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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Fennelly: Tampa still a big-time sports town

TAMPA — See, I told you we were still a sports town.

Not even another Tampa Bay Buccaneers losing season can take that away.

Our city, our area, our zip codes, received a Christmas package Monday:

The 2017 College Football Playoff Championship Game.

Try squeezing that onto a T-shirt.

Believe me, they will, on shirts and pennants and hats and banners and cup holders, and you if you're not careful when they spray paint.

Put this up there with the four Super Bowls that Tampa has hosted, and the 1999 Final Four in St. Petersburg, and the 2012 Frozen Four.

To be honest, the Frozen Four isn't in that stratosphere, but it's returning in 2016 and it's a cool event, all those smiling defrosting hockey shut-ins from up north. Remember when we all chipped in and bought them tans? That's the kind of people we are here in title town.

But this college football championship game is going to be large.

We don't know exactly how large, since one of these has never been played before, except mythically, or as part of the BCS, which ends its irritating and inconclusive 16-year run with next month's game between Florida State and Auburn.

My guess is that by the time the 2017 title game reaches Tampa, it will be bigger than any of us imagined, and that includes the NCAA. When it realizes what a cash cow it is, it's going to get crazy. Right now, it's a four-team playoff. By 2017, I guarantee you there will be calls for eight teams, or 16 teams. Boy, if we ever get it to a field of 68, South Florida could sneak in.

This has to beat the last big event here, the Republican National Convention, where we already knew who the winner was _ and then that guy went and lost in the finals.

The big question:

Which SEC team will win the conference's 12th consecutive national championship in 2017?

Alabama? LSU? Auburn? Oklahoma? UCLA? (Did we mention the conference shuffle of 2015?)

We are kidding. Actually, the SEC will have broken away from the republic by then to form its own nation, Nick Saban president. We can't let them acquire nuclear weapons, we just can't.

But who will be here in 2017?

Will it be Florida State against Texas, with Longhorns coach Jimbo Fisher facing his old school?

Will Ohio State come on down so Urban Meyer can spend more time with our families?

I've checked the recruiting blogs. There are some 10th graders who will make a real impact as freshmen in the 2017 game for the following schools: Texas A&M, Nebraska, USC, Clemson.

Also, beware of Army. Every 50 years or so, it all clicks.

Let's just hope for a grand game in 2017. Tampa has hit and miss on Super Bowls. Two of our Roman festivals (Raiders-Redskins, Ravens-Giants) were utter routs, one (Cardinals-Steelers) was great and one (Bills-Giants) was extraordinary, from start to finish, Whitney Houston to Scott Norwood. The 1999 Final Four was great fun and the Duke-UConn title game was a keeper.

We keep getting this sort of stuff. Maybe it's the sun, beaches, hotels and restaurants. Throw in some can-do leadership, from Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn to the county commissioners and to the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, led by razor thin and sharp executive director Rob Higgins.

Now, here's a small suggestion:

Why not lobby the NCAA to move the College World Series out of Omaha for a year? Then build a permanent college baseball stadium in downtown Tampa, I'd say about 35,000 seats would do, and a retractable roof ...

OK, one thing at a time.

This thing Monday was big.

We've still got game.

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