JACKSONVILLE – There’s big, and then there’s really, really big.
In terms of announcements, the five-way forum Wednesday that included not only Jaguars Owner Shad Khan but Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and Jaguars President Mark Lamping was a bit bigger than that.
It was really, really, really big.
Khan along with Brown, Lamping, Gator Bowl President and CEO Rick Catlett and Jacksonville City Council President Bill Bishop on Wednesday afternoon announced a slew of planned improvements to EverBank Field, including – but not even close to limited to – two state-of-the-art video boards that can be described as world-class, over-the-top, unique, Floridian, state-of-the-art . . .
Well, you know, all of the above.
Such was the tone of the press conference at EverBank Field Wednesday. It very much had the feel of – to borrow Catlett’s words – a game-changer.
It was a lot of clout in one place, enough that Lamping began his remarks by saying, “I’m looking around here and this is the best example of ‘Stand United’ I’ve seen in a long time. This is very good.”
And if you’re a Jaguars fan, and if you’re an observer of football, sports and the city of Jacksonville, indeed it was.
Start with the details. The enhancements announced Wednesday are significant. They’re eye-catching. They’re national- and international-level stuff. As Bishop said, the idea was to get the Jaguars, EverBank and the city “on the map,” and if you look at the artist rendition, it’s hard to argue they won’t accomplish that.
The scoreboards will be the largest in the world. They will be bigger and better than the current scoreboards in every imaginable way. Then, there are the North End Zone renovations, which will make that area “a world-class entertainment and viewing area.” Again, pictures speak louder than words, but there are *pools* -- really, really nice pools, we presume – and as Khan said it Wednesday, “It’s Jacksonville, it’s Florida, the water, football, palm trees, maybe an adult beverage or two, so the only thing I’m missing is I’m improperly dressed. I should be in a swimming suit.”
The last statement drew laughter, and that’s the kind of day it was – a day for smiles, and a day for congratulatory, forward-looking statements.
“It shows why Shad Khan sets the standard when it comes to leadership and vision as an NFL owner,” Brown said.
“It’s going to be great for business expansion, it’s going to be great for the franchise and it‘s going to be great for everything,” Bishop said.
Catlett, long a leader in the city’s sports community, said it will put EverBank Field in the conversation to host college football’s national championship game.
“They’re talking about taking the national championship game to 12 sites,” Catlett said. “They’ve selected Dallas. I wonder why they selected Dallas? Maybe that new stadium over there and all of the premium revenue it generates. We may not be able to compete with Dallas and New Orleans and Los Angeles, but we’re going to be able to compete with all of the other cities. I think in the next six-to-ten years you’ll see a national football championship game played here in Jacksonville.”
That’s lofty stuff, and that’s what the day was about. At the same time, there was an underpinning of message sent.
All the London talk of recent weeks? All of the Los Angeles talk before that?
That has been the ongoing theme of national media, not for months, but for years, and it has been an underlying part of the Jaguars’ fans consciousness, too. Will Wednesday silence the speculation entirely? Speculation will be speculation, and speculators will . . . well, speculate, but Khan spoke of the enhancements as a statement to the “NFL, to the nation and to the world that Jacksonville is world class” and talked, too, of the enhancements helping to stabilize and strengthen the Jaguars.
“He (Khan) cares about the city of Jacksonville,” said Catlett, who was integral to the city’s early efforts to bring the NFL to town two decades ago. “I get tickled when people talk about, ‘Well, he’s going to move the franchise because of London.’ He’s not going to move the franchise unless we don’t support him, and then he has no choice.
“I would tell you this: He took the leadership. He didn’t come here and start talking about moving the franchise. He started talking about spending his own money to keep it here.
“That’s the biggest game-changer of them all.”
That’s what Wednesday was about, continuing the energy that has been evident all offseason. First, the hiring of General Manager David Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley. Then, the unveiling of the new logo. Then, the uniforms.
But these improvements? This is a new level, not just for the franchise, but for the league.
“You can’t do anything unless it’s unique and over the top,” Khan said of the enhancements. “That’s what the NFL is.”
The Jaguars will invest $20 million in the enhancements. Add that to $10 million in locker-room and training room renovations, and that’s $30 million from Khan in less than two years. That’s the financial stuff, but that pales in comparison to the intrinsic stuff from Wednesday.
Listening to the words spoken Wednesday, there was an enthusiasm. Not just from Khan, but from the city leaders, from Catlett. That’s in line with the enthusiasm of this offseason. This is Khan’s second offseason as Jaguars owner, but it very much feels like the first year of the rest of the franchise’s life.
Wednesday was part of that. And in terms of the history of the franchise, its future, the relationship between this team and this city, it was very obvious that the people speaking inside EverBank Field Wednesday considered something memorable.
More than that, they considered it something big. Really, really, really big.