A lot can happen in 25 years. Stadium names and uniforms change. Entire rosters start and end careers and new generations of fans pick up the Duval mantle. But the people who keep the gears turning behind the scenes can often get lost in the shuffle of quarter-century celebrations and on-field memories. So, we’re taking a closer look at the unsung heroes who help make every game day in Jacksonville unforgettable.

Unsurprisingly, everyone we interviewed had too many memories to hone in on just one; especially given the variance of tenures. But whether it’s a 59-yard game-winning field goal or a 50-yard Hail Mary in 2010, those first few tastes of the playoffs in ’96 and ’99, or reminiscing on some of Brian Sexton’s old radio calls, the main sentiment is similar to that of any fan’s. But the work of the thousands of Jaguars employees past and present have immeasurably contributed to so much of the growth of a franchise that’s no longer just the new kid on the block.

Sarah Mathis–Director of Fan Experience

Entering 11th Season

If you’re heading to an NFL game, odds are you’re looking to have a good time. But with over 60,000 fans entering TIAA Bank Field on any given home game, the capacity for mayhem can arise pretty quickly.

 Luckily, Sarah Mathis has helped ensure the safety and entertainment of the Jaguars fan experience for the last decade. The role entails educating fans and employees about policies and practices to promote a safe, enjoyable environment.

 And for Mathis, game days are often a balance of organized chaos. It’s making sure greeters, ushers, and ticket takers have the tools and training they need to guide guests with a smile and the right information.

“There are so many random things that we’re involved with, and there are so many elements to the guest experience and making sure that people have a good time when they come here,” she says.

But ultimately, as the title suggests, it’s about creating as smooth of an experience as possible: from the time you enter the gates and find your seat at kickoff, to the final whistle and shuffle home after a big Jags win.

“You’re coming here for entertainment, and to have fun and to make memories,” Mathis says. “And that’s why we do what we do: it’s to make memories for people.”

If you’re heading to an NFL game, odds are you’re looking to have a good time. But with over 60,000 fans entering TIAA Bank Field on any given home game, the capacity for mayhem can arise pretty quickly.

Luckily, Sarah Mathis has helped ensure the safety and entertainment of the Jaguars fan experience for the last decade. The role entails educating fans and employees about policies and practices to promote a safe, enjoyable environment.

And for Mathis, game days are often a balance of organized chaos. It’s making sure greeters, ushers, and ticket takers have the tools and training they need to guide guests with a smile and the right information.

“There are so many random things that we’re involved with, and there are so many elements to the guest experience and making sure that people have a good time when they come here,” she says.

But ultimately, as the title suggests, it’s about creating as smooth of an experience as possible: from the time you enter the gates and find your seat at kickoff, to the final whistle and shuffle home after a big Jags win.

“You’re coming here for entertainment, and to have fun and to make memories,” Mathis says. “And that’s why we do what we do: it’s to make memories for people.”

Nick Fedewa–Assistant Sports Field Manager

Entering 19th Season

For Nick Fedewa, the last twenty years or more have mostly revolved around grass. Starting with the perennial ryegrass and bluegrass of his native Michigan to the NorthBridge Bermudagrass that covers TIAA Bank Field today. Fedewa found a passion for not only maintaining the plant’s appearance amid the daily grinding of spikes, but creating a safe surface for athletes to compete on. 

And as the Assistant Sports Field Manager at SMG Jacksonville, Fedewa and the rest of his team work tirelessly to maintain the length (5/8 of an inch if you were wondering) and general condition of the stadium and practice fields while painstakingly painting the lines and logos week to week. 

Rigorous moisture tests ensure the field never gets too hard and remains compliant with the strict, league-wide mandates to protect against potential injuries from hitting the ground. 

“It’s the fact that every single thing that has to happen during a football game is played on that field,” says Fedewa. “Every event, every halftime show, every pre-game show, is on the field. We have to take that into consideration for making it safe.” 

And it’s a job that requires constant attention and awareness. Fedewa jokes that he and his crew work 36 hours, then take a three-and-a-half-hour break for game time, only to hit the field again immediately after to sweep and roll the field to fix any divots or damage. 

But the fact that it never ends should keep Fedewa rolling for the next 20 seasons.

“You go up and get the look from the 400-level and you’re like ‘we’ve done it again!’”

Jenn Toy–Director of Events and Entertainment

Entering 7th Season

As fans, we often take for granted the grand spectacle of an NFL game. The pyrotechnic-infused player introductions. A “home of the brave” National Anthem finish timed perfectly with a spectacular flyover. The halftime concerts and powerful military recognitions. 

And if you’ve enjoyed the Fan Entertainment Zone, open practices during training camp, annual Draft parties at Daily’s, or the dozens of other Jaguars-related events over the last six years, you have Jenn Toy to thank.

On any given Sunday, Toy will rack up over 40,000 steps covering every inch of the stadium. Starting at 6 a.m. for a 1 p.m. kickoff, she and her team are responsible for, well, pretty much everything that happens during a Jags game on the entertainment side.

It’s a job that requires the precision and timing to manage large groups of volunteers to set up sponsor booths outside the stadium before running through National Anthem rehearsals and timing that flyover just right. It’s making sure the right safety precautions are in place so that every touchdown and “Duuuuval!” chant is complete with a fireworks display. 

More than anything, it’s the opportunity to work for a franchise in a city that supports the military so passionately. And for Toy, the chance to honor an act of valor recipient, veteran-owned business or a soldier who has just returned home from deployment, is a weekly highlight.

“We do the best we can to tell those stories in the 60 seconds we have on-field for those opportunities,” she says. “It’s just really amazing to learn more about these people and have that direct point of contact with them and it’s something I’ve really cherished.”

 

Tim Bishko–Director of Ticket Operations

Entering 25th Season

In September of 1994, the original animated Lion King was still in theaters, Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” was in the middle of an “Old Town Road”-esque 14-week run at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, Major League Baseball cancelled the World Series, and Tim Bishko took a part-time role in the Jaguars ticket office for the franchise’s inaugural season.

25 years later, one of those things hasn’t changed. You can still find Bishko in the ticket office on Jacksonville gamedays, but as the Director of Ticket Operations, his role in the organization has changed significantly. 

The days of printing tickets in bulk, storing them in a cardboard box, and mailing them to fans or dealing with box office headaches are mostly gone. Now the challenges are a bit more modern: implementing a completely mobile ticketing software, the technical maintenance of accurate data transfers, and keeping the flow of attendees at a smooth pace.

Bishko’s father worked as the equipment manager at the University of Massachusetts for 52 years, an experience that influenced his own pursuit to work in sports. And as someone who started working for the Jaguars on the literal ground floor, Bishko has relished in watching the culture around the franchise grow alongside the city it calls home. 

But mostly he’s appreciative of all of the relationships he’s formed with co-workers, old and new. Along with Bishko, there are only six other employees who have been here since the beginning. 

“Twenty five years; it doesn’t seem like that. But when you sit down and talk or think about it, it’s been a great 25 years,” he says. “Hopefully I get the opportunity to match my dad’s 52 years with a company, and I’ll try to do that.”

This feature originally appeared in Void Magazine, Vol 10 Iss 5, The Jags Issue.