By: Dan Hancock (@danhancock1978)
A few months ago, when the soccer match and concert were announced in tandem with the video board unveiling, I bought my tickets. I bought four tickets.
For my wife and kids, the event was about seeing Carrie Underwood. This would be my 7-year old son and 5-year old daughter’s first concert. It was a big deal to them.
For my wife, it was probably about the concert, as well. For me, I was interested in looking at Carrie Underwood and was still on a World Cup high, so I was prepared for a good soccer match. The video boards intrigued me, but I didn’t know that the unveiling would affect me the way that it did. Yes, they were amazing. The clarity is more impressive than the size. What I was not prepared for was the message the boards expressed; without words or text, other than Jacksonville in Motion.
Perhaps like many of the 50,000+ in attendance, I was expecting a Jacksonville Jaguars highlight real and a variety of in-game technical wizardry the boards are capable of. I was mistaken. What the boards displayed was something much more profound. For those present who had made the trip in from other parts of the country, like the family who sat in front of us from Chicago- flying 1500 miles just to see Fulham play - and leaving Tuesday, the boards were impressive and they got to see pretty pictures of the beach and maybe recognized our football team.
For the many from Jacksonville, the 7-minute presentation was the story of us;for us. It’s no coincidence that the biggest ovation of the night was when the downtown skyline was introduced on screen. This is our city. For the past decade, Jacksonville has been mocked, lampooned, and insulted nationally by many who have never stepped foot in our humble town. For just as long, it’s been considered cool, I guess, for members of the media with local ties to poke fun at Jacksonville in their columns. Maybe it’s a way of trying to fit in with the big boys on the national networks.
Saturday night, however, the city was honored in a way that is usually reserved for post-funeral wakes and eulogies. The city was honored, not only for what it was, but for what it is: a proud, hard-working city that has every bit of the tradition and culture as the more popular and populated metropolises in the country.
When I was a kid growing up on the west side of Jacksonville, one of my favorite things to do as a kid was something so simple…and dangerous by today’s standards… that it’s almost embarrassing. On a random summer night, when my parents were up for it, we’d drive down Normandy Blvd. to the Trolley Ice Cream shoppe and take our ice cream downtown at night. My dad had a 1983 cherry red Ford Escort GT hatchback. My seat for these adventures was the hatchback area. He’d pop off the cover to this compartment and I had a rear-facing windshield to the world. I loved the lights and the look of the Jacksonville skyline at night. It’s changed quite a bit since those days in the early 80s, but the soul of the city is still present.
There is a lot of history in the buildings that we drove by. The Landing wasn’t yet there. The new Acosta Bridge was a decade from being built. The Bank of America…err Barnett Tower was barely in its planning stages. The Jacksonville Jaguars were just a hope that residents held in their hearts, after attempting the acquisition of an NFL franchise a few years earlier. Jacksonville was just a working class city with a great passion for sports at every level. That’s something that, either, gets forgotten or not reported when Jacksonville is spoken or written about. To New York and L.A., we might as well just be Cowford, the town on the Florida-Georgia border. Thirty years later, after having lived outside of Jacksonville (in Melbourne) for the past decade, I still get a thrill driving around downtown and many of the Jacksonville neighborhoods that were presented on the screen Saturday night.
I was fortunate enough to attend Bishop Kenny High School in the mid-90s and watched the stadium transform from the Gator Bowl to Alltel Stadium right from our very own football field. It was an exciting time. I regret not being an academic all-star at Kenny. I was barely an academic bench warmer. I survived, however, and will always appreciate what the school means. It was also a cool school to attend because everyone lived everywhere. It was unlike your neighborhood public high school, where kids were from the same zip code. We had parties…I mean…weekly bible studies at every part of the city. I got to see areas of town I wouldn’t have any opportunity to see, or appreciate, otherwise. Arlington, Jax Beach, Orange Park, Mandarin, San Marco, we were everywhere and were learning to love this city in a way that many couldn’t.
