This seems like as good of a time as any to reflect on some of the defining traits of our region, to explore the long-standing tradition that connects the Tampa Bay area to the rest of the world.
The balmy weather. The beautiful beaches. The long bridges.
And, of course, the endless stories that will keep Inside Edition, Access Hollywood, E.T. and all manner of cable shows rocking for decades.
Face it, tabloid TV producers have to love this place. We're like their southern bureau.
Anyone who's ever driven down Dale Mabry Highway has seen the red of the proud Buc colors hanging at Raymond James Stadium — not to mention the red-light district down the street at Tampa's famous strip clubs.
But our quirks go more than skin deep, generating a steady flow of unseemly happenings through the years. With that in mind, for those of you who may be new to town, we offer the tbt* — tampa bay trashy* — tour of scandals.
Please understand, there's no way to mention everybody.
For instance, we thought including Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and all their well-publicized problems through the years. Nah, not enough room. We could tell you that the mob movie Donnie Brasco really should have been Donnie "Pasco," until Hollywood relocated the real-life sting operation from a Pasco County bottle club to glitzier Miami. Alas, U.S. 19 never made it to the big screen.
But here's a primer — a collage of classics, some sports related and some not — from the file of that keeps on giving. What the heck. Everyone else makes fun of us, so why shouldn't we?
INTERNET FAVE: Stories about Debra Lafave — along with provocative, bikini-clad images of her posing on a Harley — swept across the Web in 2005. That's when news of her affair with a 14-year-old middle school boy from Temple Terrace. Lafave pleaded guilty to statutory rape and entered into a plea bargain with no prison time, though she faced three years of house arrest and seven years of probation. Lafave's case was covered extensively, including an NBC network interview by Matt Lauer.
LET'S GO PANTHERS: In February 2006, Carolina Panthers cheerleader Angela Keathley pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and obstructing an officer. It all stemmed from an incident that unfolded inside the women's restroom at Banana Joe's bar in Tampa. TheSmokingGun.com laid out the details from the police report soon after. Witnesses told police that they were waiting in a long line wanting to use the restroom. But inside the stall, Keathley stood on a toilet, while Victoria Renee Thomas stood on the floor, facing her. The women made "noises consistent with sexual activity," read the report. Women in line began to yell things like "Go get a room for that" and "whores." When Thomas walked out of the stall, she punched a patron in the face and chest. Police reported that the Thomas and Keathley were "intoxicated, out of control and difficult to deal with." Thomas denied she was having sex in the stall, but both women were fired from the Panthers' cheerleading squad, the Topcats.
JIM AND JESSICA: Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were televangelical icons in the 1980s - until Bakker's legendary fall from grace. He resigned from the Praise The Lord (PTL) Ministries in March 1987 after news surfaced of a past sexual affair with then-church secretary Jessica Hahn. It reportedly took place at the Sheraton Sand Key hotel near Clearwater Beach and eventually triggered a massive scandal that sunk PTL. Bakker eventually owned up to paying $250,000 to keep the affair quiet and was later indicted for defrauding his followers to the tune of $158-million. He served five years in prison and was released in 1994.
DENNY'S GRAND SLAMMER: Denny McLain is known in baseball as the last player to win 30 games in one season (31-6 in 1968). Unfortunately, he's known outside the game as the guy accused in the mid-1980s of using the Tampa office of a Fort Lauderdale mortgage company as the hub of loansharking, drugs and gambling. In 1985, he was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. He was later granted a new trial, but after four years he pleaded guilty to racketeering, along with cocaine distribution and possession. In 1997, he was sentenced to eight years in prison. But the judge also ordered him to pay $2.5-million for stealing from the pension fund of a company that folded 18 months after he purchased it.
DEXTER'S LAMENT: Former NFL defensive lineman Dexter Manley hoped to begin a new chapter in his career when he joined the Bucs in 1991. He'd already tested positive three times, but got a reprieve from his lifetime ban from the league. Manley, however, tested positive a fourth time while in Tampa and received a second ban in December of '91. He later wrote in his book: "Tampa's a seedy town, man. Tampa probably wasn't a good place for me. In Phoenix, I never went to strip bars, and the players I hung out with weren't into seedy things. But the Tampa players liked to party, and I'm so impressionable."
