Saturday, November 17, 2018
Sports

Fennelly: Longtime Rowdies, a self-made owner and bruised feelings

Where have all the Rowdies gone?

I mean the old Rowdies, from the kick-in-the-grass glory days. The Tampa Bay soccer club, when reborn in 2010, leaned on its brand, on men like Perry Van Der Beck, who was drafted by the Rowdies out of high school in 1978 and whose devotion to the franchise and its fans was and is unwavering. He loves this club.

Love had to be the only reason why Van Der Beck was in the stands at Al Lang Stadium Saturday night as the Rowdies played their first match since he resigned as the team's assistant general manager and vice president of community relations. Old Rowdies never die, they just move to section 5, row 10.

Van Der Beck's resignation severed the final link between the original Rowdies and today's NASL entry. It's a sad thing. It can't be a good thing. Something has been lost. In August, Rowdies GM Farrukh Quraishi, the first college draft pick in Rowdies history, was fired nine months after being hired, along with coach Thomas Rongen.

That, kiddies, brings us to the man who did the hirings and firings and who might turn up as an exact match if they ever dust Van Der Beck's departure for fingerprints: Bill Edwards, the wildly successful St. Petersburg businessman and wildly hands-on Rowdies owner and CEO.

Edwards, 71, stood near the field at Al Lang before Saturday's game. He wore a black Rowdies warm-up suit and cap. Half an hour later, having sized up this unfiltered man, I asked Edwards if he'd prefer "Crazy Bill" or "Wild Bill."

"Crazy Bill, not Wild Bill," Edwards said.

Where have all the Rowdies gone?

"There are a lot of old Rowdies still around if you look," Edwards said. "But I decided after much deliberation that if you want to run your team, you have to do it. If I want to make sure it runs the way I want it to run, I'm going to have to be the one who makes things happen. This is how I live. That's how I make things successful from not successful. I have to do it. I'm a pain in the a--."

Edwards, self-made, has made millions, always his way. He's the guy with the oversized footprint on downtown St. Petersburg — and in area charitable causes. He's the casino high roller, the owner of three private jets and a 145-foot yacht. Edwards loves that boat. He named it himself. It's called …

"I Love This Boat," Edwards said.

Guy cracks me up.

"You know what the best part of being me is? Being me."

What that has to do with running a sports franchise is unclear. The Rowdies won a NASL championship in 2012, but haven't made the playoffs since Edwards purchased controlling interest in December 2013.

True, Edwards saved the Rowdies from financial collapse. He spent millions making Al Lang a first-class soccer facility and has added high-profile signings, including midfielder Joe Cole, 34, who made his Rowdies debut Saturday. The announced crowd was 6,702. It made real noise. A good time.

"Yes, I've been through a few coaches and GMs, okay?" Edwards said at the news conference introducing Cole. "But I believe in this trip through the maze of soccer I've figured out, I believe, how to run a team and get the team to do what you want them to do."

Edwards had never watched a soccer game until he bought the Rowdies. He sits behind the home bench at matches.

"Somebody on Facebook said I was like the Mark Cuban of soccer, out there wearing the colors behind the bench," Edwrads said.

I'd add a helping of Jerry Jones and a pinch of George Steinbrenner.

"I'm very patient, but I expect things to happen fast," Edwards said.

Neither Quraishi nor Rongen, who are still under contract, will speak publicly about their old boss.

Then there's their old boss.

"I'm surprised they lasted that long," Edwards said. "I was being nice. They shouldn't have lasted that long."

Van Der Beck emailed a statement to friends and colleagues when he resigned, but never mentioned Edwards by name. But why would he leave a team that means so much to him unless he'd had it with the owner?

"Ever think it might be the other way around?" Edwards said. "I have people and I direct them what I want them to do in their job, and if they don't want to do the job I directed them to do, then I don't have a job for them."

