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View from the O-Zone: Tip of the hat to the Cat

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JACKSONVILLE – What he'll remember isn't the jumps, memorable though they were.

No, when Curtis Dvorak remembers his 19 years in the suit – nearly two decades first spent bringing Jaxson de Ville to life, then turning the Cat into one of professional sports' most high-profile mascots – there's something he will remember far more than the stunts or the antics …

Though those were certainly memorable, too.

The tee shots? The jumps? Even the controversies? All were part of Dvorak's game-day Jaxson de Ville routine, but while that stuff sometimes made national news – often in viral fashion – what Dvorak says he will remember most is much more important. The fans …

Specifically, the Cat's relationship with those fans …

To Dvorak, that was the essence of the whole thing. Always was, and always will be.

"There's nothing that mattered to me more over the years," Dvorak said Monday, a day before he and the team announced he will retire later this month.

What's that you say?

A story on a mascot? Yeah, that's right: This View from the O-Zone is on the Cat, because Dvorak – the guy who created the Cat in the summer of 1996 -- is hanging it up. And as he does, he's leaving a legacy of memories.

This is the mascot that twice jumped off the roof at Wembley Stadium. This is the mascot that zip-lined off enough stuff at EverBank Field that it became routine in the coolest way imaginable. This is the mascot that routinely won closest-to-the-pin contests against professional golfers – and did it in the suit.

He did it in the suit.

"Every game, if I felt I had created a couple of water-cooler moments and they could walk out of the building feeling like they had been entertained … I couldn't have an impact over whether we won or lost the game, but I wanted people leaving feeling they had gotten their money's worth," Dvorak said. "That was my goal, to make them see something that shocked them or that they weren't expecting … then they would tell people that was really cool and then their friends would come."

Not that he was always a tame cat. In the late-1990s, opposing teams complained enough about Dvorak that the NFL prohibited mascots from engaging in "any acts of taunting, opposing players, coaches or game officials." Dvorak's Jaxson dabbled in a bit of all three.

Dvorak credits former Jaguars Owners Wayne and Delores Weaver with not only giving him a chance but second chances" as well.

"He (Weaver) told me, 'Curtis, you do your job on Sundays; I'll take care of the business on Mondays,'" Dvorak said. "The reason was because the fans' reaction to what I was doing was so supportive."

If you're a Jaguars fan you darned well know Jaxson de Ville. And if you've been to more than few Jaguars games you probably said after at least one "How 'bout when Jaxson did …"

One man. 19 seasons as Jaxson de Ville. Countless memories. Thanks, Curtis!

"That probably got me in trouble," Dvorak added, laughing. "I always joke to people, 'It's your fault when I got into trouble,' because their laughter, their cheers, that relationship on home Sundays in that stadium … that's what drove me. We just kind of grew together."

Speaking Monday, Dvorak said while this decision wasn't easy it was the right time. Nineteen years is a long time to jump from tall things and 41 is an advanced age to jump from those things. He said he had seen this day coming for a couple of years. He approached Jaguars President Mark Lamping a month ago about the subject. Lamping said to take time away from it, to make sure. A week later, Dvorak told Lamping he was certain.

He will continue to work in Jacksonville as a freelance entertainer. He has worked for a decade and a half to establish himself in that area, and he said his current opportunities make this timing right. What makes the decision difficult, he said, are the fans. On that front, no time was going to be easy.

"I feel like I've done everything I can do with the character and with the job," Dvorak said. "Physically, yeah, I could still do it, but creatively, I need new challenges. I've got these opportunities I'm interested in, and they're things I think could be a lot of fun."

Dvorak said the thought of retirement firmly took hold in 2013 when former Jaguars running back Fred Taylor asked him how long he wanted to keep doing Jaxson. Dvorak told Taylor he never wanted to "just to be out there," never wanted fans to say, "That's pretty good, but remember what he used to do?"  Taylor remarked players felt the same way approaching retirement.

And so, after 19 years taunting, zip-lining, entertaining and making smiles, Dvorak's last official day with the Jaguars will be June 30. His last game was last December.

Before he goes, here's a tip of the hat to the guy who created the Cat.

He wasn't always tame, but he made a lot of smiles – and a lot of memories, too.

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