Tampa Stadium
The Big Sombrero
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Tampa Stadium in early 1999
Full name Tampa Stadium
Location Tampa, Florida
Broke ground October 9, 1966
Opened November 4, 1967
Renovated 1983
Expanded 1975
Closed September 13, 1998
Demolished Spring 1999
Owner University of Tampa (1967-74)
Tampa Sports Authority (1975-98)
Operator Tampa Sports Authority
Surface Bermuda grass
Construction cost $4.1 million
$13 million (renovations)
Architect Watson & Company Architects, Engineers & Planners
Former names Tampa Stadium (1967-1995)
Houlihan's Stadium (1996-1998)
Tenants University of Tampa (NCAA) (1967-1974)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) (1975-1984)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL) (1976-1997)
Can-Am Bowl (NCAA) (1977-1979)
Florida Classic (NCAA) (1978-1996)
Tampa Bay Bandits (USFL) (1983-1985)
Hall of Fame/Outback Bowl (NCAA) (1986-1998)
Tampa Bay Mutiny (MLS) (1996-1998)
South Florida (NCAA) (1997)
Capacity 44,000 (1967-74)
67,000 (1975-83)
74,301 (1983-98)

Tampa Stadium (known as Houlihan's Stadium from 1996 to 1998, and nicknamed "The Big Sombrero" due to its shape) was a sports venue located at 4201 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, Florida. The stadium is most closely associated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers National Football League franchise, which played all of their home games in the stadium from 1976 through 1997. It was demolished in 1998 following the construction of the neighboring Raymond James Stadium, which is sometimes referred to as "The New Sombrero" in memory of its predecessor, in spite of its unsombrero-like design [1]

Design and early history[edit | edit source]

Tampa Stadium was the Tampa Bay Area's first large American football facility with an initial seating capacity of 45,000. It was built for the University of Tampa Spartans football team (replacing a much smaller on-campus stadium) with an eye towards attracting an NFL expansion team in the future.

Construction began in the fall of 1966 [2] on a large grassy lot along Dale Mabry Highway near the Tampa airport. Directly adjacent was Al Lopez Field, the then-home of the Tampa Tarpons Florida State League baseball team and the spring training site of the Cincinnati Reds National League baseball franchise. Ample parking was available in large lots surrounding the stadium, as well as at nearby Horizon Park (now Al Lopez Park) and Jesuit High School.

Two large concrete grandstands built along the sidelines provided the original seating. Benches were arranged on a single tier, so that every seat had a direct and unobstructed view of the action. The natural grass playing surface was highly crowned to provide rapid drainage during Florida's intense thunderstorms, with the sidelines 18 inches lower than the center of the field.

Tampa Stadium was built almost exclusively of concrete with most walls painted light tan or white and most flooring surfaces unpainted. The seating consisted of long simple benches made of aluminum. This minimalist design in Tampa's subtropical climate created a very warm venue for spectators and participants alike. Fans could retreat to the interior decks under the seats, where concessions and restrooms were located. Players and personnel on the field had no way to beat the heat except for the tunnels to the locker rooms, and cooling equipment was usually placed near the sideline benches. During the summer and early autumn, events were often scheduled in the evening hours to avoid the extreme afternoon heat and humidity.

First tenants[edit | edit source]

On November 4, 1967, the stadium hosted its first sporting event when the University of Tampa Spartans hosted the University of Tennessee Volunteers. The Spartans lost that game, but would enjoy much success in their new home, moving up to Division I football in 1971 and sending several players to the NFL, including Freddie Solomon and John Matuszak.[3] However, attendance at the games did not meet expectations and university president B.D. Owens said the school would face bankruptcy if it continued to subsidize the sport. At the end of the 1974 season, "Tampa U" shut down its football program.[4]

The Tampa Bay Rowdies were the stadium's first professional tenant. The Rowdies won their only outdoor championship during the team's first season in 1975. They played their home games in Tampa Stadium until the North American Soccer League disbanded in 1984.

