Love, or at least a high level of mutual respect is in the air

It's been interesting to watch the interaction between the three men who lead the major league sports franchises in the Tampa Bay area and the relationships between the teams that are developing as a result.

Back in February, Lightning coach Guy Boucher, Rays manager Joe Maddon and Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris sat down together for a panel discussion hosted by about coaching philosophies. Since then, the three have kept in touch and inter-mingling between the teams has been rather frequent.

Morris was in attendance at several Lightning playoff games and was featured in a promotional video, wearing a Bolts sweater and standing in front of a Bucs backdrop, that was shown on the scoreboard during games. Lightning players Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson and former goalie Mike Smith took batting practice with the Rays after an invitation from Maddon. Morris frequently wears Rays gear during his media conferences and Sunday, Rays manager Joe Maddon repaid the favor by wearing a Buccaneers helmet during his post-game address.

It's not unusual for athletes from different teams in the same city to interact with one another. For one thing, they tend to travel in the same social circles. For another, in spite of the differences of the sports they play, they're united by the inherent similarities found in the lifestyles of top-level professional athletes. Rays players Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton attend several Lightning games every year. Former Buc Warren Sapp used to show up early at Rays games to confer with coach Frank Howard. Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis have both been sighted at Rays and Bucs games over the years and Lightning broadcaster and former Philadalphia Flyers goalie Bobby "The Chief" Taylor is a diehard Rays fan who attends almost as many games at Tropicana Field as ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale.

What is unusual is for the leaders of these teams to have embraced each other so openly and enthusiastically, attaching the implied endorsement of their respective franchises in the process. You couldn't blame someone from an upper management or ownership position from one of the teams if they bristled at the notion of their field general rallying support for another organization that is arguably competing for the same finite entertainment dollars. However, that hasn't been the case and all three organizations seem to be enjoying the sense of kinship.

It's almost like the relationship between teams in a collegiate setting, except even more so. At most colleges, the coaches are so intently focused on their own programs that they don't go out of their way to pump up someone else's. That's not to say they don't support each other because they do, but don't expect Stan Heath or Jose Fernandez to show up for a booster function in a football helmet or Skip Holtz to hold a press conference in shorts and a tank top. That's also not to say that Tampa Bay's professional coaches are any less intently focused on their own teams. All three have been hailed as dynamic, unconventional and innovative. More importantly, all three have been successful in the area that matters most: winning.

I'd be intrested to find out if there are relationships like this elsewhere or whether it's unique to our teams here in Tampa Bay. It could probably only exist in a place where all the teams are winning. It's definitely never existed in Tampa Bay before. The fact that Boucher, Maddon and Morris are all in their first stints as head coach (or manager) at this level and are clearly not heavily influenced by what may be considered traditional mindsets are probably factors as well. At any rate, for fans, it's something that should be inspiring as it adds some added weight behind marketing phrases like "All In".

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