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Fans bring back memories of ‘95 in Jacksonville

Imagine if the Jaguars had gone into the newly crowned EverBank Field for their home opener and lost. Imagine if Jacksonville’s golden child, Tim Tebow, had come in for the Denver Broncos and thrown the ball around the field. Well, you’re going to have to imagine both of those things because Tebow was a non-factor while the Jaguars won what was arguably the most important season opener in franchise history.

However, this game was not just about getting the first win of the season for the Jaguars. Over 60,000 screaming Jaguars fans made it feel like opening day in 1995, the team’s inaugural season. This city has rallied around this team, and in the words of jaguars.com senior editor Vic Ketchman, has “fallen back in love with the Jaguars.”

The stadium was packed. On a day that was deemed All Teal Sunday, the fans came out decked head to foot in their teal Jaguars gear and blew the metaphorical roof off of EverBank Field.

Where were the Tebow fans that were predicted to fill the stadium in with his new orange and blue Broncos jersey? Admittedly, there was some orange and blue sprinkled throughout the teal blanket that covered the seats. However, I think Jaguars fans showed where their allegiance stood by keeping the Tebow support to a minimum. It was something I had worried about before the game, but I should have given the people of Jacksonville a little more credit. I couldn’t have been more proud.

The fans were there in full force, and nothing could keep them from cheering on their Jaguars, not even Mother Nature. Fans witnessed a roller coaster of weather on Sept. 12. The game was dangerously hot. A 93 degree heat was literally cooking fans in their seats. The heat index was 104. It was officially the hottest game in Jaguars history. Fans were dropping like flies due to the heat. There were not enough ambulances to go around. It was bad.

However, as the third quarter came to an end, dark clouds started to roll through. Torrential rain quickly followed along with wind, thunder and lightning. When a 33 minute lightning delay sent players and coaches back into the locker rooms at the end of the third quarter, one would think the nationally proclaimed “fair weather” Jaguars fans would head for the parking lot.

Quite the opposite happened. When fans were asked to get cover and leave their seats, everyone who did not sit in a club seat stayed and embraced the rain. There was no way those fans were leaving. They wanted to be there. It appeared no one had left once the delay was over, and the teams took the field. When the Jaguars needed their fans late in the fourth when Denver was driving to tie the game, the fans were the loudest they had been the entire game as Jaguars’ linebacker Daryl Smith intercepted Denver’s quarterback Kyle Orton to secure the victory. Something has changed.

A season ago the Jaguars had seven out of eight home games blacked out and multiple games with a horrible attendance of a little over 40,000. On Sunday Sept. 12, the building was full. I guess the work of Touchdown Jacksonville, My Team Teal and the city of Jacksonville has really paid off. It was nice to have to wait in line for a change. I’m not saying the ticket sales problem is permanently fixed, but it is headed in the right direction.

Think about last year’s home opener. The Jaguars ran out of the tunnel to a half-full Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, and the Arizona Cardinals rocked them. One year later, they came out of the tunnel to a wave of teal that filled the stadium and cheers so loud I could barely hear myself think.

What is so different about the past? The Jaguars only won seven games last season. That isn’t something that usually sparks a city’s interest for a team. The answer is General Manager Gene Smith. He is in the process of building a team of which this city can be proud. Jacksonville saw what Smith’s first draft class produced a year ago, and I think yesterday showed they have bought in.

People laughed when Smith took defensive tackle Tyson Alualu with the 10th pick in April’s NFL Draft. Smith was looking to improve a defensive line that ranked last in pressuring the quarterback. On Sunday, Alualu recorded a sack in his first pro game. National media questioned why Smith would bring in an injured Aaron Kampman at defensive end. Kampman was the undisputed leader of the Jaguars defense, recording 1.5 sacks and setting the tone defensively.

The fans have bought in. This city has taken so many low blows by the national media about ticket sales and fans not supporting the team. I think the city finally got sick of it, and that game was it standing up for itself. It was only week one, but this city appears to have found a new interest in their Jaguars. Good job, Jacksonville. Don’t hold your breath, Los Angeles.

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