Bucs booster wears his heart on his signs

Sloganeer has been a team loyalist since bitter beginning

Setting the scene

Ravens Gameday

September 11, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun Reporter

TAMPA, Fla. -- The most hardcore Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans are a hardy bunch - you would be, too, if you walked around Raymond James Stadium looking like an extra from Pirates of the Caribbean - but even they give way for "The Sign Man."

"The Sign Man," aka Russ Barner, has developed a reputation as the organization's No. 1 loyalist. The 63-year-old chiropractor has created hundreds of signs supporting the team. He also has sent the players and coaches off on their road contests and has stood outside the airport as early as 5 a.m. to greet them on their return flights.

So it was no surprise that a couple of hours before yesterday's regular-season opener between the Ravens and the Buccaneers, Barner stood in Lot 12 off Tampa Bay Boulevard with a plethora of signs. One read, "SURRENDER OR WALK THE PLANK," and another screeched, "THE FAT LADY IS SINGING."

Barner's sign for yesterday referenced the Super Bowl in Miami: "ONE REASON, ONE SEASON, ONE DATE, 2-4-07."

Barner swears that he has never criticized or booed the franchise - even when the Buccaneers endured 14 consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance before winning the Super Bowl in January 2003 in their first and only trip to the championship game.

"I never have and I never will," Barner said. "They are my team."

In the same manner, Barner has been adopted by the organization. Sometime in the 1990s, the charter flight carrying the team from San Francisco caught a jet stream and landed an hour early at the airport. By the time Barner arrived at the airport, everyone was gone.

The next morning, the team called Barner to see if he was still alive.

A season-ticket holder since the Buccaneers began play in 1976, Barner was selected to be the organization's representative in the Hall of Fans promotion set up by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Barner says he rooted for the Ravens when they won the Super Bowl in January 2001 because ex-Buccaneer Trent Dilfer was the quarterback. But, Barner's loyalty remains with Tampa Bay.

"Every year, I say this is the year that we're going to the Super Bowl," he said. "I've been right once."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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