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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Father Figures

The linebacking duo of Ryan Nece and Shelton Quarles took time Friday to honor some of the Bay area’s top dads at their fourth annual “Best Dads in the Bay Luncheon”


Edward Griffin was chosen as the #1 Top Dad thanks to the nomination of his daughter, Jeanene

Speaking on the topic of fatherhood, the inimitable Bill Cosby once quipped, "If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right."

Meant for laughs, Cosby's classic witticism underscored a considerable truth: being a dad isn't easy.

Friday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Ryan Nece and Pro Bowl linebacker Shelton Quarles did their parts to make it a little easier for 25 deserving fathers from around the Bay area, honoring them with a luncheon at Raymond James Stadium.

The event, known as the "Best Dads in the Bay Luncheon," is in its fourth consecutive year and was conceived of by the two NFL linebackers as an opportunity to recognize some of the area's most deserving fathers. This year, Nece and Quarles invited 25 lucky dads to the luncheon after pouring over hundreds of nomination letters submitted by family and friends through

"Four years ago we tried to figure out a way to give back to the community," Quarles said. "One of the ways we thought about was having a Mother's Day program and a Father's Day program. It has evolved, and it gets a little bit better each year.

"We have a bunch of great fathers in Tampa Bay. We're happy to have this luncheon to award them with something that they might like."

All the fathers invited to Friday's luncheon received a hefty clutch of prizes, including fan-oriented items such as tote bags, window clings, Bucs stickers and yearbooks as well as gift certificates to The Difference Salon and Saks Fifth Avenue.

A few dads also were the lucky recipients of various Buccaneers-related memorabilia, which was raffled off during the event. Some of the items included a Buccaneers custom football signed by Nece and Quarles and a Bucs pennant and mini-helmet also signed by the duo.

At the center of the even was the effort to recognize the three men selected as the top dads for 2007. Nece and Quarles arrived at their top three selections for this year after a month of combing through the submitted nominations, a task that each admitted was tough, given the quality and quantity of the heartfelt letters submitted.

"People don't realize how difficult it is [to choose the "Best Dads in the Bay"]," Nece said. "It's not an easy process, but the guys that we have selected today are top-notch. We're excited to celebrate with them.

"It's an exciting day to give back to the community and shake hands with some great guys."

The three recognized fathers received prize packages that included tickets to a Buccaneers home game, a car wash package, introductory memberships to Lifestyle Family Fitness and numerous gift cards from Bay area dining and shopping establishments.

Edward Griffin was chosen as the 2007 Best Dad of the Year, based on the touching words penned by his daughter, Jeanene.

"He's been a husband and soul mate to my mother for 26 years, worked his way up from the barracks of probation officer to assistant warden in the criminal justice system; and continuously serves as a leader in supplying a voice and vision to the struggles of people of color and those in need around the world, through his church affiliations and lifelong brotherhood, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc," his daughter wrote.

"He possesses strength and control, yet has a heart filled with love worth more than any pot of gold. Edward Griffin is always there, in good times and bad. He leads by example."

As the overall top dad, Griffin also will receive limo service to a Bucs game and the opportunity to have his picture taken with Nece prior to the game. He'll also get the chance to play host to 25 of his closest family and friends at a party at his house during a Buccaneers road game, courtesy of Texas Cattle Company, who will cater the event.

Receiving first runner-up honors was Phillip Koplan, a dedicated father of three who was nominated by his wife of 10 years, Allison.

"My husband is a person that puts his spiritual beliefs and his children first," Allison wrote. "He would give up anything for them and their happiness… Even though he's an avid sports fan, he doesn't go to games or have 'guy night.' Instead, he watches his football with our children on his lap in our family room. He represents parenthood to the fullest extent and makes me a better mother. I honestly think to myself several times a day that my children are so lucky to have him as a dad, and I am so lucky to have him as a husband."

Third runner-up Linwood Schultz is a hard-working father of two and was nominated by family friend Shannon Kriz. Schultz's wife passed away last year after battling illness for 12 years. Through that trying ordeal, Kriz said, Schultz has remained a source of strength for his children.

"During her years of illness, Linwood taught his sons the importance of unconditional love and how to put the needs of others first," Kriz's letter read. "He taught compassion and love and endurance. He is a man of strong faith and led by example during their mother's illness and the period of grief and healing… Not only is he an outstanding role model for his sons, he is a good role model for other children as well. Most important, he honors their mother each day with their strong upbringing. She would be so proud of the young men they are becoming."

As part of the program, Jack Harris, veteran Tampa Bay television and radio personality, delivered the keynote address, sharing several amusing anecdotes about fatherhood.

Addressing the fathers in attendance, Harris said, "As the cream of the crop of fathers, you have created the greatest legacy of all – your children. You can be mighty proud of what you've done."

Bill Cosby couldn't have said it better.

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