"The Big Sombrero"
|Full name||Tampa Stadium|
|Former names||Tampa Stadium (November 4, 1967 - December 28, 1995)|
Houlihan's Stadium (January 16, 1996 - April 11, 1999)
|Address||4201 North Dale Mabry Highway|
|Owner||Tampa Sports Authority|
|Operator||Tampa Sports Authority|
|Broke ground||October 9, 1966|
|Opened||November 4, 1967|
|Expanded||December 4, 1974 - June 5, 1975|
|Closed||September 13, 1998|
|Demolished||April 11, 1999|
|Construction cost||US$4.4 million|
($34.2 million in 2020 dollars)
US$13 million (renovations)
($33.8 million in 2020 dollars)
|Architect||Watson & Company Architects, Engineers & Planners|
|General contractor||Jones-Mahoney Construction Co.|
|Tampa Spartans (NCAA) (1967-1974)|
Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL / independent / ASL / APSL) (1975-1986, 1988-1990, 1993)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL) (1976-1997)
Tampa Bay Bandits (USFL) (1983-1985)
Outback Bowl (NCAA) (1986-1998)
Tampa Bay Mutiny (MLS) (1996-1998)
South Florida Bulls (NCAA) (1997)
Tampa Stadium (nicknamed The Big Sombrero and briefly known as Houlihan's Stadium) was a large open-air stadium (maximum capacity about 74,000) located in Tampa, Florida, which opened in 1967 and was significantly expanded in 1974-75. The facility is most closely associated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League, who played there from their establishment in 1976 until 1997. It also hosted two Super Bowls, in 1984 and 1991, as well as the 1984 USFL Championship Game.
Besides the Bucs, Tampa Stadium was home to the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the original North American Soccer League, the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League, the Tampa Bay Mutiny of Major League Soccer, and the college football programs of the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida. It also hosted many large concerts, and for a time, it held the record for the largest audience to ever see a single artist when a crowd of almost 57,000 witnessed a Led Zeppelin show in the facility in 1973.
To meet the revenue demands of the Buccaneers' new owners, Raymond James Stadium was built nearby in 1998, and Tampa Stadium was demolished in early 1999.
The land on which Tampa Stadium was situated had been the perimeter of Drew Field, a World War II-era airfield which was the precursor to Tampa International Airport. In 1949, the city of Tampa bought a 720-acre (290 ha) grassy parcel between the airport and West Tampa from the federal government with the idea of eventually building a community sports complex. Al Lopez Field was the first phase of the project, opening in 1955.
By the early 1960s, Tampa's civic leaders were interested in attracting an NFL team to the area. Several well-attended NFL exhibition games were held at Phillips Field near downtown, but the venue was too small to support a professional football franchise. So with the encouragement of NFL officials, the city decided to build a larger facility which could be used by the University of Tampa's football team in the short term and could be expanded for use by a theoretical pro team in the future.
Construction of Tampa Stadium began in the fall of 1966 directly adjacent to Al Lopez Field, which was by then the home of the Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League and the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds. Even though it contained separate football and baseball venues plus the Reds' training grounds, the lot purchased in 1949 was still large enough to allow for ample parking in the open land surrounding both facilities.
When it opened in 1967, Tampa Stadium consisted of a matching pair of large arch-shaped concrete grandstands with open endzones. The seating consisted of long, backless aluminum benches that were accessed via short tunnels (vomitoria) which connected the seating area to wide, open concourses at the rear of the grandstands. The benches were arranged in two large tiers divided by a horizontal walkway about halfway up the grandstands. The slope of the grandstands was relatively steep, giving every seat a direct and unobstructed view of the field. The official capacity was 46,481, though temporary bleachers could be placed in one or both endzones if needed.
Tampa Stadium underwent an extensive expansion project in 1974-1975 after the city was awarded an NFL expansion team. Over 27,000 seats were added by completely enclosing the open end zones with seating areas that blended into the existing two-tiered grandstands and created two walkways that completely encircled the seating bowl at ground level and about 40 rows up. The finished stadium had the largest capacity in the NFL (71,908) and was not in the shape of a simple bowl. The top of the stadium was in the shape of a wave which was highest at the center of the two sideline grandstands and gently sloped downward to a rounded corner where it met the endzone sections, which were a little more than half as tall. Much later, the stadium was dubbed "The Big Sombrero" by ESPN's Chris Berman for the unique undulating hat / wave shape created by the 1975 expansion.
The last major renovation took place in the early 1980s when, in preparation for its first Super Bowl in January 1984, the press box atop the west grandstand was expanded and updated and a large new suite of luxury boxes was added atop the east grandstand. This configuration gave the facility its maximum seating capacity of 74,301.
For the 1990 season which culminated in the stadium's second Super Bowl, large flagpoles were mounted on the upper rim of the stadium as part of a stadium update 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.
Over the lifetime of Tampa Stadium, the natural grass turf consisted of several varieties of Bermuda grass, most notably Tifway 419. The playing surface was consistently one of the best in the NFL, and was regularly named a players' favorite in surveys conducted by the National Football League Players Association.
Tampa Stadium was built almost exclusively of concrete. Throughout its existence, exterior walls were painted light tan or white or left as bare concrete, as were the flooring surfaces. Seating consisted of long aluminum benches, and there was no roof or overhang of any kind over the field or seating areas.
