Tom Wills: Former mayor recalls Jacksonville's ultimate upset

Seeds Jake Godbold planted eventually became NFL's Jaguars

By Tom Wills - 5 & 6 p.m. anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.. - Jaguars fans are dreaming of an upset playoff victory Sunday over the Steelers, but the upset of them all was the dream come true of former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold -- who dared to pursue his dream of bringing NFL football to his city.

That dream was realized in 1993, years after Godbold had planted and watered the seeds that were eventually harvested by his friend, Jacksonville Mayor Ed Austin.

More than two decades later, Godbold said his belief that an NFL team could cross the city's deep dividing lines was affirmed last Sunday when a sold-out, standing-room-only crowd at EverBank Field cheered the Jaguars to a playoff victory over the Buffalo Bills.

UNCUT: Tom Wills' full interview with former Mayor Jake Godbold

“I've always said that this is a football town,” Godbold said. “When you looked out there, you saw blacks and whites, young and old. There we were all together on that day, supporting Jacksonville. That's what my goal was all the time in having an NFL team."

For those who don't know the whole story, Jacksonville's NFL dream began in the late 70s, when Godbold, the city's newly elected mayor, sparked Colts fever. 

The owner of the Baltimore Colts back then, Robert Irsay, had been talking about moving his team. Godbold made a play for it, and Irsay landed inside the old Gator Bowl in the Channel 4 helicopter, greeted by a raucous crowd of 50,000 chanting, "We want the Colts!" 

Of course, we didn't get the Colts, but Godbold did get criticized.

“The paper called (me) 'Mayor Jock' and things like that and even wrote some articles that we had been used by Irsay and those things,” Godbold recalled. “I knew Irsay was using us. But we were using him, too.”

Godbold said even with everything stacked against the city, he never thought the idea of Jacksonville getting an NFL team was crazy.

“I was born here. I was raised here. There's three things in the olden days (that) we'd support: wrestling, stock car racing and football,” Godbold said. “I think we've proved that." 

Godbold said that despite not being able to lure an NFL team during his tenure, he knew he was setting the stage for those who would come after him.

"I had some doubts that I probably wouldn't be the mayor when we got it, because I only had eight years to work with it,” he said. “But I wanted to do all I could that if I didn't hit the jackpot and get one of these franchises to move here, that when they started to expand, they would have to look at us.”

And look they did.

Godbold was at Channel 4 on that unforgettable day -- Nov. 30, 1993 -- when the news came that the NFL was awarding Jacksonville an expansion team -- 14 years after Godbold started the quest not for himself, but for the city's future.

DOCUMENTARY: Destiny: The Insider's Story of How Jacksonville Won the Jaguars

Now, as the Jaguars head to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers, whose die-hard fans are famous across the league, Godbold said he sees similarities between the fans there and the fans here.

He said the fans are who he will be thinking of come Sunday.

"God knows, I am so happy for the fans more than I am for the players and the owner, because the fans have been wonderful. They are football people,” Godbold said. “They deserve this.”

He said last Sunday's sold-out crowd was the culmination of all he had dreamed for his city.

“Regardless of what happens from now, that day was worth the ride,” Godbold said. “And I think in the future, there's going to be a lot more good football here that these fans deserve."

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