Not-so-modest proposal works
Jim Parker said that, next to the Frisbee dogs, it was the greatest thing he had ever seen at Tampa Stadium, and he's been coming to see the Bucs for 18 years. What Parker saw was a great love story with a happy ending. Not even the Bucs' 36-13 loss to Minnesota could cool the romantic warmth experienced by those in the stands around Terry Ridley and Linda Miller. Ridley, a Newark, N.Y., resident, went to Tampa Stadium on Sunday to see his favorite team play. And to ask his girlfriend to marry him.

Midway through the second quarter, Ridley's proposal to Miller flashed on the scoreboard in front of 42,110, including Mike Pelosi of Cocoa, who was sitting next to Ridley and Miller. Pelosi, a 10-year season-ticket holder, did what he always does when he sees a proposal on the scoreboard. "I started screaming, `Don't do it, no way, tell him no,' " said Pelosi, a self-described delirious jerk. "But I didn't realize they were right next to me."

Miller blushed after seeing her name in lights, but not before saying yes to Ridley, who quickly pulled the ring out of his pocket and put it on Miller's hand. "I was totally surprised," Miller said. "I'm not sure I can trust him because he can really keep a secret. He kept his mouth shut the whole time. And the Bucs scored right after that. That's a good sign."

The couple immediately became the darlings of Section J in the East stands. Pelosi was quick to apologize and offered hearty congratulations. Asked if he would propose to girlfriend Lisa Shaker in the same manner, Pelosi said, "Yeah, next week." "What other stadium in America would this event supersede what's happening on the field?" a smiling Parker asked. For Miller, a lifetime with Ridley means a lifetime with a man who believes he's the only Bucs fan in the state of New York. "I just hope he's as faithful to me as he is to the Bucs," Miller said.

As a child, Ridley adopted the Bucs from his native New York when Tampa Bay got the franchise in 1974. He is often the brunt of jokes from Bills and Giants fans. "They're always saying that the only Bucs fans are me and this guy in England we saw on TV one day," Ridley said. "They were asking Europeans who their favorite teams were and one guy said, `The Bucs.' "

That guy may have been Paul Stewart, founder of the "Bucs UK Supporters Club." Stewart, a Bucs fan since 1982, attended only his third Bucs game Sunday. He usually listens on Armed Forces Radio at odd hours and watches highlight shows. This was the first game for Paul's new bride, Emma. The couple delayed their honeymoon so Paul could see his favorite team. "This won't ruin my honeymoon, but it'll come awfully close," Stewart said as Minnesota's Terry Allen sprinted for a second-quarter touchdown. "At least it's a warm climate," said Emma.

Stewart, who founded the UK club in 1984, says the group has 75 members who meet annually at the NFL exhibition game in Londonand usually save for years to come see the Bucs play. "You know how the Muslims go to Mecca," Stewart said. "Well, Buccaneers fans in the UK come to Tampa Stadium. We have our picture taken in front of the stadium and everything. I can't even support another team. In America, you only care about the winners, but in England we like underdogs."

Ernest Hooper, The St.Petersburg Times 1994