The sports gods have been on Justin Lawrence’s side for the past six months.
The Kodiak-based Coast Guardsman, originally from Florida, has seen the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Rays play in the World Series and the Miami Heat make the NBA Finals.
The quadfecta gets completed on Sunday when Super Bowl 55 kicks off between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
“All my teams have made the championships — it is pretty exciting,” Lawrence said.
People have probably seen the truck Lawrence drives. On the back windows are giant decals of the Tampa Buccaneers and the Florida Gators — the college he roots for.
He’s 38 years old and was born into a family of Buccaneers. Growing up in the Tampa Bay area, he went to games — tickets were cheap and readily available — at Tampa Stadium, known as the Big Sombrero. The team moved to Raymond James Stadium — the site of Sunday’s game — in 1998.
“Back then, they were the Ucks. They were terrible, but they were our team,” Lawrence said. “Back then, we never expected to win; it was more like, ‘Oh, we are playing the 49ers, we get to see Joe Montana.’”
The Bucs started winning in the late 1990s and went to their first Super Bowl in 2002 — a 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
It’s been 18 years since that Super Bowl victory. The Bucs’ last postseason run was in 2007 — the same time Lawrence joined the Coast Guard.
He said he hasn’t run into a lot of Tampa Bay fans on The Rock.
“There are a lot more Bucs fans popping up all of a sudden,” he said.
That might be because of Tom Brady, who made a living of playing in Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. This is the quarterback’s 10th trip to the big dance.
“We needed a culture change, so who better than the winningest quarterback to help the team learn how to win again,” Lawrence said.
Will Brady’s experience fuel the Bucs to an upset over the high-powered Chiefs, who are attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Brady-led Patriots in 2003 and 2004.
The Chiefs beat the Bucs 27-24 during the regular season. In that game, Tyreek Hill went off for 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns. Lawrence was quick to point out that nose tackle Vita Vea — A first-rounder out of the University of Washington — missed that game due to injury.
“He is really going to be the key. Our defense is completely different with him in the game because he has to be double-teamed. He is too strong for one guy,” Lawrence said. “He gives us a better chance.”
Kodiak city council member Rich Walker grew up in Missouri. In 1970, at the age of 11, he watched with his father the Chiefs — the American Football League champions — beat the Minnesota Vikings — the NFL Champions — in Super Bowl 4.
“I asked the man upstairs to please let me see the K.C. Chiefs win a Super Bowl before I die. I sat at home last year with my wife and kids watching the Super Bowl at the end of the game with tears flowing down my face,” Walker wrote in a text message.
Walker, a former president of the Kodiak Football League is more than giddy to see the Chiefs back in the Super Bowl.
“A new dynasty for years to come. What an awesome young quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and weapons everywhere. What a powerful team to watch. So proud to be a Chiefs fan,” he wrote.
No matter which team wins Super Bowl 55, there will be fans celebrating in Kodiak.
And now for the predictions:
It is hard to bet against Brady in the Super Bowl. The sixth-round pick from Michigan is 6-3 all-time in the Super Bowl. Plus, the Bucs are the first Super Bowl team to be playing in their home stadium. That has to amount for something.
Tampa Bay was my initial pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but I swayed from the Bucs in the NFC championship game and was burnt. Do I dare go against Brady and the Bucs this go around?
As Lawrence said, the matchup of the game is Tampa’s defense against Kansas City’s offense. Andy Reid is a terrific play-caller. I love how the Chiefs use tight end Travis Kelce — I’m tempted to take him in the first round of next season’s fantasy draft. The Bucs’ focus will be to shut down Hill, which opens the door for Kelce to have a monster game. My bold prediction: Kelce becomes the first tight end to be named Super Bowl MVP ... Chiefs 42, Buccaneers 38.
Lawrence — Buccaneers 35, Chiefs 31
Walker — Chiefs 38, Buccaneers 34