My feelings at the start of NFL Preseason is always a mixture of hope and anxiety and in the past 4 years, since my dad passed away, a little melancholy. The preseason opener between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants felt like something new. It was less anxious and more hope, more calm during the bad times and far more excitement at the good times. There was definitely a feeling of a new beginning in the air.
The night started out special because the NFL has a celebration going on where 90 fans from each team are selected to be on the field for the pre-game of the first preseason game. My wife and I were selected to participate last night. I got an email from the Jaguars ticketing office on Wednesday. I spent several minutes examining this email for signs that it was a hoax or a scam of some kind but couldn’t find any. I then felt some terror of walking out on to the field in front of a crowd at Everbank. But after expressing those thoughts to my wife and getting her reply: “We WILL do this” I RSVP’d. I’m glad I did.
We got to the stadium a little after 6pm and signed in at a little table near the ramp behind Gate 1. They gave us a teal wrist band and told us to meet back there no later than 6:30. When we met back they handed out Nike branded Jaguars Jerseys with the #12 on them (12th Man..get it..) and gave us instructions on what we would do. We walked through the halls in the stadium and around the same route the players take to enter the stadium from the south endzone. They lined us up in two rows facing each other in the center of the field. After the players were announced they ran through the two lines slapping hands. If you haven’t had your hand slapped by 45 guys wearing gloves that feel like wet sandpaper you haven’t lived. Lining up behind and to the left of the players we observed the National Anthem and then exited the field to find our way to our seats. As I exited through the tunnel I couldn’t help feeling a little sad, my father was a huge Jaguar fan. The team was a great bond between us and walking off the field I couldn’t help wishing he had been there in person to see it. It is a feeling I won’t ever forget.
The game started without us as we made our way from the west side of the stadium to the East Club where our new seats are and after all the walking and the fact that it was 7:30 we were starving so we caught a quick dinner in the Club while watching the TVs as Blaine Gabbert completed a very nice fade pass to Cecil Shorts, who we had just stood next to for the National Anthem, for a touchdown. We finally arrived at our new seats for the second Giants possession and witnessed the phantom facemask call from the Refs who couldn’t see straight.
The first half was up and down the offense struggled and the Giants seemed to be in control of the game. The second half though the Jaguars just wouldn’t quit. They allowed 31 points but they kept clawing back to keep it close. Bryan Anger the much maligned 3rd round draft of the Jaguars twice created turnover opportunities with extremely high hanging punts. Late in the game he pinned the Giants against their goal line and the defense created an opportunity to make this game much more than just a promising sign.
A few plays later after a touchdown run by Kieth Toston the Jaguars scored the go ahead points with a two point conversion tossed by Jordon Palmer to TE Matt Veldman and the crowd, definitely thinned from kickoff was loud and engaged. The following defensive series was very exciting for the final 2 minutes of a preseason game. We were on our feet yelling at the field on the last play, that is something I haven’t done in a very long time in preseason. In fact I’m hard pressed to remember a preseason home game in the past 4 years that I was actually at my seat at the final play.
I felt exhilarated and full of hope and promise for the future. It might not be pretty this year and I make no predictions for the Won-Loss record but for the first time in a very long time I think our team is on the right track. They are moving in the right direction and I, surprisingly don’t have those feelings of anxiety I usual have.