NFL expansion[edit | edit source]

Exhibition games[edit | edit source]

Looking to showcase the facility and the area to the NFL in the hopes of attracting an expansion team, community leaders arranged for several exhibition games in Tampa Stadium in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The first such game between the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins was played in August 1968 and drew a near-sellout crowd.[5] Eleven more games were held in the following seasons with similarly enthusiastic crowds, including three featuring the Baltimore Colts in 1972.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers[edit | edit source]

These preseason games gave NFL owners and officials ample opportunity to assess the Tampa Bay area and the stadium, and on April 24, 1974, Tampa was awarded an NFL expansion team to begin play in the 1976 season.[6]

Before the newly-named Buccaneers arrived, Tampa Stadium underwent an extensive expansion project throughout 1975. Over 27,000 seats were added by completely enclosing the previously open end zones, making the facility one of the largest venues in the NFL. The stadium was later dubbed "The Big Sombrero" by ESPN's Chris Berman for the Mexican undulating hat or wave-like shape created along the top of the stadium by this expansion project.

The Buccaneers' first regular season home game was held on September 19, 1976, when the home team lost to the San Diego Chargers 23-0. That would become a trend, as the team began their existence with an NFL record 26 game losing streak. They would not win a game on their home field until defeating the St. Louis Cardinals on the last game of the following season, December 18, 1977. Jubilant fans swarmed the Tampa Stadium turf and tore down the goal posts.[7]

The last major renovation took place in the early 1980s. In preparation for hosting its first Super Bowl in January 1984, Tampa Stadium's press boxes were updated and a large suite of luxury boxes was added atop the opposite bleachers. This configuration gave the facility its maximum seating capacity of 74,301.

For the 1990 season, large flagpoles were mounted on the upper rim of the stadium as part of a renovation that included the addition of a JumboTron screen in the south end zone and smaller scoreboards above the field-level tunnels in two corners of the stadium. The poles were used to fly large flags for each of the NFL's teams until 1997, when the Buccaneers adopted a uniform redesign featuring a red flag on their helmets. Large versions of the flag were hoisted on the stadium's flagpoles when the Buccaneers penetrated their opponents' 20-yard line. The franchise continued this practice when it moved to Raymond James Stadium next door a year later.

The stadium's name was changed after the Malcolm Glazer family purchased the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise in 1995. The Glazers also purchased the stadium's naming rights from the Tampa Sports Authority and officially changed the facility's name to "Houlinan's Stadium" to advertise one of the Glazer family's business ventures, the Houlihan's restaurant chain.

The Buccaneers' final game at Tampa/Houlihan Stadium was an NFL wild card playoffs game against the Detroit Lions on December 28, 1997, which the Buccaneers won 20-10. The Buccaneers moved next door to newly-built Raymond James Stadium for the 1998 season.

Other tenants and events[edit | edit source]

Tampa Stadium hosted a wide variety of events during its lifetime.

Regular tenants[edit | edit source]

Between 1983 and 1985, the Tampa Bay Bandits, one of the twelve original USFL franchises, were the stadium's third professional tenant. The Bandits enjoyed strong ticket sales and fan support, and were one of the few USFL teams to stay in their original city and stadium for the league's three seasons.

The University of South Florida Bulls football team played its initial season at the stadium in 1997, becoming the stadium's second and final collegiate tenant. The Bulls played the final football game at the stadium on September 12, 1998, defeating Valparaiso 51-0 before moving to Raymond James Stadium for their next home game on October 3, 1998.

