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Plant vs. Armwood: For many, this was the Super Bowl

Plant High’s Eric Dungy gets camera time while stretching before the Armwood game.

Mike Carlson | Special to the Times

Plant High’s Eric Dungy gets camera time while stretching before the Armwood game.

TAMPA — The Plant vs. Armwood high school football game on Friday was more than a game between two nationally ranked teams played out on national television.

It was a major event of the season for each school, the pinnacle of pride for both, and a defining moment for two communities.

Why else would Armwood sell school-endorsed "BEAT PLANT" T-shirts to students for $10.

Why else would Plant hold two pep rallies on Friday, one for ESPNU, which aired the game, the other, because one wasn't enough, students said.

"There's nothing like this in England," said Jan Kaye, 40, who moved to Tampa two years ago and has two students at Plant.

She took photos of the sold-out frenzy at Dad's Stadium in South Tampa before kickoff, while her daughter, Nia, 18, used one word to describe the standing-room-only crowd: "massive."

The communities both schools draw from couldn't be more different.

Armwood is in Seffner, a growing suburban area that still clings to its rural roots. Plant is in Palma Ceia, a wealthy neighborhood not far from downtown Tampa. But the high school football teams are central to both.

With tickets long gone, one of Plant's neighbors, Hillsborough County firefighter Joe Chiellini, parked his Ford pickup on Himes Avenue and watched through the chain link fence. Before long, the bed of his truck filled up with other fans.

Many Plant mothers wore embroidered "Ps" on their summer dresses, while the Seffner Wal-Mart sells Armwood football T-shirts in the clothing section.

"The football team put Seffner on the map," said Jeff Nance, Armwood class of 1988, whose wife, Starla, graduated in the same class. "It shows you a different look of Seffner than what you see running up and down I-4, seeing Lazy Days (RV supercenter)."

"And Dinosaur World," Starla Nance chimed in.

Scores of Armwood students wore tie-dyed blue T-shirts with ripped frills and blue face paint, while scores of Plant students painted their bodies black and gold. Seemingly every South Tampa girl at the game from middle school age to 18 had their cheeks painted with Ps or Panther paw prints.

It took Emily Bruyn, 17, about a half hour to paint the perfect "P" on her cheek. She said it took far less time to coat her arms in black paint.

"Two seconds," she said.

It took even less time for one of her arms to accidentally rub against a red Corvette in the parking lot belonging to an Armwood fan, who took umbrage.

When it's Armwood vs. Plant, there are always collisions.

Patty Ryan contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Plant vs. Armwood: For many, this was the Super Bowl 09/05/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 5, 2008 11:55pm]
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