Raymond James Stadium is the beautiful home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Opened in 1998, this
venue is also the home of the University of South Florida Bulls and was the host venue for Super Bowl
XXXV back in 2001. Prior to 1998, the Bucs had played at Houlihan Stadium, also knows as "The Big
Sombrero" and this stadium was right next door. The old venue was then demolished, and with the
move to RJS, the bad old history and traditions of the futile Bucs was bulldozed with the building.
Indeed, an exciting new chapter for the Bucs began in conjunction with the opening of the new stadium.
Getting to the venue
Travelers flying into Tampa International Airport can actually see the stadium on the approach, as it is
located just east of the airport, along Dale Mabry Blvd. The best way to get here from any direction is to
follow I-275 and exit Dale Mabry north. Public transportation is pretty much non existent, so driving to
the venue is pretty much your only option. Many of the stadium lots are reserved for permit holders, but
general parking is available at the old Tampa Bay shopping center on Hillsborough Ave ($20) and
private lots are in abundance, especially east of the stadium in the residential district along Himes
Outside the venue
For a stadium that kind of sits in the middle of nowhere, there really is a lot going on around it. First of
all, Tampa Bay has developed quite a tailgate scene, which is pretty easy to do when you have plenty
of surface parking around the stadium. Right across the street to the west is Legends Field, spring
training home of the New York Yankees, and their parking lots are in use on game day. To the south
along Dale Mabry is a bustling commercial district, plenty of casual restaurant chains and even
*ahem*, Mons Venus, a nightclub catering to those of us who enjoy the art of dance. Along Himes
Avenue to the east of the stadium vendors set up carts to sell food and souvenirs.
Architecture and concourses
Here is a building that looks stunning and dramatic from the outside, sort of like a giant fortress, with a
beautifully landscaped main entrance plaza at the south end zone. Glass atriums and separate club
entrances can be found on the east and west sides of the building. In each corner are ramp and
escalator towers to take fans to the upper levels. The 100 level concourse is very roomy and easy to
navigate. A large public plaza in the south end zone all serves as a great meeting spot and viewing
area. The pirate ship is on the north end zone, and THAT is what makes this building special and
How many superlatives can we use to describe this scene - seats are pewter and red in team colors,
and along each sideline are stationary marquees showing corporate sponsors. Two gigantic wide
screen video boards dominate each end zone, crystal clear and the Bucs are right on the money in
showing replays, video clips and great special effects. But the signature architectural element of this
building is a huge replica pirate ship in the north end zone plaza! This, set in the midst of a replica
carribean village, complete with papaya huts. The village also offers up many concession stands. This
was THE place to hang out during the game and it was so crowded we had a difficult time navigating
through this area.
In keeping with the pirate and carribean theme, concession stands bear names such as "Treasure
Cafe", "The Galley" and "Crows Nest" among others. Grilled burgers and chicken sandwiches, bbq
beef and pork platters, all kind of specialty sausages, chicken caesar salads and gourmet pizzas
make up the menu along with traditional fare. Colorful concession canopies brighten up the
concourses and each concession stands has its own theme.
A total of 195 suites straddle the sidelines along three levels, along with sideline club seats on the
200 level sidelines. A nicely appointed club lounge, air conditioned with high ceilings serves the
premium seat holders, with sit down dining as well as premium concessions such as the Club Deli
with a carving station and the Club Grille offering Black Angus burgers.
The wretched futility of this sorry franchise finally became a fading memory when the Bucs won their
first Super Bowl in 2002. Their championship "banner", if you will, is actually displayed as one of the
sails on the pirate ship in the end zone. There is also a championship flag at the top of the upper deck
on the visitors' side.
Touchdowns, extra points, fumbles...
Touchdown.. To the Bucs event presentation efforts. The pirate theme is everywhere, pure and simple
- for every touchdown celebration the pirate ship fires its cannons. "Yo-Ho" pirate songs are the norm,
with staffers and guests on the ship tossing beads to the fans. And kind of a cool touch - when the
home team gets in the red zone, rally flags are raised on the flag poles all around the top of the
Touchdown... to the Ultimate Sports Road Trip karma, which brought the Bucs big wins on both our
visits here. In 1999 it was a big Monday night matchup against the Vikings, and an electrified packed
house on hand went home happy as the Bucs throttled the Vikes 24-17. Even better result on our
return visit as it was all Bucs all the time beating up on Michael Vick and the Falcons by a 27-0 score.
Assist... Bandwagon fans or die-hard fans? A Bucs ticket was always an easy thing at the Sombrero,
but sellouts at RJS are the norm and the Bucs season ticket waiting list is in the tens of thousands.
Will Tampa Bay fans stick with the program if and when the team's fortunes turn sour? Time will tell.
Fumble... No bad sphincter police stories here, as game day staff is pretty laid back from our
observations, but one thing we noticed... up in the 300 level there are three ways to get downstairs.
The ramp (long walk), the escalator (long line) or the stairs. Just one problem. Beefy, snarly security
guards stand at the top of the staircases, and inexplicably, shoo people away and towards the ramps
Touchdown.. not only is there a big pirate ship in the north end zone, but an entire island village,
complete with tropical drink bars and specialty concession stands. This area is jam packed
throughout the game, and is the coolest meeting spot in the stadium by far.
Special thanks... to our good friend (and USRT HOF inductee) Andy Needham of St. Petersburg, who
made available his season tickets for our second visit, and organized a nice tailgate to boot.
New stadiums have opened around the NFL since this one, and the bar seems to be raised with each
one in terms of size, architecture and opulence. Yet Raymond James Stadium still holds up well
against its peers. For the most part, you will be enjoying great Florida weather. The tailgating is terrific.
The building is beautiful and food choices and amenities, including the video boards, add to the game
day experience. But the best props are reserved for that terrific pirate ship! The whole pirate and
carribean theme dominates your visit here, and attending a game at RJS is almost like spending a
day at a Disney theme park. Some football purists might say that's a bad thing, but as far as we're
concerned, all we've got to say on this is "Yo-Ho!"
Food and team store 9
Scoreboard and electronics 7.5
Fan support 7
Location and neighborhood 6
Banners and history 4
In game entertainment 9
Concourses/fan comfort 6
Bonus: Tailgate scene 2, Pirate Ship 2, Rally flags 2