’ two-yard-line in the final two minutes of a 27-21 loss.
Alas, the Buccaneers’ 5-3 start and a winnable home game this Sunday, November 14, against the woeful Carolina Panthers (1-7) wasn’t enough to reverse the season-long trend of empty seats at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers did not sell out the Panthers game by the Thursday, November 11 deadline and do not expect to sell out any of their three remaining home games.
With an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent, according to TheStreet.com, the Tampa economy is in bad shape — albeit not as bad as in Oakland. But after nearly a decade of uninterrupted losing, Raiders fans seem more likely to dig deep to see their favorite team than their more skeptical brethren in Tampa, where, as the Tampa Tribune’s Martin Fennelly noted in a column that appeared Monday, November 1, the Buccaneers are just two seasons removed from missing the playoffs despite starting the season 9-3.