TAMPA — The Bucs might mean more to Tampa Bay than they normally do this season, helping to get a region potentially knocked down by Hurricane Irma back on its feet.
As Irma forced evacuations throughout the area on Saturday, the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, scrambled to secure five small planes to fly 130 players, football and business staff members, and their immediate families to Charlotte, N.C.
The Bucs are monitoring the effects of the historic storm, and like everyone, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Their preparations included identifying undisclosed locations in two other states (one would think North Carolina) where they could resume practice and football operations in preparation for next Sunday's scheduled game — their new season opener — against the Bears at Raymond James Stadium.
For the Bucs, this year already feels bigger than football.
On Wednesday, the NFL decided to move the Bucs-Dolphins regular-season opener scheduled for today in Miami to the teams' bye week, Nov. 19, because of Irma. Though it means both teams play 16 consecutive weeks, there wasn't a good alternative.
Where the Bucs-Bears game will ultimately be played is anyone's guess. The league will have to act quickly once it is able to assess the damage from Irma. One thing you can bank on: There will not be another week away from the playing field for the Bucs.
But many issues are in play.
The storm is expected to produce a significant amount of power outages, meaning the Bucs would have a tough time conducting business as usual at One Buc Place.
Players have also scattered. Because this is now their bye week, they got five days off and weren't expected to return to practice until Tuesday. Due to the slow movement of the storm, the Bucs believed Saturday that they would not practice in Tampa before Wednesday. Reassembling players and staff is a concern.
Coach Dirk Koetter's only instruction to his players: "Be safe. Make sure your families are safe. Get some conditioning in and we'll see you next week."
Because the bay area could be digging out of a catastrophic storm, it might be untenable for the Bucs to reassemble at One Buc Place.
Possible precedent for what the Bucs might face with their schedule is how Hurricane Katrina affected the Saints in 2005.
Katrina made landfall just outside of New Orleans with 125 mph winds as a strong Category 3 storm.
The Superdome, where the Saints played, was in disrepair and served as a shelter. The Saints' first "home" game was at Giants Stadium. They trained and played games in San Antonio, Texas, and other games were staged at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
The season did take its toll on the Saints. They went 3-13, and coach Jim Haslett was fired.
But a year later, behind new coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints won the Super Bowl.
"The community needed us," former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita told Sports Illustrated. "We needed the community. And it worked. This is why the marriage is so special between the team and the town, why the Saints are now so deeply rooted in the community and you just can't imagine New Orleans without the Saints."
You can't imagine Tampa Bay without the Bucs.