Although the City’s colors may unofficially be teal and black, the City’s true logo is the skyline; namely the bridges. My kids refer to downtown as “Bridge City.” The Hart Bridge, the Matthews Bridge, the Main Street Bridge, the Fuller Warren, are the arteries to all points of life in Duval County. Coming across the Buchman Bridge to see my family has been a favorite every time I’ve crossed in over the past 12 years that I’ve lived in Central Florida. This things, these inanimate objects represent us. In the beginning, there was the Gulf Life and Independent Life buildings. Now there is the Jacksonville Landing and an ever-expanding skyline. The new video score boards are a big part of the city’s future. On Saturday night, those in charge did a remarkable job of honoring the city’s past. For those that know of Jacksonville’s passion, I know that everyone was excited and appreciative of the stadium renovations, but also know that (as long as the product is a good one) real Jacksonville folks were just as happy being squeezed into the Gator Bowl watching any game we could get and congregating at the trough to talk about how much fun were having.
I’m not sure where folks get their ice cream from these days, but while the weather is still right for it, I’d encourage you to load your family up in the family truckster tonight after dinner, BUCKLE UP, and take a family cruise downtown. You’re never more than 20 minutes from downtown. If you’ve been a resident for a while, point out something to tell your kids about. I’d suggest the Florida Theater. If you’re a new resident to town, go look for the statue of Andrew Jackson in front of the Landing. Our history starts there. Learn something together and protect and promote the City of Jacksonville’s rich history. Until the next time I make it back up, enjoy the city. When you’re gone, you’ll miss it.
By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)
After the first three days of training camp and a soccer game and concert that rocked Jacksonville like KISS back in the day it’s good to know that the NFL is back and better than ever in our town.
On Saturday morning, I realized just how special a time it was for these NFL players and prospects – including the free agent rookie and the impressive draft class our team has. Craig Loston is a longshot to make this team. So is Allen Hurns. Luke Bowanko is a late round pick, but he has never set foot on and NFL practice field in his life. And for the studs of this draft class, most notably Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Marquis Lee, at some point they all had to have stopped for just a moment and thought about the situation – where they were and where they are now.
The NFL produces the most amazing situation for any athlete and as a writer in a pack of 40-somethings who watch, listen and report every day, the experience is the same.
My first experience with the NFL was two decades ago when the Jaguars were in their infancy and the thoughts of where I was in a rebuilt stadium with writers and columnists twice my age was truly impactful. But it could not compare to the look on the faces of nearly 90 players in uniforms they only thought about wearing as a child on the sandlot and Pee Wee fields.
That is the NFL experience.
The city took a huge step on Saturday night with the unveiling of an AWESOME scoreboard, a soccer match owner Shad Khan’s beloved Fulham team and then Carrie Underwood gave the crowd one heck of a good time. Things could not be better here in Jacksonville. The media watching and taking notes know there are better things on the horizon – possibly this season. The sounds of Gus Bradley’s enthusiasm as he walks up to each player during practice. How can it get much better? And for the faithful who have come out in their No. 5 jerseys and brought their children out to get the complete NFL experience is something these youngsters, like myself back in Miami in the 1970s, will remember as one of the best days of their lives.
Finally, everything seems to be going right in the direction of the Teal and Black. While aesthetics are just part of the plan for improvement, the enthusiasm of these players living out their dreams goes a long way toward making this time of year one to cheer about.
By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)
Has there ever been a more exciting training camp than the one we will begin today? Not since the hot days of Steven’s Point in Wisconsin has a training camp and season meant so much. And to think one year ago, we all hoped our Jaguars would be able to win at least one game. Oh, how times have changed – and for the better.
When the Jaguars walk onto the practice surface at EverBank Field, the mood will be different, there will be a charge in the air and for the first time in nearly half a decade, fans will look from the stands at a roster with a legitimate chance to make some noise and surprise in the AFC South. Yes, our Jaguars.
