Owners have visited, now they should stay JACKSONVILLE STATES ITS CASE


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville deserves an NFL expansion team more than the other candidates because of its advantage on two grounds: moral and practical.

We've been in this thing longer and tried harder than anybody else.

Jacksonville has been trying to get an NFL team since the turn of the century, it seems, and we've persevered through every imaginable hard-luck scenario.

Jacksonville might not be well-known nationally, but NFL owners love us.

Having problems getting that new stadium financed? Threaten to move to Jacksonville.

Just when we think this time the owner might be serious -- pow! He snatches us back to reality and keeps his team in his new and/or improved stadium. We've had a hand in half the new stadiums around the league being built.

If there were an NFL shelter for battered cities, Jacksonville would have a revolving door and a punch card.

We always come back for more.

What's amazing is we always bounce back with almost nauseating enthusiasm. After dropping out and then getting back in the race last month, the community scarfed up 10,000 club seats in 10 days, an amazing turnaround.

Give us your two worst teams -- say Atlanta and Tampa Bay -- in a meaningless exhibition game and we'll fill up the Gator Bowl.

Then we watch as cities around the league fail to support their teams in the regular season and ask: Why not us?

We watch as the NFL considers putting teams back in Baltimore and St. Louis, two cities that have had the thrill of NFL teams, and say: Why not us?

We have all the sympathy in the world for Baltimore, but remember: Robert Irsay used us, too. He's just one owner who has used us to sweeten a deal.

Now, if Jacksonville was to base its case solely on the fact it's been an NFL punching bag, it would fail miserably. The fact is, Jacksonville has the strongest financial package of the five candidates.

Its money man has more money. J. Wayne Weaver is the only potential expansion owner who made this year's Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.

Make no mistake, the owners want someone like themselves, someone with deep enough pockets to weather the rough times.

Charlotte is scrambling to convince the league it has the money to finance a team and stadium. The owners didn't exactly smile when Charlotte asked for a 15-year exemption on sharing premium-seat revenues. (Note: Charlotte since has reduced its exemption to five years.)

St. Louis' ownership is in wild disarray. With the announcement date just a week away, St. Louis still is seeking investors. They still are trying to sell their club seats.

Baltimore is too close to existing NFL teams, and Memphis can't expect to win a team simply on the basis of the ghost of Elvis.

Jacksonville has more than $200 million committed to renovating the dilapidated Gator Bowl and has the means to pay visiting teams $1.1 million.

That's more than any other expansion candidate and more than double the league average of $500,000.

Forget Jacksonville's small TV market. NFL games are already so saturated throughout the country that TV market size is almost irrelevant.

More importantly, the area is one of the fastest-growing parts of the country. Jacksonville has the demographics and the finances, which should make it easy for the owners to fulfill their moral obligation.

Plus, I have a feeling Bill Clinton would pick Jacksonville.

It's our time.


There's one week to go before the NFL chooses from among Baltimore and four other cities for two expansion franchises. Today through Friday, The Sun will have a columnist from each of Baltimore's rivals write about why his city deserves one of the teams.

* Today: Jacksonville

* Tomorrow: Memphis

* Thursday: St. Louis

* Friday: Charlotte

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