In November 2013, the Esquire politics writer, part time Grantland contributor, and consistently least-funniest panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” Charles P. Pierce visited EverBank Field. That year, if you’ll recall, was not one of the Jags’ finest seasons. Pierce was in Jacksonville to watch the Arizona Cardinals’ then-rookie phenom defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. But being the observant, opportunistic smart ass he is, Pierce couldn’t help but take a jab at the other team.
“So this is how you watch one free safety in one particularly dead-assed football game against one particularly dead-assed football team in one particularly dead-assed football town … ” he began. Pierce would eventually focus the piece on Mathieu’s instinctive play, but not before directing the following barrage of (cheap) shots at the city of Jacksonville:
“ … can we just, for a moment, take a bit of a side trip, since that’s clearly what the NFL did here, and wonder why in the name of the Decatur Staleys there’s an A-level professional sports team in Jacksonville in the first place? Was Peoria booked? Was there no room for a franchise in Saginaw? Green Bay is cute because it’s rooted in the mythology of the league. Foxborough’s an accident. But finding an NFL team in Jacksonville — much less finding the Super Bowl there, as it was in 2005 — is like putting an entertainment complex in, I don’t know, Branson freaking Missouri. Wait, that’s it. Jacksonville is the Branson of professional sports.”
Ouch. Damn, Charles.
Though it was almost two years ago, I still think about that article often, not only because I respect Pierce so deeply as a writer. I also like to imagine seeing this city through the eyes of an outsider; a sports and politics writer of note who has worked in big markets. I have no idea how much time Pierce spent here in preparing that article, but it’s clear he left unimpressed.
With another football season upon us, and a team that looks positioned to be slightly less “dead-assed,” I’m wondering anew what a Charles Pierce would see if he came to a game. The city, after all, has invested a great deal in the team over its nearly two decades of existence. And a nice chunk of that occurred after Pierce’s visit.
A stadium with giant video boards and swimming pools with questionable PH balances: This is Jax’s city-sanctioned identity. Whether we like it or not, the perception of Jacksonville to the outside world will be heavily dependent on Blake Bortles’ ball-chucking competency, whether a group of U-25 pass-catchers (I believe they’re called receivers in football-speak) can catch those balls, and whether a dude named Gus can inspire a group of 11 men to keep another group of 11 men from passing and catching their way across a particular painted line. If they stink again, well, the narrative remains: Dead-assed team in a dead-assed town.
We’ll see how that works out (I’m optimistic), but it’s good to see the city finally hedging its bets. Investments in Downtown under the Brown Administration put the city’s urban core on a trajectory toward relevance. The first months of the Curry Administration have tested the resolve to keep moving forward and the recent agreement regarding funding for Hemming Park proves at least tacit support from the new council.
This is a good thing. Because the fact is, Jacksonville cannot be a modern city without a thriving urban core. A football team is fun eight days a year (seven in our case), but it has failed to put the city on the map.
You may have heard — Folio Weekly is moving Downtown. The move makes sense on many levels for us. Look around the country at some of the cities that are thriving today: New Orleans, Austin, Nashville, Seattle, Portland, even Raleigh. That these cities have invested heavily in urban renewal is worth noting. Couple that with the fact that all these cities have strong independent alternative news weeklies, and you can start to see the picture. There may not be enough evidence to argue correlation, but you could make the case that having an independent voice has something to contribute to how ideas are disseminated, how people connect, and how they engage new things in a city undergoing a revival of sorts.
Ideally, a move Downtown better equips Folio Weekly to do all of these things. We’re invested. If you haven’t spent anytime in Downtown Jacksonville in a while, I encourage you to do so. Bring the family to Hemming Park. Have a meal at one of several restaurants opened in the last few years. Check out a First Wednesday Art Walk. Go see a show at The Elbow. And, if you happen to be Downtown on a Sunday, we have a football team that may be worth checking out this year.