Originally created 01/26/01

Tampa: Finding trouble is easy

TAMPA, Fla. -- It's not hard to find trouble in Tampa. Ask Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Lawrence Taylor or Denny McLain.

Dexter Manley, who received a second lifetime ban from the NFL after testing positive for drugs in 1991, once branded Tampa as a "seedy town." He said the city undermined his effort to stay sober as he tried to salvage a declining career with the Buccaneers.

Tampa's seediness also comes from its many strip clubs, which are sure to be busy this weekend with fans heading to Florida for the Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants.

The NFL, aware of Tampa's Sin City reputation, sent letters to teams in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the trouble that tainted the Super Bowl the past two years.

Atlanta's Eugene Robinson was arrested in 1999 on charges he tried to solicit an undercover policewoman in Miami. Baltimore's Ray Lewis was arrested last year on murder charges in the stabbing deaths of two men at a Super Bowl party in Atlanta.

Lewis, who ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor, is back this year as the cornerstone of the Ravens' defense.

"We've been warned by NFL security, the CIA, the FBI and every security force known to man about the rules and regulations," Baltimore defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said. "I'll be in the restaurant. My wife sort of gave me an ultimatum."

There are two popular strip clubs within a couple of hundred yards of the Ravens' team hotel. Four more, including the notorious Mons Venus, are within walking distance of Raymond James Stadium, site of Sunday's game.

"Super Babes, Super Dances, Super Club for Super Bowl," the sign at Mons Venus says.

Police, sensitive to the perception that officers here unfairly target athletes, say they merely enforce laws. Strip-club customers can get up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for violating a lap-dance ordinance that requires them to stay at least six feet away from dancers.

"Certainly we don't want the focus of the Super Bowl to be on this issue," Tampa police Captain Jane Castor said.

Joe Redner, owner of the Mons Venus and another club, said he expects business to pick up on the weekend when the clubs will stay open around the clock and most of the more than 100,000 out-of-towners arrive.

Although there have been no arrests this week, more than 220 dancers and customers have been charged since the ordinance was enacted in December 1999. None of the raids attracted much attention until Ted Donato and Tyler Bouck of the Dallas Stars were charged on Jan. 13.

Strawberry, Taylor and McLain were arrested on various drug charges in Tampa. Gooden was arrested after a scuffle with police officers during a traffic stop.

NFL director of security Milt Ahlerlich sent a memo to the league's 31 teams this month, encouraging officials to educate players and club personnel headed to the Super Bowl about the lap-dance ordinance.

Ahlerlich also discussed it with the Giants and Ravens in Tampa in his traditional briefing of the Super Bowl teams.

"It is a time when you should go out and have a good time because this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal," Giants defensive tackle Keith Hamilton said. "But we have to keep the big focus in mind, which is we came down here to win a football game.

"If we can handle New York, and everybody has been pretty good all year, I'm sure we can handle it here."

The Giants and Ravens are taking different approaches to handling potential problems.

New York coach Jim Fassel imposed a curfew for the entire week: 1:30 a.m. last Sunday and Monday; 12:30 a.m. Tuesday through Friday; and 11 p.m. Saturday. Baltimore coach Brian Billick stuck with his regular-season policy of not placing restrictions on players at night.

"We have a lot of older guys on our team, and Brian sort of lets us go, but the older guys and experienced guys sort of police it and don't let other guys take it to the extreme," Siragusa said.

"We don't embarrass him and we don't embarrass our city."

Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe, appearing in his third Super Bowl in four years, doesn't believe his teammates will give in to the lure of Tampa's nightlife.

"In a game of this magnitude, guys realize how special this is. I don't think anyone is going to do anything foolish to try to jeopardize that," Sharpe said.

"They realize they have the chance of a lifetime. You never know if you're going to get this opportunity again. I think guys are looking forward to this game and guys are going to conduct themselves accordingly."


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