It is well known in Jacksonville that you are categorized as one of three things: a Gator, Seminole, or Bulldog. The Canes are just a mere thought this far north. This is college football-land. It is king here. Jacksonville is a city that can’t seem to get 45,000 fans to a NFL game, but has to bring in extra seats for the Florida/Georgia game.
Seems backwards doesn’t it?
The rest of the country seems to think that the people of my hometown don’t like their team very much and could care less that they are here. I am here to tell those people that they are wrong. There is one very important reason that the people of Jacksonville love the Jaguars and the reason that they need to stay.
All my life I have been looking forward to Saturday’s. Specifically, Gator football games. In the 80s, there wasn’t much to look forward to. We left ourselves wondering if we would get to a bowl half the time and the other half we were wondering when the good school in Gainesville was going to get off of probation. The season in 1984 was pretty good but all we heard about is how this school in Tallahassee was coming up and we looked forward to get bludgeoned to death by the Georgia Bulldogs every year. Even when we thought we had them beat, they would find a way to close us out.
Then came the 90s and along with it came Steve Spurrier. The Gators now had a swagger and arrogance about them. We started to win and we were on the map. We started to let all of the other fans in town know when we beat them. We kind of did it loudly and with not much thought of the repercussions. It seemed like over night everyone hated the Gators and we were stapled as the world’s most obnoxious fan.
So in turn all of the Florida State fans and Georgia fans, and to some extent the Miami fans would not let us live it down every time we lost. And if it happened to be to one of the other rivals, it lasted all year. It came to the point to where you either loved Sunday, or you hated it. That was all there was to look forward to. That, and next Saturday, of course.
Then Jacksonville was awarded the Jaguars. I still think that Wayne Weaver is the best salesman ever for pulling this one off. My family was so happy to get a NFL franchise that my father rushed right out and signed a 3-year deal for season tickets knowing that he could probably get them through work. We went 4-12 that first year, but we attended every home game and they were all sold out. It was a NFL game but with a college atmosphere. It was perfect.
After attending the games for a full year, I started to see a change in the people of Jacksonville. We all had one thing to rally around. I remember vividly one Sunday I arrived in my seats at the game, it was the day after the Auburn/Florida game, a huge rivalry in the mid-90s. A gentleman that sat a couple of seats back from us stated, “One Bowden down, one to go.” The crowd around us cheered, but that was all. It was Jaguar time. The Jaguars had transformed this one track minded town into a NFL city. Could this be the work of a marketing genius? To use the love for college football to their advantage.
It seemed to work.
Through the next years the Jaguars were very successful and of course people came out in droves to view the Jaguars, but always before the games was talk of the previous day’s games. Especially in late November when the annual Florida/Florida State game is played. But it always turned to the Jaguars once the game started.
So now with the economy down in Jacksonville, blacked out home games, and attendance down, the future doesn’t look bright for the Jaguars staying in Jacksonville.
But no matter what school you went to, what colors you wear, or what chant you do, we all huddle around and get together to either watch the Jags win or lose on Sunday. I have often made the joke that the Jaguars give me a reason to complain for the week.
But no matter whom I am an enemy with on Saturday: We are all equal in the eyes of the Jags on Sunday. We come together for a common cause. That’s what makes having a NFL franchise special.