BAD DAY AT THE BEACH: In 1998, former New York Giants linebacker great Lawrence Taylor was arrested by the St. Pete Beach police in room 509 of the Sandpiper Resort for purchasing and possessing crack cocaine and also possessing drug paraphernalia. One of the memorable aspects of the arrest was Taylor's expletive-laden denial in front of TV cameras, insisting he was a victim of entrapment. Two years later, he received 18 months probation after pleading no contest to purchasing cocaine. Taylor, who was in town at the time of his arrest for a charity golf tourney, said in 1999, "As far as I'm concerned, St. Pete is over with. I don't plan on going back that way anyway unless I'm going to play golf."
BLUE JAYS BATTERY: Back in February 1994, a pair of pitchers for the Toronto Blue Jays - in town for spring training in Dunedin - threw more than fastballs in Ybor City. Starting pitchers Dave Stewart and Todd Stottlemyre were charged with battery on a police officer and resisting arrest. The fracas stemmed from a dispute over a $3 cover charge at an Ybor nightclub. The scene was made more chaotic when, according to police reports, Stottlemyre's wife jumped on the back of an officer who was trying to arrest her husband. After a seven-day trial, with some three dozen witnesses, the jury decided "it was just an overreaction by the Tampa Police Department, and once it got to that point, there was no turning back."
RISQUE BUSINESS: In December 2006, the Clearwater Marriott found itself in the national spotlight. That's where Katie Rees — on the heels of being stripped of her title as Miss Nevada USA — held a news conference to apologize for racy photos of her that appeared on the Internet. She told reporters that she took full responsibility for the photos and called them "an isolated incident during my teenage years." Some of the photos showed Rees at a party when she was 19 kissing women, exposing one of her breasts and displaying her thong underwear. Rees was visiting family in Largo at the time she lost her crown, a decision supported by Miss Universe Organization co-owner Donald Trump.
PEE-WEE'S (X-RATED) PLAYHOUSE: The career of actor Paul Reubens, a.k.a Pee-Wee Herman, took an abrupt downturn in 1991 when he was arrested at Sarasota's South Trail Cinema for exposing himself in an adult theater. Reubens,' Pee-Wee's Playhouse, was a hit Saturday morning children's show on CBS, and spawned the movie Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Reubens had taken some time off from portraying his popular character in 1991 and was visiting Sarasota, where he'd grown up, at the time of the arrest. At his trial, he was told to pay a $50 fine and $85 in court costs, and also instructed to make an anti-drug public service commercial aimed at youngsters. And the verdict on his career as a kids show host was unmistakable: the big adventure was over.
SOUR NOTE: Jessica Sierra of Tampa gained national attention by making the Top 10 on Fox's American Idol. But after getting eliminated, Sierra hit the skids. She was arrested in April 2005 for throwing a cocktail glass at a Hyde Park Café patron. Then, Sierra was arrested in December after becoming physical and argumentative with patrons at the Full Moon Saloon in Ybor City. She was charged with disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest without violence.
ROGER THAT: One-time country music star Mindy McCready has had so many troubles, it's hard to keep track. Last year, the native of Fort Myers tearfully confirmed a longtime affair with former baseball ace Roger Clemens. More recently, McCready was hospitalized in Nashville after cutting her wrists and taking pills in an apparent suicide attempt. Her problems began to escalate in 2004 when she pleaded guilty to using a fraudulent prescription to buy Oxycontin. In 2005, she was charged with drunken driving in Nashville and also physically attacked by a boyfriend. Several months later, while facing legal trouble in Arizona, McCready was in the Tampa Bay area. She was found unconscious in a Holiday Inn lobby, suffering from a drug overdose.
"HOGAN KNOWS" MESS: Tampa's Terry Bollea (better known as pro wrestler Hulk Hogan) starred with his family in VH1's reality show Hogan Knows Best from 2005-07. But the Hulkster has now become a TV staple for all the wrong reasons. He and estranged wife Linda - whose show was based in their Indian Rocks home and later in Miami Beach -— are engaged in a bitter divorce proceeding. The split followed the tragic, highly publicized 2007 accident involving their son, Nick Bollea. He was speeding in a car in downtown Clearwater when he lost control and struck a tree, leaving friend and passenger John Graziano in critical condition, and in need of permanent medical care. Nick pleaded no contest in the case and served 166 days of an eight-month sentence in the Pinellas County Jail.
Times files were used in this story