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    Come one, come all

    When the Lightning are losing, the most dedicated will stick by them. But for playoffs, fans of every kind are there.

    By BRADY DENNIS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 11, 2003

    [Times photos: Kathleen Flynn]
    Dan Joyce, left, of the Coca-Cola Road Jam crew cheers on an enthusiastic Matthew Wooley, 6, of Tampa in a pregame competition.

    The playoffs have a way of bringing out hardcore fans, fairweather fans and certainly eccentric fans.

    Case in point: Kip Pyle, searching for tickets to Thursday's Tampa Bay Lightning game, standing outside the St. Pete Times Forum with a fake bolt protruding from his head.

    "It's all about 'Bolt Yourself In,' " Pyle said. "So I figured I'd screw a bolt in my head."

    It wasn't real, thank goodness, but rather a tribute to comedian Steve Martin's arrow-through-the-head routine. Pyle figured it couldn't hurt his chances for getting a ticket to the first Lightning playoff game since 1996.

    "I think it definitely will (help)," he said. "One way or another, we're going to make it inside."

    Fact is, Pyle wasn't the only spectacle outside the Forum on Thursday.

    One entertainer wore circus pants and paced on stilts high above the crowd. ThunderBug, the team mascot, sat perched high on the roof, refusing to come down until the game sold out, although it never did.

    Other fans wore oversized foam pucks on their heads or furry hats with viking horns. Some wore Bucs Super Bowl apparel. And, of course, there was the Lightning gear -- jerseys, hats, jackets, beads, flags.

    Central Command must have handed out a lot of tickets Thursday. Camouflage abounded.

    Navy Petty Officer Gary Buffenfarger slid his Lightning jersey over the top of his military fatigues.

    "Both of these uniforms are important, or I wouldn't be wearing them both," Buffenfarger said. "It's great. I get to wear the jersey for the team I like, and I still can wear the uniform for my country."
    Peter Armstrong, left, and Bill Kaatze, both of Tampa, joke around with Calvin Roe, who towers above them on stilts just before the game.

    The playoff hype meant good news for Ed Stephens, a six-year Times Forum employee selling a steady stream of beer from a makeshift bar outside the arena.

    "I figured they'd eventually get on track. It feels wonderful," said Stephens, who has suffered through abysmal seasons. "They crowds have been picking up. They're ready to go."

    Across the street at the Outpost bar, Rob Etling also welcomed the swelling crowds, though he also felt disappointed that the game didn't sell out.

    Etling, whose voice fans always hear pouring from speakers outside the bar, said that if the Lightning keep winning, the sellouts will come.

    And if they bring home a Stanley Cup, the bar's owner, manager and DJ plan to shave their heads, proving that eccentrics truly are drawn to the playoffs.

    As for Etling and his hair?

    "No way. I'll be running for the door," he said, but added, "I hope they keep winning."

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