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Gator colors wave in Iraq; flags swiped

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 16, 2003

As I traveled the country following the Bucs in my prior life, I often wore my University of Florida jersey and would invariably run into a fellow Gator fan, whether it was Kansas City, Detroit or Arlington, Va., where I once joined about 350 other Gators in a sports bar to watch Mississippi State pummel Florida.

Just last week, I went to a 1950s-styled Chick-Fil-A called Truett's Grill (don't tell the cows, but they serve burgers at Truett's) in Atlanta, home to Georgia Tech and the heart of University of Georgia country. Sure enough, one of the employees saw my jersey and said, "Love your shirt, sir." Those Chick-Fil-A employees are always so polite.

Anyway, my long-held belief that Gator fans are everywhere has taken on new meaning. On the front of the New York Times last week was a photo of Marine Corps task force Tarawa, which was about 124 miles south of Baghdad. Flying atop the Marines' military vehicle was an American flag and, just below it, an orange and blue Florida Gators flag.

The Gainesville Sun reported that the flag may belong to UF graduate David Hammerschmidt, a first lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Division who recently e-mailed the UF Alumni Association and asked if it could send over some Gator flags. The association sent eight, but there is now no word on when the Baghdad Gator Club will have its first meeting.

* * *

Back on this side of the world, Donnie Spanos displays his loyalty with a different set of flags. Or at least he did until about 10 days ago.

Spanos, a six-year Army veteran, was flying the American flag, a POW/MIA flag and a U.S. Army flag outside his home in Seffner. I know, because he lives right down the street from me. But sometime between the night of April 4 and the morning of April 6, someone stole the flags.

Spanos is offering a reward for the return of the flags, which we suspect were stolen by some wayward teens out for a joyride. Clearly, the banners have great sentimental value to Spanos.

It's been said there is no honor among thieves, but in these times, shouldn't there be a little patriotism?

* * *

VIVO, the Vitally Interested Volunteers of the Florida Orchestra, has come up with a pretty moving fundraiser to celebrate its one-year anniversary. Spring Into Jazz will give people a chance to bar hop using the trolley on Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m.

The evening will start at the Florida Aquarium where you can enjoy a cash bar and jazz music. Then the trolley will take folks to other stops -- Channelside, Don Vicente, 8th Avenue Bar & Grille -- and participants will get a complimentary glass of beer or wine and more jazz at each stop.

Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 day of the event. Call 283-5023 for information.

* * *

Those Wacky Wing Wednesday guys are at again. You remember how the inspired gang of twentysomethings, led by Adam Alpert, Craig Meddin and Matt Michaels, made it their business to find out who was serving the best wings in a 30-mile radius last summer.

Well, Hattricks downtown Tampa drew the honors so now the wacky guys have a new quest: the area's best barbecue. Contenders should consider this a heads up.

The group is just getting back into the Wednesday routine, but it'll be intriguing to see who emerges in the coming summer months.

Of course, this is a goal near and dear to my heart. And as long as my wife doesn't find out, I'm sure to be sitting down for a few of those test meals.

That's all I'm saying.

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