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20,000 fans 'Experience' long lines at theme park

By PETE YOUNG, WILMA NORTON, JOHN C. COTEY, TAMARA LUSH, JOANNE KORTH, MIKE BRASSFIELD, MARY EVERTZ, Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001


The buzzword about the NFL Experience on Saturday was traffic -- human and automotive.

Cars crawled around the roads surrounding the Experience, adjacent to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, while hordes indulged themselves in the interactive theme park. By 2 p.m., four hours after opening, 20,000 had passed through, and hundreds more poured in by the minute.

While many waited to punt, pass and kick, the biggest lines were filled with autograph seekers. Among the players and ex-players signing were Kordell Stewart, Brad Johnson, Carl Banks and Raul Allegre.

Perhaps the biggest line was to get Donovan McNabb's autograph. It was about 300 feet long at 2, and the Eagles QB didn't begin signing until 2:30.

Among the smorgasbord of events was MTV's TRL @ The Super Bowl, broadcast live with appearances by coaches Steve Mariucci (49ers) and Dave Wannstedt (Dolphins).

Frank Register of Tampa, a Bucs season-ticket holder, attended with his family. The kids loved it, but the adults were worn out. "It was very crowded and not up to par. Vendors were running out of stuff to eat," Register said. "It was very expensive. Some of the prices were outrageous."

MR. MAYOR TO YOU: With the Super Bowl, more people have heard of Tampa's mayor. They just don't know his name. Mayor Dick Greco was introduced Friday as "David Greco" on the Early Show on CBS, and Saturday in a CBS story about Tampa's effort to attract the 2012 Olympics he was called "Ed Greco." FAMILY AFFAIR: Two car loads of Ravens fans made the trip to Tampa for the weekend from Ormond Beach and DeLand, and their interest in Baltimore was a little more personal than most.

Carol Smith, the mother of Mike Smith, and nine other relatives of the defensive line coach had their car windows painted with pro-Ravens sentiment. One panel read, "We Coach Smith."

Smith was raised in Ormond Beach and attended Father Lopez High School in Daytona Beach. He played for East Tennessee State and Winnipeg of the Canadian Football League. He coached at San Diego State, Morehead State and Tennessee Tech before joining the Ravens two years ago, his mother said.

Some of the group will watch the game at the home of Carol Smith's sister, who lives near the stadium. Only Carol Smith has a ticket. "(The Ravens) are going to win, there is no other way about it," Carol Smith said.

WOMAN OF COURAGE: Singer Patti LaBelle had charity on her mind at a benefit fashion show in Tampa, but that didn't mean she couldn't think about expanding her wardrobe. LaBelle was honored with the Woman of Courage Award, presented by singer Natalie Cole. LaBelle looked at the jeweled award and quipped, "I could melt this down and get me a necklace."

About 750 turned out for Gridiron Glamor 2001, sponsored by the HollyRod Foundation to benefit the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa and the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research in Columbus, Ohio.

The event, in its fifth year, was started by actress Holly Robinson Peete and her husband, Raiders quarterback Rodney Peete.

BUSINESS IS BOOMING: At the start of last week, dancers at Mons Venus complained the lap dance business was slow. The media glare and threat of police raids kept customers away.

But Friday night and early Saturday, Tampa's most famous nude club was packed. Limos filled the parking lot.

"Yesterday was the biggest day I ever had, in dollars," owner Joe Redner said Saturday afternoon. He said he made $43,000 by charging a $30 cover at the door.

Any police raids?

"Not a whimper from the city," Redner said.

With the NFL warning its players that lap dances are illegal in Tampa, the city's sex industry has gotten nationwide attention as columnists and TV crews invaded the city looking for stories. Nevertheless, Redner said rock musicians and players had been stopping by the Mons, just down Dale Mabry Highway from the stadium. He declined to name names.

"Our first customer today was a 49er," he said.

SHIRTS AND SKINS: No helmets, no pads, no clothes.

No problem.

The Bare Buns squared off against the Totally Tans during the 2001 Buff Bowl flag football game at the Lake Como Family Nudist Resort in Pasco County.

The Tans won the first game 12-6. There were no injuries.

More than 100 people gathered at the resort to watch the game, drink beer and relax. Most were nude or nearly nude. Some thought it was a little too chilly to "shed."

A CBS crew showed up -- clothed -- to tape a feature for today's Super Bowl coverage.

The weather didn't stop the cheerleaders for the Bare Buns from going topless. They wore red skirts and shook red pompoms at their fans.

Paul West, the 35-year-old quarterback for the Tans, outlined the most important rule for his fellow players: "If the flag don't come off after three seconds, please let go."

BUD BOWL: If you don't have tickets to the big game today, the Bud Bowl will hold its flag football finals today in Ybor City before the Super Bowl. The winner will be crowned at approximately 3 p.m. in the culmination of a three-day, 18-team tournament featuring four-on-four teams from around the country in 20-minute games.

The tournament is at Seventh Avenue and 14th Street. The winners get a trip to Steamboat Ski Resort in Steamboat Springs, Col.

The Bud Bowl celebration also includes its world-famous Clydesdales (they will parade through Ybor City at 3 p.m.), a mobile beer exhibit and a sand sculpting exhibition. Concerts are Digital Funk (2 p.m.), Rock Candy (3:30 p.m.) and Grin (5 p.m.).

FLORIDA STATE'S INFLUENCE: FSU isn't just stocking the NFL with players, including Baltimore linebacker Peter Boulware, in the Super Bowl. FSU also will stock up on chicken and potato salad at today's game. About two dozen students from the Dedman Department of Hospitality will prepare and serve box lunches to the media. TRIVIA: Aerosmith teaming with 'N Sync isn't the only first for today's halftime show. This is the first time a woman is running things. Salli Frattini, executive producer at MTV, is in charge of the halftime extravaganza. ... Ricky Martin isn't the only star to give a performance in Hangar No. 3 at MacDill Air Force Base. Jimmy Stewart filmed Strategic Air Command there in the 1950s.

WITHHOLDING JUDGMENT: The NFL Players' Association supports NFL Europe and the Arena League, but executive director Gene Upshaw is withholding his endorsement of the XFL as a job opportunity for players.

"I don't know if it's football yet," said Upshaw, a Hall of Famer and ex-Raider. "It has no benefits package. It has that crazy no-fair-catch rule. I haven't seen a drug policy, but if it's like everything else, they may not have that, either. We'll have to wait and see."

SUPER BOWL MONDAY: Fried rice with fried Spam is not typical Super Bowl fare, but many public school students in Guam will be eating the traditional local breakfast as they settle in front of their television sets at 9:25 a.m. on the island's newly declared school holiday, Super Bowl Monday.

Guam is a U.S. territory of 150,000 people, due north of Papua New Guinea, across the international date line and 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. That puts the Super Bowl smack in the middle of Monday morning, causing a perennial truancy problem. The Department of Education decided to close the schools.

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