LONDON – You couldn't be there and not feel it.
This was what Jaguars Owner Shad Khan envisioned, and if you got a feeling it was only the beginning, that's OK. Because that maybe was the most important takeaway from what we saw on a gray, misty Saturday afternoon in London – that what happened here this week, this weekend, is only the beginning.
This will grow.
This will get better.
This will get even cooler, and make no mistake:
This was cool. Really, really cool.
An estimated 70,000 people crowded in and around the NFL Fan Rally at Trafalgar Square Saturday, and though I kept on having to check, recheck and Google the spelling of Trafalgar, that wasn't the point. The point was the people crowded into the historic area of London for football. Not all were Jaguars fans and maybe not the majority of them were Jaguars fans, but you know what?
A whole lot of them were.
A lot of the ones who crowded the NFL On Location party boat on the River Thames Friday with alumni players Tony Boselli, Fred Taylor and Jeff Lageman were, too. And a lot of the ones who crowded the Commissioner Fan Forum with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Saturday morning were, too.
They were an energetic group, an excited group, a fanatic group, and within that group, there was a group of hardcore fans who are into the Jaguars. Really into the Jaguars.
The coolest, perspective-changing-est part of the trip for this senior writer came early Saturday afternoon. Patrick "P-Kav" Kavanagh, jaguars.com video producer, and I entered the Fan Rally accompanied by P-Kav's brother, Owen "OKav" Kavanagh, who inexplicably and regrettably wore flip flops on a day that eventually required a crosstown walk on London's decidedly un-flip-flop-friendly streets.
Seconds into the gate, we met a Jaguars fan from London. Moments later, another. We then met Keith Kirkland, a five-year-season-ticket-holder and Bold City Brigade Member from Jacksonville.
"I didn't expect this at all," Kirkland said. "All the Jaguars fans out here – it's ridiculous."
We met Loftur Kristjansson, who became a Jaguars fan 10 years ago playing the Madden video game and who made the two-hour trip from Iceland for the weekend. We, too, met Stephen Douglas, who trumped Owen's flip flops by sporting a Justin Blackmon jersey/kilt combination that won't be seen in any of London's shopping districts but that will live on in our memory and on the video accompanying this editorial. (Douglas is from Scotland – hence, the kilt.)
"This is absolutely brilliant – a dream come true, really," Douglas said. "When I found out they (the Jaguars) were coming here, I was over the moon. It's brilliant."
That was the mood of the day – that the rally, the game at Wembley Stadium Sunday and the ones the next three seasons, the growing international feel of it all . . . it really is brilliant. And as Khan sees it, the benefits of the trip will be pretty darned brilliant from a business perspective, too.
That's the overriding reason for all of this, of course:
To expand a fan base, to give the franchise an international feel to walk in lockstep with a growing fan base in Northeast Florida. It's very much about the big picture and economic growth, and that's why when Khan and Goodell dined at the Tower of London Friday night, they weren't alone. They dined with Mayor Alvin Brown and business and civic leaders alongside London and business leaders.
"When it all comes down to it, it's about economic development," Khan told jaguars.com Friday night at the Tower of London. "You have to create jobs and you have to create wealth. If that happens, we're all going to do well in Jacksonville.
"I think we've had a great trip and we will be counting the successes from this trip for years to come."
Khan spoke at the rally Saturday, too. He wasn't alone there, either. General Manager David Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley were there, but most notably, the entire Jaguars team was there. That's the first time an entire team had attended the rally held before each NFL game in London. As they entered, they marched through the crowd with periphery and staff alongside, Jaguars and UK flags flying side-by-side, a decidedly international and Prowl-like scene. All that was missing was a tolling bell.
And somewhere on this day, you realized this was it, this was the vision – the beginning of it, anyway. You had a sketchy, theoretical idea of what this day and the concept of expanding a fan base would like for the last year, since Khan and Goodell announced the London series. The Jaguars' staff worked tirelessly since then to make the weekend a reality, and Saturday's fan rally felt like the personification of that work and vision come to life.
This is only the beginning, but when it grows from this, it will be impressive.
Is there still growing to do? Sure. There's history to be learned by some UK fans, too, a detail brought vividly to light when NFL "legend" Jeff Lageman was introduced at the rally. But that stuff can be taught. What can't be taught, and what maybe can only be felt is the energy and passion of this event. Fans from Jacksonville and fans from England and the rest of Europe gathered together, cheering the Jaguars, feeling good and feeling excited about the Jaguars, excited about the future, standing – "ahem" – united . . .
You couldn't be there and not feel it.