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Hometown reaction

For jubilant fans in Tampa Bay, 'This is our time. Right here.'

By MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2003


Fans got off their barstools and took off their Buccaneers caps for the National Anthem. Nuns sipped Miller Lite and trash-talked the Raiders. Bikers toasted touchdowns with tequila shots.

All around Tampa Bay, the people roared like thunder. They chanted, clapped, whooped, whistled, blew horns and stomped their feet. They laughed and cried with joy.

Every time the home team scored, deafening cheers went up across west central Florida. And when linebacker Derrick Brooks returned an interception for a touchdown to ice the game, millions of Buccaneers fans rose to their feet as one.

"Go! Go! Go!"

"Yesssss!"

"Bucs win! Bucs win! Bucs win!"

More than 2-million people call the Tampa Bay area home, and most of them watched Super Bowl XXXVII with their families and friends.

Like champagne after a three-decade drought, the Buccaneers' championship victory was sweetest for the diehard fans who stuck with the team through its less-than-glorious 27-year history.

"I've been mocked; I've been laughed at; I've been criticized for supporting the Bucs," said St. Petersburg firefighter John Mellny, 47, who watched the game amid a frenzied crowd at the Extra Innings sports bar on Central Avenue. "This has been a long time coming."

Fans like him and Tampa Bay native Robert McCarter, 48, remember the team's 0-26 start, the Creamsicle uniforms, the cheapskate owner, the bad old days when "Yuks" fans wore bags over their heads on the cramped aluminum benches of old Tampa Stadium.

"All I ever wanted was respect," McCarter said. "This is icing on the cake."

Like one giant red and pewter tribe, people gathered in living rooms, restaurants and bars to watch their team triumph on sports' biggest stage.

At MacDill Air Force Base, crowds came three hours before kickoff to the Surf's Edge Enlisted Club, where soldiers took a break from the threat of war for a special Super Bowl.

"At the base, there's been a lot more camaraderie, a lot more people getting together, especially with the home team in this," said staff Sgt. Tobie Inman with MacDill's logistics readiness squadron.

The prospect of war, "it's in the back of our minds, but for now we're going to have fun. I'm caught up in it. It's just the aura," said Inman, who traded in fatigues for Bucs red and pewter Sunday night.

"Let's go Bucs! Let's go Bucs!" was the chant at Lee Roy Selmon's barbecue restaurant in Tampa. When the Vince Lombardi Trophy appeared on the place's 27 TVs, fists shot up in the air.

This was a dressed-up crowd. Chris Jedrzejczyk, a 30-year-old surgical technician at St. Joseph's Hospital, coated his arms with red latex paint he got at a sex shop on N Dale Mabry. On his shaved head, in black body paint, he wrote 47-99-20, the numbers of the Bucs' defensive leaders.

"Oh man," he said, "it is Bucs mania."

Cindy Rush, an IRS agent, came dressed as a lady pirate with a frilly top and a hat.

"We are going to make the Raiders walk the plank, and we are going to seize the Super Bowl," she said.

Not all the fans were local. Pedro Olivia, 27, and Archie Page, 45, co-workers at an insurance company, came from New York. They paid $440 for roundtrip airfare and planned to leave at 6 a.m. today.

"Nothing like partying with the locals," Olivia said.

This was not your normal night at the sports bar. Fans behaved as if they were at the game, letting out thunderous cheers and occasionally berating the referees.

At the Wing House on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg, a table of boisterous young men in Bucs jerseys and face paint drank Buccaneer-red beer and got the crowd charged up with a bullhorn.

"This is our time. Right here," said Andrew Zimmerman, 26.

At Jester's Sports Cafe on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg, Lisa Rummel, 38, a Bucs season ticket holder for 17 years, sat on the same barstool she has occupied for the last three weeks as the Bucs navigated through the playoffs. It was superstition. Her husband was at home in the same chair he has occupied during the same period. The couple wouldn't change their routine, fearing it would jinx the Bucs.

"I'm telling you, I haven't slept for three weeks," Rummel said. "I'm still in shock over it."

In Hernando County, season ticket holders Joe and Cheryl Miller watched the game with friends at a Spring Hill pub called Jerry's Place.

They've been waiting 27 years for this game.

"It's a big part of our lives, no doubt about that," said Cheryl, decked out from head to toe in Buccaneers gear -- including, she said, her underwear.

The couple chose a table beside the empty dance floor in case Joe wasn't able to stay seated. He couldn't. During a commercial break, he stood and led the crowd in a Bucs cheer: "Let's go Tampa Bay! Let's go Tampa Bay!"

"It takes 10 years off my life every game I watch," Cheryl said, tapping her chest. "I should be dead by now."

At Duke's Garage, a smoky, blue-collar bar in Clearwater, bartender Vickie Smith passed out tequila and vodka shots after the Bucs' first touchdown. One fan, Stormy Woods, announced that she plans to get a Tampa Bay Bucs flag tattooed on her rear end if the team won.

"That's gonna be an awful big flag," said Woods, 29, of Clearwater.

In Pasco County, there was no shortage of trash talk at Holy Name Monastery in Saint Leo.

Comfortably into the first quarter, Sister Helen Lange whipped out her "Go Raiders" sign in the community room full of about 20 fellow sisters kicked back on recliners and rockers. Bad idea.

Many of the sisters, gathered for their annual Super Bowl party, are avid Bucs fans. Others don't know the first thing about Warren Sapp -- "Who's that fella?" one asked.

But almost all of them were cheering the local team.

"She's a traitor!" Sister Nilla Cabrera yelled.

Before the sisters could tear down the sign, the tape weakened, sending it to the floor.

"Yea!!" the sisters yelled and clapped. Lange tried again, slapping it on a chair. Sister Mildred Gelis threw her coat over it. Lange threw the coat aside. Sister Lisa-Judene Erazmus settled it, plopping a "Go Bucs" sign on top.

"It's just for kicks," Lange said, explaining her support of the Raiders.

"Everybody else is for the Bucs and, you know, we have to have competition," added Lange, who wore a shirt that read, "Nunsense."

"But I don't think I'm going to make it to 10 o'clock," she said. Most of the sisters rise at 6 a.m. with the rising bell to ready for 6: 30 a.m. Mass.

"C'mon, baby, throw the ball," yelled Cabrera, one of the rare native Tampa sisters and a longtime Bucs fan. Cabrera kept Lange on her toes when she got confused and cheered at the wrong time.

"That was an interception for the Bucs, Sister Helen," Cabrera chided the so-called Raiders fan.

As the Bucs marched down the field, the women stomped their feet, raised their arms and screamed.

Sister Mary Romana Gomez had a special appreciation for Martin Grammatica's gesture before each kick, making the sign of the cross.

"That's great he's praying," Gomez said.

Unlike the Bucs, some of the sisters took pity on the Raiders.

"I feel sorry for them," said Sister Irma Multer, sipping a Miller Lite.

"Sorry for them? this is the very first time the Bucs got in the Super Bowl -- you should feel sorry for (the Bucs)," said Mother Superior Mary Clare Neuhofer.

The Bucs victory may have divine as well as earthly rewards.

"It will bring glory and fame to Tampa Bay," Neuhofer said.

-- Staff writers Saundra Amrhein, Melia Bowie, Joy Davis-Platt, Babita Persaud, Jorge Sanchez, Sasha Talcott and Tom Tobin contributed to this report.

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