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As he leaves the Tampa Bay Times, columnist Gary Shelton shares his favorite sports memories

Gary Shelton was twice named the No. 1 Sports columnist in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He was ranked in the APSE Top 5 five times, and the Top 10 eight times. [Times files]
Gary Shelton was twice named the No. 1 Sports columnist in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He was ranked in the APSE Top 5 five times, and the Top 10 eight times. [Times files]
Published Sep. 30, 2014

Longtime columnist Gary Shelton, the face and soul of the Tampa Bay Times Sports section for nearly 25 years, has decided to leave the paper.

Shelton came to the Times from the Miami Herald in 1990, an easy choice as the new NFL writer. Shortly thereafter, Shelton began writing a sports column.

Shelton was twice named the No. 1 Sports columnist in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He was ranked in the APSE Top 5 five times, and the Top 10 eight times. Five times he has been named the best Sportswriter in Florida by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. Several Green Eyeshade, Florida Sports Writers Association and other honors have come his way.

Shelton has been the Times' voice throughout Tampa Bay's greatest Sports generation. He has covered 29 Super Bowls, including the Buccaneers' championship season in 2002. He covered the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup, the Rays in the World Series, and numerous college football and basketball national championships. He has been to the Olympics 10 times, the Masters seven times. He covered the entire careers of Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp. He delayed vacation to watch Wade Boggs get his 3,000th hit. He was there when Nicole Haislett, Brooke Bennett and others won gold medals.

If it mattered to Tampa Bay, Shelton was there.

"I met my wife in this newsroom," Gary said. "I bought my house. I had my kids. This paper and I were a part of each other. I never stopped being proud to work here."

Shelton shared some of his favorite memories:

• I remember standing on a balcony in Turin, Italy, with Sauro Toma, the man who cheated death. Toma had been a player for the Grand Torino soccer team. He didn't make a trip to Brazil with his teammates, all of whom were killed when their plane crashed into a basilica upon return. Toma had lived his life with photos of these men on his wall, and stood there lovingly describing all this to me while the Olympic flame burned in the distance.

• I remember the strength of Tony Dungy in the wake of his son's death, and how he held up the rest of us.

• I remember walking in the rain at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan, when a stranger held her umbrella over my head to protect me — and the realization I would never encounter her again or be able to thank her for her kindness.

• I remember being in Vince Naimoli's box the last night he owned the Rays. I remember him shutting off the lights and walking away.

• I remember eating sheep intestines with John Romano and Marc Topkin in Athens, Greece. It was vile.

• I remember being in Australia, and being told time after time that everyone HATED the song The Land Down Under.' But on the last night of the games, Romano and I were walking next to the harbor, and suddenly, all of Australia was singing that song at the top of their lungs.

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• I remember going to the Jack in Box with a bunch of writers and Rays GM Chuck LaMar after the team's expansion draft.

• I remember that many American journalists were getting terrorist training before the Olympics in Athens. Sports editor Jack Sheppard turned to me and said, "You want training? Duck!''

• I remember sitting next to George Carlin at a diner before an MLB All-Star game and striking up a conversation. George went into one of his routines. It was hysterical.

• I remember interviewing Burt Reynolds. I remember interviewing Paul Newman. I remember having a long conversation with pro wrestling manager Jimmy Hart.

• I remember standing at Fenway Park before a playoff game, and looking up, and thinking how lucky I was to be where I was.

The Times was lucky to have him.

Shelton will cover the Bucs a few more weeks before his departure.

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