A little more than two years from now, the national spotlight will focus on Tampa Bay like it rarely has before. About 15,000 journalists will arrive as the Republican National Convention comes to Tampa. The convention will dominate the daily news cycle. The nightly speeches — including the acceptance speech from the party's presidential nominee — will be carried on national television. In 2008, about 40 million people a night watched the three-day GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn. This got us thinking: What other events have put Tampa Bay in the national spotlight in the last several years? So, here's a sampling of some of the more high-profile events that have temporarily swung the nation's attention to the Tampa Bay area over the last 10 years:
The Super Bowl
A then-record 98.7 million Americans watched as Tampa staged Super Bowl XLIII in 2009. The game was thrilling to the end, as the Pittsburgh Steelers needed a last-minute touchdown to beat the Arizona Cardinals at Raymond James Stadium.
For a two-week period in the spring of 2005, the nation's attention was pinned to a hospice in Pinellas Park where Terri Schiavo was dying. A crush of protesters and media turned the streets into a surreal circus. Schiavo died on March 31 as the most controversial figure in the debate over end-of-life issues since Karen Ann Quinlan. The drama that played out over those two weeks riveted the nation.
Perhaps no other murder case turned the nation's collective eyes toward west-central Florida more than 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. The case was all over cable news in 2005, first as the mystery of a missing child. Then came the awful discovery that Jessica had been buried alive near her home. A registered sex offender was arrested and convicted. Emerging from all this terror was Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, who became an everyman hero and spokesman for victims and their families.
How could a town known for strip clubs not have its share of sordid scandals? But none probably gained more attention than when blue-eyed, blond-haired middle school teacher Debra Lafave was charged with having sex with a 14-year-old student in 2004. There had been teacher-student sex cases before, but Lafave's bombshell looks and outrageous behavior — remember the pinkie promise? — took her case to another level in national publicity.
Hulk Hogan was a local celebrity for a long time, but wrestling's popularity had seemed to plateau and Hogan didn't seem like that big of a deal. Then came the reality show Hogan Knows Best, which ran on VH1 from 2005 to 2007. While Hulk's daughter, Brooke, sought a music career, things didn't go so well for son Nick. He caused an accident in 2007 that left his friend, John Graziano, critically injured. A criminal court case and jail sentence followed, as did Hulk's messy divorce.
They were the laughingstock of Major League Baseball, a frequent foil on David Letterman's top 10 lists. But the Tampa Bay Rays' dramatic turnaround in 2008 — an American League pennant and World Series appearance — certainly captured the nation's attention. Their World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies may not have gotten the ratings of, say, Yankees-Dodgers, but the feel-good story certainly brought a lot of attention to Tampa Bay.
Since January 2009, an elusive monkey has been on the run throughout Tampa Bay. The story began in the local papers, but as the sightings became more frequent, the news made national headlines. The monkey has yet to be captured.