TAMPA, Fla. — Back in high school, Albert Silverman begged his dad for tickets to see his beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Raiders in Super Bowl 37.
His father told him, “next time the Bucs are in it.” Silverman was appeased, thinking it would take a year or two, considering how dominant the World Champion Buccaneers were that season.
The Bucs did not win another playoff game for 18 years.
Silverman thought about that long, long wait while driving eight hours home to Ann Arbor, Mich., after tailgating in Green Bay, Wis., where the Buccaneers defeated the Packers to earn a trip to Super Bowl 55 in Tampa.
By the time he arrived, the 33-year-old tennis coach and sports management grad student had pretty much decided. He hit the button to purchase two tickets to the Super Bowl for just over $21,000.
“I don’t exactly have the most money in the world, so I basically cleaned out my checking account,” Silverman said. “It sounds sick and sad to say, but this is like 40 percent of my yearly salary after taxes. … I’m so excited I can’t sleep.”
Tickets for Sunday’s Super Bowl 55 between the Buccaneers and Chiefs were on sale this week for between $6,902 and $36,167. Ticket resale sites said the average sale price of $11,986 so far is outpacing all previous years.
Fans with regular jobs from across the country said they were willing to spend whatever it takes to be there for the once in a lifetime event, and they aren’t all super wealthy.
Silverman, who has never been to a Super Bowl, was so determined to see the game live that he purchased the tickets — which required him to buy two — without knowing who was going with him. He still doesn’t know.
He can’t find a friend willing to pay $10,000 for the other seat, and when he posted about it online he said he was deluged with “scammers.” He’s OK with a stranger sitting next to him, because it’s outdoors and he’ll be wearing a mask along with the Mike Alstott jersey he’s had since ninth grade. He is somewhat used to rooting for the Bucs alone back in Lions country anyway.
As a kid, Silverman loved watching Bucs great Mike Alstott when he played for Purdue. And he liked pirates. It stuck.
“I’m single, so I might get to Tampa and try to find a girl and be like, ‘hey, want to go to the Super Bowl’,” he said. “If I can’t sell the ticket, it’s going to be a $23,000 trip to Tampa for one football game, but this is a once in a lifetime. You can’t put a price on it.”
One Buccaneers fan in Chicago told the Tampa Bay Times he was dipping into his 401K retirement fund to purchase tickets.
Melanie Searcy, a 45-year-old MRI technologist living in Ocala, Fla., said she and her husband, Bill, a pharmaceutical salesman, bought two tickets for more than $16,000 in section 217 before the Buccaneers even clinched the Super Bowl. They found a babysitter for their son, Cash, thinking age 4 might be too young to appreciate an $8,000 seat.
“It was expensive, but there was never any question, if the Buccaneers were in it, we were going,” Searcy said. “I told my husband we’re doing what we need to do. … We had to rearrange some things financially and dip into savings.”
Searcy, who has Buccaneers season tickets, called it a bucket list experience.
“I’ll probably never get another chance to see my team I grew up with in a Super Bowl in their home stadium,” she said. “People have different priorities. You can’t take it with you, and we’re fortunate enough to be able to do this. My son’s college fund is taken care of, so let’s do it, let’s live.”
Jake Duhaime, a 36-year-old Boston resident and communications manager for a supplement company, said he is headed to Tampa for his 11th Super Bowl, and his ninth featuring Tom Brady.
He only missed Brady’s first Super Bowl because “my parents wouldn’t let me go to New Orleans as a 17-year-old.”
Duhaime likes the Patriots, but he’s really a Brady fan. He bought season tickets for the Buccaneers shortly after the team signed the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
He paid just over $17,000, after fees, for a pair of Super Bowl tickets, before the NFC Championship. He likely would have sold them if the Bucs did not make it.
He said Super Bowls are, to him, like weddings.
“It’s a day you’ll never forget for the rest of your life,” he said. “The pictures are important. The little details, like what you wear to the game, are important. The difference is a wedding is a predictable event, a Super Bowl with a rooting interest is the most high-intensity fan experience there is, period.”
Also, he has a strategy to offset the pain of those exorbitant ticket prices: betting against his favorite team.
If the Bucs lose, he said he will at least recoup a good chunk of the ticket cost through a wager he has placed on the Chiefs.
And if the Bucs win, the money he spent — “several percentage points of my annual income” — won’t bother him one bit.
“If you were a Bulls fan and bought a ticket for Game 6 of the 1998 NBA finals when Jordan hit that shot against Utah, are you still thinking about what you paid for a ticket now?,” he asked. “Of course not. You wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
No doubt, the Super Bowl is well-attended by VIPs, celebrities and the wealthy, but not everyone who pays a sum equal to a new Honda Civic to be there is a millionaire.
Trenton, N.J., resident Dave Pelke, 31, is self employed doing handyman services and “yard work.”
With a blizzard approaching Monday night, he told the Tampa Bay Times he hoped to recoup some of the $13,600 he spent on Super Bowl tickets by plowing snow from “about 50 places” the next day.
“It was a tough decision to buy them. I teetered for a week and a half,” he said. With the encouragement of his girlfriend and family, he bought them when prices dipped slightly this week.
He’s been a fan since he was 10 years old and loved pirates and the color orange, back when he started playing as the Buccaneers in the video game Madden.
“I can always make more money,” he said. “It has been 18 years, and if it ever happens again, I might be 50. I might have a young kid to take care of. I might be dead. Who knows?”
On Tuesday, he pushed through the snow with a Buccaneers flag flapping from the back of his plow. On Friday, he planned to be sipping a margarita in Tampa.
Story by Christopher Spata.