Now that the Super Bowl is just a year away from being in Jacksonville, people are scared. Really scared. It’s actually coming here? How are we going to handle that? It’s almost the same attitude that most everybody had in 1993 when Wayne Weaver and company were pursuing an NFL team. Never happen. Too small, too backwoods can’t pull it off. But it happened in ’93 and it’s happening just twelve months from now.
The sports world is coming to Jacksonville. They’ll slam us. They’ll call Jacksonville every name from South Georgia to Nowhere Ville. They’ll make fun of barbeque, the river, downtown, the roads and everything else they can think of. This just puts us in the same category as every other Super Bowl city.
I’ve covered about twenty Super Bowls. I’ve been on the Hall of Fame Selection committee for ten years. The committee is a collection of the writers, broadcasters (not many) and columnists from around the country and around the league. It’s a group of recognizable names who influence millions of sports fans by putting words on a page or speaking to a television and radio audience. And you know what? They complain about everything and everywhere. San Diego, Tampa, Atlanta, Phoenix, etc, etc, I’ve never heard ‘em be happy about anywhere. The traffic’s bad, the food stinks, the people are rude and nothing’s right. They’re about as provincial as a group can be. If it doesn’t work exactly as they expect it too, then it’s no good.
One thing going for us is low expectations. Everybody expects the Jacksonville Super Bowl to be a disaster. No hotel rooms, no restaurants, no bars, no nothing. So, much like everybody else who comes to town, just about everybody will be surprised about what kind of place Jacksonville actually is. It seems everybody I know who’s ever lived here and moved somewhere else, moves back. Former Jaguars who move on to other teams keep their houses here. You don’t have to look far to see retired NFL players setting up shop in town, starting a business or living at the beach. But that’s for us to know, and for everybody else to find out.
“I hate Jacksonville,” one prominent sportswriter told me at last year’s HOF meeting. “I just might skip that one,” he added. “That’d be perfect,” I chided him, “one less uninformed opinion being sent out to the public.”
Longtime Atlanta journalist Furman Bisher overheard our give and take and chimed in, “Jacksonville is my favorite place to go. What are you stupid?”
“There’s nothing to do there,” the detractor screamed.
“Obviously, you know the wrong people,” Bisher responded, and dismissed the conversation as ridiculous.
Houston is hosting this year’s game, just two years after getting NFL football back. It was part of the deal to up Bob McNair’s price by $50 million to buy the franchise. Really. Part of the negotiations. McNair said he wasn’t going over $650 million, the league said their bottom number was $700 million and they couldn’t go any lower.
“I need some more value,” McNair told the league.
“How ‘bout a Super Bowl,” they answered.
“OK,” said McNair, and the deal was done.
Jacksonville’s pursuit of the game was much different, starting with then-Mayor Jake Godbold’s dream that hosting a Super Bowl would be the city’s entrée into the league. In the city was invited every year in the early to mid ‘80’s to make a pitch for the game. We didn’t get it, but the contacts made and the awareness of the town helped get the franchise in ’93. One Super Bowl pitch even yielded the Jackson’s tour at the old Gator Bowl. The former Patriot’s owner Billy Sullivan owned the rights to the tour and was looking for places to put it. He and Godbold were friends, so they struck a deal in the lobby of the hotel and voila, Michael and brothers played three dates to open their tour.
So watch for how Houston is depicted this week. Some will be kind, others brutal. And expect the same a year from now.