Needless to say, Riles was quite surprised when she found out she was chosen as this year's Ultimate Fan last week.
‘I got up on Tuesday morning and there was a Federal Express letter on my table," said Riles. "My husband told me to come over and see what it was and I opened it up and it said I had won. I turned around and looked at him and I just started screaming bloody murder."
Over the last four years, Visa has sponsored a contest for the fans of the National Football League teams. To honor the lifelong dedication of those who love football and their teams, they created a small area inside of the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio dedicated to the fans.
While Riles' generosity is remarkable, her routine is simple, really. Since the second year of the Buccaneers' existence, Riles has brought each of the Tampa Bay Buccaneer players a pillow that she handmade herself. And when new Pewter Pirates are brought aboard Tampa Bay's ship, she hustles to make them a pillow, too. She also brings the players and coaches a cake before each game and she even makes the cheerleaders pillows.
While making pillows and cakes for the players, coaches and cheerleaders is not cheap, Riles was determined to have the Buccaneers know she supported them, win, lose or draw.
"When I first started, I didn't have the money, so I went around collecting cans," said Riles. "I used to go collect cans and cash them in, and then whenever I had the money, I'd go down and support the orange and white. I would sit there (at One Buc Place) and every other day I would have a pillow for the players.
They came out one day and said I had been there when the team goes off and when the teams comes in, and they said they were going to name me the Tampa Pillow Lady. That's how I got my name. I got it through John McKay, Lee Roy (Selmon), Richard "Batman" Wood and all the old players."
So, what makes Jackie Riles stand out from the thousands of other supportive Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans?
"Jackie is a true fan," said Rob Hall, who filmed a documentary on Bucs fans during the 2000 NFL season entitled "We Believe." "People who have stood by the team through thick and thin. Good people appreciate that kind of quality and devotion in an individual. Jackie shows her love and adulation by taking the time to make a player a pillow. It is a small gesture of gratitude that she passes on to every player that puts on a Buccaneer uniform."
The Tampa Pillow Lady is very popular with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization, and they feel no one is more deserving of being recognized as their Ultimate Fan than Riles.
"I think it's a great honor for someone who is well deserving of it," said Bucs head coach Tony Dungy. "She's been around since I've been here and she's done a great job of supporting us. We definitely appreciate her."
But while Riles is popular at One Buccaneer Place, she was not really widely recognized by other fans until Hall's documentary hit theatres in early October. In "We Believe", Hall and the rest of his crew from 12th Man Films followed several Bucs fans throughout the entire 2000 season. One of those fans happened to be Riles. Hall knew Riles was a unique Bucs fan, but felt more people needed to be aware of what she did for the Bucs, so he submitted a one page written essay explaining why Riles should represent the Bucs as its Ultimate Fan. As it turns out, Hall wasn't the only one that thought Riles was unique.
"I'm very happy for The Pillow Lady," said Hall. She is a tireless fan. I'm glad my words about her did not fall onto deaf ears. She is very cool and very crazy about the Bucs."
Since "We Believe" debuted, others have tried to show Riles their appreciation for what she does for the Buccaneers on such a tight budget. In October, an anonymous person(s) donated two wheelchair accessible tickets to Riles for Tampa Bay's home game against the Minnesota Vikings. When Buccaneer Magazine publisher Jeffery Neil Fox heard Riles landed the tickets to the Bucs-Vikings game, he made it possible for The Pillow Lady to travel to the game in style by renting a limousine for her and her son, Pat.
While Riles never expected to receive this type of notoriety, she did recall one of her close friends foreseeing the day when she would be recognized for all she had done for the Bucs.
"This is something," said Riles. "A friend of mine told me one day that everything I do for the Bucs is going to come out. He said people are going to be surprised what I do. He said I had done so much for them and they're finally going to know who I am in this town."
Despite all of her efforts, generosity and recent notoriety, The Tampa Pillow Lady does have one regret.
"I've been doing this since the John McKay's days," said Riles. I just wish he was here to share this with me."
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