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Tampa Stadium

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"The Big Sombrero"
Tampa (Houlihan's) Stadium in early 1999
Full name Tampa Stadium
Former names Tampa Stadium (November 4, 1967-December 28, 1995)
Houlihan's Stadium (January 16, 1996-April 11, 1999)
Location 4201 North Dale Mabry Highway
Tampa, Florida 33607
United States

27°58′44″N 82°30′13″W / 27.97889°N 82.50361°W / 27.97889; -82.50361Coordinates: 27°58′44″N 82°30′13″W / 27.97889°N 82.50361°W / 27.97889; -82.50361{{#coordinates:27|58|44|N|82|30|13|W|type:landmark_region:US-FL |primary |name=

Owner Tampa Sports Authority
Operator Tampa Sports Authority
Capacity 46,481 (original)
74,301 (final)
Surface Bermuda grass
Broke ground October 9, 1966
Opened November 4, 1967
Renovated 1983, 1990
Expanded December 4, 1974-June 5, 1975
Closed September 13, 1998
Demolished April 11, 1999
Construction cost $4.4 million
($31.1 million in 2020 dollars[1])
$13 million (renovations)
($30.8 million in 2020 dollars[1])
Architect Watson & Company Architects, Engineers & Planners
General contractor Jones-Mahoney Construction Co.[2]
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) (1996-2001)
South Florida Bulls (NCAA) (1997-1998)

Tampa Stadium (known as Houlihan's Stadium from 1996 to 1999, and nicknamed "The Big Sombrero" due to its shape) was a large sports venue located at 4201 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, Florida, USA which opened in 1967. Tampa Stadium is most closely associated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers National Football League franchise, which played all of their home games there from 1976 through 1997. The facility was also 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.

Tampa Stadium was demolished in 1999 following the construction of its replacement, Raymond James Stadium. The newer stadium is sometimes referred to as "The New Sombrero" in memory of its predecessor despite its unsombrero-like design [3]

Origin and design

Pre-history and construction

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 grassy parcel between the airport and West Tampa from the federal government with the idea of eventually building a community sports complex.[4][5] 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 a National Football League 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.[6]

Construction of Tampa Stadium began in the fall of 1966[7] 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.

Original design

When it opened in 1967, Tampa Stadium consisted of a matching pair of large arch-shaped concrete grandstands built along the sides of a natural grass playing surface. The seating area was accessed via short tunnels built from the rear concourses through the grandstands at ground level and about halfway up the stadium. Long, backless aluminum benches were arranged on a single tier so that every seat had a direct and unobstructed view of the action. Capacity was 46,481.[8]

Expansions and renovations

Tampa Stadium Capacity
Years Official capacity
1967–1975 46,481[8]
1976–1978 71,951[8]
1979–1981 72,126[9]
1982–1984 72,812[10]
1985–1988 74,315[11]
1989–1992 74,296[12]
1993–1998 74,301[13]

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 endzones, making the venue one of the largest in the NFL with a capacity of 71,908.[14] The resulting arena was not in the shape of a simple bowl. It was highest at the center of the two sideline grandstands and gently sloped downward to a rounded corner where it met the new sections, which were about 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 along the top of the stadium by the 1975 additions.

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 updated and a large 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, 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.


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.

This minimalist design in Tampa's subtropical climate created a very warm venue for spectators and participants alike, especially after the stadium was bowled-in for the Bucs' 1976 inaugural season.[15] 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, and the Buccaneers usually wore white jerseys for home games, forcing their opponents to wear darker (and hotter) colors. During the summer and early autumn, events in the stadium were often scheduled in the evening hours to avoid the 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.

Sporting history

First tenants

University of Tampa Spartans

On November 4, 1967, the just-finished stadium hosted its first sporting event when the University of Tampa Spartans hosted the #3 University of Tennessee Volunteers.[16] 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 and sending several players to the NFL, including Freddie Solomon and John Matuszak.[17] However, attendance at the games did not meet expectations and university president B.D. Owens said the school would face bankruptcy if it continued to subsidize the sport. At the end of the 1974 season, "Tampa U" shut down its football program.[18]

Tampa Bay Rowdies

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.[19][20][21]

NFL expansion

Exhibition games

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 between the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins was played in August 1968 and drew a near-sellout crowd.[22] Eleven more games were held in the following seasons with similarly enthusiastic crowds, including three featuring the Baltimore Colts in 1972.

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.[23]

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Main article: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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.[24]

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: a NFC Wild Card matchup with 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.

Krewe of Honor

In 1991, the organization initiated the "Krewe of Honor," which featured a mural of the first class of three members.[25] 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.

