Though not affiliated with the Bucs, (from left) Patrick Gunter, Woodie Brewer, Patty Tessitore, Judy Colteryahn, Kristen Rossman and Wade Patterson used friendships built on the Buccaneers.com message boards to organize the charitable function
Vehicles began streaming into Fort DeSoto Park early in the morning on Saturday, with passengers seeking out such varied leisure activities as boating, fishing, biking, swimming and kite-flying. It was a typical Memorial Day weekend at the West Florida park, busy and hot.
In one corner near the back, however, a rather remarkable congregation began to take shape at 10:00 a.m. It was a gathering, one could say, of complete strangers on a first-name basis.
Tampa Bay Buccaneer flags were planted in the ground. A professionally-lettered banner stretched across a pavilion. A table was loaded with a variety of Buccaneers-related prize items. And, most importantly, name tags were handed out. On the tags were such cryptic words as 'kcgobucs,' 'DunnDeal' and 'bucbaby1.'
Eventually more than 150 people were at the gathering, a 'tailgate party' organized by long-time members of the Buccaneers.com message boards. Many were meeting for the first time, sharing the real names and the stories behind their message board handles.
They had been drawn together by two things: their shared love of the Bucs and a desire to help those in need.
Acting on an idea hatched months ago by a member known as 'ElvislikestheBucs', a core constituency of message board members developed the tailgate party as an opportunity to meet in person and raise money for All Children's Hospital. By the time the party was drawing to a close on Saturday afternoon, the organizers had raised close to $5,000 for All Children's through private donations from those in attendance and an extensive raffle of Buccaneers-related items.
"As a long-time Buccaneers fan, this was a good opportunity not only to get some fans together but also help out a charity," said Jon Roman of St. Petersburg, a.k.a. 'DunnDeal.' "We're here having a good time, but we're also helping some kids. It's a good way to have your cake and eat it, too."
Roman, whose personal donation to the event's fund represented a sizeable portion of the final tally, explained that the specific charity involved was a particular favorite of many involved.
"All Children's Hospital is definitely a great charity," said Roman. "I myself have had several hospital stays there, and they do a great job with the children. This helps out some kids that could really use it."
Earlier, Roman had met Woodie Brewer, or 'woodiebob,' for the first time in person, though the two had conversed extensively on the internet. Brewer was the vocal leader of the six-person committee that organized the event, including Kristin Rossman ('kcgobucs'), Patrick Gunter ('BucsWINBucsWIN'), Patty Tessitore ('bucbaby1'), Wade Patterson ('BrandonBucFan') and Judy Colteryahn.
"I'm very much enjoying putting faces to names," said Roman. "It's nice to see some of the people that you talk to all of the time. There's a sense of camaraderie among Buccaneers fans, especially the ones that have been fans for a long time. We've been through a lot watching our Bucs, and now they're an amazing team."
Gunter agreed, stepping off to the side of the pavilion as Brewer began to announce some of the raffle winners (among the items donated by the Buccaneers for the event were an official signed game jersey, an autographed football and six dozen adidas hats).
"It's a great satisfaction meeting all of the fine people who have supported this thing and supported the Buccaneers," said Gunter. "We get together on the board to talk about football, but we've become such good friends that we can talk like a family about other topics. We have a good time talking about everything."
For some, the trip to Fort DeSoto Park meant a drive down the Pinellas coast or a jaunt across the bridge from Tampa. For others, it was an odyssey of thousands of miles.
Message board members streamed in from North Carolina, New England and New York. Joe Asper, of Syracuse, New York, endured 36 hours on a bus to introduce himself as message board regular 'Slobgoblin'. The hardiest traveler, however had to be Bob Rinehart, known to his Buccaneers.com friends as 'SergeantBuc.'
Rinehart took four days to drive 3,300 miles to the Bay area from his current home in the state of Washington. Rinehart grew up in South Tampa but has followed his military duties around the globe and most recently to Seattle. Since its launch in 1999, Buccaneers.com has helped Rinehart keep current on what remains his favorite team.
"I grew up in South Tampa, and my dad started taking me to Bucs games when I was little," he said. "I've been in the military since '88, so I had to have a way to keep up with what's going on. With the internet, I was able to get on the website and, the message boards, and find out what's happening every day."
Rinehart remembers seeing the idea for the tailgate party in its early stages, when it seemed like just another one of the hundreds of diversionary topics message board members discuss on slow news days. Now, these newfound friends, tied together by the Buccaneers, envision holding a similar charitable event every year.
"This turned into a very worthwhile event because some people worked very hard on it," said Rinehart, who also used the trip to fulfill a military obligation in Georgia and visit family in the Bay area. "It's funny. It started out so small and then it just kind of grew and grew and grew into this. It's pretty incredible."