By BABITA PERSAUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 15, 2001
TAMPA -- The last time the Super Bowl was in Tampa, MacDill Air Force Base was preparing for war. U.S. Central Command at MacDill was directing Desert Storm efforts. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was at its helm.
F-16s flew overhead, on their way to training missions. Security was heightened for fear of a terrorist attack.
Ten years later, MacDill is once again preparing for a high-profile presence at the Super Bowl, but in a different way.
A celebrity-studded, NFL players charity golf tournament is planned on the base's Bay Palms Golf Complex. Rush Limbaugh is the color commentator.
A live CBS broadcast with Ricky Martin is in the works for Saturday night in Hangar 3 during a private NFL party being produced by MTV.
MacDill will launch B-2 bombers and Thunderbirds during the pre-game show, strictly for entertainment purposes. And a whole fleet of planes will fly over Gasparilla parade, giving spectators a mini-air show in the sky.
Why so much visibility?
The answer is twofold.
"We are honored to be able to return the support the local community has given us for many years by providing some logistical support for various upcoming Super Bowl-related events," said Capt. Darren Berry, a spokesman for MacDill.
The other reason is recruitment, a challenge nowadays for the military
The base's presence for Super Bowl week is growing. Bob Best, producer of the pre-game show, is planning a tribute to Desert Storm troops before the Super Bowl begins. Details are in the works. Also, the base is working with the city of Tampa to provide shuttle service and parking during Gasparilla.
But it wasn't MacDill that came knocking; it was the organizers of the various events.
"We approached them 10 months ago," said Jim Tarbet of Ye Mystic Krewe, organizers of Gasparilla. "We asked them, would you like to have a foot in the parade?"
He was thinking a float. But military officials, specifically Brig. Gen. Arthur "Chip" Diehl, suggested more: an Air Salute with A-10s, B-1s, B-2s, B-52s, C-17s,F-15s, F-16s, F-117s and KC-135s flying over the parade at its start, the highlight being the aerial demonstration team the Thunderbirds.
Terry Lazin, president of the Chicago-based NFL Players Golf Club, which promotes tournaments with NFL players, also approached Diehl.
"Any time we can thank the military for what they do for us, it is high on my priority list," she said. Plus, MacDill has a nice golf complex, two 18-hole courses on the north and south ends and a gallery for the public to watch.
The Jan. 24 NFL Players Super Shoot-Out will pit Bucs players Warren Sapp, Shaun King, Mike Alstott and Martin Grammatica, among others, against other current and former NFL players like Duante Culpepper, Desmond Howard, Trace Armstrong, Brad Culpepper, Herschel Walker and Lee Roy Selmon. Tickets to watch are $18 and available through Ticketmaster.
The tournament will be televised on the Golf Channel. Opening ceremonies will include Air Force fly-overs and parachute jump teams.
MacDill is also the backdrop of two NFL parties.
On Tuesday, Jan. 23, from 6 to 10 p.m, MacDill will host an NFL party in Hangar 1. Close to 100 active NFL players are on the guest list. Rapper Shaggy is performing. It's mostly a private party, with limited tickets on sale to the public at $500 each through Ticketmaster.
On Saturday night the action moves to Hangar 3, where the NFL Enterprises, the new media branch of the NFL, is holding a private party. Plans include a live broadcast by CBS and a Ricky Martin performance.
MacDill will also be visible in Ybor on Super Bowl weekend. The Air Force's Tops In Blue, a band/comedy act, is the opening act to Cheap Trick on Friday night. At Centennial Park in Ybor, six F-16 simulators will be set up for kids to climb into and be a jet pilot.
For the first time, MacDill also will have two floats in this year's Gasparilla parade. "Air Force beads will be distributed from both floats," said Berry. "And are quickly becoming the most sought-after souvenirs."