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The Sports Bookie -- Unearthing a Bucs treasure

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You can hunt, plan, scheme and prepare to find some interesting memorabilia. But sometimes, it falls into your lap unexpectedly.

Case in point: I was browsing through the classifieds of the Tampa Tribune (yes, newspapers still have classified advertising), and saw a listing for baseball cards on sale. A box of 900 cards, $50 takes it. I call and the woman who answers the telephone tells me, yes, there are lots of 1970s and ’80s cards in the box, with some “name” stars. Drool. So I set up an appointment and head over to her house, money in hand.

I arrive, and the cards are inside a Whitman’s chocolate candy box, neatly stacked. But unfortunately, nothing from the 1970s. Plenty of 1988 Topps, 1989 Donruss and 1990 Topps. Disappointing, for sure, but the woman, a charming elderly lady who has lived in the same Tampa house near Jesuit High School for 30 years, is a sports fan and was fun to chat with. I did buy a 1992 French’s food issue card that had Tampa’s Wade Boggs and former Reds third baseman Chris Sabo.

As I got up to leave, she stopped me. “You wanna see something good?” she asked.

How could I refuse?

She returned with a large picture frame, and my jaw dropped. It was a watercolor painting by artist/illustrator Dick Pfahl of a baby, wearing a helmet that had “Tampa” on its crown and a sash that read “NFL.” The baby was wearing a diaper and football cleats. It was a perfect variation on the New Year’s Day baby that many artists have drawn. My host showed me the first Bucs game program from 1976, and there was a photo of the painting, with the “model” standing next to it.

Pfahl’s art has included many fishing and nature scenes, and his work has been published in Field & Stream (the March 1965 cover is a Pfahl illustration), Boys’ Life (June 1964), and The Saturday Evening Post. This piece of art was commemorating the Bucs’ entry into the NFL.

Of course, I wondered how this woman (I know her name, but I am purposely not using it) acquired this piece of art, and she told me. It was a gift from a friend, who told her she had gotten it from the person who had kept it for many years — Monsignor Laurence Higgins of St. Lawrence Catholic Church. The monsignor, a big sports fan, tends to his parishioners in his church, located a stone’s throw from old Tampa Stadium.

Did I try to buy the photo? Nah. My host knew it had some value and was not interested in selling it. I don’t blame her. But I sure enjoyed taking a look at it, and she did let me take a photograph.

So while I didn’t get to buy any “treasures” on Sunday, I certainly got to see one. And it’s right where it belongs.
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