Friday, January 6, 2006

TAMPA, Fla. — Admit it: You wish you were here. Watching the palm trees sway, the roses bloom and the ticket scalpers scalp. Inhaling the delicious sense of revenge as the Redskins return to Bucs country today to play in tomorrow’s NFL wild-card playoff game.

So you weren’t willing to shell out $1,000 for a 50-yard line seat or $10,000 for a luxury waterfront private home or $600 each for round trip airfare from Washington?

How you scoffed at those who did. Those lucky, rabid football fans who will imbibe oceans of beer at the Green Iguana tonight and wear burgundy and gold while tailgating at the stadium which is being resodded and spruced up for the 4:30 p.m. matchup.

The ESPN truck is already in place, and sportwriters lugging laptops are arriving hourly. Huge white tents have been erected on the lawn outside the stadium for corporate guests and fat cats. Hot dog trucks and souvenir stands are in place.

“If I had to bet on it? I think Washington. They’re on a roll,” said maintenance supervisor Jim Duffy, escorting a guest onto the emerald green field at Raymond James Stadium. “It’s going to be very interesting. Whoever doesn’t lose it will probably win it. That means whoever doesn’t fumble the ball.”

His prediction? 28-24, Redskins.

It might not be the Super Bowl, but it’s the closest Washington has come since 2000 when they lost to the Buccaneers in the second round of the playoffs.

How long ago was that? Cornerback Darrell Green was still playing for the Redskins, and Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp was running his mouth. Now, it’s wide receiver Santana Moss — which sounds like a Florida resort — and running back Clinton Portis’ mother slugging a Philadelphia Eagles fan in the nose.

If the Super Bowl is the wedding, the playoffs are the bachelor parties. Super Bowls are for the rich and mighty, the NFL parents. The playoffs are for the fans.

In a twist of fate, returning to Tampa seems fitting. And there are signs that some people are ready to party especially because the Bucs beat the Redskins in the regular season by one point on a controversial play.

They’re calling it a rematch of the “Go For It” game. Redskins fans will arrive by plane, train and Winnebagos, beeping their “Hail to The Redskins” horns.

The only problem is few of the Redskins fans will find any available tickets. Unless you happen to run into Kenneth Andrew Bell, who describes himself as a lifelong Redskins fan who now lives in Tampa. Mr. Bell apparently scored 150 tickets to tomorrow’s game and plans to give them — that’s right — give them away to diehard Washington supporters.

“None of them are for sale,” he said. “We are honoring the team. We are going to show what real support looks like.”

Mr. Bell said he plans to award the freebies to Redskin fans who appear to be fervent and sincere. In other words, guys with hog noses in dresses. He said he would stand at the south end of the stadium at noon tomorrow and hand out the tickets to the most needy, not greedy.

And while rental cars are down to white subcompacts and hotel rooms are scarce, there still are some available at the Grand Hyatt where owner Dan Snyder and the Redskins are staying, at the steroid-injected rate of $295 a night, before taxes.

Internet chat rooms on Redskins sites ( and are buzzing with information on informal get-togethers, ride sharing and last-minute ticket sales.

Meanwhile, Art Ginolfi of Omega World Travel, which operates, was inundated with requests for seats and airfare, but couldn’t fill the demand.

“We’re optimistic with Tampa,” he said. So optimistic that the firm has already secured airspace and hotels for Seattle — the next stop if Washington wins.

When Washington wins.

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