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Super Bowl XXXVII

Their faith suffuses champions breakfast

By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2003

Even if he had waited until Saturday, Atlanta Braves outfielder and Tampa native Gary Sheffield could have found a way to get to San Diego for tonight's Super Bowl.

The multimillionaire could have chartered a jet, rented a limo, bought a San Diego home for the night and met the demands of the most unscrupulous ticket scalper to get into Qualcomm Stadium. Clearly, Sheffield's decision to stay in Tampa and lead a fundraising breakfast at Without Walls International Church was a choice he made willingly.

But it was calculated.

"I picked this weekend for a reason," Sheffield said. "Sometimes we have to make that stand and show that these things are more important than any sports event can be.

"I didn't know at the time the Bucs were going to the Super Bowl, but it's quite a treat to know that everybody is interested in our team out there and we're doing something positive back here."

Sheffield didn't come alone to the church's Breakfast of Champions on Saturday. Joining him on the dais were home run giant Barry Bonds, fellow Tampa native and Texas Ranger Carl Everett and free-agent pitcher Anthony Telford.

Bonds and Sheffield have known each other since Bonds trained with the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton. He would come to see Sheffield, a high school phenom, play at Hillsborough High School. Sheffield had hoped to get drafted by the Pirates.

Over the years, the two have remained friends, and now Sheffield spends two months training in San Francisco with Bonds, arguably the best to ever play the game. Bonds has 613 career home runs, holds the single-season record with 73 homers and led his San Francisco Giants to within six outs of a World Series title in 2002.

But Bonds told the 700 breakfast attendees his career isn't over.

"Everyone says "How do you feel, how do you feel,' " Bonds said xplained after a video clip of his 600th homer was shown. "I don't know yet because I still have a whole lot left in me. If I'm content and happy now, then I might as well quit. I have so much more I want to share, that I want to give to the public and this game of baseball."

Although Sheffield is learning much about baseball from Bonds, he also is teaching Bonds about faith. Sheffield said it didn't take a lot to persuade Bonds to come to Tampa.

"I think iron sharpens iron. He's influencing my life and vice versa," Sheffield said. "If I can bring him closer to the Lord, that's what it's all about. It took somebody to bring me to the Lord. I had to see certain things and go through certain things to come to the Lord and you have to give it back.

"You can be on top baseball-wise, but if nothing else is in order, then you're really not going to be happy."

Without Walls pastor Randy White said he hoped the event would raise 10 percent of the $1.4-million the church needs to build a community center. When completed, it will feature a gymnasium with a boxing ring and an economic empowerment center.

Although Sheffield and Bonds came together for the fundraiser, they are divided on the Super Bowl. Bonds' best years have been spent with San Francisco, so he's made no secret about rooting for the Raiders.

Sheffield, of course, is convinced the Bucs will win. He earned a measure of bragging rights when Tampa Bay beat the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago, and expects to do some more talking after Sunday.

"When (the Bucs) come back here with the trophy, we all can celebrate together," Sheffield said.

That's all Gary's saying.

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