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Continental Drifting

Notes on the Jaguars in London

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As I sit here, typing this, our beloved Jacksonville Jaguars have just plucked defeat from the jaws of victory, coming back from a 12-point deficit against the Indianapolis Colts only to lose their chance for a game-tying field goal on a fumble in the last two minutes of the game. It’s been that kind of season for the team, which began the season in perhaps its best spirits in 20 years. Last year’s squad came within one bad call of a spot in Super Bowl LII, so players and fans alike were entirely justified in expecting another deep playoff run and semi-permanent position among the elite teams in the AFC South.

As it turns out, those high hopes were a case study in what former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan once called “irrational exuberance” during a 1996 speech. And if you’re old enough to recall what happened to the global economy within just a year of those remarks, you can appreciate just how apt a metaphor it really is. Much like that situation, the Jaguars were cruising and confident ... and then they did their best Thelma & Louise impression by promptly going off a cliff.

What happened? It’s hard to say; certainly a combination of youth and injuries on the field, coupled with immaturity and a lack of discipline off the field. Add to that a bunch of division rivals who have over-performed thus far and the result is a perfect storm for malcontents in the River City, the type of buzz-killing party-poopers whose rank skepticism of last season now feels entirely justified.

The Nov. 11 Colts game marked the Jags’ return from the bye week that followed the 24-18 whoopin’ they endured at the grubby hands of the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 28. The Eagles game was the sixth played at Wembley Stadium by the Jaguars, and they have compiled a 3-3 record to this point. (Last year’s 44-7 obliteration of a decent Baltimore team was, for many fans, the first indicator that 2017 was going to be something special. What a difference a year makes!)

The NFL began its International Series during the 2007 season, but it would be six years before the league felt comfortable exposing our Jaguars to a global audience. We promptly validated its fear by getting thrashed by the San Francisco 49ers, 42-10. And 2013 was the only year the NFL offered London fans two games at Wembley; there were three in 2014, 2015 and 2016, four in 2017 and three again this year. The league also added a game at Estadio Azteca starting in 2016, to spotlight a massive Mexico City market that NFL execs are also keen to access.

The Jaguars’ regular presence at Wembley has led to “cat-scratch” feverish speculation that they are destined for a move to London, speculation that only intensified after Shad Khan took over the team in late 2011. Given the way the team has played in these matchups, we may flatter ourselves to assume some great desire on London’s part. After all, they’re in no hurry, so they can afford to wait until the next (seemingly inevitable) league expansion (or for a more high-profile team to transfer). It stands to reason that if Khan were seriously entertaining the idea of a move, he would not have made such massive investments in Northeast Florida, a place where he is an undisputed king—as opposed to London, where he would be just one of several billionaires.

While the Jags’ play in London has been historically inconsistent, one thing that has remained consistent throughout is the massive fan support. Hundreds, if not thousands, of locals make that trans-Atlantic flight every year, and their general enthusiasm seems mostly unaffected by the final score. I made a quick Facebook post soliciting contact from anyone who had attended the Oct. 28 game, and was immediately bombarded with dozens of posts from friends who tagged their friends. Of those with whom I was able to speak, every single one affirmed that, despite the loss, they have every intention of returning next year. Heck, it’s quite likely that, God forbid, if the Jaguars were to move to London, we might see at least a handful of fans move there, too. That’s how loyal our fanbase is.

This year’s matchup was extra fun because it allowed Jacksonville peeps to mingle with Eagles fans, and everyone knows that Philly is one of the all-time outstanding sports cities in the entire world. Indeed, between Philly and Pittsburgh, probably no state can compare to Pennsylvania in terms of the virulence of their football fans. Not even good ol’ Florida.

Surely the league appreciates our vigor, and that, along with the Khan connection, is a big reason why the Jaguars have been featured in these games disproportionately. Moving forward, Khan is likely to continue to serve as the NFL’s point-man for their dealings with the British, and the Jaguars will be used as an example of why American football can work there. We just have to do a better job of covering our bar tabs!

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