21 hot tickets for Tampa Bay sports

by Gary Shelton on February 13, 2017 · 1 comment

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' series against the Chicago Cubs is worth circling./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Rays' series against the Chicago Cubs is worth circling./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Monday, 4 a.m.

Playoffs. Yeah, that's the ticket you want.

You want to go to a game that means something, a game you can feel as you pull into the parking lot. You want to feel the electricity. You want to feel the weight of the game. You want to feel that it matters.

You remember what a playoff game is like, don't you? It's a game where you don't grumble about the ticket prices, about the parking, about the concessions. Because your team has made the cut of the teams that matter. Finally.

You want to sing the alma-mater. You want to celebrate big plays. You want  to escape.

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For the last eight games, Winston has a 101.7 rating. /TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Winston faces a tough schedule, including New England. /TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Alas, playoffs cannot be counted on, can they? The Bucs haven't made the playoffs in nine years, or 135 games. The Rays have played 486 games, over three seasons, since they played one that really mattered. The Bolts have made a lot of playoffs lately, but already, their memory is fading as the team scrambles to get back in.

Which, of course, leaves you with a little disposable income. And since the next Star Wars movie isn't out for a while, it leaves you with a need to be entertained.

So say you're going to buy 21 tickets to sporting events over the next season. Which ones interest you the most? Which games are you most likely to attend?

How about these?

1. Sept. 19: Baseball. Chicago Cubs at Tampa Bay Rays: In a way, it seems like this would be old-home week. World Series-winning manager Joe Maddon will be holding court again, and World Series MVP Ben Zobrist will be a homecoming hero. By then, the Cubs should be in fine shape for the upcoming playoffs. The Rays? We'll see.

2. March 4: Boxing: Keith Thurman vs. Danny Garcia, Welterweight Championship: Both fighters will put their unbeaten records and their titles on the line. Thurman is 27-0 and holds the WBA title holder. Garcia is 33-0 and the WBO title. Someone has to lose, right?

3. Undetermined: Football: New England at Tampa Bay Bucs: The Bucs had a knack for winning games you wouldn't think this season. Well, what would be more unexpected than this one? Bill Belichick is the best coach in the NFL, perhaps ever. And, unless Roger Goodell suspends Tom Brady for wearing his t-shirt inside out, it'll be a tough chore for the Bucs. Still, don't you want to measure Tampa Bay against the best?

4. Feb. 17: Basketball: UConn at USF women: By then, the UConn women could be up to 104 victories in a row. That leaves USF in the ultimate underdog's role. There has been no dynasty quite like UConn's. It's so good that you start to question the competition, not the Huskies. Win this one, and the headlines go national.

5. April 9: Hockey: Buffalo Sabres at Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning have started to play well again, but if they're going to get into the playoffs, it's going to happen late. Well, the Sabres come to town for the regular season's last game, one that could determine if the team reaches the post-season or not.

Drouin scored two goals despite a seven-stitch cut on his cheek.

Bolts are bloodied, but not yet out of it./JEFFREY S. KING

6. Sept. 2: College football: FSU vs. Alabama, Atlanta, Ga.: Another game worth a road trip as Jimbo Fisher faces former boss Nick Saban. Will the Seminoles' running game take a while to develop? FSU hopes not.

7. Sept. 21: College football: Illinois at USF: Wait till Lovie sees us! Lovie loves us! Yeah, it's old buddy Lovie Smith, bringing his Big 10 Illinois team in to face USF. Smith was only 3-9 in his first year, but he competes in a stronger conference. The Bulls will be trying to keep winning under new coach Charlie Strong. A lot of elements make this an interesting matchup.

8. April 2: Baseball. New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays: There is nothing like Opening Day, the  unwrapping a new season. The Rays take on their rival Yankees in an effort to show that maybe, just maybe, this team will be better than you suspect.

9. Sept. 25: College football: FSU at Florida. For years, both teams have been ranked when they played. That figures to be the case. FSU remains slightly ahead of the Gators, but if the Gators can find a quarterback, it could even things up.

10. Nov. 11: College football: FSU at Clemson: Perhaps you thought the first FSU mention would be against Florida or Miami or the opener against Alabama. But Clemson has become the Seminoles hump to get over. If they can do that, the ACC title game is possible.

11. Undetermined: Football. Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Bucs: The Bucs have won three of their last four against Atlanta, but the Falcons won the most recent game on their way to the Super Bowl. With Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, the Falcons seem impressive again. But will a Super Bowl collapse and the loss of both coordinators cause a hangover? The Bucs hope so.

12. Oct. 28: College football: Florida vs. Georgia: Again, the rivalry game against FSU is fun, but with the Gators going for their third straight SEC East title, the Georgia game is simply more important. Kirby Smart will hope to be more of a contender in his second year.

13. April 1: Hockey: Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning's season should be at its most intense as the season enters its final few days. Beating a strong Montreal team seems like a test for the Bolts. It begins a stretch of six games in eight days.

Joe Cole os back for another season./ERIC TILLOTSON

Joe Cole os back for another season./ERIC TILLOTSON

14. Sept. 2: College football: Florida vs. Michigan, Arlington Texas: The Gators open their season with a tough challenge, facing Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines. It's going to be a tough place to open if the Gators have a new quarterback.

15. June 24: Baseball: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays: What would a season be without a cool giveaway toy? This time, it's a Kevin Keiermaier Star Wars bobblehead, where the force is expected to be with one of the team's most popular players.

16. October 11: Soccer: New York Red Bulls at Tampa Bay Rowdies. It may take a few games for the Rowdies to get comfortable in their new league (the USL). By the season's final regular-season game, they should be there. New York was 21-3-6 last season, the best record in the league.

17. Undetermined: NFL football: Bucs at Green Bay Packers: If you're going to take a road trip, iconic Green Bay is a good place to go. Stop by Fuzzy Thurston's bar while you're in town, and go to the team's Hall of Fame. With any luck, it will be snowing as the Bucs try to slow down the Pack.

18. Nov. 12: College football: USF at UCF: The War on I-4 is about to heat up again as the Knights get better. But are they far enough along to slow down quarterback Quenton Flowers? Maybe. Maybe not.

19. March 27: Hockey: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning: It's impossible to think of these two teams without remembering their Stanley Cup battle of two years ago. This won't be as big, but it'll still be memorable.

20. Undetermined: NFL football: New York Giants at Tampa Bay Bucs: The Bucs can remember their last playoff appearance, way back in 2007, when they lost 24-14 when most of the current players were home watching cartoons.

21. July 7: Baseball: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays: For all the talk about the Yankees, the Red Sox have been the team that's gotten the deepest under the Rays' skins. They don't come to town until July this year.


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