I really didn’t think I was that tough on Tony Kornheiser. After his scathing column ripping Jacksonville as a host city for the Super Bowl, we called him up and asked if he’d like to explain himself on the six o’clock news. At first he declined, and then agreed to appear via telephone. We read a couple of quotes from the column, introduced him, and asked him a pretty simple question:
“When was the last time you were in Jacksonville?” Little did I know that question would set off a firestorm of commentary and controversy locally and in some case, across the country. Come to find out, Tony’s never actually been to Jacksonville. He’s been through it and “I usually stop for the free orange juice,” was the full extent of his experience.
(By the way, where’s that? I’ve never seen a free orange juice stand on 95, but maybe I’ve just missed it.)
I’m not sure why, but the whole thing started to go downhill from there, with Kornheiser making fun of my Maryland roots and calling on his “we kid because we love” get out of jail free line. I actually was just looking for his motivation for writing the column. Does he do this every year the week before the Super Bowl? Did he rip Houston, Miami, Tampa, Atlanta, San Diego and others just to get a rise out of the population? I never really got an answer and I’m still trying to figure it out. On his radio show the next day in D.C. he called me a “pompous, blowhard, gasbag,” not exactly addressing the question. I did find out that not only has he never been here, he’s not coming for the game either!
Maybe there’s something about Jacksonville that just grates on people. They went nuts in Charlotte in ’93 when the NFL awarded a franchise to Jacksonville alongside “the Queen city.” “Don’t worry Charlotte, you’re not Jacksonville,” one columnist opined in the morning paper (of course he’s still right, they have a long way to go.)
Jacksonville has talked a big game for the last twenty years, and then backed it up with action. A rebuilt downtown sports complex now has an NFL Franchise, a Dodgers affiliate and the NCAA Tournament as tenants. The ACC football and baseball championships will be played in town. And, of course, the Super Bowl rolls through on February 6th. The Players Championship and the Bausch and Lomb tennis championships have been in town since the ‘70’s.
The sports credentials are easy to find. In fact, the culture of the city is woven through the sports calendar. Around the golf, tennis, boating, cycling and other 12-month outdoor sports people participate in, they find time to support the things that come to town. And for some reason that really gets under some people’s skin. Jacksonville has never claimed to be Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Atlanta, D.C. or any other city it’s not.
In fact, Jacksonville has never wanted to be any of those.
The people here are comfortable with who they are and where they’re going, and maybe that’s the thing that bothers so many people. It’s not the greatest place for clubs, restaurants, nightlife and shopping. But as far as lifestyle, the people who live here like it.
The “dis” fest will continue, except for Mike Bianchi from the Orlando Sentinel. A former Jacksonville columnist, his take is below:
This is a very bad time to be a sports columnist in Orlando.
I feel like I’m standing outside the big columnist party, nose pressed against the glass, watching the other scribes laughing and joking and having a blast at Jacksonville’s expense.
“How did Jacksonville get the Super Bowl?” lampooned Tony Kornheiser, a columnist for the Washington Post and co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, earlier this week. “What, Tuscaloosa was booked? . . . Who in Jacksonville has a photo of Paul Tagliabue with a goat?”
Kornheiser claims Jacksonville does not have the sophistication to host a Super Bowl, which seems sort of odd coming from a guy who wears a turban on TV and yells a lot.
But, hey, Kornheiser can ridicule Jacksonville with impunity for one very good reason: He doesn’t write in Orlando.
In Orlando, we don’t put down Jacksonville; we look up to Jacksonville. We don’t disparage our northern neighbors; we envy them. We don’t call Jacksonville names; we just call Jacksonville, “Daddy.”
Here’s all you need to know: As Jacksonville gets ready for its Super Bowl next weekend, guess what big sports happening will be in Orlando this weekend? It’s called “The Super Bowl of Motorsports,” but actually it’s just a glorified name for a tractor pull. Jacksonville gets the real Super Bowl; we get the Monster Truck Super Bowl.
Wooo-Weee, Merle, did you see that ol’ boy flip his F-250 with the posi-traction rear end? He’s so dumb he couldn’t find his behind with both hands and a coon dog.
“The Monster Trucks are extremely popular here,” confirmed Allen Johnson, director of the Orlando Centroplex. “We’re expecting about 60,000 at the Citrus Bowl.”
Need we say more?
This is why the rip-Jacksonville reindeer games will proceed without any notable input from this Orlando columnist. Let the writers from New York and Boston take shots at Jacksonville if they must, but not me. I used to live in Jacksonville; I know how hard that city worked and how much money it spent to become a sports town.
Would Orlando be a better spot for the Super Bowl? Of course, it would. We have a zillion hotels, an internationally renowned airport and infinitely more entertainment options. But Jacksonville has something more important: Vision.
Ignore the insults, Jacksonville. Be proud of where you came from and what you’ve become. Stand tall. You are a Super city, no matter what the knuckleheads say or write.
Jacksonville shouldn’t be laughed at by the nation’s media, it should be lauded. Jacksonville is what all sports writers say they love: The ultimate underdog story. It’s the Rocky and Rudy of sports cities. It is the little town that could. And did.
Orlando dreams; Jacksonville does.
Orlando wanted an NFL team at one time; Jacksonville went out and got one.
Orlando wants a new downtown arena; Jacksonville just built one.
Orlando wants a minor-league baseball park downtown; you should see the one Jacksonville just built.
Orlando put in a half-hearted bid to get the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship; Jacksonville put in a serious bid and got the game.
“Jacksonville makes Tampa look like Paris!” Kornheiser wrote.
Unfortunately, as a sports town, Jacksonville makes Orlando look like Peoria.
Heck, we can’t even make fun of Jacksonville’s reputed love affair with Waffle House and Hooters. According to the Waffle House customer service hotline, Orlando and Jacksonville each has seven Waffle Houses. And are you ready for this? According to the Hooters Web site, Jacksonville has just four Hooters locations; Orlando has six.
So now you know why I’m going to leave the roasting of Jacksonville to other columnists. I have more important things to write about. Now if you’ll excuse me.
Hey, Merle, did you see that wheelie?