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Jacksonville's loss of innocence


Late this afternoon, the Jaguars are expected to announce that this Sunday's game against visiting Cleveland will become the first TV blackout of a regular-season home game in Jaguars history.

Call it a loss of innocence. Today, at 4:15 p.m., 72 hours prior to Sunday's kickoff at Alltel Stadium, the NFL experience in Jacksonville will suffer the first bruise to its ego.

"Historically, it's more of a college town. It feels like every year it's more of a concern. The concern is, where are we going to be in five years?" quarterback Mark Brunell said.

Week three of the season has traditionally been a trouble spot for the Jaguars. Last year, the Jaguars opened their home season in week three, and a tropical storm forecast held attendance to 45,653. In 1999, the Jaguars hosted the Tennessee Titans in week three, and that game was saved from becoming the first home blackout in Jaguars history by an 11th-hour corporate buy-out of tickets, after the NFL agreed to extend the blackout deadline 24 hours. Attendance at that Titans game was a mere 61,502.

"There's no question that we want our fans here. The word is disappointment. Do I blame the fans? I can't blame the fans for not paying the money," Brunell added.

Most players echo Brunell's sentiments. They are understanding of the fans' reluctance to pay NFL prices, but the players remain disappointed they won't be playing in front of a full house Sunday.

"They like football as well as anywhere else," guard Zach Wiegert said of Jacksonville. "We're competing with two good colleges. I just hope that if we keep winning, the fans will come to support us."

As of 11:30 a.m. today, the Jaguars were 6,098 ticket sales shy of the blackout number, which is about 70,000. Alltel Stadium's seating capacity is 73,000, which means more than 9,000 tickets remain unsold.

In past years, the Jaguars petitioned the league office for a 24-hour extension of the blackout deadline, then actively recruited corporations to purchase the remaining tickets, so that the game could be televised in Jacksonville. Today, the Jaguars were doing neither. It would seem the franchise has become resigned to its fate.

"I think it's a good football town," said veteran middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who had played previously in Tampa Bay and in Pittsburgh. "Even when we won and turned it around (in Tampa Bay), we still had some games that weren't sold out," he added.

The Jaguars' next home game isn't until Thursday, Oct. 18, against Buffalo. The television status of that game is in doubt, as it is for all of the Jaguars' remaining home games, with the exception of the Monday, Dec. 3, game against Green Bay. "Packers Backers" have guaranteed a sellout of that game.

"We want the stands full. We want to know everyone feels as we do, that we're 2-0 and back in the division (title race) again," coach Tom Coughlin said.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.

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