Jacksonville shows what it takes to get and keep a team

New GM, new logo and the Jaguars organization is clearly in a rebuilding phase.

The thing is, I’m not talking about 2013, but rather 4 years ago during the dark ages of the 2009 season when all but one game was blacked out due to low ticket sales. Sure, the bathroom and beer lines were short and traffic on the way home after a game was non-existent. But at the end of that dreadful season, many of us were faced with the harsh reality that if we didn’t do something soon, we could very well lose the greatest asset the city of Jacksonville has ever had; our beloved Jaguars.

It was at the end of the 2009 season when the first rally for the grassroots fan movement “My Team Teal” occurred, and the slogan “Revive the Pride” became a necessary plea to the city of Jacksonville. Many fans showed up at the stadium to hear Mr. Weaver, see the Mayor and maybe have a chance at getting an autograph from the first pick in franchise history, Tony Boselli. It was considered a fun social hour at first, until the guests of honor started speaking. It was in that moment that most of us realized the severity of the situation– If Jacksonville doesn’t fight to keep this team here, someone else will try to lure them away.

For those of us who grew up with the Jaguars, the concept of a city without a NFL team was a foreign one to us. If you were born in the 80’s, you were very young when it was announced that Jacksonville would be awarded an expansion team in 1993; so we couldn’t possibly lose the team to another city just 16 years later… Right?

As naive as most of us were to the predicament faced in 2009, we were also naive to the fact that Jacksonville spent decades trying to lure other NFL teams to play in a city where the fans would embrace football.  The flirtation with Jim Irsay’s Baltimore Colts was almost a formidable relationship when a “Jacksonville Colts” logo was placed in the middle of the old Gator Bowl in the ‘70s to welcome the Colts owner in an effort to prove how much we would loooooooove if the team came to Jacksonville. Irsay himself famously landed his private helicopter in the old Gator Bowl so he could witness the kind of fan support the city of Jacksonville promised.

While the Colts eventually picked up and moved to Indianapolis, they weren’t the only team Jacksonville was courting.  We pursued the Houston Oilers, made eyes at the Atlanta Falcons, dabbled with Cardinals and Patriots, and damn near signed the dotted line with the Saints. Obviously none of these deals formalized but these negotiations directly led to the city being viewed as a viable market for a potential expansion team.

But with all the flirting throughout the years, it was in 1979 that Mayor Jake Godbold privately asked his assistant before Irsay’s infamous visit, “What do we do if no one shows up?” Over 50,000 fans packed into the Gator Bowl with an estimated 7,000 stuck in traffic, trying to get to the stadium to prove their love and commitment to football. It became clear that, at least in regards to football, Godbold didn’t need to worry about lack of a passionate fan base in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville, it seems, has always had a knack for responding to challenges. Sure it was easy to cheer when after decades of longing, we were awarded a franchise. It was also easy to cheer when the team was the only organization in NFL history to earn a spot in the playoffs three out of the first four seasons. But the question always lingered, how will the fans respond when times get tough?

When losing records became more frequent than winning, some of the more fickle fans turned away from the team. Attendance in 2009 was at an all time low and “he who shall not be named” was seen as the only savior of our franchise. And when the Jaguars didn’t draft in 2010 the way most assumed we would, the team was all but considered packed up and headed west for LA by the national media.

We didn’t know it then, but the term now known as “Generation Jaguar” was beginning to take on a life of its own. It was almost overnight that Jaguar fans who grew up with the team put their collective foot down and drew a line in the sand. We weren’t going to be the punchline of any media organization. We weren’t going to be told we needed one player to save our team. And we damn sure weren’t going to be told that we no longer deserve a NFL franchise.

Friends persuaded coworkers,family and friends to purchase tickets, and two-man teams set up tables at retail locations all over North Florida, convincing people one-by-one that it was important to support the same team our city leaders worked decades to get.

And it worked. Brilliantly. Since 2009, the Jaguars haven’t had a single game blacked out. Even after the team was sold to a new owner, had four head coaching changes in two seasons and completely gutted the roster, the fans are still here and only growing in numbers.

It was because of movement initiated by My Team Teal that other Jaguar support groups were born. Bold City Brigade, Teal Street Hooligans and most recently, the Jaguars Women’s Club, are all redefining what it means to grow up with the Jaguars. These groups along with their members are single-handedly laying the groundwork for future generations of Jaguars fans.

For the first time in our young Jaguar lives, we’re experiencing a rebirth of the organization with our new owner, new GM, Head Coach along with the most badass uniforms in the league. Hope and faith for the future of the organization is the strongest it’s been in years, even after a disappointing 2-14 season.

Almost 20 years since Jacksonville was finally awarded a NFL franchise, the generation who has grown up with the Jaguars have spent the past 4 years going to war for the team and by all accounts, we seem to have kept the vultures from hovering. In years time, Generation Jaguar will be able to look around and be thankful for what we’ve all had a hand in building. The fans have done their part off the field, it’s now time for the players and staff to give us something to cheer about on the field.