It was only three autumns ago that our community had evolved into the nation’s sports epicenter. The inaugural boat parade had launched. So had Brady ball. The Rays seemed on the cusp of a world title.
It was unprecedented. Never had such a high level of success concurrently befallen our three major pro sports teams the way it did in late 2020. We were enthralled by the GOAT and Gronk. By Kuch and Killorn. By a dazzling rookie named Randy and an impenetrable vet named Vasilevskiy. It all seems like yesterday.
Now, it’s yesteryear.
Revelry has been supplanted by regression. The intoxication of triumph has given way to an avocado-tequila hangover. Champa Bay has faded into a fond memory. It’s as clear as creamsicle.
These days, one of our franchises is in a rebuild, one’s in a postseason rut, and another’s handcuffed by the salary cap. Whether all three can again simultaneously scale the peak of their respective leagues remains anyone’s guess.
Until then, we can appreciate what we had.
When comparing it to our teams’ current struggles, it seems even more surreal.
This time in 2020: The Stanley Cup celebration had lost nary a sliver of steam. Less than a month before, the team had secured its second NHL crown, surviving the season’s five-month postponement (due to the pandemic) and reconfigured playoffs staged in a bubble. It also had already re-signed defenseman Luke Schenn (for a year) and wing Patrick Maroon (two years).
Current condition: The team (2-2-2 entering Tuesday night’s game against Carolina) has virtually no salary-cap space nor margin for error, as evidenced by another embarrassing overtime loss to the Maple Leafs. Franchise cornerstone Andrei Vasilevskiy is on the shelf for at least two months, 33-year-old Steven Stamkos recently has been ailing, and cap constraints have cost the club some productive scorers and/or role players.
2024 boat-parade odds: From the early looks of things, the Hillsborough River is more likely to host a surfing competition than a Bolts flotilla. Considering the loss of Vasilevskiy and offseason roster turnover, the early hiccups are to be expected. But the team’s dreadful performance in overtime sessions isn’t.
This time in 2020: While the team hadn’t totally found its bearings with Tom Brady, it still had taken a quantum stride from 2019. Behind Brady, the Bucs were off to a 5-2 start, the franchise’s best through seven games in a decade. Of course, they were just getting warmed up. Over the next three months, Brady and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich would get in sync, and the skill guys lured to Tampa by Brady (Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette) would flourish down the stretch, which culminated with a world title.
Current condition: Complementary football has become a trite catch phrase for this offensively challenged team (3-3). On Sunday, the defense — still one of the NFL’s stingiest — forced three Falcons fumbles inside the Tampa Bay 12, and the offense couldn’t capitalize in a 16-13 loss. The run game remains a league punchline, and for all his moxie and grit, Baker Mayfield hasn’t yet proven to be the long-term answer at quarterback.
2024 boat-parade odds: There’s a greater chance of Brady, 46, coming off the couch to rally this team down the stretch. The season-opening mojo harnessed by Mayfield and Co. has evaporated, and four of the next five games are on the road, including trips to Buffalo and San Francisco.
This time in 2020: Having won 40 of 60 games in the sprint that was the pandemic-shortened regular season, the Rays had swept the Blue Jays in the best-of-three American League Wild Card Series, then outlasted the Yankees in five games and the Astros in seven to reach the franchise’s second World Series. At this point on the calendar, Tampa Bay was trailing the Dodgers, three games to two, in the Fall Classic. Blake Snell would be your Game 6 starter; we all know how that transpired.
Current condition: Since that Series run, the Rays have reached the playoffs each year, flourishing with their trademark focus on analytics and their penchant for transforming castoff talent into critical role players. Problem is, the club has won exactly one playoff game the last three seasons and currently is on a seven-game postseason losing streak.
2020 stars no longer here: SS Willy Adames, RP Nick Anderson, INF Mike Brosseau, RP Diego Castillo, 1B Ji-Man Choi, OF Kevin Kiermaier, OF Austin Meadows, SP Charlie Morton, OF Brett Phillips, SP Blake Snell, INF Joey Wendle
2024 boat-parade odds: Who can tell with this club? The prevailing knock on the Rays in recent years is that they’re not built for the postseason (no proven, high-priced power hitter or reliable October lockdown pitcher). Because roster turnover is an annual necessity, it remains unclear how the 2024 lineup will look. But keep the pontoons gassed up and the outboard motors lubed just in case.
Then: Exactly three years ago to the day (Oct. 24, 2020), the Rowdies (13-3-3) stunned United Soccer League heavyweight Louisville FC on the road, 2-1, to advance to the league title match. But that contest, set for Nov. 1 at Al Lang Stadium against Phoenix, was canceled after several Rowdies players and staffers tested positive for the coronavirus.
Since then: The No. 2-seeded Rowdies’ 2023 season ended with a stunning 3-0 home loss Saturday to No. 7 seed Birmingham Legion FC in the USL’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The defeat marked Tampa Bay’s first opening-round playoff exit since 2019.
Then: The sprinter and Gibbs High alumnus won the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in the summer of 2021 (remember, the 2020 Olympics were postponed a year) to solidify himself as a gold medal contender at the Tokyo Games.
Since then: Bromell didn’t make the final at the Olympics; his semifinal time (9.996 seconds) fell one millisecond short.
Then: The Belleair resident and IndyCar Series driver dominated the 2021 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by leading 97 of the 100 laps in a victory.
Since then: He has only claimed the checkered flag three times. Herta also finished a mere 10th in points each of the last two seasons.
Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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