Jaguars and Skynyrd a Natural Fit

Whoever thought of playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” to kick off the fourth quarter at Jaguars’ home games was a genius.  Whoever thought it was a good idea to stop that was something less than a genius.  Maybe it didn’t seem “sophisticated” enough to somebody new to town.  Or they wanted to be more “modern” and timely.  And that’s all good.  But Skynyrd is a part of who we are, and that’s not going to change.  I’ve been to plenty of stadiums where the home team has some kind of “tradition” that makes no sense to the visitors.

Because it’s not suppose to.

Playing Skynyrd at a Jaguars game is our own version of that.  With all of the losing going on at the stadium in the past decade, it’s about the only fun fans were having at the game at all.  That guitar lick by Ed King and Gary Rossington to start the music brought a cheer and a smile to anybody who was left at the game.  Now that the team’s winning, playing Skynyrd should be part of the celebration.

I’m not even sure if the Jaguars are going to play “Sweet Home Alabama” at home games in 2018 but there’s no question that they should.  The honoring of the military and the ringing of the bell between the third and fourth quarters is a noble endeavor. It’s the right thing to do. It absolutely has a place at every Jaguars game and if the right time is prior to the final quarter, that’s great.

Skynyrd also has a place at home games, wherever and whenever they want to play it.  First quarter, start of the second half, it doesn’t matter.  Somewhere during a Jaguars home game, some Skynyrd music should be playing.

Nothing has defined Jacksonville more in the last 40 years (with all due respect to Fred Durst and Limp Biscuit) more than Skynyrd and the Jaguars.  Cleaning up the air and getting rid of tolls are in the discussion but “the boys” from the Westside, both in the original band and the reunion version have always proudly told everybody they’re from Jacksonville. Waaaay before anybody anywhere thought the Jaguars in Jacksonville were a possibility.  (Except possibly former Mayor Jake Godbold.)  So you could say it was a natural to include some “local” music as part of the “game day experience.”

Any tailgate party at a Jaguars game has some Skynyrd music playing.  One of their songs on any pregame playlist would be considered a local anthem of sorts.

Today’s (Sunday’s) concert as part of the band’s “Farewell Tour” should forever solidify the link between Skynyrd and the team.  The Jaguars were part of the impetus to rename a street downtown after the band and to put up a mural depicting the legendary, and local rockers.

Johnny Van Zant and Rickey Medlocke were a big part of the announcement of the show here back in April.  Both professed to be huge Jaguars fans and recently went on a tour or the stadium with the team’s long-snapper Carson Tinker.

While he was rehabbing his knee last season, Tinker worked on his guitar licks and was invited by Johnny and Rickey to play along on an acoustic version of “Sweet Home Alabama” right there in the stands at the stadium. (Although I sang with the band in the late ‘80’s at their first “reunion” at the Morocco Temple, I was still VERY jealous.)  Carson held his own but told me, “I was hoping to get some of the lead in there but Rickey can REALLY play!” When he tweeted it out, Tinker called it his “dream.” Medlocke even had his bothersome thumb looked at by the Jaguars training staff during the tour.  His thumb has bothered him for some while from holding a guitar pick in that hand forever.

Skynyrd’s connection to sports goes back a long way.  Like any kids, they were involved early, with Ronnie being a pretty good baseball player.  But he was also a poet, so songwriting and leading the band won out.  Brother Donnie had a nice racquetball game in the ‘90’s when not on the road with .38 Special.

While the band has never performed at halftime of the Super Bowl (hmmm, there’s an idea) there is a connection between the band and the NFL that goes back a while.  Skynyrd has been a part of the Super Bowl Saturday Night Special in the past.  Eighteen years ago Skynyrd was part of a big blowout concert in Tampa Bay before the game and as usual, they brought the house down.

So it would be strange after all of the hype and the Jaguars involvement in Skynyrd’s final concert to not have them part of games.  They’re fun, they bring some extra excitement, and perhaps most importantly, they’re ours.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 4 – Injuries Bite in the Preseason

Former NFL QB Matt Robinson sits in on “The Hammer” Podcast after week 3 of the preseason. Matt says exhibition games are just “scary.”

