tampabay.com

The Swamp queen

To call her a Gator fan hardly does Sina DeCaria justice. Her love for UF is legendary — and the Gators’ national title shot has her in a frenzy.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published January 6, 2007


BY
Times Staff Writer
TAMPA — It’s Friday night, less than 72 hours before kickoff, and the Tampa Gator Club president is too excited to sleep.

Her University of Florida duffel bag is packed. Her orange-and-blue game-day outfit are tucked inside.

She set out her orange-and-blue sparkly sandals, better to show off her new orange-and-blue pedicure. She has her US Airways ticket, the one that will take her from Tampa to Charlotte and then on to Arizona.

But she keeps worrying about the other ticket, the one that will get her into Monday’s national championship game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and her alma mater, UF.

For weeks, she’s been guarding this ticket like a family heirloom. When a reporter asks to see it, she hesitates.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I mean, can I trust you?”

She is kidding. Sort of.

Meet Sina DeCaria, University of Florida Class of 2000, die-hard Gator for life.

She is 29, a bubbly brunet, single but dating, a homeowner. She loves her job as director of customer services for the credit division of Federated Department Stores in Clearwater.

But come football season, work and all that other stuff become mere distractions. Saturdays are what really matter.
DeCaria puts everything on hold to cheer on her Gators — whether it means traveling to Gainesville or Tennessee or Tallahassee, home to rival Florida State University.

Even a friend’s wedding couldn’t stop her from tuning in to this season’s game against Louisiana State University.
While DeCaria’s friend vowed to love, honor and cherish, she hid a radio under her dress and listened to the game through a discreetly positioned earplug.

Little surprise, then, that DeCaria’s lifelong ambition isn’t the kind of thing you put on a resume.

“Whatever city I live in,” she vows, “I’m going to be president of the Gator Club.”

She laughs. But she’s not kidding.

The Gator bites

DeCaria was still in high school when Gator Fever set in.

It was in her senior year at Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota, the fall of 1994, when a friend brought DeCaria to a home game against South Carolina.

She saw Albert and Mr. Two Bits. She saw the cheerleaders waving their pom-poms and flipping in the air. She heard the fans screaming all around her.

When the Swamp erupted like a volcano after the first UF touchdown, DeCaria was sold.

It was, she recalls with a dreamy expression, “so awesome.”

Then she got to UF and became a Gator Guide, one of those chosen few who escort football recruits around campus and to the coaches’ homes.

She got to eat dinner at then-coach Steve Spurrier’s house with future Chris Leaks and Tim Tebows and Reggie Nelsons. She sat in the south end zone for most games. Sometimes she even lucked into a spot on the sidelines.

The players were right there!

“I was so close,” she said with a giggle. “It was awesome.”

Always a Gator

Some students graduate from UF and their football enthusiasm fades.

DeCaria is not that kind of fan.

“Oh, you have no idea,” said her sister and roommate, Anna, 22, a recent UF graduate. She rolls her eyes and chuckles: “Sina is nuts.”

Consider the Tampa Heights home they share.

DeCaria’s Gator lunch sack sits on the kitchen counter. A Gator flag hangs out front. In the driveway is DeCaria’s silver Lexus, with the Gator license plate. In her bedroom are more than 15 shirts with the Gator logo, and countless other plain tops in orange and blue.

The centerpiece is DeCaria’s Gator Shrine.

A small room with orange and blue walls, it holds just about every kind of Gator memorabilia you can imagine.
There’s a Gator Barbie Doll, Gatoropoly, a Gator checkers set, footballs signed by former coach Ron Zook and current coach Urban Meyer.

On one wall hangs a neon Gators sign from the Chili’s where she worked in Gainesville.  But DeCaria’s prized possession is less flashy.

It’s a piece of the New Orleans SuperDome roof, snatched up as Gator fans celebrated — a bit too enthusiastically — their win against the FSU Seminoles for the 1996 national championship.

“Maybe you shouldn’t put that in there, because I don’t want people to think Gator fans are destructive,” DeCaria said, ever protective of the Gator image.

“But everyone was grabbing up pieces. I mean, I had to get one!”

Her father, optometrist Frank DeCaria, an Ohio State graduate, marvels at her devotion.

When she started dating her boyfriend, she called her father and wondered, is this okay?
The guy is really great, she told her dad.

But he’s not a Gator, she fretted. Technically, he’s a Gator enemy.

His name is Travis.

And he graduated from Florida State.

The ultimate fan

Sina DeCaria, president of the Tampa Gator Club

Age: 29

Family: Her parents, Dr. Frank DeCaria and Cynthia DeCaria, live in Sarasota. Dr. DeCaria graduated from Ohio State and commutes to his practice in West Virginia. Two of her sisters, Anna and Alene, are UF alums.

Job: Customer service director, Federated Department Stores credit services.

Education: Graduated from UF in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Favorite Gator of all time: Steve Spurrier

Chris Leak vs. Tim Tebow: Chris Leak.

Hidden memorabilia: The Gator tattoo she got after the 1996 win.

Lifelong ambition: “Whatever city I live in, I’m going to be president of the Gator Club.”

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3403 or svansickler@sptimes.com.