Jan. 28, 2001. A day that will live in infamy. Or something like that.
We had been waiting on this moment since the day we signed up to be season-ticket holders before the Ravens had made their nest in Baltimore. The early years of mediocrity under Baltimore coaching legend Ted Marchibroda, and the field leadership of names like Vinny Testaverde, Jim Harbaugh, and “Trust me, I know quarterbacks” Scott Mitchell, had been replaced by the pound-and-ground running game behind rookie Jamal Lewis and the most offensive-minded, hard-hitting defense ever put together.
Never in our wildest dreams, after decades without football in Charm City, would we expect them to make it to the Promised Land in such a short period of time. There are teams that have never made it to the Super Bowl and here they were, in only their fifth season as a new franchise, not sneaking in through the back door, but, behind the leadership of NFL Defensive POY Ray Lewis, field general Trent Dilfer, and the sure foot of Matt Stover, knocking down the front doors with a battering ram all the way to Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV.
We may have been skeptical about the chances of running the table against the Broncos, Titans, and Raiders en route to the big game, but something told us after the victory in Tennessee that we better start planning our road trip. Minutes after the game was concluded, my “crew” was on the phone with our travel agents booking flights to Tampa three weeks out.
Coincidentally, my wife’s aunt and uncle were in the process of purchasing a house in Anna Maria Island, only a short hour’s drive to Raymond James Stadium, with a projected settlement date of Super Bowl Week!
Everything was in place now. Well, except for the tickets. There was that.
To be honest, we knew we were going to be able to score four tickets through a friend’s NFL contact, but our “crew” was much bigger than four. Ah, we’ll deal with that when we get to Tampa, right?
In typical fashion for anyone that knows me and knows my “crew,” we were running late for the plane, having had to stop by a wedding at the Elks Club to pick up one of the crew and pour him in to the car seat, then the plane seat, to begin the journey to the Sunshine State. When we arrived in the Tampa airport, we were immediately drawn in to a watering hole to watch the end of the Maryland vs. Duke basketball game.
You remember that one. The one where Jay Williams scored what felt like 87 points in the last minute and overtime to single-handedly beat the Terps.
The next 12 hours were a blur, and probably not fit for print, but let’s just say Ybor City and its Gasparilla Pirate Festival and 750,000 attendees did not disappoint.
Fast forward to early Sunday morning as we made the trek to Tampa on about an hour’s sleep to begin the pre-game tailgating. With 10 hours to go until kickoff, we made the most of the experience, interacting with new friends and friendly foes throughout the day. About midday, the four of us that were on the “inside” met our ticket guy and safely secured ours for the experience of a lifetime.
At roughly the same time, two members of our crew and two others made the regrettable mistake of handing a scalper $1,100 each in cold hard cash. Their problem began when they let him “walk” to his car to get the tickets, only to never see him again.
Carroll County Daily Headlines
The “good” news for them, if any, was that after leaving our tailgate and filing a police report, the NFL allowed them to purchase tickets at face value and although they missed all of the pregame hype, they still made it to the opening kickoff.
With only one friend left who remained ticket-less, a situation he accepted before he came down to the party, we headed in to grab our seats and get ready for the pre-game activities which included Sting and Styx before Ray Charles belted out “America The Beautiful.”
We stopped to grab a beverage on our way to the seats and just as we were settling in, here comes our “ticketl-ess” buddy, stepping on and across the sea of Giants’ fans that surrounded us, screaming, “I snuck in! I snuck in!” only to find a seat directly in front of us who somebody either never made it to the game or got an upgrade. Either way, my friend, who didn’t spend a dime on the ticket, sat one row in front of us in a seat that he didn’t pay for, for the entirety of Super Bowl XXXV.
(He also snuck in to the MLB All-Star Game at Camden Yards, but was denied the NBA All-Star Game in DC to round out his collection.)
Trent Dilfer threw the most beautiful touchdown pass to Brandon Stokely right in front of us, and, as they say, the rest is history.
I wasn’t able to make it back to the Super Bowl in New Orleans in 2013, but many friends went and had the same life experience that we did that weekend in Tampa. The opportunity doesn’t present itself too often, but when it does, make sure you’re ready to roll.
As Ray Lewis said, “If tomorrow wasn’t promised, what would you give for today?” For that weekend in Tampa, we gave it our all.