Carlton: A little Bucs' FitzMagic for a bartender with a beard

Quarterback doppelgänger Joel Abshier of Tampa\u2019s trendy Ulele.
Quarterback doppelgänger Joel Abshier of Tampa\u2019s trendy Ulele.
Published Sept. 28, 2018

This is how fame — sudden, perhaps fleeting, fame — can work:

You are a journeyman quarterback backing up a talented but controversial starter. Then scandal hits.

Suddenly it's all you.

Suddenly you are an NFL phenomenon being written about in the New York Times and Washington Post, setting passing records as you lift the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to two surprising victories to open the season.

Suddenly people are making "magic" part of your name — singing about it, even. Suddenly you are recognized everywhere you go for your distinctive lumberjack facial hair that's really less beard than appendage.

Or maybe you're the bartender who could be his twin.

As must be true for actual quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick —aka FitzMagic — it's been an interesting ride for Joel Abshier, who makes his living serving up cocktails and craft beers at Tampa's trendy Ulele restaurant.

With football season came the stares. People called "Hey, Fitzy!" across the restaurant a half-dozen times a night. Three women sat at the bar snapping pictures on their cell phones. Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy — who has his own rather recognizable face — came for dinner with his family and reportedly did a double-take at the beard behind the bar. A little boy asked, "Are you Fitzpatrick?" Abshier was wearing a No. 14 Bucs jersey — Fitzpatrick's number — that his bosses gave him.

"Do you know who you look like?" people say, and by now, yes, he really does.

Both the actual Fitzpatrick — who became the starting quarterback after the NFL suspended Jameis Winston for three games for groping a female Uber driver — and Abshier are 35. Both sport that jutting, of-a-piece facial hair that inspires fans in the stands to wear faux ones.

But the bartender is a former Marine from Nebraska who has been a military photojournalist and boxer, has worked on a fishing boat in Alaska and seen a bit of the world and is going to school to work in illustration and design.

He moves fast, talks fast, and loves this job that does not plant him in an office but lets him talk to people as part of his craft. He drinks whisky neat and has an affinity for making gin drinks, which he thinks are overshadowed by vodka ones. He's had the beard a decade and he's grown it longer than this.

He's had an interesting path of his own.

The attention has been entertaining, though there is the occasional inebriated patron who won't let it go, or the guy at the gas station who would not believe he wasn't him.

"If I were in Nebraska, I'd just be another guy with a beard," he says.

Truth be told, he's more a college football and Lightning fan. But he likes FitzMagic's underdog tale: You have a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and "then you have this 35-year-old who comes in, steals the show and is killing it," he says.

It's good for Tampa, he says.

And looking like the man of the moment?

"I'm glad it's somebody everybody likes," he says.