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Stadium flyover, tailgate and bowl productions

By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2003


Nearly 30 years ago, Jeff Cathey was a 240-pound defensive tackle on the last football team to dress in the University of Tampa's red and gold.

"He had a forearm that would leave a crease in your forehead," said Dan Lea, Cathey's teammate and proprietor of the much-missed Chatterbox Lounge.

Today, Capt. Cathey's U.S. Navy squadron will crease the sky over Raymond James Stadium moments before the Bucs-49ers divisional playoff. He has gone from defensive tackle to wing commander on the USS Enterprise.

When four F/A-18C strike fighters fly over after the national anthem, Cathey, stationed in Virginia Beach, Va., will be piloting the lead jet.

Cathey is looking forward to seeing family and friends here, and to helping a crowded stadium honor the men and women who are preparing to play in the ultimate game.

I'm always amazed at the precision involved in these flyovers, but maybe I shouldn't be. These guys can land on an aircraft carrier in the rain and drop bombs down a chimney.

Cathey, 49, makes it sound easy. Just synchronize your watches while accounting for other details, including path, corridors, clearance and wind speed. The result is another perfect flyover.

In case you're wondering, this is turnaround time for the pilots. If you believe everything you read and hear, Cathey and his command are likely headed back to the Middle East for more action. They were in the first phase of the war on terrorism last year.

"I was in the North Arabian Sea when I read about the Chatterbox closing," Cathey said. "It tore me apart."

* * *

As a kid, Tim Young and his friends would bike in on Hillsborough Avenue all the way from Clearwater to see the Bucs play.

They would arrive at the old Tampa Stadium with the tools needed for a crude tailgating: tinfoil, hot dogs and sticks. Every week the same people would come by and give them tickets to the game.

Yes, we are talking about a different era.

From those humble beginnings were planted the seeds of Bucs fanaticism.

Since 1989, Young's passion has fueled an over-the-top tailgating effort: pirate ship replicas, gas-powered blenders, tents, trailers, turkey fryers and food themes tied to the opponent.

Anyone for leg of Detroit Lion? How about the year he put 120,000 Christmas lights on his roof that said "Go Bucs," then fell and had to have surgery.

Each week, the tailgating got bigger and better. Fellow tailgaters started teaming with him, friends came and before he knew it, 150 to 200 people were showing up for grub before games.

Young's efforts have helped him win 26 tailgating championships. He has been on the Food Network, HBO and ESPN. This year, he was named the 2002 Ultimate Bucs fan by Visa and will be inducted into the fans wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"I am obsessed with cooking and eating, so it just fits in," said Young, who comes to every game in full pirate regalia (don't tell Ye Mystic Krewe). "The people we meet are just the best people. Never any fights. All of sudden, everyone just gets along. They might be in the car honking and flicking their finger at someone, but once they get to the parking lot, everyone is friends."

Young, who is quick to credit his wife, Christina, lives in Atlanta but comes down for every home game. He also has shown up at some road games this year. Sometimes he does midweek tailgate preparations in the front yard of his Alpharetta, Ga., home.

* * *

While Young eats before every game, 29-year-old Charles Dietels ate to get to today's playoff. He won two tickets Friday in the Rice-A-Roni Bowl staged by WFLA-AM 970.

All he had to do was eat seven bowls of the San Francisco treat.

He saids one of the tickets will go to his father.

I guess you could chastise the Clear Channel folks for encouraging people to come to their parking lot on Gandy Boulevard and act like pigs. But it's still better than killing a pig in the parking lot.

That's all I'm saying.

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