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Altruism? That's the (free) ticket

By TOM ZUCCO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001


The situation was rapidly moving from discouraging to hopeless. At least that's the way an adult would look at it. The Super Bowl would begin in less than an hour, and so far, the closest thing Charlie Goldstein had to a ticket was the cardboard sign he made Sunday morning and taped to a yardstick.

But children have an unlimited supply of hope, so Charlie kept marching back and forth on the sidewalk with his sign.

My Dad Needs 2 Tickets

A few feet away, Rob Goldstein leaned against a post and watched his son entertain the crowds.

"People love the sign," he said. "And a lot of people are stopping to take his picture." But there were no ticket offers, and they had been there for nearly two hours.

Charlie, 10, a fifth-grader, and Rob, a health care administrator, live in Bradenton and had come to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon for the NFL Experience. Before they went home, they thought they would try a long shot and to see if they could buy a couple of tickets.

A man holding two cell phones approached Ron. He had what they were looking for. Rob explained that he had set a limit of $100 each. Not even close, the man said, and he melted into the crowd.

Rob and Charlie had done this before, at the 1999 Super Bowl, and they'd had more luck than they had ever dreamed of.

"You'll never believe this," Rob said, "but a couple was walking in, saw us and gave us two tickets. For free. They asked us if we were going to resell them. We said no, and then they handed us the tickets. It was just incredible."

And next to impossible to repeat. People don't just luck into Super Bowl tickets. Everybody knows that.

Well, sometimes they do.

Alan Reid and Debbi Dodge were in their seats by 3:30 because these weren't just any seats. They were nine rows up from the 48-yard line. They could see the stubble on Tony Siragusa's chin. They didn't ask for the tickets. And they didn't have to pay for them.

Alan and Debbi work in hotels in Maui, and Alan's brother-in-law is a golf pro in Lake Bluff, Ill. Alan's brother-in-law gives golf lessons to players and coaches on the Chicago Bears. They must be good lessons because one of the Bears gave him the tickets, and he gave them to Alan and Debbi.

"When we got the tickets in the mail, I was looking at them and going "Row A, B, C . . . We're only nine rows up,' " Debbi said. "We were ecstatic."

"This is the first pro football game I've ever been to," Alan said.

"I had a guy offer me $1,000 each for these, and we thought about it. But the memories of something like this are worth more than that."

Back outside, Rob and Charlie are waiting. It's a seller's market to be sure. Thousands of people are circling the stadium holding up one or two fingers, like everyone is trying to hail a cab. One man is carrying a sign that reads "Will Trade Kidney For Tickets." And in another desperate act, a man grabs a ticket from someone's hand in front of the stadium and sprints into a parking lot across the street. He is chased by at least 50 men and tries to hide under a car. But he is quickly discovered and arrested.

"We're going to leave at 6:30," said Rob, planning to make it home for the second half.

At that moment, a man wearing a dirty white beard, a soiled Santa's hat and jacket and a pair of New York Giants boxer shorts staggers in front of the Goldsteins. He stops and takes a long swallow from a bottle of beer.

"Not a good sign," Rob said. Almost time to pull the plug. Charlie was still marching back and forth, and he would have kept marching until the lights in the stadium were turned off, if it hadn't been for Tim Tlusty.

"Hi, guys," he said. "Want me to make your day?"

He reached into a plastic bag and pulled out two tickets. Charlie and Rob didn't know what to say.

"Now, you're not going to resell these are you?"

Rob said definitely not, and Charlie started jumping up and down.

They thanked Tlusty over and over and then ran for the nearest gate.

Tlusty watched them disappear inside the stadium and smiled. "I'm a senior account executive at ESPN. The tickets were for a client, but they couldn't go, so I saw those two and thought, why not?

"It was just something I thought I should do," he added. "You don't have to make a big deal out of this. Don't go to any trouble."

No trouble at all.

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