FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There’s been a lot of talk this week about “respect” for the Jacksonville Jaguars. A 3-13 team in 2016, the Jaguars are on the verge of their first Super Bowl appearance, playing in their third AFC Championship game in franchise history. But the Jaguars are still suffering from what they consider a lack of respect from other teams, other fans, the oddsmakers and the national media.
“At this point, if we don’t got respect, that might be a lost cause,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said on Friday. “We just might not get none. We’re one of the final four teams in the NFL playing right now, so if we ain’t got no respect then, forget it.”
That consideration as an outlier isn’t unique to this year’s team. It’s not even a new phenomenon regarding the franchise. From the first days of Jake Godbold’s dream of bringing an NFL franchise to Jacksonville, we’ve always been the outlier, “the not-really-in-it” city, much more than an underdog.
“What do you guys do with this stadium the rest of the time?” I asked when covering my first Gator Bowl in 1978 while working in Charleston. “Well, we have Florida-Georgia,” was the response.
I was puzzled by that, not knowing about the Georgia-Florida rivalry, but thought it was pretty different that a city could have a huge stadium for just two games a year.
“Look at that,” I said to our anchorman two years later at Channel 2 in Charleston, “the Teamen are moving to Jacksonville and not even changing their name. That’s kind of silly.” Of course I knew little about the NASL and why the Teamen were keeping the name (they were owned by the Lipton Tea Company). And little did I know that shortly my career would take me to Jacksonville and I’d be the play-by-play voice of those Teamen.
Always kind of a mystery, Jacksonville didn’t have a sports identity outside the city limits. The only thing people knew was that it’s where the tolls were on 95 and it smelled bad.
“Did I read in the paper you were moving to Jacksonville?” my playing partner at Wild Dunes asked me in early 1981. “That’s right, I go next week,” I said, somewhat proudly to be moving to a much bigger market, important at the time in the TV business.
“I’m sure you think that’s great,” he added. “You’re making a jump on the economic scale, but a couple steps back socially.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Do you own a tuxedo?” he questioned.
“Three,” I said, in the standard Charlestonian answer.
“You’ll never wear it,” he deadpanned.
And he was mostly right.
We’ve always been more casual, more of a big beach town than any great metro city.
And we like it that way. And people who don’t live here don’t get it.
Once we cleared out the tolls and cleaned up the air, the town started to take off. Our bid for an NFL team started to crystallize, although no one took us as a serious candidate.
“You’re not getting a team!” all of my media brethren would say with a giant laugh when I’d show up at the owner’s meetings with the Jacksonville contingent. But as outlined in the excellent documentary “Destiny: How Jacksonville Won the Jaguars,” we did everything right and were awarded the 30th franchise in November of 1993.
Thanks to Wayne Weaver, who was popular among the owners as a prospective fraternity brother (and that’s what the owners group is) and Roger Goodell, who was the city’s biggest patron inside the NFL office, the city that couldn’t, did.
And that didn’t set well with anybody else. Baltimore was incredulous. Memphis looked away, St. Louis couldn’t believe it. And Charlotte did their usual look down their nose at us.
“Don’t worry Charlotte, you’re not Jacksonville," said one columnist in the self-proclaimed “Queen City” the day after we got the team. Charlotte was awarded the 29th franchise a month earlier and couldn’t imagine being put in the same category as swampy tackle box Jacksonville.
Of course Charlotte is so snotty they can’t even call their downtown “Downtown.” They have to call it “Uptown.” And they’re right, they’re not Jacksonville. No beach, hot as blazes in the summer and cold as you-know-what in the winter.
So our own “second city” mentality was settling in, despite now being an NFL city. Fans and scribes around the country were so incredulous that they spent the next 15 years talking about where our franchise was going to move.
Even when the team went to the AFC Championship in 1996, the story line was everybody else and the “upstart Jaguars” In 1999, the Jaguars were the best team in the league but their 14-2 regular season record was “only because of the easy schedule they played.” No credit, no respect.
Talk of the team moving has subsided since Shad Khan bought the team and started to invest in the city. But even after hosting the Super Bowl in 2005, nobody likes us.
“Not enough strip clubs or late-night drinking places,” one NFL writer told me.
“I like doing stuff. And there is nothing to do in Jacksonville,” another chided in a column during his annual trek to league training camps.
Of course if all you did in any city was go from the airport to the Hyatt, to the stadium, back to the Hyatt and back to the airport, you’d have the same impression no matter where you were. And that’s all they do. They don’t see the beach, or Mandarin, Ortega or explore the river. Time constraints and just plain laziness are both to blame. I’ve offered to give tours to the guys I know, but have gotten no takers.
And the fact that we like it here just plain makes people angry. I was raised in Baltimore and my parents always say the attitude in Jacksonville reminds them of “Charm City.”
In Baltimore they don’t want to be D.C. or Philly or certainly not New York. In Jacksonville we don’t want to be Atlanta, or Miami or Tampa and certainly not Orlando.
We’re perfectly comfortable in our own skin, and people in the “big city” just don’t get it. So they try to run us down.
There will be plenty “Duuuvalll” chants this weekend in New England and in North Florida, a rallying cry all our own.
And everybody else will deride it as some kind of backwater slogan. But it doesn’t matter.
Win or lose, winning season or losing season, we’re pretty happy with who we are, our friends and the lifestyle.
They can all come visit, and they can even move here. Just don’t tell us how great it was where you came from.
We’re not listening. And we like it that way.