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Doug Marrone

Marrone: Right Guy, Right Time

Even though there’s a bunch of rah-rah and it seems glamorous, a football team is much like any work environment. There’s a boss, some lieutenants and workers. The boss, in this case, the head coach, sets the tone, the policies and the overall structure of what happens.

In the Jaguars 23 years they’ve had different leadership styles, some successful, some, not so much, and some with mixed reviews.

With the imperious bearing of Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars had a CEO who was simultaneously distant, and always into the details. That wears on the workers and eventually the salary cap, injuries and Coughlin’s own demeanor led to his demise. Owner Wayne Weaver said his biggest mistake was getting rid of Coughlin. But that’s revisionist history. At the end, nobody was going to buy a ticket to a Tom Coughlin-coached team. We’ve all worked for a Jack Del Rio type boss, they guy who always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. That leads to short term success but it’s a recipe for flaming out. The workers, in this case, the players, eventually resent everything the boss stands for.

Mel Tucker brought a whole new premise to the role of the boss. He introduced the “servant leader” idea. Tucker is a fabulous coach and a really good guy as well. I’m surprised he isn’t a head coach somewhere. Mike Mularkey didn’t have much to work with and wasn’t given much of a chance. He was just trying to build something, anything actually, and then he was gone. Gus Bradley brought a whole new approach from a new generation, trying to empower the players for their own discipline and accountability. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. He’s also a very good football coach but his team was too young to grasp the power he was trying to give them.

Doug Marrone was at the top of a short list to be the next head coach of the Jaguars. Already on the Jaguars staff and well known to Coughlin, both of them played and coached at Syracuse.

Turns out, Marrone is the right coach in the right place with the right team at the right time.

While Marrone and Coughlin see the path to victory and success through the same lens, they’re very different people and personalities. Doug is able to impart that to the players in a very matter of fact, “here’s what we have to do” way. No screaming or yelling, no folksy, fake back slapping. He takes a serious approach to getting the job done. Like the offensive lineman he was as a player.

“We have a lot of work to do,” is one of his favorite expressions.

Marrone has no problem giving the players credit, just as long as they put the work in that’s necessary. He’s conducted two of the toughest training camps in recent memory. It’s no coincidence that he has said “We have to earn the right to win.” Which is also the title of Coughlin’s book.

“He’ll be more miserable when they win,” my friend from Buffalo said with a laugh when I was doing some early research about Marrone.. “Miserable” might not be the right word, but Marrone’s demeanor oftentimes seems so downtrodden that it’s easy to understand that his nickname at a few stops in his coaching career was “Eeyore.”

“I never have fun,” Marrone deadpanned last year during the Jaguars post-season run. “I like winning. I am not a fun person. That is my problem. I think when I look back I will say that it is fun.”

With all due respect to the media contingent in Buffalo, everybody who knew Marrone as the head coach there and has seen him with the Jaguars says he’s changed. But his core values on how to win have stayed the same. He’s able to break it down simply: You can either get the job done or you can’t.

“If we think the guy can play, let’s put him out there and see if he can do it. If we think, ‘You know what, I’m really not sure if this guy can.’ Well, put him out there and let’s see it.”

But he also admitted that he’s been able to separate the things that matter from the things that don’t when you’re in charge.

“You start to learn more of what, okay, this is important,” he explained. “Maybe this is not as important. Then, you create maybe more of a comfort in that. I don’t know. I just know that I feel more comfortable.”

Marrone is a good guy, somebody who wants to do well and do it right. He’s the guy who would be the designated driver on a night out if you asked him. And he’d be the guy who stepped in front of some jerk in a bar giving you a hard time.

Mostly he says he’s happy for the people around him as well as the fans and the organization. As a player at Syracuse, the Orange were 2-9 his freshman year and he didn’t want to wear his “Syracuse Football” gear anywhere. He knew the ridicule he’d be subjected to. He’s glad to help change that for Jaguars fans that have been in that situation for a decade.

“I grew up in a sports town, and I know what it’s like when your team’s not doing well and all the crap you take. For me I get a lot of joy when I see people that are proud of their team.”

