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Football analysis and cool parties

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2002

Talk to Enrique Oliu about the Bucs and he will tell you he has never seen a defense with more team speed.

He will say he sees Brad Johnson as one of the league's best quarterbacks, and he will say the one weakness he sees on the Bucs is special teams.

Such visual observations are impressive coming from Oliu, because he can't. See, that is.

"It depends on what you consider sight," said Oliu, who has been blind since birth and is an analyst for the Bucs' Spanish-language broadcasts on WMGG-AM 820. "To me, sight is perception. If you can perceive it, you see it. The quarterback may not be feeling pressure from the rush, but he sees it in a way. He hasn't actually seen it, yet he knows it's there. If you're looking for something, the eyeballs can be registering but you're not seeing it. Seeing is being aware of what's going on."

If that's true, few people see the game better than the 40-year-old Oliu.

His knowledge is sharp, yet he isn't a machine spewing statistics. Oliu, who called Devil Rays games for WMGG's sister station WBDN-AM 760 until this season, speaks with intelligence, wit and passion. His football savvy belies his roots in Nicaragua, where baseball, boxing and soccer were king and radio was the primary medium.

But when he came to the United States at the age of 10 to attend the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, Oliu quickly took a liking to football.

"I remember the big Thanksgiving game (in 1974) when Clint Longley came off the sidelines for an injured Roger Staubach and pulled it out," Oliu said. "I remember Tom Brookshire and Pat Summerall going on and on about the underdog and about how (Cowboys coach) Tom Landry was a larger-than-life figure. That's how I got interested in football."

With help of his play-by-play partner and his wife, Oliu is able to comment on the action, even though he can't see it. They help him keep track with statistics, but Oliu also has a sense of what's taking place, thanks in part to his knowledge of the game.

He "watches" Edge NFL Matchup, an ESPN analysis show that delves into the complexities of the game. He also pores through Internet material with the help of JAWS, a screen-reading software system developed by St. Petersburg-based Freedom Scientific.

"I would relate this to someone having a car or not having a car," Oliu said of the software. "When someone has to drive you everywhere, it's not very much fun. It's a liberating tool."

I bet Oliu's commentary is liberating for Hispanic fans, but because I don't speak Spanish, I can't see it.

* * *

The Children's Heart Foundation hopes the 13 Ugly Men throw a beautiful party New Year's Eve. That's because the charity will be the benefactors of what promises to be a rousing celebration at Jackson's. At $80 for the ladies and $120 for the men, it better be.

All I can tell you is that I've been to five of their parties and I've yet to be disappointed. I took my sister to the Get Roasted soiree the day before Thanksgiving and, well . . . she got roasted.

* * *

Of all the holiday parties I went to (and heard about), I have to credit Carolyn Heller for having the best gumbo (my wife loved it), Krista Soroka of Wonder Events for having the best theme (Festivus, from a Seinfeld episode) and our own staff function at Big City Tavern for the best pot stickers.

But the most interesting person? That would be Carlton Miles, who proved equally adept at talking computers and football at the TransWorld Diversified Services bash. And why shouldn't he? He teaches classes at TransWorld and is a former linebacker for the Gators.

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or .

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