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Loss of innocence

Join Senior Editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Jeff from Jacksonville:
I was totally disabled while I was on active duty in the Navy and I am unable to attend Jaguars games; I can only buy the team jerseys and such from the Jaguars store. Would this count as supporting the team? Thank you for your "Ask Vic" section of this web site. This has been my one bright spot of activity during the day.

Vic: Your heart is what counts.

Tim from Jacksonville:
The 2008 draft class was said to be weak at the time. After three years, was that a fair assessment?

Vic: There are hits and misses in every draft class. Matt Ryan and Chris Johnson, for example, are big-time hits from the '08 class. Looking at the first round, however, you can't help but be struck by the misses. Three of the top five picks – Chris Long, Darren McFadden and Glenn Dorsey – have been disappointments, and the sixth pick, Vernon Gholston, has been a huge bust. When you look at the second round, that's where it becomes obvious the '08 draft class was not a deep crop. Chad Henne and Ray Rice were nice picks, but the second round is littered with busts. As much as 70 percent of the second-round picks are busts and the third round is even worse. Yeah, I think I can say without reservation that the scouts had it right when they labeled the '08 draft as being weak. That might have been an understatement.

Kevin from Jacksonville:
I posted a YouTube video of the opening drive of the 1995 home game against the Steelers for a touchdown. A line that Don Criqui said as Norm Johnson kicked the ball off to Jimmy Smith really stood out to me: "Norm Johnson ready to kick it off as he is into the ball and we are underway for a sold-out crowd of 73,000 in one of the great stadiums in football." It makes me both proud and sad. Can we ever get it back, Vic?

Vic: Can Jacksonville get back to the days of a sold-out stadium? Yes. Can it get back to the way it was in 1995? No, because along the way there has been a loss of innocence. On that day in '95, Jacksonville was the great unknown in the league. It was the new hotbed of professional football. It had a new stadium, a new team that was over-achieving and it was a franchise that would lead the league in revenue in '95. Time, however, eroded those perceptions. Tickets sales lagged and, eventually, 10,000 seats had to be covered, and that was the first big perception changer. Fifteen years later, the team is attempting to rebuild its roster and re-energize the fan base. Meanwhile, the national media has begun a Los Angeles watch for all struggling franchises. All of that is undeniable and etched in Jacksonville's history. I call it the loss of innocence and it is permanent. Our efforts now are to overcome and change that perception. The freshness is gone. Now we have adversity to overcome. Should our efforts be successful, they will have been made even more satisfying because of that adversity. In the beginning, it was easy. Now, we're facing a daunting challenge. How we respond we'll define Jacksonville as a football town much more than the novelty of year one ever could.

Grant from Jacksonville:
Do they factor in the average game-day ticket sales for blackouts if we were to miss the meter by, say, 2,000 tickets?

Vic: No, they don't, but nice try.

Steve from Birmingham, AL:
Has the strength of quarterbacks' throwing power changed that dramatically since you have been covering the game? While watching old films, I find myself struck at the zip that Namath, Elway and even Favre could put on the ball. Which quarterbacks throughout your lifetime have impressed you with incredible arm strength, without necessarily being great players?

Vic: Among the great players, Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway and Dan Marino had the best arms I ever saw. Lots of not-great quarterbacks, however, had great arms. Dan Pastorini had a strong arm. Bert Jones had as live an arm as I've ever seen. Steve Grogan could wing it. Daryl Lamonica threw one of the best deep balls in history. What's important to understand about arm strength is that the game back then was very different. You don't see seven-step drops any more. Back then, quarterbacks took deep drops and threw deep passes, therefore, they had to have strong arms. Nowadays, the quarterbacks are dinking and dunking out of three-step drops. The premium in quarterbacking in today's game is between the ears. You can get away with below-average arm strength if you know where to go with the ball and you can get it there on time. Trent Green threw for a lot of yards and touchdowns in today's game, but he didn't have the arm strength to make a roster in the old days.

Holden from Juliaetta, ID:
ESPN says this is a make-or-break year for the Jags. What does that even mean and do you agree?

Vic: My guess is they're referring to the future of the franchise, as it relates to ticket sales and blackouts this season. As long as a franchise is sold out, there is no such thing as a make-or-break year. One season ends and another begins. For the teams with waiting lists, life goes on. Yeah, I think this is a big year for the Jaguars. I've called it a "save the whale" year. As Wayne Weaver has said, you can't put 42,000 fans into your stadium every week and expect to be viable. Frankly, that is a gross understatement. Anything less than sold out introduces long-term problems.

James from St. Petersburg, FL:
When whoever was making the divisions in football, how did Indy get into the AFC South? I mean, Indy isn't even in the South. Wouldn't it be a lot easier to just switch Miami and Indy?

Vic: We've talked about this several times. The AFC East and West are divisions of old AFL teams and they are teams that have a blood oath to stay together. The teams in the AFC North have been bound geographically for so long that there was no breaking them up, either. So what you had was four remaining teams – Jaguars, Colts, Texans and Titans – that were kind of unwanted, which made for an easy decision to put them into the same division. Once upon a time, the NFL used distinctions such as Century Division, Capitol Division and Coastal Division. I'd almost like to see the geographic designations dropped, replaced by the names of NFL legends, such as Lombardi, Mara, Halas, Brown, etc. East, West, North, South mean nothing because geography was not the only factor in realignment. History and tradition were just as important.

Steve from Jacksonville:
I understand why you posted the fact the Jags sold the most season tickets in the first few days following the draft than they ever have, however, I feel you have totally missed on why this happened. In my opinion, the reason for that is squarely on the shoulders of one Mr. Tony Boselli. I really don't think the drafting or not drafting of Mr. Tebow really had that much to do with it.

Vic: I completely agree.

Ethan from Los Angeles, CA:
I agree with what you had said about having played the game. I think the most compelling thing in sports is when a player realizes the guy across from him is stronger, faster, smarter, better but must still compete to win. That's just good human drama.

Vic: I don't like the "he never played the game" stuff. It's awfully smug sounding and it alienates those fans that didn't play the game. Nonetheless, there's something about having played the game that promotes a sensitivity for its real-life dramas, an example of which you have provided. Here's another one you have to experience to understand: hearing your number called in the huddle for the big play of the game. All of a sudden, the bravado is gone. You are confronted by a test of nerves. Your blood runs cold as you take your place in the backfield and hear the middle linebacker call out to his defense, "Watch 22." You're 22 and you are to run the ball right at the man who has just called out your number. It's one of those moments you have to have experienced to understand the true meaning of the game.

Justin from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
You have lived here long enough. Why is this city so dysfunctional?

Vic: It's not dysfunctional. Every city has its challenges. What we're experiencing with the Jaguars, in my opinion, is common to places that have a significant population that has come from other places. Loyalties are tough to break. Jacksonville has a lot of residents that are fans of other teams. That's for starters. On top of that, there is a significant population of college football fans that don't seem to be able to be a fan of both. That's the one that's hurting the most because the franchise was awarded to Jacksonville on the strength of its passion for college football, right? Tennessee, by contrast, has succeeded because its college fans have embraced the Titans with the same fervor they embrace college football. This is going to take some time here. It's already taken 15 years. We have to find a way to keep this going until the fan base is large enough to support a team in Jacksonville without it being a yearly struggle.

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