He’s working. And although he says he’s not really a happy person, he’s happy in different ways.

“One thing in this profession, at least for me, it’s very hard to enjoy those things, but I do find a lot of joy for myself when I see other people happy with the success.”

Hard to not like that. He might be Eeyore, but he’s our Eeyore. Right guy in the right place at the right time.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 3 – Change The Rules?

It’s the latest “The Hammer” Podcast. Sam and Tom discuss the Jaguars week 2 exhibition game against the Vikings and what guys “on the bubble” are thinking this week.  Plus some talk about the new rules.

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Teams, Players, Reporters and the Truth

I was walking through the Jacksonville Bulls locker room in 1985 when running back Mike Rozier started a NSFW tirade toward me about something I had said on TV the night before.  In the course of his screaming he threatened to kill me, have me killed, “mess me up” and a variety of other unprintable things.

At the time, the Bulls had a defensive back named Don Bessillieu who was vocally unhappy with his contract and had threatened to “drop interceptions on purpose” until the Bulls gave him a new deal.  I thought that was so silly I said, on the air “That’d be like Mike Rozier saying he was going to fumble on purpose until he got a new deal.”  Rozier was the workhorse of the Bulls, carrying the ball 320 times for over 1,300 yards and catching another 50 balls out of the backfield. So he was their star and whatever he was screaming at me, he didn’t like me using “Rozier” and “fumble” in the same sentence.

Maybe he was sticking up for his teammate, maybe he was actually mad at me, but I saw it as just doing my job, a blend of information, commentary and entertainment on TV every night. It wasn’t the first, nor the last time I’d been threatened by somebody I’d been reporting on. I didn’t think I needed to report that and without any social media, Rozier and I worked it out in a “very clos” face-to-face” with a liberal exchange of ideas.  Remember, Mike and I are about the same age.

It was a very different time in media.  “Reporters” were just that, people who considered their job to “report” what was going on, not render constant opinions or take sides.  We were the public’s access to the closed worlds of sports, politics, entertainment and other cloistered societies.

I’ve had numerous veterans of every sport say to me, “I’m glad camera phones weren’t around when I played.”  Some say it with a laugh referring to their off the field excursions, others are glad practices were only watched by coaches and not recorded by teams and reporters attending, documenting their every move.

Last week there was a bit of a firestorm when the beat writer for the TU posted a camera phone video of the post-practice altercation between Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue.  The reporter was working inside the restrictions placed on him by the team, wasn’t breaking any rules, and was simply doing his job.  Posting the video was an editorial decision that followed the guidelines of what they think constitutes “news.”

The Jaguars, just like every other team, have very specific rules about reporters attendance at practice, where we can stand, when we can or can’t obtain video and when social media posts are acceptable.  They send us a written outline at the beginning of the year.  The players are aware that these training camp practices are open to the media.  That changes when camp ends and reporters are only allowed at practice for the first ten minutes or so.

All reporters, me included, have been privy to information, visuals, pictures, video, conversations and a million other things that we haven’t reported.  If the information isn’t about somebody breaking the law or endangering somebody else, it’s a news judgment about the public’s “right to know.”

I’ve said often that most organizations would like to manage information about their product and “break” news themselves on their social media accounts and on their own web sites.  That would mean excluding independent reporters from practices, locker rooms and player/coach access. Most leagues have rules against that so it’s not happening. Over the last ten-years most college locker rooms have been closed with the players and coaches being delivered in rooms or hallways to reporters. Players in individual sports are trying to manage stories about them by only making announcements on their own media platforms.

Some of that is just the changing time.  But some of that goes against what the job of reporters is supposed to be.  Developing sources, culling through the truth, the self-promotion and outright lies is what’s supposed to be part of our jobs.

Even the word “media” doesn’t mean the same that it did as little as 15 years ago.  While “the media” used to be considered independent reporting organizations, it’s now a blanket description for just about anybody with a microphone, a camera or a computer.  Much of what is called “the media” these days is actually somebody who’s just covering the coverage. Talking to coaches and players, seeing what happens in practice and talking to players gives the actual “reporters” a sense of the nuance of what’s actually happening.