"Houlihan's Stadium"

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.[26][27]

Other tenants and events

Tampa Stadium was the home field for several additional teams and hosted a wide variety of events during its lifetime.

Home teams

  • From 1983 to 1985, the Tampa Bay Bandits, one of the twelve original USFL franchises, were the stadium's third professional tenant. The Bandits enjoyed strong ticket sales and fan support and were the only USFL team to stay in their original city and stadium and have the same head coach (former Florida Gators and Bucs quarterback Steve Spurrier) for the league's three seasons. The Bandits folded along with the USFL after the 1985 season.
  • The University of South Florida Bulls football team played its initial season at the stadium in 1997, becoming the stadium's second and final collegiate tenant. The Bulls would play the final football game at the stadium on September 12, 1998, defeating Valparaiso 51-0 before moving to Raymond James Stadium for their next home game on October 3, 1998.
  • Major League Soccer placed one of its original teams in Tampa in 1996. The Tampa Bay Mutiny were the stadium's fourth and final professional tenant. The Mutiny used the stadium as their home field for their first three seasons, and moved to Raymond James Stadium in 1999. They hosted the last sporting event at the stadium on September 13, 1998, when they defeated the New York MetroStars 2-1 in front of 27,957 people.[28]

Sporting events

  • Though the University of Florida is approximately 120 miles north in Gainesville, a strong local alumni base persuaded the Florida Gators football team to play nine regular season games in Tampa Stadium between 1968 and 1989.[29] The Gators have not played a regular season contest in Tampa since a 1990 expansion made Florida Field the largest football facility in the state. However, they have played in three Outback Bowl games in Raymond James Stadium.[30]
  • In 1978 and 1979, the stadium hosted the Can-Am Bowl, which was a college all-star game pitting seniors from the United States against seniors from Canada. The contest used the rules of Canadian football, which required that the playing field be extended wider and longer than usual.[31]
  • From 1986 to 1998, college football's Outback Bowl (previously held in Birmingham, Alabama as the Hall of Fame Bowl) was played in Tampa Stadium on New Year's Day. The 1999 Outback Bowl and all subsequent editions have been played at Raymond James Stadium.
  • Tampa Stadium hosted a large annual USHRA monster truck rally in late January or early February (after football season, when turf damage wouldn't matter) for many years.[32] Raymond James Stadium is the event's current site.
  • Beginning in 1971, Tampa Stadium served as host for the American Invitational show jumping competition each spring, which brought together the USEF's top 30 ranked equestrians to compete for the sport's largest purse. The event is now held in Raymond James Stadium.[33]


The stadium hosted concerts by many famous artists, including The Who, Jethro Tull, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, U2, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffett, The Eagles, Whitney Houston, Jonathan Butler, 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.[34] On June 3, 1977, the band returned to the venue, but the concert was cut short due to a large thunderstorm. An audience riot followed, with police ultimately using tear gas to disperse the crowd.[35] Local authorities banned concerts in Tampa Stadium for over a year and changed security rules before allowing shows to resume.[36]

Special events

In March 1979, evangelist Billy Graham held a "Florida West Coast Crusade" at Tampa Stadium, drawing a combined crowd of about 175,000 over five consecutive days.[37]

File:Tampa Stadium last event.jpg
A promotional poster for the final event at the stadium, a soccer match between the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the MetroStars.
File:Tampa Stadium demolition.jpg
Final stages of Tampa Stadium demolition, April 11, 1999. Note Raymond James Stadium at background left.


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 taxpayer's expense.[38][39] To accommodate these demands, Hillsborough County raised local sales taxes and built Raymond James Stadium just south of Tampa Stadium in 1997-98.[40]

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. 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. The land was then cleared and converted into a parking lot. Part of that demolition was featured in a 1999 Modern Marvels episode entitled "Demolition".

Tampa Stadium in video games

Tampa Stadium featured in a number of video games, including Madden NFL 2000 and Madden NFL 2001.

List of tenants & major events

Preceded by
first stadium
Home of the
University of Tampa Spartans

1967 – 1974
Succeeded by
final stadium
Preceded by
first stadium
Home of the
Tampa Bay Rowdies

1975 – 1990
Succeeded by
USF Soccer Stadium
Preceded by
USF Soccer Stadium
Home of the
Tampa Bay Rowdies

Succeeded by
final stadium
Preceded by
first stadium
Home of the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1976 – 1997
Succeeded by
Raymond James Stadium
Preceded by
The Kingdome
Host of the NFL Pro Bowl
Succeeded by
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Preceded by
first stadium
Home of the
Florida Classic

