TAMPA, Fla. — Daniel Gerard moved to Tampa two years ago from Boston, one of the many who have flocked to Florida from up north for the promise of warmer weather, no state income tax and a calmer way of life.
Since the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win in the 2001 season, Gerard had been a die-hard fan of New England and Tom Brady. His allegiance to other Boston teams sometimes wavered, but it never did to the Patriots and TB12.
Then something strange happened. Brady was leaving the Patriots after 20 seasons, and before most Boston fans could wrap their heads around that, he signed with a team that is the antithesis of them. New England has won six Super Bowls in the past two decades. The Bucs have had only six winning seasons in the past 20 years.
The night two weeks ago when news surfaced that Brady-to-Tampa Bay was going to become a reality, Gerard went to the Bucs’ season-ticket website and waited through thousands ahead of him in the queue. The next morning, he bought two season tickets in the corner end zone just before the team raised prices for new season tickets 15 percent.
“I’m all in on the Bucs now,” said Gerard, 40, who works in technical support for a payroll company. “I was really excited about the Super Bowl being here (in February). I was looking forward to the Patriots being in the Super Bowl here with Brady. But with him leaving the team, it’s no longer the Patriots I’m favoring. I’m now favoring the Bucs.”
The Bucs haven’t been to the playoffs in 12 years, and their fans have become disenchanted — they’ve had just one winning season over the past nine years — to the point that last season the Bucs ranked 30th out of the 32 NFL teams in home attendance.
But there might be no single acquisition that can transition a fan base like Brady, especially among fans of his former team.
Yes, Patriots fans are turning into Bucs fans because they love Tom Brady.
“We will treat Bucs games like Patriots games at my house,” said Dennis Gaudet, a longtime Patriots fan in Revere, Mass. “And I’d much rather watch Tom Brady and the Bucs than Jarrett Stidham and the Patriots. My priority will be the Bucs.
“The Bucs are in the NFC. If somehow they meet (the Patriots) in the Super Bowl, among my friends, half of us will be rooting for Brady and (the) Bucs, and half for the Patriots. I swear to God. That’s no lie.”
That’s already a lot of Super Bowl talk for a Bucs team that owns the lowest winning percentage of any NFL franchise. But one thing about Boston sports fans: They have become used to winning. Besides the Patriots’ six titles, the Red Sox have won four World Series since 2003, the Celtics claimed the NBA title in 2008, and the Bruins hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011.
Tampa Bay has its share of Boston sports fans. Like Gerard, many are transplants who arrive with their hometown allegiances. And they don’t lie in the weeds. They fill up Tropicana Field when the Red Sox are in town, and the “Let’s go, Bruins” chant sweeps over Amalie Arena when the Lightning host.
The closest comparable scenario of Boston fans turning into Tampa Bay fans would be if say, David Ortiz, and not Manny Ramirez, had finished his career with the Rays. But Brady is different: Not only is he the greatest quarterback of all time, with the most Super Bowl rings of any player, he’s an iconic figure who can transcend team allegiances.
He represented Boston well and connected with its fans.
“There are guys who have come and gone where it doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, but Tom Brady leaving, it’s a little bit more,” said Matt Pereira, a realtor who moved to Tampa from Tewksbury, Mass., five years ago. “I was 15 when they won that first Super Bowl, and ever since then, that’s your boy. You expect to win as a Patriots fan with Tom Brady as your quarterback. And now that’s all going to change.”
Pereira also bought Bucs season tickets before the price hike. Now his problem is picking among his friends who to take to games. Demand is high. Pereira still considers himself a Patriots fan but said he will buy a Brady Bucs jersey.
“My phone is blowing up,” he said. “(The Bucs) only play eight home games, but I already have 12 friends who want to come down. Some of my friends who do live up north did buy (Bucs) season tickets and are planning on coming down for probably half of the games. That’s how much people love Tom Brady and want to watch him.”
The Brady fan base in itself is unprecedented. Before last year, Brady was the top-selling NFL player in officially licensed, player-identified merchandise, a Players Association study said. Brady has ranked in the top three a record 17 straight times in the study, which comes out four times a year. Brady currently holds the No. 2 spot, with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes taking over at No. 1 in the third quarter of the last fiscal year.
And for the long-suffering Bucs fan living in New England, life is suddenly different.
“It’s been outstanding,” said Mike Griczika, a 26-year-old math teacher in Gardner, Mass. “This is the one time I can gloat to all my friends. The boot is on the other foot now. It’s been pretty rough the past 10 years now.
“You should have heard my friends making fun of me about the 30-30 (touchdown passes-interceptions) season Jameis (Winston) was having (last year). I was berated. Every meme with Jameis was sent to me. Every Bucs game, I’d have to turn my phone off because my friends are (harassing) me.”
Nick Kenyon, a 29-year-old lawyer and Bucs fan in East Boston, said he has had to take trash talk from most everyone he knows for years, including his wife, Michelle, a former Patriots cheerleader who owns a fitness studio.
“Now, I’ve been ruthless to my friends. I’m saying, ‘Oh my God, I can’t imagine waking up today and not having Tom Brady as my starting quarterback.’ My friends know this is going to be the most annoying two years for them (the length of Brady’s Bucs deal). As soon as they signed him, I went out and bought a TB12 hat. I wear that everywhere now.”
Gerard said he still listens to Boston sports radio and there’s panic among fans there.
“What they’re talking about today is whether the Boston championship run is ending now that Brady’s gone and the Red Sox got rid of Mookie (Betts),” he said. “The Bruins are in first place (in the NHL), but is the rest of the season going to be played (because of the coronavirus)? They’re like, ‘Is it over?’ ”
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