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'The Pillow Lady', a dedicated Bucs fan, feted by team in style

Jackie Riles wipes away happy tears as Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer presents her with a jersey Friday. For years, Riles has made pillows for team members and has sat outside the stadium cheering them on during every game.

CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times

Jackie Riles wipes away happy tears as Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer presents her with a jersey Friday. For years, Riles has made pillows for team members and has sat outside the stadium cheering them on during every game.

TAMPA

For 35 years, Jackie Riles has caught buses from her Lowry Park neighborhood to cheer on her Tampa Bay Buccaneers on game days.

She'd sit outside the stadium, greet the team staff and players and hand out homemade crocheted pillows. But she couldn't afford tickets inside because she lives on a fixed income.

Friday night Riles' son pushed her wheelchair into Raymond James Stadium down the same tunnel the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rushed out of moments later.

Riles and her son, Pat, watched Friday's preseason game in high style -— sitting in an upper suite with close friends made during her 35 years as the Bucs' No. 1 fan.

Known as "The Pillow Lady," Riles estimates that she has made over 4,000 hand-crocheted pillows for Bucs staff, players, friends and celebrities.

"Somebody told me long ago that these pillows were a waste of money and wouldn't amount to a hill of beans," Riles said as she surveyed her skybox packed with VIPs.

On Monday, Riles turns 75. The team celebrated the occasion by throwing her a party, complete with a sideline presentation of a framed personalized jersey with her name and the number 75. The tears began immediately.

"I didn't know you were going to do all this," Riles said.

Bryan Glazer, co-chairman of the franchise, presented the jersey with a hug and a smile.

"She's been here ever since I have," Glazer said. "She is so supportive of the team."

Riles appears in one of the few pictures hanging in Glazer's office.

"She cried when I told her about it," he said. "She's got a place on the wall and a place in my heart."

In the upper suite, Riles' friends gathered to celebrate her life.

"Can you imagine spending years sitting outside of the stadium, rain, cold, whatever, and just listening to what is going on inside?" said Linda McClintock-Greco, 56, who met Riles through her husband, former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, 17 years ago. "She has given more love than she can ever get back."

Former Mayor Greco agrees.

"I've known Jackie for at least 30 years," Greco said. "Most of her life has been dedicated to this team."

And along the way, she has made a lot of friends.

When she sat on the sideline during the pregame, players waved as they headed back into the tunnel. Former player Dave Green said that's because Jackie Riles is special.

"When I was leaving the stadium, she was there yelling, 'Dave Green!' I felt 10 feet tall and bulletproof because I had the attention of the real fan," he told Riles during her party.

In the suite, fellow fans Albert and Teresa Perry remembered the good times they have shared supporting the Bucs.

Albert Perry used to drive a bus for the team.

"At 2 a.m. she would be outside the stadium waiting for the team to hand out pillows," Perry said. "Even now, on limited income, she collects bottles and cans to pay for yarn to make pillows."

Her dedication has not gone unnoticed.

A few weeks ago her wheelchair fell apart.

"I told them I couldn't go to the training camp," Riles said.

Bucs vice president of business administration Brian Ford stepped in. The team helped her get a new chair, and at training camp Riles met Phil Alessi Sr., owner of Alessi Bakery.

He and his wife, Lynda, also made an appearance at the party with a special cake in tow replete with a pirate flag and miniature helmet.

"We have only met twice," Alessi said. "But we wanted to come and bring her a cake."

As the box filled up with nearly 20 well-wishers, Riles held court talking about the celebrities still on her wish list.

"I want to meet LL Cool J," she laughed. "I just love him so much."

'The Pillow Lady', a dedicated Bucs fan, feted by team in style 08/24/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 1:13am]
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