JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After Wayne Weaver agreed to be the point man for Touchdown Jacksonville and the group hammered out a contract with the city for a new stadium, the next daunting challenge to bring an NFL team to the city was to sell thousands of club seats in a short amount of time.
“(Sell) 10,000 seats in 10 days, which was Wayne’s final condition to make it work,” said former Mayor John Delaney, who was Mayor Ed Austin's chief of staff at the time.
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Florida Times-Union publisher Carl Cannon was tasked with selling the tickets, which cost $1,500 per person for five seasons: a $7,500 commitment.
“It was not that they just said, 'I'll buy.' It was a real effort,” Cannon recalled.
Cannon and his team focused on selling blocks of seats to corporations and businesses, which would then be allowed to resell them to the community once the city officially got a team.
Then, with five days left to reach a seemingly insurmountable goal, a hurricane started barreling up the Florida coast, taking the city's mind off football.
“The hurricane went east of us and hit North Carolina,” Cannon said. “Had that become any kind of major event, it probably would have ruined the whole thing.”
With time running out, Touchdown Jacksonville was still short on tickets, and Cannon's boss, Times-Union owner Billy Morris, agreed to buy the remaining seats.
“It became a huge community story. We had fallen off the edge of a cliff and gotten back on,” Cannon said.
With the club seat and stadium deal requirements met, Touchdown Jacksonville still had work to do before the owners' meeting in Chicago, where the group would make its pitch to the 28 current NFL owners for Jacksonville to be chosen as one of two expansion cities.
That work included a short film that would give the owners a positive impression of Jacksonville. Actor James Earl Jones provided the voice-over.
“I thought the video was very good,” Weaver said. “It showed Jacksonville in a great light. James Earl Jones in his deep baritone, scanning the skyline and bridges. It was creative and brilliant.”
On Oct. 25, 1993, Weaver made his presentation to the owners, and it went well.
“The owners were receptive,” Delaney said. “They liked Wayne. That was a lot of it.”
But the NFL announced it was awarding one of the two teams to Charlotte, North Carolina.
And delayed the decision about the second franchise for a month.
“That was the hurdle when I felt it was slipping away from us at that point,” Weaver said.
The general consensus was that the NFL was giving St. Louis more time to get its act together.
Despite that concern, Weaver and his group decided to go ahead with their efforts and remain in the running for a team.
They returned to Chicago 30 days later, ready to hear the news, for better or worse.
They finally started to believe it might be for the better when Ron Weaver burst into the room where the group was waiting, looked at his brother, Wayne, and said, “You're going to get a team,” News4Jax Sports Director Sam Kouvaris said.
Ron Weaver said the chairman of the finance committee had pulled him aside in the hallway and told him that the finance and expansion committees had both voted for Jacksonville, and the full membership had never turned that down before.
But they still had to wait for confirmation.
“(Wayne) Weaver was told they'd have a vote, and if they did not get the team, he'd get a call from the commissioner,” Cannon said. “If they did get the team, they'd have a security guard come get him.”
He walked out of the room into a hallway and saw a security guard get off the elevator, Cannon said.
“And Weaver knew he had a team,” Cannon said.
After the official announcement from commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Wayne Weaver told the commissioner the decision the league had made would make him proud.
“I know nobody gave us a chance to win. It was a shock to football fans around the nation and certainly the media,” Wayne Weaver said. “I knew we were the dark horse and nobody expected us to win, but that makes it that much sweeter.”
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