Palmer's grid picks add another trophy to case
ORLANDO -- Arnold Palmer says he has won more trophies in his illustrious golfing career than he can count. But he figures the crystal football trophy he accepted Friday at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Fla., was his first gridiron-related award in about 60 years.
Palmer received the first Scripps Howard Super Sage award for having the best guess in the 2003 Scripps Howard Celebrity Super Bowl Poll. Out of the 112 celebrities who predicted the winner of the Super Bowl, Palmer's prediction of Tampa Bay 35, Oakland 21, was the closest to Tampa Bay's actual winning score of 48-21.
A deeply-tanned Palmer, 73, chuckled when he thought of the last time he had received an honor for his football prowess.
"I think maybe when I was playing football I got a trophy,'' said Palmer in his sun-filled corner office. "When I was very young my sandlot team beat the other sandlot team and I got a little football that was that big around.''
Palmer said he played football "off and on'' until he got to high school in Latrobe, Pa.
"I went out for the high school football team when I was a freshman and I was too small,'' he said. "They wouldn't give me a uniform. A year later I had bulked up a little bit. They asked me to come out and my father put his foot down. He said, 'No, if they wouldn't let you do it then, you're going to play golf.' So I just stuck to golf.''
After playing at Wake Forest University, Palmer went on to win 62 PGA Tour events, plus 10 Champions (Senior) Tour titles. But he never lost interest in football. He has been a long-time Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but since he began splitting his time between Latrobe and Orlando, he has also supported the Buccaneers. Palmer was good friends with Tampa Bay's original owner, Hugh Culverhouse, who served with Palmer on the PGA Tour board for many years.
"I've been a little disappointed (with Tampa Bay) over the years, although they have had a couple good years,'' said Palmer. "But when they hired ... (Bucs' coach Jon) Gruden, I could see the writing on the wall. I felt like this guy is determined that he's going to do the job. Which he did. For that reason, I really watched them close.
"And I like their quarterback Brad Johnson. I thought he was underrated and very good. He didn't put himself above anything. He was more of a player. I thought he was very good through the years I've watched him. At Tampa he didn't tell everyone how great he was -- he just sort of went on and did it.''
Favorite coaches and players aside, Palmer admitted he had one other compelling reason for picking Tampa Bay -- a friendly wager.
"I have a good friend, a lady who lives in California who was rooting for Oakland,'' he said, laughing. "So that had a little to do with it.''
E-mail David Nielsen at nielsend(at)shns.com. On the Web at http://www.shns.com.
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