The departure of the old Rowdies has angered some fans, including members of "Ralph's Mob," the club's rabid supporters group and in-game noisemaker. Last year, after the Quraishi and Rongen firings, the Mob staged a silent protest, staying stone cold quiet for an entire half.

"The interaction with the old Rowdies made it feel like family," Mob member John Sasse said.

"I think we're one of the more solid teams in the league," Bill Edwards said before Saturday's game. "We're here to stay. We want to be here."

After Saturday's game, Perry Van Der Beck went down to the field and chatted with some Rowdies players, staff and fans. There were a lot of hugs. It's hard to leave what you love.

 
Comments
Bucs-Giants: Predictions for Sunday’s 1 p.m. Tampa Bay-New York game

Bucs-Giants: Predictions for Sunday’s 1 p.m. Tampa Bay-New York game

Here are the Times' Bucs coverage team's predictions for Tampa Bay's 1 p.m. game Sunday at the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium:Have you seen the injury report?Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer, @NFLStroud: I think everybody needs to take a step back a...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs’ Jason Pierre-Paul is on a mission to make a memorable Meadowlands return

Bucs’ Jason Pierre-Paul is on a mission to make a memorable Meadowlands return

TAMPA — Jason Pierre-Paul often talks about how he's unstoppable, but he knows there's a business side to sports that no level of determination can control.He knows this now because not long ago he thought he'd always be a New York Giant. That ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The end of the Bucs’ Dirk Koetter-Jameis Winston partnership

The end of the Bucs’ Dirk Koetter-Jameis Winston partnership

It's hard to imagine the head coach and the quarterback both back with the Bucs in 2019.
Updated: 4 hours ago
Sound-Smarter-Than-Your-Friends Guide to Buccaneers-Giants: How Tampa Bay can lose if it wins

Sound-Smarter-Than-Your-Friends Guide to Buccaneers-Giants: How Tampa Bay can lose if it wins

The Bucs are in a race, just not the one you hoped they would be in.
Updated: 5 hours ago
Football playoffs: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 23

Football playoffs: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 23

ST. PETERSBURG — Jefferson continues to prove that seedings don't matter in Class 5A. A week after upsetting top seed Hardee, the No. 8Dragons took down No. 4 seed Lakewood 34-23 in the region semifinals.Niko Duffey scored two first-half rushin...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Football playoffs: Bloomingdale 21, Palmetto 14

Football playoffs: Bloomingdale 21, Palmetto 14

VALRICO — In the offseason, Bloomingdale coach Max Warner told his players the goal was to play on Thanksgiving weekend.That left a lot of perplexed looks from the Bulls."They didn't know what that meant," Warner said.Bloomingdale had neve...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Football playoffs: Plant 39, Viera 18

Football playoffs: Plant 39, Viera 18

VIERA — Once again, the Plant Panthers proved they're the kind of team that can take a little momentum … and run you over with it.That was the case in Friday night's Class 7A, Region 2 semifinal as the Panthers rallied from an 18-10 halft...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Football playoffs: Seffner Christian 27, Carrollwood Day 16

Football playoffs: Seffner Christian 27, Carrollwood Day 16

DOVER – Isaiah Knowles connected with Christian Helms on a pair on 10-yard touchdown tosses as Seffner Christian defeated Carrollwood Day 27-16 on Friday, giving the Crusaders their first playoff win in school history. The win, a rematch o...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Football playoffs: Nature Coast 17, Baker County 16

BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast, an easy winner most of its past 10 games, really never had the need to attempt a field goal this season. Nor did the Sharks need to throw much, despite quarterback Fabian "2 Fabe" Burnett possessing a talented arm.Bu...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Football playoffs: Admiral Farragut 40, Cambridge Christian 14

ST. PETERSBURG — Admiral Farragut's Courtney Eubanks came out for his first home playoff game ready to play.Early in the first quarter, Eubanks had an interception on defense and followed that play with a touchdown on offense as the Blue Jacket...
Updated: 10 hours ago