A Zero-to-"LeBron" Scale: How Badly Would Jacksonville Miss the Jaguars?

Jack HarverCorrespondent IIJuly 10, 2010

CLEVELAND - JULY 8:  A parking attendant stands near a larger than life photograph of LeBron James July 8, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio. The two-time Most Valuable Player has the choice of remaining with the Cleveland Cavaliers or signing with a new team. (Photo by J.D. Pooley/Getty Images)
J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Since Thursday and "The Decision" heard 'round the world, Jaguars fans in Jacksonville have been able to see the real devastation of a fan base on their television sets, in their newspapers, and through the outpour of reaction on the Internet.

This isn't like Wayne Weaver refusing to lift Sunday TV blackouts or media speculation that the Jaguars might be a prime candidate for relocation to Los Angeles. Despite the facts behind those phenomena, they only feel like threats.

For Cleveland, LeBron James' "I'm taking my talents to South Beach" might as well have been a gunshot. In anger and disbelief, Clevelanders took to the streets that night and tried their best to burn James out of their collective consciousness in fires kindled by his merchandise.

Almost immediately thereafter, an onslaught of venom against James was unleashed through the media, most of it in sympathy for that downtrodden sports town on Lake Erie's southern shore. You'd have thought they lost the team. They pretty much did.

Suppose, for a second, it had been Mr. Weaver who went live on ESPN with a special announcement. Suppose he'd said, in so many words, "I'm taking my team to L.A."

Would anyone shed a tear for Jacksonville?

Moreover, would the people of Jacksonville even be crying?

There'd be some who'd mourn, of course. The local business owners whose good-faith investment in the Jaguars' "Teal Deals" ticket sales effort would go unrewarded. The 16-year season ticket-holders who've never been enough to fill Jacksonville Municipal Stadium but have always shown up.

In other words, the die-hards. People whose time and money would be a sunk cost.

And maybe it's good, it has to be said, that there wouldn't be Jaguars jerseys burning at the Landing, in the parking lot outside of Tailgate Bar & Grill, or at your local Publix.

Then again, maybe Jacksonville's just not hardened enough for that.

To judge from last year's backlash against Weaver's hard-line stance on ticket sales, from the seas of empty-seat teal for home games that weren't against the Indianapolis Colts on national TV, and from the legions whose hearts have migrated to Denver with former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the city's obviously got other things to do.

Economically, it'd hurt. Jacksonville would still be paid rent for the Jaguars' stadium and reimbursed for other expected income, a flat-sum severance stipend for a city that would never again get a serious shot at the revenue generated by professional sports.

That's long-term, though, in a way that doesn't cut to the core.

What would scar, for those who'd care, would be the implicit victory of the "We Want Tebow" crowd, the "Fire Del Rio" crowd, the "It's too hot outside!" crowd—the many segments of Jacksonville's population who want the luxury of support with strings attached.

Those nay-sayers wouldn't burn things, scream their passionate hatred in bars, or even write impassioned-albeit-weaselly letters . They'd just say, "I told you so."

If there's a lesson for Jacksonville in Cleveland's despair—and there are several—it's that "I told you so" doesn't cut it. That having a franchise player or a franchise cut out from your city isn't about what could or couldn't have been done to stop it.

It's about who feels the pain.

When the Jaguars take the field for their home opener this season, think for a second about Cleveland, about LeBron James in a Miami Heat uniform. Then picture Maurice Jones-Drew in an ESPN preseason special on the "Los Angeles Jaguars" while you tell someone you've just met that you're from Jacksonville.

Just to see how it feels.


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