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Hometown reaction

Meanwhile, a quiet world still turns

[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Five-year-old Jacob Meck of New Port Richey, a leukemia patient at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, watches the Super Bowl with his half-sister, Megan Gillespie, 12.
By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2003

Time stood still Sunday.

The only clock that mattered ticked off 60 minutes in a stadium 3,000 miles away. All eyes in the Tampa Bay area focused on San Diego and the Super Bowl. Those few residents not caught up in Bucs mania still went to the movies, or out to dinner, or to the grocery Sunday night. Everyone else remained glued to their radios and televisions.

* * *

TAMPA -- At the 1 p.m. performance of The Lion King at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, some members of the audience showed up in Bucs jerseys.

"Why aren't you home watching the Bucs?" one ticket-taker asked a patron.

Answer: Because kickoff is more than five hours away.

* * *

TREASURE ISLAND -- Even boaters stayed home on a gorgeous day.

"We really have seen a lot less traffic than usual, especially for a Sunday afternoon," said Jeannie Moro, 69, the bridge tender at John's Pass Bridge.

* * *

TAMPA -- About 6 p.m., some 25 minutes before kickoff, traffic was light on Dale Mabry Highway in front of Raymond James Stadium. The area surrounding the Bucs' home was desolate. A lone person sat on a bus bench nearby.

* * *

TAMPA -- At Temple Heights Baptist Church in east Tampa, Pastor James Wigton opened the service with a chuckle minutes before game time.

From his white lighted pulpit, he looked out on the 60 or so parishioners dotting the church's rear pews. There were grandparents clutching their Bibles and families with young children.

"These are the faithful ones," Wigton said, with a laugh. "These are the ones who are in God's house tonight."

He kept his message brief, for fear football fans would leave. But he told his congregation that their work for the Lord has eternal rewards.

"Let me remind you," Wigton said. "God's Super Bowl is more important."

A man's voice rose from the pews, "Amen."

* * *

ST. PETERSBURG -- Kickoff. The lights of just five vehicles could be counted between 11th and 18th avenues on usually busy 16th Street S. But a half-dozen cars and trucks were crowded into the small parking lot at 3 Brothers Grocery.

About 40 minutes later, a half-dozen customers and grocery owner Ayman Saed clustered around a small television near the store's cash register.

"We got Bucs fever!" yelled Minnie Robinson from the other side of the store, where she works behind the meat counter.

* * *

TAMPA -- It seemed as if most of the people wanted by Tampa police Sunday night were rooting for the Bucs.

Folks who were reportedly breaking into cars, causing car crashes and committing all sorts of everyday criminal acts were dressed in their team's colors.

A familiar refrain from the dispatchers on the scanner: "He's wearing a Bucs jersey. Red."

* * *

ST. PETERSBURG -- At Arnold's Amusements, a traveling carnival in the Tyrone Square Mall parking lot, the plastic roosters, Dalmatians, horses and zebras of the carousel stood still at 6: 30 p.m., lonely for riders. So did the Spider, the Dinos, and the miniature speedway NASCARs. The Ferris wheel, bursting with colors, spun only in hopes of attracting the few passersby on Tyrone Boulevard.

"As you can see, nothing much is moving," said Sherry Kline, operator of the carousel.

"It's just a ghost town carnival land," said Brenda Larson, the foreman for the Dino, Rio Grande train and speedway rides. "They're all watching the Super Bowl."

Employees at the carnival were, too, many of them standing near TVs broadcasting the game.

* * *

ST. PETERSBURG -- At the Tangerine Wash House on 18th Avenue S, 60 or 70 residents stop by on a typical late Sunday afternoon to do their laundry.

Early in the first quarter, employee Tonya Carr had the place to herself. More than two dozen washers and dryers sat silent as she watched the game alone on television.

"This is the emptiest we've ever been," she said. "Everybody went to their homes or to clubs to watch. They left me alone."

