TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Don’t mistake Bar Hwrd’s loud music, relaxed atmosphere, and TV chatter for a city not grieving over its neighbors to the south.
“It breaks my heart because it could have been us,” said Madison Green.
Patrons of the bar came for the game, understanding how lucky they were.
“That literally could have actually been us,” said Jacqueline Cortes. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that.”
The bar itself might not be here if Hurricane Ian decided to wobble a little more north.
“It’s just great to be here in Tampa and be able to contribute to them when it could have been us.”
‘It could have been us’ may very well be the motto of the city after seeing the devastation wrought by Ian on towns like Fort Myers and North Port. Now, the state is coming together for Sunday Night Football, uniting over a love of sport.
“I used to travel down to Fort Myers all the time,” said Savannah Sawyers. “I was a swimmer, so I was down there often for swim meets. It was really upsetting seeing all of the devastation, all the things that happened. I used to vacation down there.”
Even more than 100 miles north of Ian’s devastation, the plight of South Florida weighs heavy on Buc’s fans’ minds before the game against Kansas City.
“I definitely think it’s good that we can all get together with our friends and our family around here and get together and be with each other,” Sawyers said. “But it’s also really sad, like people down there may not be able to enjoy today the way that we are able to enjoy today.”
The fans that did come to Bar Hwrd for football appreciated the effort to help Ian’s victims.
News Channel 8, Bar Hwrd, Metropolitan Ministries, and NBC Sports teamed up for a food and clothing drive at the bar. Canned good, non-perishable food, clothes, bedding, blankets and more were accepted — a free drink for every donation. They also set up a photo booth, permanent bracelet exhibit, and gave away koozies and mints.
“We are very fortunate in Tampa to have missed a major, major storm,” said Bar Hwrd manager Scott Gengler. “It’s a catastrophe even still with the flooding and things that are going on for some of those families that are going to be displaced for a while.”
Nearly everyone at the bar on October 2 had an Ian story. Manager Scott Gengler has friends in Fort Myers and Cape Coral and patrons competed and vacationed in its waters. Now, some Tampa residents are feeling pangs of guilt for breathing a sigh of relief after the hurricane passed.
“It’s different, seeing the Snapchats, Instagrams, and like, that’s my state,” said bar patron Jacqueline Cortes. “I’m like four hours away from there.”
Many of us in the city woke up from the nightmare on September 29 and looked outside our windows, realizing how lucky we were.
“It’s one of those things you don’t realize it’ll happen until it happens to you,” Cortes said. “And it happened.”