"Be prepared," Buck said. "I'm serious. We're gonna start drinking around 10 [a.m.]. At some point during the day it will hit you: 'I'm fucked up.'"
Buck's warning came last Saturday. He was talking about Sunday's Buccaneers' home opener against the New Orleans Saints. He had everything arranged: free tickets; access to a pregame house party thrown by one of Tampa's top restaurateurs; passes to the Miller Lite Party Deck located inside Raymond James stadium. I nodded as he gave me the details. I should have been amped. But at that moment, I hurt like a frat pledge the morning after rush week.
We were at Blanco's Restaurant, a great little Cuban joint in West Tampa. Buck was on lunch. I was just getting around to breakfast and battling a severe hangover incurred Friday night at The Rack. The friendly server there meant to do me right — I think — by suggesting an upgrade to the more economical "double." Instead of bringing me a taller high ball, though, she presented me with a pint glass full of Jameson, a few ice cubes and a splash of soda. Like a fool, I bowed to peer pressure and finished it.
"It's gonna be good times tomorrow," Buck said.
"Sounds great," I mumbled. "What time do I need to be at your house?"
"10 a.m.," he said. "And don't be late."
Come Sunday, I was pumped. My phone rang at 9:30 a.m. Buck sounded surprised when I answered on the second ring.
"I'm on my way over," I said.
We cracked our first cans of beer shortly thereafter. Our buddy Casey arrived an hour later. Bernie and B.J. were running late, so we offered to meet them at Ray Jay. Problem was, Bernie had the parking pass.
"I ain't spending $25 to park," Buck said as we crept down Martin Luther King in his giant truck.
"I'll pay," Casey snapped. "Jesus, how far do you expect us to walk?"
We finally found a church in West Tampa that charged only $10 to park, loaded our pockets with ice-cold beers from the cooler and made the trek to the stadium. Oddly, the closer we got, the more parking spots we saw available. Only these people were charging $9.
Casey: "Shit, Buck, we could've parked up here and my shirt wouldn't be drenched with sweat already."
Me: "Yeah, for a dollar less."
Buck: "Then we'd be parked in. Plus, my truck's too big. Now, if we would've taken Casey's truck..."
Our first order of business when we reached the stadium was to visit our good friend Lauren G. She was at the Miller Lite will-call window surrounded by a bevy of young, beautiful Miller Lite girls.
"I'll see you guys up on the deck," she said. "Have fun, boys."
Lauren handed us a pile of swag. Good swag. We wore the giant passes that read "Miller Lite Party Deck Access" around our necks. We slapped on the blue wristbands that entitled us to free drinks. We stuffed our pockets with the $1 coupons that can be used like cash inside the stadium.
Next, we walked over to the Party House a few blocks away. Our friend Jay, another Miller Lite rep, had secured us tickets to the very private pre-game bash, with an open bar and outstanding buffet. There were about a hundred people there, mostly 40ish yuppie types and couples. We also spotted several groups of jaw-droppingly gorgeous women in their early 20s. I switched from beer to Red Bull-n-vodkas. Put away about three of 'em in the midday heat.
"You buzzed yet?" Buck asked. He was sticking to Miller Lite.
"Getting there," I smirked.
We entered the stadium just shortly after the 1 p.m. kickoff and went directly to the party deck. We stayed there the duration of the game — well, until we ran out of free drink coupons at the start of the fourth quarter.
Located above the south end zone, the Miller Lite Party Deck offers a great view of the field, but we spent the majority of our time mingling, boozing and talking on our mobile phones to friends and family who saw us on television. (Thanks to the attractive women who congregate there and work for Miller Lite, the party deck gets more than its fair share of airtime.)
During half time, I felt my knees wobble after putting back three or four pints of beer in the 100-degree heat. I joined our buddy, nicknamed Rabbi, for a smoke in the shade. Caught my second wind.
"Y'know," Buck said. "I almost feel bad. Look at us. We get to come to the game for free, drink for free, eat for free, go to a pregame and after party for free, and we don't even really watch the game."
"Yeah," I said. "Makes ya feel bad — almost."
"Almost," Buck replied.