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Setting sail against the tide of fans and the NFL

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By MARY JO MELONE, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 28, 2003


Some people will not believe her. Jan Platt really did watch the Super Bowl. Her son hosted a party at his house, and Platt attended.

Some people will not believe her. Platt, the Hillsborough County commissioner who has raised the habit of sailing against the wind to an art, calls herself "elated" that the Bucs are bringing home that sterling silver, made-by-Tiffany Vince Lombardi trophy.

"It was a fairy tale, almost, in that they did everything right," said Platt in one out-of-character moment. "It was just a fantastic game. It was like seeing something at the movies."

Nevertheless, Platt will not be in today's victory parade. She won't even watch. Some things take precedence over the football championship of the world. In this case, it's a zoning meeting.

Why do I get the feeling Platt will be the only person in the room?

Platt's problem is that in a moment as magical as this, the flush of victory tends to induce amnesia on a grand scale. She's the only person around with a memory.

It goes back to 1995, when Malcolm Glazer bought the Bucs and took Tampa hostage and the bumper sticker of the moment might have read, "Go Bucs! And take the Glazers with you."

What a swell guy Malcolm was. If the community didn't fork over the money for a new stadium, he vowed to leave. The community folded.

In 1996, we approved a half-cent sales tax to give Glazer the new stadium he wanted, and later, everything he wanted from a lease, including every penny of profit from every cup of beer, every program, every parking space.

"How many World Series have the Yankees won, and we don't subsidize them to this extent," Platt said.

She reminded me of how Glazer at one point promised to pay half the $168-million tab for the stadium -- a bill that, with interest over time, will likely double that figure.

Then there was the court ruling that suggested Glazer should pay property taxes on the stadium. When Platt, as commission chairman, tried to meet with him, she got nowhere.

"That was the height of arrogance," Platt said.

Yes, to have a memory is to be a real pain.

The public is now paying about $4-million a year on property taxes on the stadium, Platt said.

When the Bucs open their new training facility on the grounds of the old mall at Tampa Bay Center, the taxpayers will be paying out another $12-million.

All this goes for one shining but brief moment in San Diego. Platt's emphasis is on brief. She'll even concede you the PR value to a Super Bowl win, but argues that doesn't last very long either.

It takes nerve to talk this way in a moment like this. You could even argue that this isn't Platt's moment, not her time at the microphone, and that she should stand down until the parade passes by and the cheers subside.

But Jan Platt has always been looking for some balance in this wild, crazy thing called professional sports, some balance between the hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-stands-up thrill of a victory like this one and the price you have to pay. The fact that she is perpetually on the wrong side of the argument doesn't faze her.

"I philosophically object to government subsidized monopolies," Platt said, "and that is what the NFL is all about."

Call her a spoilsport, if you will.

I'd prefer courageous. For there is absolutely no margin in sailing against the wind when the boats coming toward you are filled with screaming fans dressed in red and pewter, who will be marching the streets of Tampa today and taking absolutely no prisoners.

-- You can reach Mary Jo Melone at mjmelone@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

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