Remembering Jake: Godbold lit fire that led NFL, Jaguars to Jacksonville
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the city prepares to celebrate the life of former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold with a public service on Thursday, one of the things he’s most remembered for is his role in getting the NFL interested in bringing NFL football to Jacksonville.
Godbold, who served from 1978 to 1987, died Jan. 23 at age 86. It’s no secret that getting an NFL team to Jacksonville was one of Godbold’s biggest quests both during his time in office and in the years that followed. Undoubtedly, one of the former mayor’s greatest memories is from a deeply emotional day in 1993 when he learned his hometown would be getting a franchise.
As written in “Jake!," Godbold’s biography, he was at Channel 4 on the afternoon of the announcement.
Our cameras were rolling live at the very moment Paul Tagliabue made the announcement, and the former mayor dropped his face into his hands.
“I said, ‘Oh s---. We got it.’ I cried," Godbold said in his biography.
When it came to getting an NFL team in Jacksonville, many thought it was a long shot. The former mayor thought that at some point the city would get a team, but he believed it wouldn’t happen during his time in office.
SPECIAL SECTION | Remembering Jake
Although he was right, it was Godbold who started the fire that eventually brought Jacksonville the Jaguars.
In 1979, Godbold invited Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay to the Gator Bowl. He wanted to see just how badly the city wanted a team.
Within a time frame of just five days, more than 45,000 people packed the stadium to greet Irsay on Aug. 15, 1979, as he landed in the Sky 4 helicopter on the 50-yard line.
The trip put Jacksonville on the map, and while Godbold started the effort to bring a team to the Jacksonville, former Mayor Tommy Hazouri kept the flame ignited, helping lay the groundwork for the city to make a successful bid.
Wayne Weaver would later become the first owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he stayed for 18 years before selling the franchise to Shad Khan for $770 million. Weaver spoke to News4Jax after learning of Godbold’s death.
“Jake, clearly, was one of our great cheerleaders in our community, in terms of one of the people who had the vision to bring the NFL to Jacksonville and clearly worked with the community to fan that flame long before we could have supported a team or had a team,” Weaver said.
It took more than a decade of dedicated work, but, as Tom Wills puts it, it was a dream come true for the mayor who dared to dream the biggest, boldest dream the city had ever seen.
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