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
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