JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of the most monumental achievements for Jacksonville is when it became an NFL city and got the Jaguars in the mid-90s.
The team has been the most consistent headline in the River City ever since.
But the thoughts of attracting an NFL franchise to Jacksonville came long before the public push for a team.
“Jacksonville started being thought of as a city that would go crazy for football really in the 70s. There was something called the World Football League here,” said News4JAX Jaguars analyst Frank Frangie, who grew up in Jacksonville.
Then fast forward two decades when former Baltimore Colts owner Bob Irsay was looking for a city to move his franchise to. Irsay was flown into Jacksonville on a Channel 4 helicopter.
“And when they landed him in midfield at the Gator Bowl, there’s no event, no concert, no game. There are 50,000 people there to meet him,” said Frangie. “I was there, I was one of them.”
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Eventually, Wayne Weaver was brought in to start the franchise but had little link to Jacksonville. A community group called Touchdown Jacksonville really spearheaded the effort to get a team.
“I knew very few people in the community. My brother lived here. I knew my brother and his friends, but that was it,” Weaver told News4JAX in 2020.
Weaver’s ownership of the team lasted until 2011 when Shad Khan agreed to purchase the team. Khan was the first minority owner of an NFL franchise and is still the only one to date. At the time, there was considerable concern that the team could be relocated from the city. But city leaders, along with Weaver, assured the public that Khan was committed to Jacksonville.
“The team is going to be here in Jacksonville. The team will remain here in the great city of Jacksonville. This is a great city for sports. It’s one of my top priorities. This is a sports town,” former Mayor Alvin Brown told News4JAX in 2011.
Since then, the franchise has struggled under Khan’s ownership from a win-loss perspective. The only winning season was in 2017 when the team went to the AFC Championship game and was only a win shy of going to the Super Bowl. While the win-loss record has been bad, Frangie said the team really bottomed out last season under the leadership of former coach Urban Meyer. Along with a bad record, Meyer’s off-the-field headlines contributed to struggles for the franchise.
“It never felt as dysfunctional as it did last year in Urban’s year here. That, in mind, trumped everything else,” said Frangie.
But he added that the addition of the Jaguars to Jacksonville has, in the long term, helped elevate Jacksonville as a city. And he said Khan’s acquisition of the team and investment in the franchise has given it stability.
“When the Jaguars happened for sure and then when the Shad ownership happened, I think people quit, saying, ‘Same old Jacksonville. The team’s going to leave and move here or there,’” he said. “I think that narrative of Jacksonville, the Jaguars are here inviably, it grew up a little bit.”