After months of crunching numbers and compiling data, the folks at The Sporting News declared Tampa Bay the 15th best sports city in the country.
It might be nitpicking to point out that Tampa Bay is not a city but the body of water that separates St. Petersburg from Tampa, yet the two small cities have been linked for years, joined permanently in 1976 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the NFL.
Since then, the region has added two more teams from two more major sports — the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, who play in Tampa, and Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, who play in St. Petersburg.
Tropicana Field is a half-hour from Manatee County, while it takes 45 minutes to reach Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Bucs, and the St. Pete Times Forum, home of the Lightning.
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So, in less than an hour’s drive, you can see the best football, baseball and hockey players do their thing.
Starting in 2002, when the Bucs won the Super Bowl, each of the three teams have played for a championship. The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, and the Rays captured the American League pennant in 2008 and brought the World Series to Tropicana Field.
Tampa has been the site of four Super Bowls and one NHL All-Star game.
The men’s Final Four was held at the Trop in 1999, while the women’s Final Four was held at the Forum in 2008.
The ACC Tournament as well as the first two rounds of March Madness are no strangers to Tampa.
The ACC also plays its football championship at Raymond James.
The Outback Bowl kicks off at 11 a.m. each New Year’s Day and pits the Big Ten against the SEC. The St. Petersburg Bowl, which debuted in 2008, features teams from the Big East and C-USA.
The Bucs are struggling this season with a young coach and an even younger team, and the Lightning are a young team planning more for the future than the present, though they still have Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, two of the NHL’s best players.
The Rays didn’t quite match the excitement of 2008 during the 2009 season, falling to third in the American League East with 84 wins. Still, it was only the second winning season in the team’s 12-year history, and the team did send five players to the All-Star game.
Third baseman Evan Longoria and left fielder Carl Crawford are among the top players at their respective positions, and few shortstops had a better 2009 than Jason Bartlett.
The Rays proved in 2008 that it doesn’t take a payroll north of $100 million to win in the AL East and reach the World Series. With most of their young talent locked up for the next several seasons, the Rays should remain competitive.
If that isn’t worth a drive over the Skyway, there are always the nine home games each year with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox that prove inviting.