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It's a bowl flush with fun

It began as a college joke, but became as anticipated as the Super Bowl.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
Published February 2, 2007


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TAMPA - It was just a heavy old wooden toilet seat, discarded in a junkyard and left for dead. But a college kid found it one day and flushed new life into it. For the next 25 years, it was hoisted, embraced, displayed proudly, just like a trophy.

"Not quite as tasteful as the Stanley Cup," said Bernie Desrosiers, the college grad who stumbled upon it Nov. 17, 1977, in a Providence, R.I., junkyard. That same day, Desrosiers and his friends played a game of touch football and made the toilet seat the official game trophy. "I'm hoping somebody will bronze it and dip it in gold."

This year, the tradition continues: Dozens will gather on Super Bowl Sunday at a New Tampa soccer field to play a game of touch football dubbed the Toilet Bowl Classic.

The winners will lift the toilet seat above their heads in anticipation of the moment when their team name is scribbled in permanent marker for a silly place in history.

No charities will benefit, and no lives will be dramatically changed for the better. It's just a fun thing a group of people have done for the past 26 years - first in Rhode Island, then North Carolina, and for the past 14 years in New Tampa's Hunter's Green neighborhood - which has become as much a tradition in their lives as the Super Bowl.

The Toilet Bowl Classic, always at 10 a.m. Super Bowl Sunday, is open to all comers. Desrosiers, the sole member of the Toilet Bowl Committee, which is based out of his Hunter's Green home, sends invitations as far away as Seattle.

Five years will pass, and someone who has moved away will show up that morning, just like old times.

"They always come back," said Desrosiers, a 52-year-old computer sales consultant and father of three. "They always know when and where it is."

They'll pick teams like schoolchildren gearing up for a game of kickball. Team captains will take turns pointing to the most athletic ones first.

"If you come and you limp or something, which is a nice little decoy, or put one arm in a sling, then you're not going to get picked," Desrosiers said. "We haven't had any professionals show up, yet. If an ex-Buc ever shows up, we're in big trouble."

This year, the Freedom High School Jazz Band will play the National Anthem. In years past, the Star Spangled Banner has been performed by rock guitarists and tuba quartets, sax players and bagpipers. One year, there also was a botched flyover in which fog grounded the small plane. Desrosiers will then fire off 15 to 20 cannon-like fireworks.

While they play, spectators will fire up grills along the sidelines, and wives and children will cheer on the players - all men. The first game ever played in 1977 in Providence, in which the Buffoons won 43-30, lasted two hours. The postgame party lasted six.

The teams don't have names until the end of the game, when someone will come up with a bowel-related word to be inked onto the seat. Because of the case of the missing toilet seat of the 1980s, the team captain is no longer allowed to take the trophy home. Instead, Desrosiers will hang it up in his garage.

"I'll be honest with you, that would have been the end of the Toilet Bowl," Desrosiers said of the '80s disappearance. For three years, no Toilet Bowls were played until 1986, when the trophy showed up in his mail from somewhere in Massachusetts.

One of Desrosiers' favorite memories goes back 14 years, when he moved to Tampa and organized the first game here.

A 3-year-old boy watched from the sidelines, itching to play.

"You'd throw the ball at him and he'd fall over," Desrosiers said.

Fast forward to last year. The little boy is grown up. With a minute left, the boy, now a tall teenager, intercepted a pass and tied the game for his team.

"This little kid who had always wanted to play, he became a hero," Desrosiers said. "The generations are changing."

Indeed, the old guys are getting creaky so their sons are starting to take their place. Terry Dumont, 57, of Tampa, doesn't play anymore, but his 19-year-old son, Taylor, does. Dumont still sets up the goal posts and cones, then watches from the sidelines.

"I used to be the kicker extraordinaire," Dumont said nostalgically.

Another longtime player, Dan O'Dell, credits the game's longevity to Desrosiers, who leads the game in antics.

"It's all Bernie," said O'Dell, a 52-year-old network consultant from Tampa who will miss the game for the first time in 14 years because his nephew is being deployed to Iraq. "He makes it such a festive environment."

Desrosiers, who plans to don a pilot's hat and angel's wings on Sunday, doesn't play the entire game anymore. But his enthusiasm for the silliness obviously hasn't waned.

"The big thing I look forward to is having a few beers with friends, putting something on the grill and playing with the kids," he said. "It's just harmless fun."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at nguyen@sptimes.com or 813 269-5312.

[Last modified February 2, 2007, 00:49:10]


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