Gator fan a fixture at every game

Tampa engineer Fareed Ossi, 76, has had season tickets to Gators football games since 1958. His office is adorned with UF plaques, photographs and mementos.

Luis Santana/tbt*

Tampa engineer Fareed Ossi, 76, has had season tickets to Gators football games since 1958. His office is adorned with UF plaques, photographs and mementos.

When the Gators and Bulls take the field on Saturday in Gainesville, Fareed Ossi will watch from Section 9, Row 60, Seat 15.

Just like always.

That's been his seat for more than 40 years.

The mechanical engineer from South Tampa has attended every University of Florida home game since 1955 and has been a season ticket holder since he graduated in 1958.

Seem impossible? Not if you plan ahead, he says. Ossi's family knows best to look at the game calendar before scheduling anything important, weddings and vacations included.

Over the years, Ossi has missed just two bowl games. One time was to reflect on the memory of his sister, who had recently died. The other was last year when a medical procedure left him with a debilitating back injury.

He has 12 tickets for every home game, which, thanks to his large family and circle of friends, go fast. He goes to about half of the away games, mainly the big ones. Don't think about rooting for any team but the Gators. You won't get invited again.

On game days, the Ossi entourage arrives two hours before kickoff to tailgate. They bring one cooler for soft drinks and another for beer, which Ossi doesn't drink but likes to have for friends. His wife, Julia, coordinates the food.

Ossi, 76, isn't your typical Gator fan. He was born and raised in Mosul, Iraq, where he attended a Catholic high school. His first word was something in Arabic, not "Chomp.''

Still, Ossi oozes orange and blue. He has been since he came to campus in 1955 and quickly laid roots, working at the former Florida Union for 50 cents an hour, leading the international student association and serving as a dorm counselor.

Ossi can't explain his affection for UF except to say, "I loved it from the beginning.''

Ossi's engineering office on MacDill Avenue is filled with plaques, photographs and mementos of his alma mater. He was charter member of the University of Florida President's Council in 1970 and served on the University Athletic Association Board of Directors from 1978 to 1980. In June, he received a Distinguished Gator Award from the Tampa Gator Club.

Ossi emigrated to the United States when he was 19 to join relatives in Jacksonville, a city chosen because it shared the same latitude and climate as Mosul. He went to what is now Wayne State University in Detroit for two years but transferred to Florida because he couldn't handle the cold.

He moved to Tampa in 1966 for business and, soon after, founded Ossi Consulting Engineers.

His four sons had three choices when choosing a college:

Florida.

Florida.

And, Florida.

Ossi laments he might be with the Grand Gator in the sky when his 10 grandchildren head off to college.

So far, he's doing well. His granddaughter, Kayleigh, graduated from Florida in August. Next up is a grandson, a student at Jesuit High.

Where's he going?

You don't have to ask.

Hit the bar

Staying home for the big Florida-USF game this Saturday in Gainesville? You don't have to watch it alone. The alumni associations for both schools have viewing parties at Tampa Bay bars during every game, with food and drink specials, raffles and giveaways. Here are a few of the locations. For more, go to tampagatorclub.com and usfalumni.org.

Gators

Wings Gone Wild 3114 W Bay to Bay Blvd., Tampa; (813) 832-9464.

Dubliner Irish Pub 12836 Henderson Road; (813) 300-2076.

O'Toole's Irish Pub 1215 W Brandon Blvd., (813) 684-2600.

Bulls

Capogna's Dugout 1653 Gulf to Bay Blvd., Clearwater; (727) 441-4791.

Oldsmar Cop Shop 3780 Tampa Road, Oldsmar; (813) 855-1052.

Lee Roy Selmon's 4302 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa, (813) 871-3287.

Shamrock's Ale House 7805 Temple Terrace Highway, Temple Terrace; (813) 988-4908.

Hooters 3437 Commercial Way, Spring Hill; (352) 666-9225.

Gator fan a fixture at every game 09/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 5:10pm]

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