St. Petersburg Times: Super Bowl XXXV
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Super Bowl XXXV Tampa, Florida 2001
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    Living the life of NFL leisure

    [Times photo: Jamie Francis]
    49ers receiver J.J. Stokes, who says he can sign autographs in his sleep, signs for fans along with teammate Winfred Tubbs, right, at MacDill Air Force Base.

    By DARREL FRY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2001


    You were probably at lunch or heading into your second meeting of the day when 49ers wide receiver J.J. Stokes was rolling out of bed at his plush, upper-level room at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in downtown St. Petersburg.

    He quickly checked his schedule for the day. It read the same as the day before: Do whatever you feel like doing.

    "That's a beautiful thing to get up this late," Stokes says. "It makes you feel lucky that you're not working a 9-to-5."

    We all should be so lucky.

    As much as the lives of NFL players are filled with glitz, beautiful women and privilege, they also are marked by pure, unadulterated leisure. Hey, every day just isn't about glamor and excess, even for a multimillionaire such as Stokes.

    He takes his time getting dressed, throwing on a black pullover, black pants and a black cap, which he promptly turns backward. An hour passes before he's finally out the door. No room service today. He eats Mexican. The bill is $7.

    "That's my kind of meal," he says.

    He spends the next couple of hours basically walking the streets. Alone. No one recognizes him.

    He ducks in and out of the shops along Beach Drive. He checks out The Pier. He mingles occasionally with the locals.

    "St. Pete is real mellow," he says diplomatically. "I can see that if I don't want to do anything, this is the place."

    Presumably, that was as a compliment.

    Despite having played before thousands and starred in TV commercials, Stokes couldn't be more regular, especially when he stops by the bank for a withdrawal. He had his ATM card, but he wanted a little more than the machine's $300 limit.

    But with no withdrawal slips and an out-of-state account, Stokes is turned down cold by the teller. He doesn't try to persuade the teller by telling her who he is, that he has enough money to buy the whole bank branch. He simply puts away his ATM card and leaves quietly, stopping only to speak to Seahawks quarterback Brock Huard, who happens to be in the bank, too.

    "I can't believe it," he says, more amused than annoyed. "I had $15 on me. I spent $7 on my lunch, so I guess I'll have to go the rest of the day with the $8 I have left." That pretty much curtails whatever grand plans Stokes has. On the way back to his room, he stops by the hotel gym and runs into 49ers teammate and quarterback Jeff Garcia.

    He spends the next few hours relaxing, watching TV and talking on the phone.

    The highlight of his day is a players party at MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa. Stokes goes just as he is, clad in the same black outfit he has worn all day.

    There is a large group of NFL players in attendance, including Redskins running back Stephen Davis, Bucs fullback Mike Alstott and Jaguars receiver Keenan McCardell.

    Once again, Stokes is everything you don't expect an NFL player to be. He spends virtually the entire evening signing autographs. While Dolphins receiver Lamar Thomas and Broncos cornerback Terrell Buckley are laughing it up on one side of the room, Stokes is making small talk with a seemingly endless string of fans.

    There's the guy who moved here from San Francisco who talks Stokes' ear off about the beauty of California. Then there's the couple who know the owner of one of Stokes' favorite San Francisco restaurants. "They have the best calamari there," Stokes says.

    Then there is the woman who wants to meet former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana. And she wants Stokes to arrange it. Only a few beautiful women approach, but none make a pass at him even though he's one of the most eligible bachelors at the party.

    "It's the weirdest thing to me," Stokes says of all the autograph-seeking strangers who approach him and act like they are old friends. "But I actually enjoy talking to people. And the autographs aren't that bad. You get used to it to where you can do it in your sleep."

    Sure, especially when you can sleep until noon.

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