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East-West Shrine Game organizers pleased with Tropicana Field debut

East linebacker Nick Sukay (7) of Penn State intercepts a pass intended for Jarius Wright (4) of Arkansas in the fourth quarter. East cornerback Charles Brown (14) of North Carolina also defends. Sukay is named defensive player of the game.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

East linebacker Nick Sukay (7) of Penn State intercepts a pass intended for Jarius Wright (4) of Arkansas in the fourth quarter. East cornerback Charles Brown (14) of North Carolina also defends. Sukay is named defensive player of the game.

ST. PETERSBURG — Moving the East-West Shrine Game to Tropicana Field already made sense from a logistical standpoint, but a solid showing in the stands Saturday was a promising sign for the game's future here, according to executive director Harold Richardson.

"What we're looking for is a place to have a home. You can't move an all-star game around," said Richardson, noting that the Shriners have their international headquarters and a children's hospital in Tampa.

The game was played in Orlando at the Citrus Bowl the previous two years but last year drew just an announced 9,642 fans, and Richardson said the chance to play closer to the Shriners' headquarters, in a smaller venue, made a lot of sense. An accurate figure was not available but organizers estimated that at least 18,000 attended.

"There hasn't been any all-star game, including the Pro Bowl, in the last 10 years have over 30,000 people in the stands. Why would you play the game in a 70,000-seat stadium?" he said. "Visually, atmosphere-wise, it looks like it's kind of a failure. I felt like if we could play here and get the support of the community, which I was thrilled with, by the way. St. Petersburg people really got behind it. … I thought it could really be successful."

The Shriners have a two-year contract, with the game due back at Tropicana Field in 2013, but Richardson said the initial reception was promising enough that he'd like that relationship to continue longer.

"It gives us something we can build on," he said. "Hopefully going forward we can extend that and keep it here for some time. That's our goal."

LEGEND AILING: Penn State linebacker Nick Sukay won the defensive MVP, and by the game's end, word had spread that legendary coach Joe Paterno was in failing health.

"It was a great honor. He taught me so many things as a person, taught you really how to become a man," Sukay said of playing for Paterno. "He was a great leader for all of us."

THIS AND THAT: USF seniors Jerrell Young and Jeremiah Warren got to wear Bulls helmets for the last time on the same field where they finished their freshman season. USF beat Memphis in the first St. Petersburg Bowl at the Trop in 2008. Warren played much of the game at left guard, and Young was in the rotation at safety. … Former Bucs K Martin Gramatica was honored at halftime for being inducted into the Shrine Game's Hall of Fame.

East-West Shrine Game organizers pleased with Tropicana Field debut 01/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 21, 2012 10:33pm]
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