* * *

ST. PETERSBURG -- At the Publix on 34th Street S, the checkout lines were wide open as the Bucs tied the score at 3-3 in the first quarter. No waiting at the deli, either. The lines of pregame shoppers had disappeared.

No televisions were in view for customers or cashiers. Some employees received game updates as messages on their cell phones.

* * *

TAMPA -- At some points during the game, there were more cars in the parking lot of ABC Liquor on Dale Mabry Highway than across the street at Mons Venus, the world famous strip club.

* * *

TAMPA -- There were a few residents who weren't interested in the game.

A handful of people sipped coffee and read newspapers at the Starbucks Coffee on Howard Avenue in South Tampa, trying to ignore the wild cheering and whooping at the Super Bowl Party across the street at Whiskey Park.

"I can't stand professional sports," said Paul Hughet of Tampa. "Just the thought of paying professional athletes huge amounts of money when you can't even pay schoolteachers a living wage, there's something wrong with our society."

* * *

ST. PETERSBURG -- Long stretches of Fourth Street N were without cars during the first half. Normally one of the city's busiest thoroughfares, the street was such that it was possible to sit in one of the traffic lanes, play three games of tic-tac-toe and not be in any danger. In neighborhoods on either side of the street, the whoops and hollers of fans at home parties drifted happily through the night.

The 7-Eleven at 62nd Avenue N was open but vacant. Restaurant traffic was light, even for a Sunday night. And some restaurants, including Shells seafood restaurant, elected not to open for the big game. The only ones doing a robust business were bars, including the Wing House, Jester's Sports Cafe and Beef 'O' Brady's -- all within a few blocks of each other -- which sold a combined 42,000 chicken wings Sunday.

* * *

TAMPA -- Less than a mile from Raymond James Stadium, new parents Brooke and Bryce Pfleger of Tampa reclined in a second floor room at St. Joseph's Women's Hospital.

The Super Bowl played quietly from a television over the bed. As the Bucs' Martin Gramatica kicked a field goal during the second quarter, the Pflegers stared at their 2-day-old daughter, Emily Kailyn, asleep and wrapped in pink.

How does the birth of their daughter compare to the game?

"It doesn't," said Bryce Pfleger, cradling his 5-pound daughter in his arms.

"Not at all," agreed his wife.

* * *

ST. PETERSBURG -- At the Home Depot on 22nd Avenue N, just 30 cars were in the vast parking during the second quarter. Business dropped off an hour before game time.

"I was sending people home," said Sam Steele, assistant store manager, before acknowledging the historic nature of the Bucs' first trip to the Super Bowl. "It's the first time in 27 years. You want to make it memorable."

Employee Christopher Carter wore an orange apron with "Go Bucs" written in script. After the Bucs scored a second quarter touchdown, Carter yelled: "We won! We won!"

A few minutes later he steepled his hands and looked to the ceiling: "Let them win, Heavenly Father. Please let them win. Hold on to 'em."

* * *

ST. PETERSBURG -- At the McDonald's at Tyrone Boulevard and 66th Street, five employees had taken the store television normally used for training tapes and set it up on the front counter near a cash register. Behind the counter, they watched the game at 8 p.m. -- no customers in the store, no cars idling in the drive through.

The manager, Randy Dufresne, said they'd served only about four people since the start of the game.

When someone came in and asked for some food during the game, one employee replied, "How dare you come to McDonald's and order a cheeseburger?"

* * *

TAMPA -- Bobby and Melissa Riordan of Port Richey bought tickets in December for the last performance of The Lion King, which started about the same time as Sunday night's kickoff.

So Bobby Riordan improvised. He bought a small radio with an earpiece and brought it to the theater. Ushers told him that he had to turn it off during the performance, which ended at roughly the start of the fourth quarter. He didn't.

"There were lots of other guys there with radios," he said.

-- Compiled by Times staff writers Melanie Ave, Marcus Franklin, Amy Hollyfield, Jon Wilson, Tamara Lush and Thomas C. Tobin.

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