As much as many of those people are friends of mine, some of the media now is considered people who actually work the for organizations they’re covering.  A writer or broadcaster who works for a team’s digital media outlets operates under a different set of rules than those who are from “the outside.”

Having said that, when I’ve gotten a paycheck from sports organizations for doing their play-by-play (including the Jaguars) or something else. I’ve never been told what to say or how to say it.  Bulls Head Coach Lindy Infante didn’t like it when I was hosting his show and asked him a question about his future when the team was 6 games under .500 and told the show’s producer. But we re-set the ground rules and he understood that was part of my job.

And that’s a question often asked by players or coaches who don’t like the critical nature of some commentary. Are reporters supposed to be fans?  Are they only there to spread sunshine about a team or an organization? Reporters have to make that judgment almost every day, what is actual news, good or bad.

I had a former Mayor call me one night and tell me I needed to “get on board” with his agenda. “That’s your job,” he said.  “We need to talk to my boss,” I responded.  “Because they think it’s something totally different.”

So viewers and readers have to make up their own minds about what’s reporting, what’s promotion and what’s just somebody else’s opinion. While it’s more work than it used to be for the news consumer, you can find the truth in there somewhere.  There’s a lot of information available for smart, honest people.  The truth is out there. Find it.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 2 – Jaguars Camp Drags On

Lonnie Marts joins Sam and Tom to talk about the jaguars skirmish in camp, the media coverage, the PGA Championship, how golfers have changed and more.

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Koepka looks like golf’s future 2018

You might have heard Jim Nantz at the end of the CBS telecast of the PGA Championship mention Gary Player’s prediction that “athletes will eventually choose golf and we’ll have players hitting it 400 yards.  It’ll be a different game.”  Player has said that for a while, but it was especially poignant this week as Brooks Koepka won at Bellerive, the same place Player captured the US Open in 1965.  His 72-hole score was two-over.  Koepka won at sixteen under.

After his victory, Koepka revealed his secret.

“I try to eat pretty clean,” he told reporters.  “We had salmon last night, the chef from The Floridian works for me.  Plus I lift six or seven days a week.”

Wait. What?  “I lift six or seven days a week?” As a golfer? That was heresy as little as 10 years ago.

Remember when everybody blamed Johnny Miller’s fall from the top of the game on his working on his farm out West?  Lifting weights was strictly taboo for golfers. Player, Greg Norman and then Tiger Woods changed all that.  Plus the advances in athletic training brought golfers to a new level of fitness, flexibility and strength.  It’s not just doing bicep curls or bench press.  Golf specific exercises, increasing swing speed, “smash factor” and ball velocity have changed the game as Player predicted.

There’s lots of talk about 300+ yard drives.  But what about the nine-irons from 181?  And four-iron from 248?  I mean those are astounding numbers. They can bend the clubs all they want, but when you’re hitting pitching wedge from 150, that’s a different game.

I met Brooks Koepka at his club near his home in West Palm Beach in January of 2015.

“This kid can really play,” our host said as Brooks and I shook hands.

Sitting in the grillroom we had a few laughs and the subject of the Super Bowl came up.

“I’ll be at Phoenix that week,” Brooks told me about his plan to play the PGA TOUR event called the Waste Management Open at the TPC of Scottsdale. “Look me up, I’m going out there by myself.”

So when I got to Phoenix a little early to fulfill my duties as the Hall of Fame voter for Jacksonville, I did head out to the TPC at Scottsdale. It’s known for the massive crowds that attend every year and that week was no different.  Except it rained for most of the tournament.  I went to the pressroom to look for Brooks during one of the delays but the PGA Tour rep (Doug Milne from Jacksonville) said he had just left.

“Tell him I came by to say hi,” I said, a bit disappointed.  I knew I’d be working for most of the weekend and probably wouldn’t have a chance to catch up with Koepka.

Of course he went on to win the tournament.

Koepka has now won three majors and is only the fifth player ever to win the US Open and the PGA in the same year.  His wrist injury earlier this season kept him out of the Masters, but he’ll be among the favorites in April in Augusta.