While there is plenty to be excited about from day one, there is some business to take care of and plenty of competition to be had. Like team general manager Dave Caldwell said on The Drill on Thursday, there will be plenty of decisions to make when it comes to veterans and rookies fighting for roster spots. You couldn’t say that about many of the positions last season.
If you come down to camp, here are a few things to pay close attention to…
Chad Henne is the starter
No matter how bad fans and the media may think it is a good idea to make Blake Bortles is the starter, head coach Gus Bradley has made it clear that the idea is to work with the rookie on his mechanics and let him sit for a year and learn the system.
A popular veteran will be cut
Watch for it on the defensive line or maybe in the secondary. There is competition like Caldwell said. That makes for a tougher camp and a commitment to detail. The Jaguars may also have a tough time deciding who stays and who goes on the defensive line.
Too many receivers
I bet you never thought you would say that about this team, but it may be true. Even with the situations involving Ace Sanders and Justin Blackmon this week (remember Blackmon is not technically on the team) there is plenty of players fighting for roster spots. Let’s see how the rookies Allen Robinson and Marquis Lee do and pay close attention to Allen Hurns, an undrafted rookie who looks like the real deal.
In Toby We Trust
Now that the Maurice Jones-Drew Era in Jacksonville is closed, it is time to depend on the legs and strength of Toby Gerhart. The former Minnesota is everything MJD wasn’t. The comparisons to Michael Turner may be accurate and if he is even better, than the Jaguars got a steal of a deal.
The media coverage
The Jaguars are now a popular team – and in a good way. And because of that it is now popular to root for the team from north Florida. There will be plenty of reporters and plenty of cameras on the sidelines on a national level.
By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)
Like or dislike him, the one thing you had to respect about Maurice Jones-Drew while he was here in Jacksonville was for the past eight years he was about business. While the small running back treated life in the NFL as his job and when he spoke, you knew where you stood and everyone knew where he stood with the media.
That’s why in the case of the disgruntled running back, you knew what you were getting day in and day out.
When it comes to the situation surrounding Justin Blackmon, you pretty much know where the team and the troubled wide receiver stand because the third-year receiver has not made much of an attempt to contact the team or players who have reached out to him.
When it comes to the recent developments concerning Ace Sanders, I am not sure where I stand on this issue other than the fact this is another pass catcher on a Jaguars roster who is troubled for one reason or another. But there is something about this situation that makes me want Sanders to be the exception – not the norm when it comes to athletes and substance abuse.
“Sometimes life hits, and it hits hard. I’ve made some mistakes that I do regret…,” Sanders said.
WE have heard this all before – not just from Sanders and Blackmon, but from other players with the Jaguars and other franchises in the NFL who seem to act contrite, then go back to not only hurting themselves, but the team they play for and fan bases that wear their jerseys.
The ever charismatic Gus Bradley tried to take a sad situation and turn it into a positive on Wednesday, addressing the media and discussing how the team expects to deal with the loss of a player who had 51 catches as a rookie. While the fact is the Jaguars essentially lost a good player for four weeks of the regular season (should he be suspension), the coach’s comments shed light on the fact Sanders is a human first and athlete second.
“It is unfortunate,” Bradley said Wednesday. “You hate to lose a player of Ace’s caliber for a period of time. He’s a great teammate, and players really respect him. He’s very talented.
“But with that being said, a lot of good has come about with this, and we’re not going to miss that opportunity.”
If the Jaguars do give Sanders that “opportunity” and this is an isolated incident, then kudos for Sanders for conquering demons he has to face. It also shows this is a franchise who believes in the kicker returner/wide receiver. It also sends a message to the team, the league and the fans that the Jaguars don’t judge a player who suddenly becomes flawed – the investment the team shows in Sanders could produce a return that speaks volumes on what kind of character both sides have.