Major League Soccer placed one of its original teams in Tampa in 1996. The Tampa Bay Mutiny were the stadium's fourth and final professional tenant. The Mutiny used the stadium as their home field for their first three seasons, and moved to Raymond James Stadium in 1999. They hosted the last sporting event at the stadium on September 13, 1998, when they defeated the New York MetroStars 2-1 in front of 27,957 people.[8]

Sporting events[edit | edit source]

On June 3, 1981, the NFL awarded Tampa Stadium its first Super Bowl: Super Bowl XVIII which was held in January, 1984. During the balloting, Tampa beat Dallas, Detroit, Miami, New Orleans and Pasadena. On May 20, 1987, the NFL announced that Tampa Stadium would host Super Bowl XXV, was held in January 1991. During the balloting, Tampa beat Anaheim, Los Angeles, Miami and San Diego.

Between 1977 and 1979, the Can-Am Bowl (a college all-star game) was played in the stadium. From 1986 to 1998, college football's Outback Bowl (previously held in Birmingham, Alabama as the Hall of Fame Bowl) was played in Tampa Stadium on New Year's Day. The 1999 Outback Bowl and all subsequent editions have been played at Raymond James Stadium.

Tampa Stadium hosted a large annual USHRA monster truck rally in late January or early February (after football season, when turf damage wouldn't matter) for many years,[9] and hosted equestrian show jumping competitions later in the spring. Both of these events are still held in Raymond James Stadium.

Concerts[edit | edit source]

The stadium hosted concerts by many famous artists, including The Who, Jethro Tull, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, U2, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffett, The Eagles, Whitney Houston, Jonathan Butler, Kenny G, George Michael, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and several big acts at the same time during the 1988 Monsters of Rock Tour, among others.

Two particularly memorable concerts were held there by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. On May 5, 1973, the band attracted 56,800 people, which at the time represented the largest audience for a single artist performance in history, breaking the record set by The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965.[10] On June 3, 1977, the band returned to the venue, but the concert was cut short due to a large thunderstorm. An audience riot followed, resulting in several arrests and injuries, with police ultimately using tear gas to break up the crowd.[11]

Demolition[edit | edit source]

File:Tampa Stadium last event.jpg

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File:Tampa Stadium demolition.jpg

Final stages of Tampa Stadium demolition, April 11, 1999. Note Raymond James Stadium at background left.

Upon buying the Buccaneers in 1995, new owner Malcolm Glazer declared that he might move the franchise to another city unless a new stadium was built at taxpayer's expense.[12] To accommodate these demands, the community raised the local sales tax and built Raymond James Stadium just south of Tampa Stadium in 1997-98.[13]

Demolition proceeded soon after the Tampa Bay Mutiny's final home game in September 1998. Wrecking balls and long reach excavators were used for much of the process. The last portion of the stadium (the east side luxury boxes built for the stadium's first Super Bowl), was imploded on April 11, 1999. The land was then cleared and converted into a parking lot.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Places to get a kick out of football. USA Today (2006-06-12). Retrieved on 2010-01-18.
  2. Tampa Sports Authority
  3. University of Tampa Spartans used to be the toast of the town - Orlando Sentinel. Articles.orlandosentinel.com (2009-01-25). Retrieved on 2010-01-18.
  4. UT Journal - Winter 2007 - ut.edu
  5. Bucpower.Com. Bucpower.Com. Retrieved on 2010-01-18.
  6. Tampa Bay Proves Its Winning Way. .tbo.com (2009-01-31). Retrieved on 2010-01-18.
  7. Mizell, Hubert. "At last! A Tampa Stadium victory celebration". St. Petersburg Times. 19 Dec 1977
  8. Major League Soccer: History: Games. Web.mlsnet.com. Retrieved on 2010-01-18. [dead link]
  9. Geist, Bill (1994-10-23). Really Big Trucks. NYTimes.com. Retrieved on 2010-01-18.
  10. http://ledzeppelin.com/show/may-5-1973
  11. Official Website. Led Zeppelin (1977-06-03). Retrieved on 2010-01-18.
  12. Stadium rose despite challenges
  13. Tampa Sports Authority - Raymond James Stadium
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