CLEARWATER — Wendell "Popcorn" Casper, the all-time super fan of Clearwater High School football, arrived to games at 5:30 p.m., pulling in to the parking place he staked out decades ago.
He hobbled to the back of his red 1978 Subaru Brat and lowered a red scooter with a home-made chair lift. For the next two hours before kickoff, he bantered with players and cheerleaders from his scooter, which the school allowed him to pull onto the track at Jack White Stadium.
He said he had seen 750 varsity and junior varsity games.
"That's what he kept saying," his wife, Madelene Casper, said. "My kids say there is no way he could have done all of that."
Still, she could not recall him missing a game between 1984 and last November.
Mr. Casper, Clearwater's soul of the sidelines for 28 years, died March 8 at Hospice House Woodside. He was 77.
Players embraced his pre-game ritual and banter.
"He was always asking, 'What's it looking like? You ready?' " recalled Calon Yeldon, 42, a former Tornadoes star fullback and the Times' 1988 Player of the Year. "Year after year we'd say, 'We're ready, Popcorn.' "
From the opening kickoff, a generation of fans knew Mr. Casper's piercing voice and his heavy brass cane, which he used to start rallies by banging the bleachers.
The school honored him years ago with an athletic letter. "I'm the only person to ever letter at Clearwater High who's never played football," he said in a 2009 interview.
Wendell Casper was born in Bruning, Neb., in 1935. He served two years as a firefighter in the Nebraska Air National Guard, then farmed corn that was used to make popcorn.
The Caspers lived here seasonally for more than 20 years, during which Mr. Casper bought a home heating oil business.
In 1984 he moved to Clearwater for good, and cheered his son, then a junior varsity freshman, from the first game. Fred Casper has gone on to become a chiropractor for the Dallas Cowboys, his family said.
Mr. Casper suffered a number of health problems, from a spinal injury after falling off a ladder to diabetes. He turned his attention to Clearwater football, even at home.
Since the 1980s, Mr. Casper has magnetized photos and reproductions of news clippings for players and cheerleaders to put in their lockers or on their refrigerators. "It gave him a purpose," his wife said. "The table was covered with clippings. It took weeks to make them all every season."
The gifts earned Mr. Casper an additional nickname: Magnet Man.
Despite a numbness that hindered his balance, he continued his streak of games. The last two years, his wife dropped him off.
But increasingly, he was falling down.
At home there were no football players or coaches to pick him up. Emergency workers came to the house "this year alone, 15 to 20 times," his wife said. "We practically knew all of them."
Word of Mr. Casper's death saddened the community. At his funeral Friday at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, nearly a dozen Clearwater football players showed up wearing their jerseys, said Madelene Casper, 77. Mr. Casper had been on sidelines at Jack White Stadium for the Tornadoes' final game of the season Nov. 9, a loss to East Lake High.
"I guarantee," Yeldon said, "if this was football season and Clearwater had a game to play on Friday, there is no way Popcorn would have checked out."
Tiomes researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.