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Plenty for which to give thanks

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© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2000

THANKS: for today, and giving.

THANKS: for those who excel with heroic drive, ample perspective, unsubsiding grace, harnessed egos, vulgarities amply suppressed -- and a wealth of appreciation for those who witness with interest.

THANKS: for Bobby Bowden, Butch Davis and Steve Spurrier for reaffirming Florida as the deepest, most entertaining, highest-achieving kingdom in college football.

THANKS: for cable TV.

THANKS: for Gene Patterson, the best newspaper person I have ever known, for being the Times editor who brought me to these pages in December 1973 and never quit mentoring, encouraging and providing tools that have allowed a soon-to-retire sports writer's cherished, global recollections to become stacked heaven high.

THANKS: for Mia Hamm, the Pele of women's soccer, a stylish, non-egomaniacal model for little girls who dream of accomplishments on the biggest of athletic stages.

THANKS: for November cool.

THANKS: for Vinny Lecavalier, the kid who gives Tampa Bay a dazzling shot at having a legitimate hockey sensation in a Lightning uniform, plus a lot more wins.

THANKS: for the Sunday smiles we're seeing on the Baltimore puss of Trent Dilfer, a good guy who eschews spewing poison on the Bucs despite having become a dejected, rejected, ejected Tampa Bay quarterback.

THANKS: for my handsome kid, Kevin, who makes a father proud.

THANKS: for Venus and Serena Williams for bringing women's tennis to new physical and social plateaus, with loads of room for their continuing growth, plus a continuing need for maturity.

THANKS: for Billy Donovan, who delivered basketball from our football-immersed state to that highest of stages, the NCAA Final Four; the brilliant young coach of the Gators joins an all-too-short list from his profession: Hugh Durham (FSU), Joe Williams (Jacksonville) and Lon Kruger (Florida).

THANKS: for my barber, Joe.

THANKS: for Joe Torre, who keeps winning World Series sans flaming ego, with total respect for baseball and anybody who tries his best at the game, while blending a team of Yankees that, for this mouthy and showoff era, is a classy, low-key reflection of its manager.

THANKS: for Pete Sampras, whom some call boring, but whom I see as history's nicest, most accomplished tennis player.

THANKS: for Marcy, the world's greatest wife, in the 36th year of our lifetime contract, for making me know that early retirement can be at least as rewarding, challenging and exciting as the generations we already have shared.

THANKS: for Warren Sapp, whose unique play convinces me the Bucs can put a second player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, another defensive lineman to join Lee Roy Selmon.

THANKS: for LaVell Edwards (BYU) and Don Nehlen (West Virginia), upon their retirement, for coaching lives wonderfully spent, and the thousands of their football children who have become better adults thanks to experiences at Provo and Morgantown.

THANKS: for Fred McGriff, a quiet fellow up from the playgrounds of Tampa; while at times perplexing to figure, Crime Dog has been the most consistent, dependable Devil Rays producer in the injury-badgered, three-season history of Tampa Bay's baseball franchise.

THANKS: for key lime pie.

THANKS: for Tiger Woods, whose 2000 has been the greatest of golfing years since ancient Scots triggered the gentlemanly sport, even as I wonder if such a bright fire that delivers such a wealth of glory and gold can keep burning so hot, on and on, for a phenom whose 25th birthday approaches.

THANKS: for Tony Dungy, not just for being a successful coach, but for establishing a tone, a style and a mentality that so permeates his Bucs workplace that it makes dealing with today's Tampa Bay players the best experience, due to team class/intelligence/maturity, of my 25 years around our NFL operation.

THANKS: for any I-4 widenings.

THANKS: for Lorie Kane, a Canadian who for years has beamed with one of the more constant and sincere smiles in all of sports, even when finishing second nine times; she finally won an LPGA tournament in 2000 and then did it again and again; a classy near-misser became a gracious champion.

THANKS: for Jim Leavitt, a tough and homegrown coach who has his USF Bulls as ready as they're going to be for the tough challenges of major-league college football.

THANKS: for you.

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