While the stadium's minimalist design allowed for very good sight lines, it also exposed both spectators and players to the full brunt of Tampa's subtropical climate. This was especially true after the stadium was fully enclosed for the Bucs' 1976 inaugural season, cutting off breezes which had flowed through the open endzones. While fans could retreat under the grandstands to the shade of the wide concourses where concessions and restrooms were located, players and personnel on the field had no such recourse. Cooling equipment was usually placed near the sideline benches. The Buccaneers were also allowed to wear their white jerseys at home, forcing their opponents to suffer in their darker (and hotter) jerseys. During the summer and early autumn, events in the stadium were often scheduled in the evening hours to avoid the often oppressive afternoon heat and humidity. In another nod to local weather, the natural grass playing surface was highly crowned to provide rapid drainage during Tampa's intense thunderstorms, with the sidelines almost 18 inches lower than the center of the field.
Tampa Stadium was completed just in time to host its first sporting event - a football game between the University of Tampa Spartans and the #3 ranked University of Tennessee Volunteers on November 4, 1967. While the Spartans lost that game 38-0, they would enjoy later success in their new home, moving up to Division I football in 1971, defeating several established programs, and sending several players to the NFL, including Freddie Solomon and John Matuszak. However, university officials were unsure of continued community support after Tampa was awarded an NFL expansion franchise. "Tampa U" president B. D. Owens ended the football program after the 1974 season, saying that the school would face bankruptcy if it had to subsidize the sport.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies were the stadium's first professional tenant, starting play in 1975 and winning their only (outdoor) championship in their inaugural season. (The team also won several indoor soccer championships playing at the Bayfront Center across Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg.)
The Rowdies played their home games in Tampa Stadium every summer until the original North American Soccer League disbanded in 1984. Subsequently, the Rowdies continued on, first as an independent team, then in other leagues (ASL, APSL) and used the stadium every year through 1990. In 1991 and 1992 they moved across town to the smaller USF Soccer Stadium, before returning to Tampa Stadium in 1993 for their final season of play in the APSL.
Looking to showcase the city's new facility for the NFL, community leaders arranged for several exhibition games in Tampa Stadium in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The first such game featured the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins in August 1968 and drew a near-sellout crowd. Eleven more games were held in the following seasons with similarly enthusiastic crowds, including three featuring the Baltimore Colts in 1972, when the team trained in Tampa during the NFL preseason.
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.
The Buccaneers' first regular season home game was held on September 19, 1976, when the Bucs 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.
The Buccaneers had improved enough by the 1979 season to host the NFC Championship Game, which they lost 9-0 to the Los Angeles Rams. The Bucs played 18 additional seasons in the facility but struggled through most of them. They would only host one more playoff game on their original home turf: an NFC Wild Card Game vs. the Detroit Lions on December 28, 1997, which they won 20-10. This would be the last game the team ever played in Tampa Stadium, as they moved next door to Raymond James Stadium in 1998.
In 1991, the organization initiated the "Krewe of Honor", which featured a mural of the first class of three members. Quarterback Doug Williams was inducted September 6, 1992 and owner Hugh Culverhouse on September 5, 1993. No additional members were added before Tampa Stadium was closed and demolished.
|Tampa Stadium Krewe of Honor|
|1991||63||Lee Roy Selmon||DE||1976-1984|
|--||John McKay||Head Coach||1976-1984|
Malcolm Glazer also acquired naming rights to Tampa Stadium when he purchased the Buccaneers in 1995. In October of that year, he had the Houlihan's restaurant chain, another business in his portfolio, pay the Bucs $10 million for those rights. This resulted in the official name of the facility being changed to "Houlihan's Stadium" in 1996 and in Glazer being sued by Houlihan's stockholders, who were not happy about purchasing stadium naming rights in an area in which the chain had no restaurants.
Tampa Stadium was the home field for several additional teams and hosted a wide variety of events during its lifetime.
The stadium hosted concerts by many famous artists, including Deep Purple, The Who, Jethro Tull, Santana, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, U2, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffett, The Eagles, Whitney Houston, Jonathan Butler, Genesis, 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. On June 3, 1977, the band returned to the venue, but the concert was paused and ultimately cut short due to a large thunderstorm. The crowd became unruly after the announcement of the cancellation, and the Tampa police ultimately dispersed the "riot" using tear gas and billy clubs. Much criticism was leveled at both the concert organizers' decision to cancel the performance and the aggressive tactics of law enforcement, resulting in a year-long pause of concerts at Tampa Stadium until security protocols were revised and shows were allowed to resume.
Immediately upon buying the Buccaneers in 1995, new owner Malcolm Glazer declared that Tampa Stadium was inadequate and threatened to move the franchise to another city unless a new stadium was built at taxpayers' expense. To accommodate these demands, Hillsborough County raised local sales taxes and built Raymond James Stadium just south of Tampa Stadium in 1997-98.
Demolition of Tampa Stadium proceeded soon after the Tampa Bay Mutiny's final home game on September 13, 1998. Wrecking balls and long reach excavators were used for much of the process, and 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. Tampa Stadium's former site is now a parking and staging area for Raymond James Stadium, and its footprint can still be seen in a grassy area inside a roughly circular road that once ringed its perimeter.