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They came, they saw and they got the story half-right


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001

Before the elite of the national sports press corps departs Tampa, I would like to correct one misapprehension.

Bern's Steak House is not the only restaurant in town.

You wouldn't know this from what they said about us in their various dispatches back home.

They could have called me, but I have been hard to find of late.

I've spent most of my time trying to book a condo in a cave for this weekend. Some of us, and there are more than the NFL and everybody else in town who is treating this game as the Second (no, make that the Third) Coming believe, wish the racket would go off somewhere. Elba, perhaps.

If located, and asked, I would have been happy to introduce you to a Cuban sandwich at La Ideal Grocery in West Tampa, or taken you to breakfast on the Times' nickel at the Village Inn on S Dale Mabry, where the lines are long, Super Bowl or no. There are any number of rib joints, and some Asian restaurants -- my current favorite is Indochine on Gandy Boulevard -- that are just plain splendid. And any number of places where they duplicate your hometown's most memorable edible. Beef on 'weck from Buffalo. Cheesesteaks from Philly. Pizza from Chicago. Coney Island dogs from, well, you know.

All of this would have been so inexpensive the accountants back home would have gone into shock when they saw your expense accounts.

Sadly, all you could talk about was the beef.

And -- this we deserve -- the cheesecake.

One of Joe Redner's girls was interviewed by a guy from the New York Daily News. I am sure he never once took his eyes off his notebook as he scribbled down what she said: "I'm not scared of the cops. I hope some hunky cop arrests me -- I've always wanted to be in handcuffs."

But you can't have it both ways, fellas.

We can't be simultaneously more desolate than a stretch of interstate in western North Dakota and the most scandalous place on earth since Disney took over Times Square.

"If Gertrude Stein had described Tampa and St. Petersburg instead of Oakland, she would have said, "There is no there there, squared,' " wrote Bill Conlin, sports columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

Several writers called us Sin City. They were borrowing from Baltimore Ravens defensive end Tony Siragusa who said, "Tampa is known to be the city of sin."

He went on to say: "I never understood the strip joint thing. Why go to a place and get all excited and then have a hard time walking out?"

When he gets back to Baltimore, Siragusa is getting his Eagle Scout badge.

In my book, these sportswriters had no griping rights. (They don't understand. Those rights are all mine.)

They got massages at the press center. Lots of hooch.

I came across one who complained he had to go looking for things to write about, and who said that Super Bowls were inevitably second-rate games. In other words, these guys know this game is just a cheesy excuse for parties most of us can't get into. Like a whole week of great TV -- Entertainment Tonight playing out right in front of your star-struck eyes.

The topper came the morning I was driving on Kennedy Boulevard and saw a couple of Tampa police cars, lights flashing, clearing the way for a bunch of buses. News perhaps. Maybe the players being carted to the stadium, I thought.

Silly me. Each bus displayed an enormous sign in the wide front window. MEDIA. PRESS CONFERENCE. I paused, nodded my head in reverence. This was a profound moment. I was witnessing the passing of the media horde.

Maybe somebody out there knows the answer to this question.

Will the cops be kind enough to escort them to the airport, too?

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