Tampa Bay fans finally see pay off

Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 1:55 a.m.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, left, holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy aloft as team owner Malcom Glazer, right, celebrates the Buccaneers' 48-21 win .

AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
Tampa Bay Bucs fans are a long-suffering bunch.
They've endured the only winless season in NFL history (1976). They heard running back Bo Jackson declare a decade later he would never suit up for Tampa, then watched as the Bucs drafted the Auburn star anyway (he kept his vow). And they saw management trade quarterback Steve Young for second- and fourth-round draft picks in 1987 (Young would become Super Bowl XXIX MVP for San Francisco).
For years, their team, which began its existence 0-26, was a bright orange laughingstock, earning the nickname Yucks for its ineptitude.
Nicole Pelaez, Kent Vann and Jeff Alexander are Bucs from the beginning. In fact, it could be said that Pelaez, who was born in 1976, the year Tampa got its franchise, is a Buc since birth.
Pelaez, a former Gainesville resident now back in her hometown, and three friends - Pat Browning (a Gator lineman from 1995-98), John Chapman and Rosa Scarboro - boarded a plane Friday, flew to Los Angeles and drove to San Diego, arriving around 2 a.m. with hopes of purchasing tickets for their team's first-ever Super Bowl game.
However, with scalpers asking anywhere from $1,200 to $6,500 a seat, they decided to party at the San Diego home of friend and former Gainesville resident Adam Lund.
"We're all dressed up in old school Tampa Bay gear," Pelaez said 45 minutes before kickoff. "We went to the grocery store wearing the clothes, and everybody was looking at us like we were crazy.
"Hey, we aren't able to go to the game, but wanted to be as close as possible and we're still going to do just about all we do before each home game. Besides, I have a good feeling about this, so I don't care if people think we're a bit weird."
About 3 hours later at Beef O'Brady's in Gainesville, Vann and Alexander have just exchanged high-fives and hugs after Keenan McCardell catches a touchdown pass from Brad Johnson to give the Bucs a 20-3 lead against the Raiders at the half.
"How do you explain? How do you describe how good this feels?" said Alexander, 45, a telephone technician from Largo who attended Tampa Bay's first-ever home victory in 1977 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
"Hugh Culverhouse (the former owner) never wanted to pay the money for a winner, and it wasn't until the Glazers bought the team that Tampa had hope for a winner," he said.
Added Vann, 41, the facilities director for St. Francis House: "And now look at us. There's no way we can lose this game! No way!"
Across the country, Pelaez likely was feeling the same.
After all, in this tale of two cities, it was the worst of times, but it is the best of times.
You can reach John Patton at 374-5074 or by e-mail at pattonj@gvillesun.com.

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