JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Saturday was just a validation of who we are.
Not how we're perceived. Not how we're talked about or thought about or written about or disparaged by people who don't live here. They're usually about two years behind what's actually happening in North Florida.
Whether you decided to watch a sailing regatta or a powerboat race, go to a NFL sponsored football camp or attend the Suns, Sharks or the USA friendly against Nigeria, there was something for just about everybody. You couldn't help but notice what was going on if you were anywhere in town. From Fruit Cove to Orange Park, Arlington to St. Nicholas, the sights, sounds and yes, the traffic reminded you that this is where "it" was happening today.
Not that things aren't happening every weekend in North Florida. Whether it's the beach or boating, the river, running, cycling, golf or the multitude of games and leagues that take advantage of our landscape, our facilities and our weather, there's something to do for everybody.
And we know it.
Sometimes that doesn't sit well with people who want to try and keep us in their mind as an "outpost" that's non-threatening. We're perfectly comfortable being who we are. We don't want to be Tampa or Orlando, Miami or Atlanta. And, oh by the way, none of those cities were selected to host the final friendly in the "Send-Off Series" for Team USA.
Because we were.
The fact that more than 44,000 showed up two years ago for a friendly against Scotland, just because it sounded like fun, lead to Jacksonville being chosen as the final stop for Team USA before headed to Brazil. This time, more than 52,000 showed up, and showed up early. If you headed downtown more than 3 hours before kickoff you saw thousands of people walking around, tail gaiting and just thoroughly enjoying themselves. Some had walked over from the powerboat races. Others were going to the Suns or the Sharks game before heading to the stadium.
"The reception from the fans here has been tremendous," USA Soccer Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after his side defeated Nigeria 2-1. "The fans lining up for our players to walk through. That was something special. We'll take that with us to Brazil and build on it."
Klinsmann was right. When the team walked into the stadium, from the bus, the atmosphere was electric. (I just wish the players ALL would have taken their Beats headsets off to enjoy the moment). A lot of high fiving, picture taking and chants of U-S-A. In fact, it seems that we've taken that "Ole, Ole, Ole" traditional soccer chant and made it our own, adding "USA, USA, USA" as a second verse.
I tweeted a picture of the stadium after Jozy Altidore scored the second goal of the match because it struck me as something very different than what I normally see there. Even at Jaguars games, it's been a while since everybody jumped up and raised their arms in triumph all at the same time. When the ball hit the back of the net in the 68th minute, the place just exploded.
There was a time in the early and mid ‘80's that downtown looked like this on what the city annually called "River Day." There were all kinds of events, all centered on the showcase of the Gate River Run. People made their way to the Southbank, downtown, walked the bridges and took advantage of what natural resources the city had to offer. With the improvements downtown and the advancements we've made with the different facilities, isn't it time to make this kind of thing happen on purpose on a regular basis?
Since Jake Godbold left office, each subsequent Mayor has lamented about getting people downtown. Here's another perfect opportunity.
Mayor Brown, are you listening?
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