By MELANIE AVE, SUSAN THURSTON and KYLE PARKS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001
As Gasparilla got under way Saturday, dozens meandered through the mob holding out hope they could score Super Bowl tickets in the waning hours before Sunday's game.
Pennsylvania resident and diehard Giants fan Steve Duffy, wearing sunglasses, reclined against the wall of the Tampa Convention Center, holding a homemade cardboard sign written in black magic marker: "Need 2 Tickets Super Bowl."
Duffy had driven 12 hours and thousands of miles with his 12-year-old son, Dylan, with one purpose in mind: to go to Super Bowl XXXV at Raymond James Stadium.
"I told him, "If the Giants ever go to the Super Bowl, we're going,' " said Duffy, a salesman for Kodak who grew up in New Jersey. This is the man who placed a Giants doll in his son's crib at the hospital when he was born instead of stuffed bears or rabbits.
Willing to pay $900 apiece for tickets, Duffy said the best anyone had offered was $1,500.
His son told him he didn't care if they ended up with tickets. "He's having such a great time just being here," Duffy said.
About 10:45 a.m., three hours before the parade started, a half-dozen pirate-clad men and women from the Fernandino Beach Pirate Club near Jacksonville walked south on Ashley Drive, on their way to watch the invasion at the Tampa Convention Center.
As they waited to cross Kennedy Boulevard, a white car pulled in front of them onto Ashley, ignoring a traffic cop who was waving his arms and blowing a whistle.
"Do you want us to go get him?" one of the pirates asked the officer, putting on a tough act.
"Throw a beer at him," the police officer said, partly perturbed. "No don't. You don't want to waste a beer on him."
George and Mary Hutchens knew about the Gasparilla parade when they bought their home on Bayshore Boulevard in 1995. Sure, it could get crowded, but it sounded like a lot of fun.
The couple moved in about a week before the parade. Then came the shock of a lifetime.
"We woke up Saturday morning and all of a sudden there's 250,000 of our best friends on our porch," George Hutchens said.
Since then, the couple have hosted a party every year for 50 to 60 of their friends, and some of their friends' friends.
Like many homeowners along Bayshore, they hire security guards to stand out front because too many people asked to use their bathroom. To keep unwanted visitors out, they have every guest whisper a password.
Open sesame, perhaps?
They wouldn't say.
At the Red Baron's corporate tent along Bayshore Boulevard, executives from Schwan's, the pizza brand's Minnesota manufacturer, hung out with 300 guests, including top corporate customers and employees. Among them: former Lykes Bros. Inc. exec Lenny Pippin, who's now chief executive of Schwan's.
The Super Bowl XXXV Task Force had one of the largest tents. Sponsors such as the Wilson Co., a prominent Tampa commercial real estate company, hosted a number of guests as part of Super Bowl weekend.
Celebrity seekers were in full force during Saturday's parade, hoping to catch a peek at anyone of fame, football players, movie stars, rock singers, anyone.
Chugging bears and running to the street festival during the afternoon from the parade, Orlando friends Diane and Debbie D'Aurora, Laura Collins and Kimberly Ashe strode up to a white stretch sport utility vehicle.
They pressed their faces to the darkened windows and asked the driver, "Who's in there?"
No one, the women were told.
"We're so buzzed, who cares," said Diane D'Aurora. "And even if there were anyone, would we recognize them anyway?
"No," she said, answering her own question. "We're too old."
While most people spent Saturday preaching about the merits of partying, others used Gasparilla to preach their religion.
Several groups passed out literature proclaiming their beliefs to anyone who would listen. A few Christian street ministers held 8-foot wooden crosses. One group distributed pamphlets telling people to beware of people handing out pamphlets. Greater Grace Church in Pinellas Park hopped on the Super Bowl wagon with a bright yellow flier titled, "The Super Love of God." Scientologists gave out mini-newspapers outlining their theories. They also included coupons for a free introductory class. In the end, a lot of it wound up in the streets amid beer bottles and cups.
"People are lost out there," said Richard Martin, dressed like a shepherd and holding a cross. "They need Jesus."
Shawn Geary wasn't in the parade or at the mock pirate invasion, but he brought a boat anyway.
He and his friends made their own pirate ship out of two grocery carts and wheeled it to Bayshore Boulevard for an afternoon of fun. It had cannons, a CD player, cooler and, of course, a keg of beer.
Geary, 25, said they spent more than a week building the wood contraption, named Jose Gaspar after the other replica ship. David Bessee, 26, painted a flag with the Buccaneers logo.
Geary can't remember a year when he missed the festivities. What's his favorite part? The public drunkenness.