You may be writing off the Monday Night Football match-up between the Indianapolis Colts and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for all the things that are missing.

The obvious? No Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks of any generation. And it's safe to say that Manning's absence means no magic from Reggie Wayne or Dallas Clark.

For the Colts, Dwight Freeney is the only real superstar. In fact, he's the only superstar in a sea of unknowns -- including the home-team Buccaneers.

You probably don't know much about them, these young Bucs. Don't feel bad -- most don't outside of promising quarterback in Josh Freeman and punishing running back LeGarrette Blount.

Even Tampa Bay locals have been in the dark, thanks to archaic NFL blackout rules. Not a single Buccaneer home game has been broadcast locally in two years. This after finishing an unexpected 10-6 record last season and a breath of making the playoffs.

Most people, even locals, couldn't pick out linebacker Dekoda Watson or receiver Mike Williams in a crowd. Even football diehards are shocked to discover Freeman had the ninth-best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history last season. So this is their introduction -- their opportunity to make you care again.

Brooks, Sapp, Lynch, Alstott -- they're all long gone. The only one that remains is the ageless wonder, Ronde Barber. He's the team's last link to brighter days, when it was impossible to get Sunday tickets, when Raymond James Stadium was once the most magical place on earth, where cannons fired with every touchdown, and for ten straight years, sellout crowds would sing "A Pirate's Life for Me."

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For an area that has seen little to no growth economically, including a 20 percent underemployment rate, in a state that ranks third-highest in national unemployment -- this Monday night matters.

With attendance issues that have become the laughing stock of national media, and fans convinced ownership has shifted priorities elsewhere, having a sellout crowd before a national audience is huge.

And Monday Night Football? It has been eight years since America's most popular football game crew made a stop in Tampa Bay. That was the last time this team was nationally relevant, one year removed from a Super Bowl win.

Even bigger -- the Tampa Bay Rays, who overcame a nine-game deficit to reach the playoffs in spectacular fashion, are playing across the Bay in St. Petersburg, also before a sellout crowd, also before a national audience, in the ALDS.

The Rays too have had attendance issues -- even worse than the Bucs. But they too managed to sell out a 5 p.m. game, in a remote, often inaccessible part of town, in a stadium that's been called everything from "the circus tent"to the "fruitdome."

Neither of these games carry the clout of the heavyweight duel between Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia. And that game will more than likely steal Monday Night Football's thunder on TV.

But this ... this is huge for Tampa Bay sports, and for the area's economy. For teams that have mattered so little to people outside Florida, and even the area, it feels good to be relevant, to be in the conversation and not the butt of everyone's jokes.

When a national audience cares, a buzz starts to form. And people stop talking about frugal payrolls and "disingenuous" ownerships, and they start to believe again. Then suddenly the only thing that matters is what's happening on the field. That is why tonight matters.

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