Although he’s shown to be cool under pressure and dominant with his game, Koepka has been overshadowed each time he’s won a major.  First by the golf course at Erin Hills, then by it seemed everybody else at Shinnecock Hills and by Tiger’s resurgence at the PGA.  Brooks will use that as continued motivation going forward.  He’s that kind of competitor.

So beware.  If Tiger was the tip of the spear of great athletes changing golf, Koepka is the harbinger of what the game will look like from now on.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 1 – Jaguars/Saints

Sam and Tom talk about the Jaguars 1st preseason game against the Saints. Did they get accomplished what they set out to do? Here’s an update.

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I don’t think Tiger will win again

Oh, he might take a trophy home from a PGA Tour event where say, 12 of the top 30 players in the world are in the field.  But even he won’t count that as a win.  He’ll say it feels good, and add it puts him on the right path to his goals.

And that’s winning a Major.  Which won’t happen.

My friend and colleague Tim Rosaforte recently quoted a playing partner on the Golf Channel saying of Tiger after watching him at The Open, “He can get there from here.”

Watching Tiger on Sunday at Carnoustie did give you that feeling. A bit of nostalgia and hope after taking the lead that we were seeing the biggest comeback in golf since Ben Hogan. A couple of missteps on the inward nine kept everybody else in the game, and Francesco Molinari became the Champion Golfer of the Year.

It’s not that Tiger’s not capable of winning again. You might remember he finished one shot behind Paul Casey at the Valspar Championships in March. His presence in the field and his name on the leaderboard put four times the number of fans on the golf course in Tampa. The next week at Bay Hill anticipation was soaring.

I asked him in Orlando if when he saw his name on the leaderboard the previous week if the feeling was the same as before.  “Yes” he said directly with that grin we’ve come to know as a sign of supreme self-confidence.

Even hitting it OB on 16 and a bogey-bogey-par finish for a tie for 5th left everybody expecting a Tiger-esque run and a win soon.  Rory McIlroy won that week instead with a Tiger-esque finish, a birdie on his final hole.

Just looking at those three tournaments where Tiger has played well and been in contention there’s a common thread as to why he didn’t win:  He just got beat.  And it’s his own fault.  Not that he didn’t play well, it’s just somebody played better.  There’s no defense in golf.

Name any of the top players in the world right now and they’ll say Tiger was their inspiration to become a golfer and play at the highest level.  And there are too many of those who can go low in the final round, come out of nowhere, and win.

The modern players work on their games for sure, and use Trackman and other devices to optimize their equipment, but fitness, specific to golf, has jumped the game to another level. There was a par 4 at the US Open that was 505 yards long.  Both Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson hit irons off the tee. Both of those guys look like they could have played any sport professionally, but they chose golf

Fitness in golf might have started with Gary Player and was refined through the years by players like Greg Norman, but Tiger was the start of great athletes choosing golf as their main sport.  Look at players all over the world and they all look about the same.  At the top everybody’s between 5-10 and 6-2 and weighs somewhere between 160 and 185 lbs. There are no more George Archer’s or Rod Curl’s in the game.  No self-taught swings, no Lee Trevino’s coming from some obscure place in West Texas to become a Hall of Famer.

And Tiger started all that.

He helped put enough money in the game where it was a viable alternative.  Winnings at every TOUR event jumped 40%.  Payouts for TV rights went through the roof.  And great athletes started choosing the game.

Which is why he’ll contend and play well enough to win but won’t.  Just because there are so many players in today’s game that can, and will.  They have the game, they’ve played top-flight amateur and college golf, and they’re not afraid.

I’ve followed the arc of many athletic careers from start to finish. Even the biggest sports celebrities’ start somewhere, so knowing Tim Tebow, as a high school sophomore is how I remember him best. But only two athletes in my career though have exceeded the hype: LeBron James and Tiger Woods.

Starting with his appearance at the LA Open in 1992, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods was a name that every sports journalist who covered golf knew. “Tiger” was a unique enough name; the story of how he got it was enough to make any profile pretty colorful.

