First-year head coach Greg Schiano and club co-chairman Bryan Glazer made an emotional appeal to fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tuesday, challenging supporters to turn Raymond James Stadium into an inhospitable facility for opponents when the 2012 season opens against the Carolina Panthers.
Speaking at a Chamber of Commerce "Chalk Talk'' luncheon at the Grand Hyatt, Glazer and Schiano implored fans to provide the Bucs with a boost in Sunday's regular-season opener against an NFC South division rival that romped past Tampa Bay twice last season.
"We'd love to see everyone take advantage of our revamped pricing and our enhanced fan experience at Raymond James Stadium,'' Glazer said. "We're going to need you in our corner when we kick off at 4:25 this Sunday so we can re-establish a stadium atmosphere that fuels our team and frustrates our opponent.''
Sunday's opener is in jeopardy of being blacked out in the local television market unless there is a significant ticket rush by Thursday's 4:25 p.m. deadline to declare a sellout of non-premium tickets. Last week, the club acknowledged the Bucs were 9,000 seats short of a sellout in their effort to avoid the 14th blackout in 16 NFL games at Raymond James Stadium.
Schiano recalled the intimidating atmosphere surrounding the inaugural game at Tampa Bay's new facility, when the Bucs faced the Bears on Sept. 20, 1998, and Schiano was a member of Chicago's coaching staff.
"It was hot and the crowd was crazy and we jumped out to a quick lead,'' Schiano said. "The Bucs scored 17 straight points and they prevailed (27-15). I can remember the pressure on our team with the elements and the fans. We need to get it back that way, so when every football team comes out of the tunnel, they know, 'Oh man, I'm in for a long day.' "
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik also attended the luncheon, along with free agent receiver Vincent Jackson and Tampa Bay's two first-round draft choices, safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin.
"I promise you, we will make you proud,'' Schiano told an audience of Tampa Bay power brokers, which included St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster. "Proud of the way we play, proud of the way we live. I'm going to ask you guys for a favor. When you're at the club, restaurant or office, grab someone on your right and on your left and start talking about the Bucs.
"We need to make the Bucs the buzz again. I promise you these guys and my coaching staff will do our part on the field. If you will do your part in your communities, we will get that stadium to again become the biggest home-field advantage in the National Football League.''