As the party gets ready to roll in, Jacksonville offers warm greeting

THE BALTIMORE SUN

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When I boarded the plane for Florida yesterday, it was hard not to get caught up in all the Super Bowl excitement.

There were fans wearing shiny beads and hoisting cocktails on the afternoon flight out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which came miraculously close to leaving on time despite the snow. There were happy people everywhere, escaping the cold weather for the steamy climes of the Sunshine State, or so I thought until the plane touched down in Jag-town.

Turned out that the plane stopped over in Jacksonville on the way to New Orleans, so many of those nice people were actually Mardi Gras fans who thought T.O. was some kind of newfangled bourbon and wouldn't have known Donovan McNabb from the guy who sang "Sunshine Superman" in the '60s.

Of course, New Orleans isn't a bad place to hold a Super Bowl, but that can't be helped right now. The big game has come to Jacksonville, and everybody in North Florida is just pleased as sweetened iced tea to be entertaining the world for the next week or so.

They obviously don't know what they're getting into, opening their nice city to thousands of football fans from Philadelphia who just now are sleeping off last week's NFC title celebration. In fact, I heard a rumor that there are so many Eagles fans headed to town that Lincoln Financial has bought the naming rights to one of the local correctional facilities.

Should be an interesting week.

This is a true story. I have a friend of a friend in the Los Angeles area who is originally from Philly and is, shockingly, a huge Eagles fan. He sent me this e-mail a few days ago:

"Just a note to let you know that I'm going to Jacksonville for the Super Bowl. Anything you can do to help me with tickets would be greatly appreciated. I need up to six."

He was dead serious.

Because of my tremendous clout with the NFL, I came up with six seats for him ... at Bennigan's.

Can't wait for the whiny talk-show buzz in April, when Sammy Sosa is struggling to prove himself in a new city, because there is almost no question that he'll get off to a slow start this season.

He does that every year, as evidenced by his career month-by-month statistics. Sosa is one of those guys who warms up with the weather, so April is usually a disappointing home run and RBI month.

The hard numbers: Sosa averages just one homer per 18.7 at-bats before May 1 and just one RBI per 6.5 at-bats. His career production rises dramatically in May (one homer every 13.4 at-bats and an RBI every 5.1 at-bats) and spikes in August (one homer every 11.0 at-bats and an RBI every 4.5 at-bats).

This is no insignificant aberration. The difference between April and August is so stark that it is impossible to dismiss as a statistical anomaly. The guy definitely builds momentum throughout the season, so Orioles fans should not jump to any premature conclusions about his advancing age or some alleged change in body chemistry.

In what looks from here like another brazen attempt by Dan Snyder to squeeze every last nickel out of his loyal-but-misguided fan base, the Redskins are requiring fans who pay by credit card for their season tickets to use only a Washington Redskins "Extra Points" card that garners the team additional revenue.

OK, so team officials are saying the economic benefit for the team will be negligible, but I'm not buying it. There has to be a reasonable upside for the Redskins to risk alienating those fans who take offense at a football team deciding what kind of credit card they will be carrying around in their wallets.

Hey, I just noticed something interesting. Even a column note about the Redskins looks out of place in Jacksonville this week.

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