I first met Tiger in 1994 when he played in the US Amateur at the TPC Stadium course as a skinny kid with a big hat and a bigger game. “These one-on-one interviews,” was his answer when I asked the 18-year-old if there was anything he didn’t like about how his life was going. As his fame grew, he stopped doing those “one-on-one” interviews and eventually only made news on his own web site.

There was an incident where Tiger told an off-color joke to a magazine reporter in New York who broke the “off the record” code, printed it, and Tiger felt betrayed. He really clammed up after that.

I’ve been critical of Woods’ demeanor throughout his career, His nickname early in his career on tour was “Erkel” after the sitcom character that had few social skills and was generally nerdy. Tiger approached being the most famous person on the planet, something few people know about. But his actions didn’t come close to Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer or others in that same situation.

Changing his body and the violence of his swing took a toll on his body and he eventually broke down. His off course issue was well documented and publicized. And his bout with prescription drugs seemed to be the bottom.

I ran into him in early 2017 at a retirement party at his club in Jupiter. I was asked to kind of “save” him from being pestered by everybody there since he knew me a little bit and might be comfortable talking with me. We spent some time together and for the first time I felt sorry for the guy. He was as awkward as I’d ever seen him. Could barely hold a conversation. Small talk was a chore. Ok, maybe it was me, but I really felt bad for him.

Fast-forward about six months; Tiger’s gone through a rehab after being pulled over for DUI. His body is healing and his golf game is returning. I ran into him at the same club as I was hitting some putts on the practice green.

“Hey Sam, you know Tiger,” my host said as I walked to put away my putter with Woods pulling up in his cart. “Of course,” I said as we shook hands.

Tiger said, “Jacksonville, right?” as he sat back in his cart. I smiled and said, “Yep” anticipating a quick exit as usual.

Instead, the three of us sat there for about 15 minutes talking about everything guys talk about, sharing laughs and jabs, just like it’s supposed to happen. He mentioned that he really liked The Players returning to March.

When he left, I turned to my host and said, “What happened to him? He’s like a different person.”

And that’s the same person we’ve seen in his return to the limelight. He tells jokes and smiles. Remember Tiger saying that “second was the first loser” early in his career?  He talked about that a couple of weeks ago with a whole different perspective after his finish at Carnoustie with his children in attendance.

“They saw their dad get into contention and end up leading the tournament. End up losing the tournament. But I tried until the very end,” Tiger said the week before teeing it up at the WGC in Akron.

“They saw how much I was grinding. They said, ‘Well, you weren’t going to win.’ I said, ‘I know I wasn’t going to win, but that doesn’t stop me from grinding.’ That is a teachable moment because they were there in present, in person. Sometimes you can’t always see that on TV.”

So whatever you attribute it to, being humbled, being a parent, being injured, whatever, I’m hoping Tiger keeps using that same personality.

There’s a steely determination necessary to win in sports at the highest level. Tiger has shown over and over that he has that. I suppose keeping it there, inside the ropes, will take an adjustment. But it’ll be worth it.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Hammer

Sports Talk with Sam Kouvaris & Tom McManus

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Adding London games is fine for Jaguars, as a road team

We haven’t heard much about “the Jaguars are moving” story in the past couple of years. Los Angeles has two teams and a multi-billion dollar stadium being built. But there’s a new, albeit faint drumbeat about more games in London and fewer games in Jacksonville. By now you’ve probably heard what NBC’s Peter King said a couple weeks ago regarding the Jaguars potentially playing four games in London beginning in 2022.

It would be pretty easy for the Jaguars to play more games overseas. But I don’t think fans will accept giving up any more home games here at home.

So that’s not going to happen.

Next year, I think the Jaguars will be playing two games in London, one as the home team and one as the visitor either the week before or the week after.

I’ve said all along the Jaguars would play more than one game overseas. And not all in London. Shad Khan has said he would like to have a game in Germany or in Spain at some point and I think it’s possible by 2022 the Jaguars would have already played in one of those places.