1978 – 1996
Succeeded by
Citrus Bowl
Preceded by
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Host of NFC Championship Game
Succeeded by
Veterans Stadium
Preceded by
first stadium
Home of the
Tampa Bay Bandits

1983 – 1985
Succeeded by
final stadium
Preceded by
Rose Bowl
Louisiana Superdome
Host of the Super Bowl
XVIII 1984
XXV 1991
Succeeded by
Stanford Stadium
Preceded by
Mile High Stadium
Host of the
USFL Championship Game

Succeeded by
Giants Stadium
Preceded by
Legion Field
Host of the
Hall of Fame/Outback Bowl

1986 – 1998
Succeeded by
Raymond James Stadium
Preceded by
first stadium
Home of the
Tampa Bay Mutiny

1996 – 1999
Succeeded by
Raymond James Stadium
Preceded by
first stadium
Home of the
South Florida Bulls

1997 – 1998
Succeeded by
Raymond James Stadium
Preceded by
California Memorial Stadium
Host of the College Cup
Succeeded by
Stanford Stadium

External links


  1. ^ a b Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  2. ^ "Local $ Needed For Stadium". St. Petersburg Times. July 28, 1966. Retrieved March 31, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Places to get a kick out of football". USA Today. 2006-06-12. Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  4. ^ Tampa in the 1940s -
  5. ^ "Big Deeds Need Big Plans" - St. Pete Times, June 9, 1949
  6. ^ "Tampa football all began at Phillips Field" - The Tampa Tribune
  7. ^ Tampa Sports Authority
  8. ^ a b c "Redskins Regain Beban For Exhibition at Tampa". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. August 4, 1968. 
  9. ^ "Tampa Stadium Sold Out". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. August 10, 1979. 
  10. ^ "Detroit Has a Gay Day at Sacking Tampa Bay". The Palm Beach Post. September 5, 1983. 
  11. ^ David Steele (August 15, 1986). "Bucs' Season-Ticket Sales Dip Sharply". The Evening Independent. 
  12. ^ "Buccaneers". Gainesville Sun. September 26, 1989. 
  13. ^ "Ticket Sales Up With Threat of Bucs Move". The Tuscaloosa News. December 21, 1994. 
  14. ^ Ron Martz (August 19, 1978). "Bucs Return to Scene of First Victory". St. Petersburg Times. 
  15. ^ "Florida Heat is Tampa Bay's Real Home Field Advantage" - St. Pete Times, Aug. 25, 1976
  16. ^ "D-Day Arrives for Tampa" - St. Pete Times, Nov. 4, 1967
  17. ^ "University of Tampa Spartans used to be the toast of the town - Orlando Sentinel". 2009-01-25. Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  18. ^ UT Journal - Winter 2007 -
  19. ^ Rusnak, Jeff (1991-06-23). "Strikers Look Bad, But Still Sneak By Rowdies 1-0". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 2014-04-15. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Brousseau, Dave (1993-06-13). "Eichmann Nets 2 In Striker Victory First Half At Tampa Gets Rowdy". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 2014-04-15. 
  22. ^ "Bucpower.Com". Bucpower.Com. Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  23. ^ "Tampa Bay Proves Its Winning Way". 2009-01-31. Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  24. ^ Mizell, Hubert. "At last! A Tampa Stadium victory celebration". St. Petersburg Times. 19 Dec 1977
  25. ^ Werder, Ed (1991-12-05). "Tampa Initiates Krewe Of Honor". Tampa Bay (Orlando Sentinel). Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  26. ^ "Stockholder sue Glazer" - St. Pete Times, Dec. 2, 1995
  27. ^ "Is Zapata the Glazers' Toy?" - Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Oct. 7, 1996
  28. ^ "Major League Soccer: History: Games". Retrieved 2010-01-18. [dead link]
  29. ^ "52,000 Seen for '68 Debut in Stadium" - St. Pete Times, Sept. 21, 1968
  30. ^ 03_2010_Records&History_pp135-200.indd
  31. ^ Tampa Sports History: Can-Am Bowl I, 1/8/78
  32. ^ Geist, Bill (1994-10-23). "Really Big Trucks". Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  33. ^!invitational/c11xy
  34. ^ Led Zeppelin - Official Website
  35. ^ "Official Website". Led Zeppelin. 1977-06-03. Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  36. ^ "Tampa Stadium to allow concerts again" - The Evening Independent, June 18, 1979
  37. ^ "Attention of thousands focuses on Graham crusade" - The St. Pete Times, Mar. 24, 1979
  38. ^ Stadium rose despite challenges
  39. ^ Tampa Still Hopeful Bucs Will Stay Put - Orlando Sentinel
  40. ^ Tampa Sports Authority - Raymond James Stadium