The Bucs game offers a brief respite from the grim reality of Hurricane Ian
TAMPA — With his job, home and class schedule gone or in shambles, Reese Collins hopped into his silver 2012 Camry on Sunday and headed north on Interstate 75, eager to escape reality for a night.
As the week dawned, Collins was a 26-year-old bartender living with a pal in a rented house on a Fort Myers lake, completing his communications and public relations degree at nearby Florida Gulf Coast University. As of Thursday, his beachside workplace – Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille – had been flattened by Hurricane Ian, and water was still rising in his home.
“There’s no more Fort Myers Beach,” Collins said by cellphone as he drove with his girlfriend on Sunday afternoon. “It’s a mess; it’s worse than it looks, to be honest with you. Everything is dead in the area.
A momentary breakout lurked two hours to the north. After days of horrible breaks, Collins finally nabbed a few good ones, securing Bucs-Chiefs tickets and a nearby Airbnb for reasonable rates. So he accelerated the damage and towards the diversion.
“Tonight,” Collins said, “means a lot.”
Even as some daring allegations continued to level against the Bucs and the NFL, for hosting a game days after a hurricane tore through a nearby area, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes provided their own relief effort. The service they provided was not as essential as water, hot food or electricity, but nourishing and replenishing in its own way.
For one evening, many of those affected by Ian — at least those with power or tickets — might trace and distance instead of the hurricane’s path.
“Football cures everything, doesn’t it? Especially Chiefs football,” said Tracy Keller, who drove 2.5 hours with her husband Kerry from their home in Ponce Inlet — south of Daytona Beach — to see their favorite team.
The Kellers, both from Iowa, lost power for more than 36 hours – from around 7 a.m. Thursday to around midnight Friday – and saw the piers and walkways of nearby piers go dark. collapse under Ian’s pressure. But after weathering the storm, they headed west for relief.
Sunday night was their first game against the Chiefs since Kansas City opened the 2018 season in Jacksonville.
“It’s a great way to escape all the destruction news,” said Keller, a marketing consultant for an East Coast-based communications company. “Our beach alone is awful. We were worried this game would be moved to Minnesota, and we’re glad it didn’t. We’ve had those tickets for months and a hotel room booked for months.
The Bucs were keen to incorporate support for Ian’s victims into the pre-game pageantry.
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The franchise’s initiatives included donating its share of the traditional 50/50 game day raffle to relief efforts and selling “Florida Strong” t-shirts, with proceeds going to Ian Relief. Ahead of the national anthem, a poignant tribute video honored those affected by the hurricane and first responders.
Messages from players were broadcast throughout the stadium, urging those who can help the victims to do so.
Back in Fort Myers, Collins, 26, must find a new job and does not mind manual labor. His landlord is giving him a break on rent and will pay him and his roommate James Dowling if they help fix the place, but his college graduation – due in May – could now be postponed.
But for a cloudless Sunday night, the Bucs allowed some decompression.
“Me and my dad are huge Buccaneer fans,” Collins said. “So going to the Bucs game tonight, I can kind of get away from it all for a bit, relax, have fun, watch the Bucs play. So that means a lot to me, to be honest.
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
The last time these teams faced off at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay won Super Bowl 55. The Bucs will be looking for some early-season magic in the rematch.
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