Deering High Athletic Director Michael Daly has been a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan since their first season in 1976. “We needed a quarterback to fix the franchise, and why not Tom Brady?” Daly says. “I know it’s short-lived, and that’s why you’ve got to enjoy it.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Growing up in Brighton, Massachusetts, Michael Daly was an outlier. While all his friends rooted for the New England Patriots, he was cheering for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Daly, now the athletic director at Deering High in Portland, was 8 years old during the Buccaneers’ inaugural season in 1976 and he loved the Creamsicle-colored jerseys and swashbuckler on the helmets.

Oh, he also cheered for the Patriots – “Hey, I’m from Boston. They’re my second favorite team” – and each year attends a Patriots game with his friends. While wearing all his Tampa Bay gear.

“It drives them crazy,” Daly said. “Right now they’re not talking to me.”

That’s because it’s the Buccaneers – and not the Patriots – who will be playing in Super Bowl LV on Sunday night against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. Tampa Bay is led by none other than former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, with a little help from former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Daly and other long-suffering Bucs fans are rejoicing. Their team hadn’t made it to the NFL playoffs since 2007, and this is Tampa’s first appearance in the Super Bowl since winning it all 18 years ago. The Patriots have won five Super Bowls since then.

Deering High School Athletic Director Michael Daly holds a plaque that commemorates the founding of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. Daly said he has loved the team since they played their first season in 1976 when he was 8 years old. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“Nothing could have come together better than getting the greatest quarterback of all time and maybe the greatest tight end of all time,” said Daly, 52, who has decorated his office in Bucs paraphernalia such as a mini-helmet autographed by Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden and a wooden plaque that commemorates their founding.

“We needed a quarterback to fix the franchise and why not Tom Brady?” he said. “I know it’s short-lived, and that’s why you’ve got to enjoy it.”

Buccaneers fan Noel LeVasseur of Augusta moved to Maine from Massachusetts when he was 8. Now 53, he remembers trying to fit in with his new friends.

“The Patriots were awful back then and most kids were cheering for Pittsburgh or Dallas or Miami,” he said. “I didn’t want to be like them. When the Seahawks and Bucs came in, I picked the Bucs. … There were some awful, awful years.”

The Bucs lost their first 26 games as an expansion team. Fortunately, they were led by a coach, John McKay, who had a sense of humor. After one particularly disheartening loss, McKay was asked about his team’s execution. He replied, “I’m in favor of it.”

“I think I appreciate his wit and candor a lot more now than I did back then,” said LeVasseur, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2017 and has become a leading advocate for research for the disease.

LeVasseur didn’t think there was anything funny about this year’s Bucs team. Growing up smack in the middle of Patriots Nation, he respected what they accomplished and knew what a leader like Brady could bring to his favorite team.

“I knew, being a Bucs fan forever, that we had a lot of very good pieces in place,” he said. “I instantly thought playoffs are definitely attainable (after Brady signed) but I didn’t necessarily think we’d be in the Super Bowl this year. Knowing he signed a two-year contract, I thought next year was a legit possibility. But I also knew Brady’s leadership qualities. Once he takes the field, anything is possible.”

LeVasseur proudly has his Buccaneers flag flying these days. He wears his Mike Alstott jersey whenever he gets a chance to attend a Bucs game.

Aaron Jackson of Bangor and a friend purchased season tickets for the Buccaneers two days before Brady signed. Although he couldn’t attend any games this year, he considers the investment worthwhile.

“The thing about this team is that the last couple of years, they were that trendy pick to make the playoffs,” said Jackson, a teacher at the United Technologies Center and host of the Drive Show Maine on 92.9 FM in Bangor. “Look at all that talent, they’d say. As a Bucs fan, you knew that probably wasn’t going to happen.

“We have talent, we can’t put it to use. And if you look at Tom Brady, his stats are incredible. But the things I look at is the confidence, stability and leadership. He brings those things.”

Jackson, 34, was raised in a home where sports wasn’t necessarily talked about or watched. One day he was given a foam football with the Bucs logo on it. They became his team, even if they weren’t winning much. “Winning and losing were irrelevant to an 8-year-old,” he said. “The thing looked cool. And by the time I realized winning was important, I was hooked.”

Working in sports media in Maine – he covered Patriots games at Gillette Stadium while sports director at the Bangor FOX affiliate – his friends naturally assumed he was a Patriots fan. “People would always ask, ‘How about those Patriots?'” he said. “It would have been awkward to say, ‘How about those Bucs?’ Especially when they were bad. And they’ve been bad.”

After Tampa Bay defeated Green Bay in the NFC championship game two weeks ago, Jackson tried to hunt down a Tom Brady Creamsicle Bucs jersey. “You can’t find one,” he said. “I had to settle for the alternate gray.”

Ken Nadeau, the track coach at Winslow High School, wouldn’t be caught in a Tom Brady Buccaneers jersey of any kind. And he’s a lifelong Bucs fan.

“I am not a Tom Brady fan and I’m not going to be a Tom Brady fan,” he said. “You can’t argue the statistics. I’m a math teacher. You can’t argue that he’s not the greatest of all time. There’s no question about it. But I’m not a Brady fan.”

The dislike stems from Brady’s long career with the Patriots, who won six Super Bowl titles during his 20 years with the team.

“There is a certain arrogance that goes with the Patriots,” said Nadeau. “I think he carries a little of it. Part of it is that he’s a perfectionist. He is a great player and has that edge. … But I have never been a Tom fan probably because they were so good.

“I spent 20 years of my life hating Tom Brady. Now you add Gronk to it. … When those guys went (to the Bucs), it was, ‘Yuck.’ But he’s throwing to my favorite players. And I’m a fan of the team.”

Growing up in Winslow, he became a Buccaneers fan because his dad was a New York Giants fan. Nadeau was going to choose his own team and it just happened to be far away from New York. And he loved the Creamsicle jerseys.

He knows all about the team’s history. He has a list of favorite players that includes linebacker Derrick Brooks, Alstott, the pounding fullback, safety John Lynch, defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon and, now, wide receiver Mike Evans.

He has a Tom Brady Buccaneers shirt, a gift from a friend from Florida. But he prefers to wear his Evans jersey.

Nadeau, 37, says his friends, all Patriots fans, have been texting him and asking him how he feels about Brady and Gronkowski now that the Bucs are in the Super Bowl.

Still not a fan.

But, he added, “This is a pretty exciting time in my life.”

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