Who is the face of Tampa Bay sports?

by Gary Shelton on May 3, 2020

in general

When you think of Tampa Bay, whose face do you see?/CARMEN MANDATO

Sunday, 4 a.m.

Once, the face of Tampa Bay was outsized, with a smile too big for its face, with wide-eyed rage and cornrows flowing around it.

Once, to the rest of America, the face of Tampa Bay was that of Warren Sapp. Never mind that he wasn't, by his own admission, the best player on a fine Bucs' defense. (Derrick Brooks was). But he was the man who brought the swagger, the energy, the flavor to Tampa Bay, and elsewhere, his was the profile you thought of when you thought of Tampa.

Once, the face of Tampa Bay was an angular, bird-like image on ice. It was a serious face, a hungry face, and it helped the Tampa Bay Lightning escape from the most recent of the bad times.

In his prime, you could not think of Tampa Bay without thinking of Steven Stamkos, whose face replaced that of Marty St. Louis with the franchise. St. Louis' face was that of the underdog, but there was something more elegant about that of Stamkos.

Once, the face of Tampa Bay held his chin high, and his eyes never blinked. His was a face that could measure to the size of the moment. That was the face of Evan Longoria, who slowly replaced Carl Crawford as the team's icon.

But now?

Who is the face of Tampa Bay now, and is he yet to have had a moment for his Tampa Bay team?

For the Bucs, for all of Tampa Bay sports, all conversations begin with Tom Brady, the team's new quarterback, and arguably one of the faces of the NFL over the last two decades.

Chicago had Michael Jorda . San Francisco had Joe Montana. Detroit had Barry Sanders. And so it goes. Every town has a face that pops into your mind when it is brought up. In some ways, Lawrence Taylor is still the face of New York, and Wayne Gretzky of Los Angeles, and Jim Kelly of Buffalo.

And so it goes. There was a time you could have argued for Lee Roy Selmon's face in Tampa Bay. Maybe David Price's. Maybe Vinny Lecavalier. At different points, the face has briefly looked like Mike Alstott or James Shields.

Becoming the sporting face of a town is a delicate combination. It involves talent and charisma, accomplishment and recognition.

These days? You could make an argument for Nikita Kucherov. Maybe one for Blake Snell (despite his bad season a year ago). Maybe Lavonte David.

But all conversations about Tampa Bay sports these days lead you back to Brady, who has yet to accomplish a thing in the name of the Bucs. His entrance into the Hall of Fame is cast in iron. This is the gravy part of his career.

As a sporting community, it leaves us in a precarious position. So much of being a sports fan in this town is about anticipation. We want sports to return, in part, because we want to see how much Brady has left, and how far he can lead a team that has been lost along the way.

Oh, there are others. Brady's old buddy Rob Gronkowski, for one. Shaq Barrett would be on the short list. So would Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Charlie Morton, and Willie Adames, and Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin, and Kevin Kiermaier.

Right now, if you're fair, you might suggest that Tampa Bay is a faceless sports area. This area's Mount Rushmore will be carved in the days after sports returns to us. Then, with success, with memories, the faces will be shaped.

Don't you look forward to seeing him again?

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