PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – JULY 2
By Leo Haggerty

CHAMPA BAY

Let me take you, my loyal readers, back to the middle of March in 2020.  That’s when, for all intents and purposes, the coronavirus brought normal life in the United States, and for that matter worldwide, to a screeching halt.

From a fan perspective, and I am one as well as a member of The Fifth Estate, we were just getting ready to settle in for the beginning of March Madness and the final weeks of the National Hockey League as well as the National Basketball Association regular season.  Spring training for Major League Baseball was starting to wind down plus the National Football League was gearing up for the 2020 Draft in late April and The Masters was right around the corner.  In the sports world, all was good .

Sadly, over the space of less than a week, it had vanished.  It seemed like Thanos had snapped his fingers and all professional sports, and for that matter the collegiate ones as well, ceased to exist and The Avengers were nowhere in sight to combat Covid.  It was a dark period of time for sports fans but for humanity in general as people started to succumb to the dreaded disease by the tens of thousands and there was no relief in sight.  Honestly, the light at the end of the tunnel in the spring of 2020 was the train coming to run you over.

We, as fans, were left without our beloved sports.  All four North American sports leagues immediately started to make plans if, and it was a big if, there was a safe way to resume or even begin their seasons.

Both the NHL and the NBA were the first to use the “bubble” concept and this allowed both of them to complete a retracted regular season as well as formulate a playoff scenario.  MLB redacted their regular season back to 60 games and a playoff agenda that would take place at specific locales.

The NFL had the luxury of seeing what worked for the other three leagues and eliminate from their blueprint what had failed.  The Shield was able to complete a full 16-game regular season, albeit on a delayed basis and with no fans in the stands, and a playoff second season culminating in the Super Bowl in Tampa.

Now, with all of that being said, Tampa Bay sports franchises managed to turn lemons into lemonade.  In fact, all three professional sports teams added a double shot of vodka to that concoction and let me tell you why.

Let’s start with the NHL and the Lightning.  Not only did the Bolts spend 67 days in the “Canadian Bubble” but came out of it capturing their second Stanley Cup with a 4-2 triumph over the Dallas Stars.  The boat parade and celebration at Raymond James Stadium was one for the ages.

Now, fast forward to the MLB and the Rays.  After delaying the opening of the 2020 regular season to July, the “little engine that could” continued to surpass all expectations by winning the American League pennant besting the Houston Astros in seven games.  It took the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers six games to eliminate Tampa Bay.  If it wasn’t for a questionable managerial decision and a look-the-other-way positive test by one of the LA starters in Game 6 the outcome may have been different but that’s another story for another pontification.  Still, the Rays could hang a 2020 American League championship banner at Tropicana Field.

That takes us to September and that could only mean the NFL and the Buccaneers.  Enter former New England QB Tom Brady and fan expectations of the Pewter Pirates was rampant.  To the Bucs credit, the team did not disappoint.  After limping into their bye week after consecutive home losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs  that dropped Tampa Bay to 7-5, the Buccaneers caught fire.  Four consecutive wins to close out the regular season along with three road playoff victories put the Pewter Pirates in a position to become the first NFL team to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium and the team did not disappoint.  The Bucs captured their second Lombardi Trophy with a 31-9 conquest of the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs and the boat parade that followed certainly was on par with the Bolts victory flotilla.

That takes us to the present.  The Bolts are on the verge of capturing their second straight Stanley Cup.  They have a 2-0 advantage over the Montreal Canadians with Game 3 later today at the Bell Centre.  I’ll be writing a recap of that contest tomorrow so stay tuned for those results.

So, there you have it.  One Lombardi Trophy and one American League pennant and one Stanley Cup with another on the horizon possibly as early as the beginning of next week during the pandemic.

Yes, Covid has been a downer for everyone.  No question about that but, for the sports fans of the Tampa Bay professional sports teams, it’s been one hell of a ride over the past 17 months.  Please keep that seat belt buckled because there is a good chance there will be another championship coming to Tampa Bay or, should I say, Champa Bay real soon.