Ever Bank Field in Jacksonville
BST&N Patriots writer Josh Books and I have been best friends since the third grade. When our other best childhood friend Ethan moved to Jacksonville for work in August, he immediately asked us to come down and visit him. It was obvious we would visit, but the question was when? After peaking the New England Patriots 2012 schedule, the date was obvious – we’d head down for the December 23 game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.
We arrived on Friday and spent the night catching up – Ethan, Josh and Carl style. On Saturday we did some sightseeing in St. Augustine, 30 minutes away, at an old 1600′s Spanish fort called Castillo de San Marcos. Now a national monument, the fort was in great condition. They even had a reenactment of the cannon firing every hour. Walking around the fort and town, we began to see Patriots fans; we quickly realized we were not alone down south.
Friend of BST&N Mike Reiss from ESPN Boston does a “Tweet Up” for Patriots road games. This Tweet Up is more of a meet up for the Patriots fans attending the road game. Earlier in the week I emailed Mike to see if an event was going on, and sure enough there was. A group of 30 fans met up at Hurricane Bar & Grill in Jacksonville for two hours on Saturday afternoon, and it was truly a magical time. Mike captured the room of Patriots fans answering question after question. The three of us stayed for a half hour after the group left and I introduced Mike to my friends. The rest of the weekend they could not stop talking about what a great guy he was. We were very happy to have this “pregame get together.”
Josh, Ethan, Mike Reiss, and I
After another long night Saturday we rallied for another pregame of sorts on Sunday. This time of the tailgate variety. Ethan did not have a grill, so we had to collectively improvise and we certainly did. Our tailgate meal included shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, bananas, Krispy Kreme donuts, sunflower seeds, aquapods, some adult beverages, and a football. We were the first ones in the parking lot at 9:45 AM and had a great street view. As the confines began to fill up we again realized we were NOT the only Patriots fans. Roves of New Englanders walked by on the street and a “Go Patriots!” chant became common. During our pregame we were not only friendly with our follow Patriots brethren, but we came to meet some very welcoming Jaguars fans – all of whom were anticipating a beat-down (of course).
Before we knew it, it was game-time and we walked over to the Ever Bank Field – home of the Patriots Super Bowl XXXIX victory over the Eagles. As far as the game, well we were surprisingly, like those of you back home, on the edge of our seats. All too often we expect to roll over teams, but a combination of factors saw this game go down to the wire. In fact, when things got very tight on that last Jaguars drive, “DE-FENSE” chants broke out across the crowd as Patriots fans hoped to stop the Jacksonville offense.
Our pseudo tailgate
The stadium was “OK” by our accounts. It certainly did not stand as tall as Gillette as the highest sections were not “as high” because the levels were not truly stacked but rather just kept working their way up, almost like a bowl shape. The video boards were pretty weak as they were far from HD and were an odd rectangular dimension. The concourses were also very narrow which made for a slow exit post game.
Highlights included an up-to-date fantasy football stat scoreboard, decent views from all around, and some amazing marketing acts during timeouts and at halftime. The team mascot Jaxon De Ville began the game bungee jumping from well above mid-field and during timeouts he rode a Segway around the field. At halftime three Army Rangers jumped from a plane and each landed exactly at midfield. Other promotions included a chance to win $2,000 to a local grocery store if the individual could hit a target from five, ten, and fifteen yards away in a 30 second time-frame (the individual did not). There was also a Florida lottery promotion where a guy got an early Christmas present of $10,000. We were awed by all of this though, because for the last 11 years we have not been subjected to these marketing promotions at Gillette - mostly because the team sells itself. It was, however, entertaining to see such promotions.
We flew out Monday which capped off a wonderful weekend. It was a scary game, but a great experience. The weather, stadium, and fans certainly beat what Josh and I experienced in Buffalo two seasons ago. We do not know where our next BST&N road trip will take us, but safe to say we’d be very satisfied if we had a reason to think about going to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII in February for a Patriots appearance.