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Hometown reaction

Frenzied fans take over Dale Mabry


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2003

With a collective howl of elation and a few tense moments, fans across the Tampa Bay region heralded the area's first major sports championship Sunday night in spirited Super Bowl celebrations that ended years of futility for the Bucs.

Shortly after 10 p.m., bars, restaurants and living rooms erupted in mad, thunderous frenzies when linebacker Derrick Brooks intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, dousing a late Oakland rally and sealing a Bucs' victory.

From Tampa to St. Petersburg, Clearwater to Dade City, people hugged and high-fived for a moment 27 years in the making. Some took the feeling to dangerous levels, firing guns into the air and jumping on cars.

Moments after the game's final gun sounded in San Diego, cars began circling Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, horns honking, fans screaming out the windows, dancing on the sidewalks and drinking.

Dale Mabry Highway -- scene of many a Bucs' defeat in years gone by -- was bumper-to-bumper, awash in jubilation and smoke from fireworks. People jumped on cars and a television news truck. A man in the median waved a Bucs flag, his boxer shorts pulled down, one of several fans who ran around naked.

At least one car accident involving four vehicles occurred minutes after the game, though details were not known.

Tampa police were investigating a few fights, a motorist pulled from a car and an overturned car. They also shut down southbound Interstate 275 at Himes Avenue and were considering other road closures. The department entered the night with extra officers in place in case the post-game festivities got out of hand.

About 11 p.m., police began walking shoulder to shoulder -- some carrying flashlights, some carrying batons -- down Dale Mabry. They told motorists who had parked along the grass that it was time to leave. Later, some officers donned riot gear.

Tampa police Sgt. Sal Ruggiero walked into the crowd and said forcefully, "Get in your car. Now."

He said the cars were creating a traffic jam.

"They're cutting off the street. It's against our city ordinance," Ruggiero said.

Most people were obeying. But a few people were angry, including Gloria DeJesus, 55, who said, "We can thank our mayor for this. . . . We have no place to go to celebrate. It's a shame."

Vendors near the stadium began selling T-shirts proclaiming the Bucs Super Bowl champions even before the game ended.

In Ybor City, thousands of people still crowded the streets early today, drinking, screaming, staggering and honking their horns.

As the game ended, police blocked off Seventh Avenue, where crowds streamed out of bars and into the street. Two fights were quickly broken up. Fans, many wearing Bucs gear, hugged and screamed as police officers watched. But no big problems were reported.

Katie Spatz, 22, walked down the street cheering. "Jon Gruden should have a statue erected in his name," she said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of revelers were celebrating on the nearby campus of the University of Tampa, where a number of police cars began gathering about 11: 30 p.m. At one point, dozens of young men tore down a goalpost and marched down Kennedy Boulevard.

Similar scenes occurred across the bay in St. Petersburg.

At 18th Avenue S and 20th Street in St. Petersburg, about 20 people celebrated in the middle of the street. Cars sped by with some passengers honking horns and firing bullets into the air.

One young man ran up and down the middle of the street, waving a Warren Sapp jersey. Others waved flags. At one point, some fans jumped onto the hoods of cars that slowed or stopped.

"We'll be out here until the traffic dies down. Then we're going to go to the club. We won't be coming home until 4 or 5 in the morning," said Shannon Lewis, 17, a Osceola High School student.

In the hour after the game, St. Petersburg police responded to numerous calls about gunshots or fireworks, rowdy parties, speeding cars and honking horns. But police said they encountered nothing extreme.

At Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, a crowd of more than 1,500 exploded at game's end.

"I can't believe it. I can't believe it!" shouted Allison Baker, 23, a lifelong Bucs fan.

People stood on bars, popped open bottles and yelled, "Tampa Bay!"

Cars rolled down Central Avenue, their stereos blaring the Queen rock song, We are the Champions. Roman candles lit the sky, and explosions could be heard in the distance.

At the Wing House on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg, four men ran around the parking lot wearing only swimming trunks. Traffic on Fourth Street was heavy, with plenty of blowing horns. A man rode down the middle of the street on his bicycle, his index finger raised. Others waved Bucs flags along the roadside.

Across the area, scores of fans poured into their cars.

Andrea Gammon and her sister Jacqueline Clemons drove to Raymond James from their home in Clearwater when there was six minutes left in the game. When they arrived, they commandeered a bench on the corner of Himes and Tampa Bay.

"We're going to be out here all night," Gammon said. "Tampa Bay!"

A celebration was planned at the stadium tonight when the team returns from San Diego. Gates open at 5 p.m., and the team is expected to arrive about 9: 30 p.m.

"It's hard to believe that was the Bucs out there doing that," said Don Standifer, 38, of St. Petersburg, who was celebrating back at Ferg's. "It's different to be on top looking down for a change. Now we can say finally we've been there, and we've done it. We've been to the big dance."

The honking of horns in downtown St. Petersburg blared through the chilly air in Williams Park, where several homeless people were spending the night.

One man named Mark, who would not give his last name, said he didn't mind the noise.

"Let them celebrate," he said as he lay beneath a comforter on the ground. "They need to. This is the first time in 27 years this has happened."

-- Times staff writers Stephen Buckley, Melanie Ave, Leanora Minai, Megan Scott, Tamara Lush, Babita Persaud, Marcus Franklin, Sasha Talcott, Jon Wilson, Melia Bowie and Donna Winchester contributed to this report.

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