A Nod To The Big Sombrero
By Dave Ford
History has shown us that concrete structures built to entertain the masses for the purpose of sport can stand the test of time, even if during that time not many victories were achieved by the home team. And like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have more or less suffered from an identity crisis for most of their existence, such was the case for its home venue.
It was officially known by two names over the span of 23 years: Tampa Stadium and Houlihan’s Stadium. But by the time it was demolished on April 11, 1999, the structure was affectionately referred to as “The Big Sombrero.” And general affection, as in the lovable loser type, was about all this writer ever felt about the stadium. On several occasions as a kid growing up in the 1980s, my dad would get us into the stadium literally five minutes before kickoff, knowing full well he could pay for two of the cheapest seats in the house. And eventually when everyone else left their high-dollar spots because the Bucs were so awful, we could mosey on down closer to the field.
But by 1997, times had clearly changed. The days of showing up minutes before kickoff were long gone – replaced by sellout crowds and an ever-growing waiting list for season tickets. Then-head coach Tony Dungy had turned what had historically been one of the longest standing laughing stocks in all of sports into a contender nearly overnight. In fact, that same year, the team hosted its first playoff game since 1979 when the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Bucs 9-0 in the NFC Championship Game. This time, however, Tampa’s fortunes were different.
On Dec. 28, 1997, the Bucs dominated Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders and the visiting Detroit Lions 20-10 in their NFC Wildcard contest. It was the last game the team ever played in “The Big Sombrero,” as it made a lateral move next door to the newly-built Raymond James Stadium in 1998. What had begun as the site of perennial losers ended on top as the place of winners.