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3 Reasons Daniel Albert Neja Won, Even Though He Lost

A real-life “Ralph Rowdie” just put the local Tampa Bay USL Championship League Soccer Team on the national stage — and he doesn’t even play for the team.

Tampa Bay Rowdies by CityofStPete is licensed under CC BY ND-2.0

3 Reasons Daniel Albert Neja Won, Even Though He Lost


Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes
Tampa Bay Rowdies by CityOfStPete is licensed under CC by 2.0

So, Daniel Albert Neja might just be the most clever guy that ever Florida-ed in Florida. (And, yes, if you weren’t aware, Florida can be both a verb and a noun.)

The Play-By-Play

Reports came in on Saturday that Neja, a homeless man in the Tampa area had been living in the luxury suite at the Al Lang Stadium where the Tampa Bay Rowdies — a USL Championship League soccer team — play in St. Petersburg.

Neja, during his two-week stay (!) in the stadium, reportedly ate over $200 worth of stadium food and stole over $1,000 worth of team merchandise. 

Police were called after stadium workers found blankets outside the luxury suite.

“He got into the merchandise store and was wearing a bunch of team merchandise,” St. Petersburg Police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez reportedly told CNN after Neja had been taken into custody.

Officers arrested Neja and charged him with third-degree felony burglary and misdemeanor resisting arrest without violence after he was spotted wearing team merch inside the empty stadium.

The Analysis

First, can we just talk about how brilliant this was? We’re straight-up taken at this guy’s ability to see an opportunity and act on it. Let it also be clearly stated for the record that we at The Turf Sports are in no way advocating for breaking, entering, or stealing, but like, what a good idea, right? 

Not only did he have the forethought to be like, ‘yep, there’s a luxury suite full of great food and fresh football kits up there in that soccer stadium,’ he also managed to MacGyver his way in.

And, what’s even more impressive, he managed to live in the stadium for two weeks even while the club played a home game.

According to surveillance footage, Neja had been living in the stadium since July 26th and the Rowdies played their third home game of the season on July 31st against the Charleston Battery.

Even in a COVID-19 sports world, managing to not only stay out of view but to potentially have even watched a match from the luxury box you’re secretly LIVING IN, is, in a word, impressive.

Only Two Hundo In Hot Dogs In Two Weeks?

Secondly, can we also say how genuinely wowed we are by his ability to only eat $200 worth of stadium food during his two-week tenure? There are plenty of folks well known to the writer’s room of The Turf who are more than capable of putting away close to $200 worth of concessions in a single afternoon at Citi Field. Hell, Joey Chestnut probably puts away two c-notes worth of dogs in a matter of minutes.

It’s fair to say that two weeks worth of months old frozen hotdogs might do a number on one’s digestive system, but Neja’s restraint is still nonetheless, remarkable.

The Keys To The City

Lastly, and arguably most significantly, Neja has done a huge service to his home town’s soccer team; he’s elevated them on the national stage. Even during non-pandemic times, regional teams with both occasional ESPN coverage and a rich and storied history like the Rowdies, still need all the support they can get. So, for this lion-hearted contemporary Robin Hood to have played out his shenanigan’s now is potentially heroic.

... it’s also worth noting that Neja has an eerily similar — albeit more recently shaved — look to that of the original “fictional mustached footballer,” Ralph Rowdie, who is the featured mascot in the original team’s logo.

Listen, the Rowdies might be out $1200, but thanks to this modern-day Ralph Rowdie and the national coverage he’s garnering, the potential growth in fan base is sure to more than make up for it.

Listen, just because I’m more of a Dodgers-era Piazza guy than a Mets-era Piazza guy doesn’t mean I don’t love the New York Metropolitans with all my heart — it’s just, there’s something about growing up playing catcher for the early-90’s Southern California South Sunrise Little League triple-A Dodgers that has a lasting effect on a man.

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