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Even on ice, fever present

It wasn't overwhelming but, during this Tampa Bay at Philadelphia matchup, football was on some fans' minds.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 19, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- Lightning associate coach Craig Ramsay called it "a unique situation." Defenseman Dan Boyle called it "good timing."

Really, though, all it is is a coincidence.

The Lightning faced the Flyers on Saturday at the First Union Center. The Bucs face the Eagles for the NFC championship today at Veterans Stadium.

For some, one game could not be separated from the other.

"I feel it," Ramsay said before the hockey game. "I hope our players feel it as well. It's great to represent Tampa, and we want to come up here and put on a good performance, so I hope the guys are thinking of the Bucs and are supportive of the Bucs, and one way to do that is to show a big effort from a Tampa team."

After the Flyers won 3-2, the Bucs are on their own.

Despite the passion the Bucs-Eagles matchup has stirred, there didn't appear to be any more anti-Tampa Bay venom around than usual, the brief "Tampa (expletive)" chant notwithstanding.

When Lightning players passed autograph seekers outside the team hotel, one yelled out, "Go Eagles." There was only a sprinkling of Eagles jerseys in the stands. Fans in the upper deck occasionally chanted "E-A-G-L-E-S." Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said it is difficult to ignore Eaglesmania.

"I'm just so awe-struck with what's going on here, just with the whole atmosphere," he said. "Having spent that time in Dallas (as Stars coach), it's not near as emotionally connected as it is here. This is just unbelievable."

Ramsay, a Flyers assistant and coach from 1998-2001, knows the feeling.

"They are great supporters of their teams," he said of Philly's fans, "but they are extremely demanding. ... Most important, they expect you to compete every night. All you have to do is show up and give a big effort and they'll support you."

Flyers center Jeremy Roenick called the game 17-10 for the Eagles. Defenseman Chris Therien said 28-14.

Ramsay said, "it depends on the weather, of course," but gave the Bucs a 21-17 edge. Left wing Martin St. Louis did not have a score but said, "The Bucs will win."

Lightning player personnel director Bill Barber, who spent 30 years in the Flyers organization as a player, coach and scout, was on the fence.

While he said, "My heart is in Tampa, too," he added his respect for Eagles coach Andy Reid is tough to ignore.

"So it's hard for me to say who I'd really like to win," Barber said. "I wish both teams well and that the players play to their capabilities and the fans get to watch a good football game."

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