We’ve had some good luck as a city to have people in critical decision-making positions at critical times who turned out to be the right people at the right time. Mayor Jake Godbold served as “best Friend of the city” at a time that luring an NFL franchise was a complete pipe dream: to everybody but Godbold and the citizens of Jacksonville.
When that became a reality in 1993 we were again fortunate to have an owner step forward who was committed to Jacksonville as if he was a native. Asked by the NFL to consider taking over the St. Louis bid, a place he had lived and had ties to, Wayne Weaver declined, and instead cast his lot with the longest shot in the field.
But we were used to that.
And as Tom mentioned earlier, Wayne’s brother Ron reminded us over and over, “what my brother goes after, he usually gets.”
During the expansion process, Jacksonville was always considered an also-ran, once again except in the minds of Wayne Weaver and the people who lived here. It was a painful process to be ready to do whatever it took to get a team, and still be put off several times as the league, and other cities fortified their expansion bids.
In October of 1993, when Charlotte was awarded a franchise and Jacksonville was told to cool their heels while the league considered their options, I spent a lot of time with Wayne in Chicago and he was flat out hot. We stood outside of the NFL’s makeshift office at the Hyatt Regency, just the two of us, waiting for Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to explain to Weaver what was going on.
As the door opened, I asked Wayne, “what are you going to ask him?” Weaver stopped, turned to me with a locked jaw and fire in his eyes and said, “i’m going to ask him why we don’t have a football team. I didn’t come here to fool around.”
And with that he walked off to give Tagliabue a piece of his mind.
I saw a determination in Weaver that I’d never seen outside of a sports competition. Thirty days later, Jacksonville became the 30th franchise in the NFL, against all odds. And we owe that to Wayne Weaver. His determination, his professionalism, and maybe most importantly his charm and vision convinced the NFL membership that he should be part of their club. They invited him in, and we went along for the ride.
He wanted to win in the worst way. He paid players, changed coaches, tried to do whatever it took. And that’s why he says it’s bittersweet selling the team having never brought a championship home.
We’re indebted to Wayne and his wife Delores for how they’ve transformed our town. Knowing Wayne all he’d ever expect is a simple thanks.
So thanks Wayne.
Shahid Kahn has big shoes to fill.