Trip of a lifetime

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It's time to tell the truth. 

When the idea for the Jaguars Caravan was first broached earlier this year there was plenty of skepticism inside and outside EverBank Field.

The Jaguars players and coaches made 650 community appearances in the Jacksonville area in 2011 but it was time to branch out a little further. 

You could hear the whispers at every turn. 

Who will show up in Savannah to see the Jaguars? Waycross is too small to bring a large crowd.  Gainesville is Gators territory and they don't care for the Jaguars.  Valdosta is too far away and it's Falcons Country.

Well, I'm here to tell you those critics are wrong.  Every single one. 

Not only did fans show up at every stop, they came with energy and emotion and left with memories to last a lifetime.

The Jaguars wrapped up the 2012 Jaguars Caravan last Saturday in Valdosta, the final stop on a seven-city tour.  Each stop included a community visit where the club made a $5,000 donation to a local charity.

To say the Caravan was a success is a huge understatement. It's hard to find the right words to describe the last week on the road with the Jaguars 2012 Caravan.

Each stop included current and former players, ROAR cheerleaders, coaches and, of course, Jaxson de Ville.  The Jaguars had 18 players participate throughout the week including former Jaguar Fred Taylor and current players including Blaine Gabbert, Greg Jones and Tyson Alualu. 

The constant through all the caravans was former Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli who attended each stop.  Even though he hasn't played a down in the NFL since 2001, his autograph was a top priority for many.

Each stop provided memories for both the fans and players. It could be the fan in Gainesville with tears in her eyes when she approached former running back Fred Taylor.

"I never thought this day would come," the lady screamed.

Maybe it was listening to defensive end Jeremy Mincey share his story of redemption and inspiration with children of AMI in Gainesville.  Each of the troubled teens had their eyes glued to the former Florida Gator throughout his talk. 

It could have been the reception Greg Jones received in Savannah, Georgia which sits only 40 miles from his hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina.  Jones' 33 jersey outnumbered any other jersey at the event. 

One of my favorite moments was Rashean Mathis being surprised at the Volusia County stop with the unveiling of a banner commemorating his career at nearby Bethune-Cookman.

Blaine Gabbert and Brad Meester made an impression on the children at The Children's Hospital in Savannah, going room to room signing autographs and taking pictures.

Fans in Volusia County were treated to heavy rain throughout the event but it didn't stop them from waiting in line for over an hour to meet the players and cheerleaders. 

I overheard one fan deep into the autograph line in Valdosta tell his friend, "Are you kidding me? Justin Blackmon is in freaking Valdosta."

Most of all, it was the excitement people in these areas have for the Jaguars. 

The fans weren't the only ones enjoying the experience.  Defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton was playing at tiny Ashland College a year ago, and he couldn't wipe the smile from his face as fans asked for his autograph.  Wide receiver Justin Blackmon let his actions do the talking by appearing at the final two stops in Waycross and Valdosta. 

Players did more than 50 interviews in advance of all seven stops, sharing the message of the organization. 

This week-long Caravan was years overdue because these deserving fans want more.  Early into the club's Savannah stop, a fan yelled, "It's about time you're here."

One of the key phrases in each city was, "Thank you for coming.  Please come back."

Don't worry.  It will be annual stop because of your support. Thank you.

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