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Back home, fans deal with their own cold

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001


TAMPA -- With the mercury hovering in the mid-50s, Dan O'Keefe stood outside the Ice Palace in his Lightning T-shirt and said the Buccaneers shouldn't worry about the cold.

"I'm a chef so I am in and out of coolers all day," O'Keefe said as he watched his beloved Bucs on a big-screen TV. "The temperature? It's all in your head."

His wife, Michelle, a Philadelphia native and lifelong Eagles fan, had a different perspective.

"He's crazy," she said. "It's freezing out here. I say let's go find a bar and watch the game inside someplace where it is warm."

Dan O'Keefe stood his ground.

"Come on ... your father and brother are sitting at Veterans (Stadium) right now watching the game with their shirts off," he said. "It isn't that cold out."

Hot. Cold. It's all a matter of perspective.

Lightning fans are accustomed to sitting in the cold for hours watching a losing team disappoint them time and time again. But Bucs fans are usually insulated from the pain.

"We came close in Green Bay," said Steve Jones, a 34-year-old banker from Tampa. "All those years we lost in cold weather, we also lost in warm weather. Nobody talks about that."

Jones and friend Brian Swan, however, were smart enough to seek shelter Sunday afternoon inside the Ice Palace sports bar instead of braving the plummeting temperatures outside.

"Just because the Bucs are cold doesn't mean we have to be cold, too," Jones said. "You have got to use your head."

But outside in the open air, hundreds of hockey and football fans huddled together, swilled 25-cent beers and prayed for a miracle.

"The cold is a small price to pay," said Josh Kidd, a 24-year-old from Tampa who took full advantage of the game-day drink specials. "You do what you can to support the home team."

Kidd and pal Patrick Young are hockey fans, which was evident by the CCM trademark beneath their football jerseys.

"We'll strip off the Bucs jerseys when the Lightning game starts," Young said. "We can drink 16 beers out here for the price of one inside. We don't mind standing in the cold."

When you are a hockey fan, cold is just part of the game.

"I am a firm believer in ice-cold beer any time," Kidd said. "That is the great thing about hockey. The ice keeps the beer cold."

And Kidd, like many of the fans who turned out for Sunday's game, said he thinks the whole Bucs cold jinx is a joke. "Come on, 19 losses?" he said. "We were just plain bad for 20 years."

Joe Pelaez wasn't take any chances.

"Every time I wear my Bucs jersey they lose," Pelaez said. "The losing streak earlier this season? That was me. Green Bay? Me again."

So Pelaez watched the game in his Lightning colors. He was the lone Lecavalier in a sea of Kings, Alstotts and Lynches.

Paul Christian, a Bucs fan from Tampa who hails from Gainesville, said he welcomed the cold weather because it gave him a chance to wear the insulated Bucs parka given to him two Christmases ago.

"This is the first time and probably the last time I'll wear this thing," he said. "But this is great. It is almost like being at a football game up North. The only thing we are missing is a fire in a garbage can."

But as the second quarter drew to a close, the end appeared imminent. First, the beer cups ran out.

"The beer is now full price," the bartender declared as a collective moan rippled through the crowd.

Then the Eagles scored a second touchdown as the sun dipped below the Tampa skyline, dropping the temperature another 10 degrees.

In a flash, the Lynches, Kings and Alstotts made a break for the warmth of the bar. A lone Bucs fan, whose custom jersey numbered 00 read "Joe," stood by himself in front of the big-screen TV.

But when a last-minute drive failed to move the ball, he just shook his head and walked away, too.

Awww, Joe. Say it ain't so.

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