Can’t begin to tell you how much I was looking forward to my little trip down to Florida last week. I figured the heat and humidity would be gone since it was almost winter and the sun would be out the whole time because it’s the Sunshine State for Pete’s sake. My flight down was “eventful” in a good way. Thursday Night Football host James Brown was riding first class and the random guy that sat next to me asked if I was an NFL cheerleader when I told him I was going down for the game. I laughed and said if they had pity cheerleaders that were in the corner dancing off beat, low kicking, and liberally used spirit fingers, then yes I could be a cheerleader. My moves are more on point with Drew Stanton than NFL cheerleaders or really anyone who is paid (however little) to dance. After that, he kept to himself and our brief interaction made me wonder if men are only impressed by women gyrating in tiny outfits. Gosh, I hope not.
While I exited the plane I passed by James Brown and stopped to thank him for his comments following Ray Rice’s incident last season. If you missed them, please watch the video I attached- he was spot on. As a society, we need to change the way we view women. I was raised to see myself as a man’s equal and have never believed otherwise, but I can tell you from experience a lot of men don’t see women in that light. Being in the workforce, especially the sports field has opened my eyes to sexism in a major way. Some guys think just because they’ve never hit a woman- they’re heroes, but the verbal abuse and putting down of a woman, in my opinion, is far more detrimental. I’ll get off my soap box now, but it’s something I feel pretty passionately about, as I am a lady looking for equality. I only want equal rights, not more, not less. The struggle is real my friends.
Tessa picked me up from the airport and as we drove to her house in Neptune Beach I could see the ginormous scoreboard from miles away. It’s the largest in the world and I could see them playing around on it crystal clear. Share some of that HD wealth with San Diego or St. Louis, Jags! I have a feeling Tessa and I were friends in our past lives or something because we chatted away like two peas in a pod all Wednesday night and Thursday leading up to the game. We covered it all- sports, boys, Jesus, food, books, television, clothes… you get the point right? One of her brothers used to work for the Jaguars and hooked us up with tickets for the game and her roommate had a parking pass- very clutch. We rounded ourselves up and headed to tailgate across from the stadium around five. Remember how I thought Florida would be sunny and comfortable? It was pouring and humid. Gross. Luckily, our lot was under the freeway and we were sheltered from the elements as they played beer pong and I drank my La Croix.
Up in the press box, I checked in with Katie and went down to the lower level to grab a bite to eat. The Jaguars have a chocolate fountain in their press box. That’s it; they are the greatest team in the NFL. I was perhaps too excited about this, but I love chocolate and all the things they had to dip in it- pretzels, chips, marshmallows, peanut butter, more chocolate. The media in Jacksonville is the luckiest media and I hope they know it! Since I was in the Bold City and all, I boldly asked to sit at a table with one other gentleman wearing a maroon NFL shirt. Oddly I hate eating alone in group settings, it embarrasses me. He obliged and we were quickly joined by three other gentlemen also sporting maroon shirts. I immediately thought of Mean Girls and told them “uh guys on Thursdays we wear teal.” Then in case, they were not for jokes I followed up with “just kidding, I didn’t get the maroon shirt memo.” You never know up there in the press box. Thank goodness they were four of the nicest men I’ve met on the road this season. All but one were former college football officials (one was still active)- I had stumbled across the guys running the game clock. I was impressed. They were so kind and charming, I was genuinely sad when they had to leave to set up for the game. Why do all the cool people have to work?! I’m kidding… but I told them I’d be keeping a close eye on the clock and would grade them out at the end- A+ work my friends!
After my chocolate indulgence, I headed down to the stands to watch warm-ups and explore the stadium a bit. The end zones have outside concourses and as I walked down the ramps I looked out over the fan fest that was happening in the south end zone area. There was live music, food trucks, and football skills games for fans to play. On the other side of the ramp was a gated off walkway for the team to pass by. They call it “The Prowl” and fans were already lining up for spots along the gates to greet players as they headed to and from the field. I thought it was really neat that the team had that open to all ticket holders instead of making it exclusive. Entering the main concourse in the south end zone I passed through a large bar area that was open to all fans with standing room along the lower level of seating. The stadium has two levels, but the lower one is split up with a walkway that goes all the way around but is closed off along the middle of either sideline. You have to reenter the concourse to get around these sections. The sideline concourses are typical to older stadiums- enclosed, cramped, and dingy looking. At least here they open up near the end zones giving more room to walk around and higher ceilings so you don’t feel as claustrophobic.