And they’ll play at Wembley whenever they play in England even though the league has a deal to play two games at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium at White Hart Lane. Shad is buying the national stadium outside of London and his team will always play there. Which means home or away, it’s a moneymaker for the local owner.

If the NFL really wants the Jaguars to have more of a presence in London how about one game as the home team, and a few more as the visitor all played over a three or four-week stay? While that means four games in London, it wouldn’t mean fewer games in Jacksonville.

I’ve been to every game the Jaguars have played in London and you wouldn’t know who was there as the home team or the away team. As the Jaguars have settled in on a schedule and gotten more comfortable with the routine, they’ve taken advantage of being the “home” team for the past few years.

Khan wants to have a base in North America to entertain clients and have meetings outside of a work setting. The Jaguars certainly provide that, both at home and when they play on the road in the States. Shad revamped the owners box here in Jacksonville, expanding it and making it pretty special to help showcase his team.

He’s building a new Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage in London, renovating the hospitality area to bring it up to a standard so he can entertain clients from Europe and beyond at Premier League games.

So from his perspective of using the NFL and the EPL as an adjunct to enhance his businesses, the Jaguars in Jacksonville and Fulham in London perfectly fit the bill.

“The fact we are playing one game a year at Wembley now, that we have other commercial interests in London and throughout the UK, has really made us stronger here in Jacksonville,” Jaguars president Mark Lamping recently told The Guardian newspaper in London. “I think most of our fans understand the role London plays,”

When the league wanted to expand the number of games in London, at first they couldn’t find enough owners willing to go. Now there aren’t enough games to accommodate the owners that want to play there.

Shad was way ahead of the curve, as usual, on this one and he’s gotten the other owners excited about taking their team to the UK.

Talk about the Jaguars playing in London, Germany or Spain doesn’t diminish the name “Jacksonville” in front of “Jaguars.” Au contraire, as the French would say, looking at it from the other side of the equation, it makes us the cool kids on the block.

Improvements around the stadium, the continued planning for a “Lot J” entertainment complex, the development of the Shipyards and a high end, world class hotel on the St. Johns river are pretty good indicators that Khan likes it here.

There’s even an idea floated about putting a giant sunshade over the stadium, like an arch a couple of hundred feet wide stretching over the structure from North to South.
“London strategically is really important to us and it’s really important to Jacksonville that the Jaguars don’t lose our position in London,” Lamping said. “Whenever you can include Jacksonville and London in the same sentence, it’s a good thing.”
“London is the NFL’s international primary focus. It’s a market they believe with appropriate amount of development over time could potentially be a city to host a full-time franchise,” he added. “Whether that ultimately accrues to the Jaguars or another team relocating there.”
That’s the first time I’ve heard anybody associated with the organization ever use “Jaguars” and “relocating” in the same sentence.

Of course, that’s exactly what the rest of the league, media and fans think.

Always kind of a mystery, Jacksonville didn’t have a sports identity outside of the city limits before the Jaguars were awarded. The only thing people knew was that it’s where the tolls were on 95 and it smelled badly. Getting rid of the tolls, cleaning up the air and the arrival of the Jaguars changed all that.

But outside of town we’re still the underdog city that’s always losing it’s team to somewhere, and is a complete afterthought among the league’s media.

If all you did in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or even New York was go from the airport to the Hyatt, to the stadium and back to the airport, you wouldn’t know much about any city.

And that’s all they do.

They don’t see the beach, or Mandarin, Ortega or explore the St. Johns. 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.

All I ever heard was, “You’re not getting a team!” when I’d show up at the owner’s meetings with the Jacksonville contingent. But we partnered with Wayne Weaver, did everything right, and were awarded the 30th NFL franchise.

Thanks to Weaver, who was popular among the ownership 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 league office, the city that couldn’t, did.

And that didn’t sit well with anybody else. Baltimore, Memphis and St. Louis, where Weaver had a history, 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.

And the fact that we like it here just plain makes people from elsewhere 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. Winning season or losing season, we’re pretty happy with our team, who we are, our friends and the lifestyle.

Everybody can come visit and we’ll even show them around. And they can even move here. Just don’t tell us how fabulous everywhere else is now.

We’re not listening.