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Bowl game makes for friendly competition

(ran PC edition of Pasco Times)

They have kept the partisan snipes to a minimum. In fact, they are downright gracious and cheerful when discussing the Big Game.

But Jimmy and Patricia Thomas still are excited about tonight's unexpected matchup between the University of Tennessee and Florida State University.

Jimmy Thomas is a Tennessee graduate and former Vols football player. His wife earned undergraduate and law degrees from FSU and still proudly roots for her Seminoles.

The Thomases will be among thousands of fans in Tempe, Ariz., for the Fiesta Bowl, which kicks off at 8 p.m. today on ABC. The winning team will take home the Sears national championship trophy.

"This (trip) is our Christmas present to each other," said Patricia Thomas, a circuit judge in Citrus County.

Her husband, the head basketball coach at Citrus High School, couldn't think of a better gift.

The buildup to this game started in early December. Jimmy Thomas, who played defensive back at UT between 1965 and 1970, was reviewing the college football landscape.

It could happen, he kept telling his wife: Our alma maters could wind up playing each other for the national championship.

"If that happens," she told him, "we're going to the game."

Then came Dec. 5, that crazy college football Saturday. First UCLA lost. Then Kansas State lost. Then Tennessee was winning. Jimmy Thomas monitored the results with interest and regularly reported back to his wife.

Sure enough, Tennessee prevailed and retained its No. 1 national ranking. And Florida State, thanks to the unexpected losses by UCLA and Kansas State, appeared to be the Volunteers' likely opponent in the Fiesta Bowl.

"I was hesitant, because you don't know what they're going to do," Jimmy Thomas said.

But the matchup became official the next day. By Monday, Patricia Thomas was calling for tickets for the Fiesta Bowl.

The Thomases never hesitated about traveling. Because the schools play in different conferences and have no regularly scheduled football dates, the chance to see them play _ especially in such a big game _ couldn't be overlooked.

"When is this ever going to happen again?" Patricia Thomas asked.

As of late December, the Thomases said they had made no friendly wager about the game. They were merely enjoying the anticipation _ and enjoying the chance to rib each other.

For example, Jimmy Thomas recently recommended that the door to his wife's office suite be propped open at all times. It was merely a coincidence that the door would then block the view of a Seminole banner Patricia Thomas has hanging on the wall.

Meanwhile, Patricia Thomas has traded jokes with lawyers in the courthouses, no matter their pigskin allegiances.

There's no telling what will happen after the game tonight. But Patricia Thomas, whose power to hold people in contempt of court disappears when she walks into her home, jokingly fears the worst.

"It (trash talking) will be pretty bad if he wins," she predicted.