An interesting question arose in the comments last week while discussing the Rays use of “Tampa Bay” and whether they would ever switch to the “Tampa Rays” or “Florida Rays.” Specifically, we wondered which pro sports team was the first to use the moniker “Tampa Bay” in order to represent a more regional fan base.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League were the first professional sports team to use “Tampa Bay” during an official game, having played their inaugural season in 1975. That was one year prior to the debut of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, Tampa was awarded the expansion football franchise in 1974, the same year Tampa was awarded an expansion soccer franchise.
So which team was first to be named “Tampa Bay”? Let’s dig a little deeper…
Tampa was awarded an NFL franchise in 1974, but a team name was not announced. In a move that would seem strange to younger sports fans, the NFL awarded Seattle and Tampa franchises before deciding who would own the teams. In fact, Hugh Culverhouse was not the original owner. That was Thomas McCloskey who quickly backed out of the deal. Culverhouse stepped in after turning down an opportunity to own the Seattle expansion franchise.
Although we cannot find documentation, we have been told by several people that Culverhouse solicited the public for team nicknames. It is unclear if Culverhouse proposed specific options to the public or if he took open requests. It does appear that the fans were only helping pick the nickname and not the regional moniker. Still, it is clear that no team name was official until well after Culverhouse took over the franchise in December 1974.
Turns out, the official naming of the Bucs came on February 15, 1975. Interestingly, that was one day after the Rowdies played their first game. So that makes it clear that the Rowdies were officially the “Tampa Bay Rowdies” before the Bucs were the “Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”
But when did Culverhouse pick the name “Tampa Bay Buccaneers”? Is it possible, the Rowdies were originally the “Tampa Rowdies” only to make the switch after learning of the Bucs decision to use “Tampa Bay”?
[Bill Marcum] became the first fulltime employee of the still-unnicknamed pro football baby…[Culverhouse] admitted that “Tampa Bay Buccaneers” is the leading candidate for a nickname.”
So the end of January, 1975 is the first time we hear anybody associated with the Bucs hint at a potential team name. So for now, we will use that as Day 1 for the Bucs.
But what about the Rowdies? Turns out, the Rowdies made their name official on November 20, 1974, the month before Culverhouse became owner of the Bucs. Interestingly, even though the subtitle in that column says “Tampa Bay Rowdies,” the author of the piece does refer to the “Tampa Rowdies” within the column. Kind of ironic for a columnist from a St. Pete newspaper.
So the Rowdies were not only the first team to play under the name, they also officially used the moniker “Tampa Bay” more than two months before the Buccaneers.
Here are a few other interesting tidbits we came across in this research…
- In this Buddy Martin piece in the St. Pete Times dated August 8, 1974, he referred to the nameless Tampa NFL expansion team as the “Tampa Bay Bananas.” So it is clear, that use of “Tampa Bay” as a moniker was not a radical idea in 1974 when the Rowdies chose their name.
- In a move that sounds eerily familiar, the St. Pete Area Chamber of Commerce fought the naming of the Bucs because they thought “Tampa Bay” was too tightly associated with Tampa and that people were more likely to shorten the name to “Tampa Bucs.”
- There was a campaign for the fans to refer to the Bucs as “The Bay Bucs.” The earliest mention is in a Mizell column dated February 16, 1975. However, we see the use of “Bay Bucs” in the St. Pete Times as late December, 1978. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune was much more stubborn, using “Bay Bucs” until at least July, 1984.
- The first non-professional sports teams to use “Tampa Bay” probably belonged to Tampa Bay Tech High School.