The 12th man of the Seattle Seahawks, the Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towels, Cheeseheads on the Green Bay Packers “frozen tundra.” These are just a few of the iconic NFL fan bases and their symbols. If you’ve ever watched sports on television, chances are you’ve seen them – fans who show up in drove to away games and get notoriety from announcers. Stick Carriers is beginning to enter the fan base vernacular as passionate Tampa Bay Buccaneers who fans want to root for their home team.
Stick Carriers – Buccaneer Fans Who Carry Big Sticks
A Troubled Past
Fan traditions on sports networks is a common sight. But those sights center around not a popular or successful team, but on the ignominy of losing early and often. One team stands out more than not, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; the owners of a 26-game losing streak, the longest in post-merger NFL history. The team that had 14 straight losing seasons 1983-1996, another NFL record. And finally, the team that was laughingly referred to as the “Yuccs” by their opponents.
Then there is the 1970’s video of the young boy in the stands wearing a Buccaneer shirt giving a “thumbs down” gesture while looking forlornly at the camera. During the early rise of the Buccaneers in 1979 to the NFC Championship game and even later during their Super Bowl run in 2002, there has never been an overwhelming fan presence. But that may finally be changing.
The Inception of ‘Stick Carriers’
Week 13 of the 2016 NFL season, December 4th 2016, doesn’t seem like a particularly profound date. Yet it is the date of the genesis of the rising Buccaneers fan base. Minutes after the Buccaneers had held on for a 28-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers for their fifth road victory of the year, head coach Dirk Koetter talked briefly to his team in the locker room. The NFL has begun showing post-game speeches, so everyone was privy to Koetter’s words as he wrapped up with a variation of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote: “Speak softly, and carry a big mother-f***ing stick!” The roar of the players’ approval could be heard all the way back in Tampa.
Justin Pawlowski, experienced in Tampa Bay sports radio since 2002, has had his own internet podcast as a Buccaneer analyst since March 2015. He himself is an avid Buccaneer fan, having gone to many games as a child, and has seen far too often opposing team’s fans take over “The Old Sombrero,” so named by Chris Berman of ESPN. When the new Raymond James Stadium was built, the Buccaneers were perennial playoff contenders but yet still never had a dominant home field advantage.
Thus, it’s not surprising that soon after coach Koetter uttered his iconic phrase Pawlowski latched onto it. On his podcast, now hosted on an equally devoted Buccaneer fan site, joesbucsfan, he declared the new breed of Buccaneer fans, those who lived and died with the team and truly loved their team, would be called Stick Carriers in honor of Koetter’s declaration. He didn’t place any criteria on these fans other than loving their Buccaneers passionately, and many have responded to his clarion call.
Carrying Big Sticks Into 2017
On the third episode of Hard Knocks, while the players are running out onto the practice field, the cameras show a bevy of Buccaneer fans chanting player’s names and shouting praise. Many of the players were thrilled, saying it really helped ramp up the energy of a mundane practice. Coach Koetter and even general manager Jason Licht individually came over and addressed the fans. They not only acknowledged them, but they have also spoken of being fired up over the fan base and their potential impact. Coach Koetter even helped lead another shouting rendition of his now infamous phrase.
Saturday night during the preseason game at home against the Cleveland Browns, the Stick Carriers will again make their presence known. Beginning around 6:30pm, an hour prior to kickoff, they will meet up in seating section 119, near where the Buccaneers players enter the field for warm-ups. As each player enters the field, this group of fanatical and dedicated Buccaneers fans will identify them and chant a player’s name until that player turns to the fans, and then they will begin chanting another player’s name. They plan to even do this at the end of halftime for the third and fourth string players, to include middle linebacker Riley Bullough, a Hard Knocks darling whom many fans are hoping makes the team.
Their goal is to not only pump up the Buccaneers themselves, but other dedicated fans scattered throughout the stadium. The hope is to get those other fans to chant as well, to clap along, and create an atmosphere never before seen in Tampa Bay. Hence, a true home field advantage where Buccaneer fans are loud and supportive, and opposing team’s fans no longer feel welcome to deride the home team and proclaim their own team’s dominance.
This surge of a new passionate fan base runs perfectly parallel to the recent surge in the Buccaneers on-field performance. But make no mistake, these fans seem to be here to stay. Never before have both the team and the fan base been so intertwined and actively involved toward the same sole purpose. With the birth of this new fan base and the recent resurgence of the Buccaneers, it appears to be a new day in Tampa Bay, and especially at home in Raymond “Jameis” Stadium.