No stranger to the “Big Event,” Tampa Bay ramps up for the third ever College Football Playoff Title Game at Raymond James Stadium Monday night.
Not since Santonio Holmes incredible catch/balancing act in the corner of the end zone in the final moments won the Steelers Super Bowl 43 in January 2009, has Tampa been in this kind of sports spotlight.
However, it is far from the first time hosting such a spectacle and recent history of those big events tells us that it will likely be a dramatic finish Monday night between Alabama and Clemson.
In addition to that Pittsburgh/Arizona Cardinals finish last decade that won the Steelers their latest Lombardi trophy, take a brief look at some other “Bay Area Big Moments,” in these such situations.
Just earlier in April of 2008, downtown Tampa saw the NCAA bring their Women’s Basketball “Final Four” to the arena and over 19,000 in attendance and millions on ESPN watched the late legendary Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt led her Tennessee Vols to a second straight and eighth overall national title with a win over Stanford in the Championship Game. Summitt also that night became, at that time, the all time winningest coach at any level of college hoops with a staggering 982nd win.
Years earlier, in April of 1999, downtown St. Pete became the farthest South that the NCAA had ever ventured to host it’s prestigious Men’s “Final Four” NCAA Basketball Championship Weekend. The site was Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Bay (then) Devil Rays were preparing to play their second ever baseball season. That Championship Monday Night over 40,000 hoop fans crammed in and tens of millions more on CBS TV watched, as Khalid El-Amin and UConn got Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun his first national title in a stirring final minutes to beat the iconic Coach K and Duke.
We at F.F.I. can still see El-Amin in our minds hopping up and down with the ball, as the clock struck :00, and yelling “We shocked the world! We shocked the world!”
And, In January 1992, Super Bowl 25 was played at the old Tampa Stadium with the first U.S. “Gulf War” in progress. The late Whitney Houston sang one of the most memorable national anthems in sporting history, and then, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick masterminded a N.Y. Giants defense, which stuffed the high powered up tempo Jim Kelly Buffalo Bills offense for four quarters. And, as kicker Scott Norwood’s potential game winning field goal sailed wide right, the Giants had won one of the most dramatic Super Bowls up until that moment. It’s a moment that 25 years later everyone who watches football still remembers. And it happened in Tampa.
So, now we get to the sequel of Bama against Clemson. A year ago it was also dramatic with Alabama rallying past Deshaun Watson and Co. to win in the fourth quarter in the Arizona desert. Now Clemson gets a chance at revenge and their first championship since 1981.
For Alabama, (and specifically coach Nick Saban) it would be an amazing fifth title in the last 8 years and 17th all time for the Tide.
This time West Central Florida gets to showcase itself, after landing this game with their bid over three years ago.
Tampa Bay also sets the mark as the first ever area to host a Men’s and Women’s Basketball Final Four, the NCAA Hockey Final Four and now the CFP Championship game.
And it will play out in front over 65,000 at Raymond James and easily 20 million more on ESPN showcasing the Tampa Bay Area all the while.