Near game time I made my way over to my seat, which happened to be on the opposite side of where I was. The walkway was crowded with fans doing the same and it was slow goings. I was near my section as “The Prowl” began and not wanting to miss this, I stepped up behind the disabled seating area to watch. “The Prowl” is a great concept and I liked it, but it was way too long. Think how long Virginia Tech’s Enter Sandman entrance is and then imagine it twice as long and you get “The Prowl.” Maybe my intense anticipation for the team to run out made me over exaggerate, but when they did come out I was thinking FINALLY! I was very pumped up and patience has never been one of my virtues. The team was sporting “gold rush” uniforms and the color was less gold rush and more baby poop. I wonder what the players thought when they got to their lockers and saw those laying out for them. You’d like to say they probably didn’t care, but I bet there were a few that were sad faced when putting those on. Titan’s all powder blue unis didn’t look so hot either. I’m not into the all one color thing- you have to break up the jerseys and pants! Facts.
Tessa and I met back up at our seats and got in the game. I asked her what Duval was since people would not stop chanting it. She told me it’s the county Jacksonville is in and since it’s fun to say, people yell it all the time. I can verify this and admit writing this blog post a week later, that I have been chanting Duuuu-vaaaallll in my head fairly frequently. Try it out, it’s catchy. The game was underway and it needs to be said that those video boards are unbelievable and the people running the show do a fantastic job with video production and in-game entertainment. The long TV timeouts were hardly noticeable because I was constantly entertained whether on the screen or a promotion on the field. There was also a spirit squad that was hella active. If you didn’t leave with a shirt or beads, you were sitting on your hands here.
I saw online people were making fun of this match-up being the Thursday Night Game, but it was actually entertaining. Though Jacksonville hasn’t been great in recent years (maybe ever, I never followed them- sorry.), things are looking bright with Blake Bortles as QB. We watched the game from our seats the first half but decided to move during half time. The fans surrounding us were very let’s just say-interesting. Florida has a reputation and these people were doing nothing to dispel any stereotypes I might hold. You do you guys, I’m gonna move. No, they weren’t that bad, I just wanted to walk around and see those cabanas I’ve heard so much about. We did make a quick stop at the upper deck of the south end zone which had standing room and tables. When we were sitting in our 200 level seats I had felt far from the field and from the end zone angle you could see that the stands were very sloped outward and that this stadium was rather large. There were upper deck sections tarped off with banners and even with that, there weren’t many fans up there.
Continuing on we crossed a walkway that had an obstructed view of the field similar to Paul Brown Stadium and passed through the upper concourse which was a bit of a maze. You have to go up and down and up and over to get to “Fandualville” which is where the cabanas and famous pools are. There are two tiny pools on either side of the end zone that are private suites, but you can stand anywhere along the rails in the middle of them. I wanted a closer look at them and walked over to the gated area and who did I see splashing around?! Marlin’s Man! The guy next to me was just as surprised and yelled out to get him to come over. He did and was actually a really nice dude. After I got a picture, I walked back over to where Tessa was standing and watched the rest of the third quarter. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, they had a military personnel ring a giant bell that I later found on the opposite side of the stadium. I liked that little touch, it was something different. My phone was dying and I needed to meet Katie in the fourth quarter to sign my witness log, so Tessa went to find her friends and I went back up to the press box.
Someone had commandeered my assigned seat so I found an empty near the corner and watched the game as my phone charged. The Jaguars had a late long run to set up a touchdown and some college kids next to me cheered way too loud and were immediately kicked out. I had stood up to see the end of the run (the lower corner of the field was cut off from where I was sitting) and I was terrified that I would be grouped in with them as a cheering press box person. To be fair to those kids, this was one of the noisier press boxes I’ve sat in, but they were over the top. You live and learn, and I bet they won’t make that mistake again. After all that I was ready to meet back up with Tessa and her friends. Katie signed off on me and I went back to the stands. The Titans were leading most of the game, but the Jags made a late push to win and their fans were jubilant in victory! As we exited the stadium via the ramps, there were chants of Duval and even playoffs. Hey, I think that after every Browns win too!
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Special thank you to Dan and Emily for their time and assistance during my visit!