As the weather is starting to turn brisk in NJ , this is a perfect time of year for this next trip down to Florida on this long Veterans Day Weekend. I’ve taken many trips to South Florida before, but this is my first to this part of the state. Jacksonville, just over the Georgia border, is actually the largest city in the continental United States by land mass with over 840 square miles, but the 2nd smallest market in the NFL. Regardless of what part of Florida this is, it is still Florida, and the temperature was a pleasant 74 degrees when I arrived on Saturday at 10 AM
Jacksonville has some nice areas and attractions, but lacks the flair of the beachfront tourist mecca cities in the southern part of the state.
After checking in, I headed downtown and watched the Veterans Day parade then had lunch at a great bistro on Hendricks Ave. A lot of the shops and restaurants downtown were closed even though it was early afternoon. Maybe because of the parade? Who knows? It just seemed kind of desolate. I then headed over to the riverfront over toward Jacksonville Landing where there are a ton of great places to hang out. Along the river is a major manufacturing facility of Maxwell House coffee. When they are in operation and the wind is just right, half of Jacksonville smells like fresh roasted coffee. There are 9 bridges in Jacksonville that traverse the St. Johns river and connect the city. Traffic going over them, especially when there is an event at Everbank Stadium , can be pretty dense and stressful. The city has lots of nice brewpubs, although the one I wanted to (and desperately tried to) go to was impossible to find legal parking space for. The plan was to get to the beach and spend a few hours there, but the overcast skies and high winds changed those plans. I did take a ride out to Jacksonville Beach to check it out. Very much unlike Miami or Ft Lauderdale, the area wasn’t nearly as built up and was filled with dunes and marsh.
At night , I headed back to the hotel to gorge on sushi and Sake at a nearby restaurant within walking distance. The hotel was packed with middle aged women in town to see a Chris Stapleton concert, many of them already getting primed for the show mid-day. I was told by a small group of them that I should meet up with them for a drink after the concert – I decided to take a pass on that offer!
The following morning after breakfast, I walked down to the pier and grabbed a water taxi to Everbank. If you are staying in town, the water taxi is a great option. Driving through Jacksonville on gameday, especially over the bridges, is a real pain. I believe that there are several shuttle buses as part of the JTA that run through the city that offer gameday transport as well. It was ideal gameday weather – clear skies with a forecasted high of 83 degrees. I have no doubt that attending games early in the season that you’d end up dealing with some pretty nasty heat and humidity (same as in Tampa and Miami) which is part of the reason why I booked this for mid-November. But I heard they have misting ‘Cool Zones’ set up around the stadium to help on these hot game days. I walked past the landing spot about a half mile past the Jacksonville Fire Museum under the Hart Bridge Expressway underpass where there were hundreds of tailgaters enjoying their pregame grub and drinks.
Everbank Stadium was built in 1995, the same year the Jags came into existence. While it’s holding up well, it pales significantly compared to some of the stadiums I’ve seen earlier this year. Attendance is low and there are two entire sections of the upper deck that are now covered by a tarp. But the stadium does have a few interesting features. The Bud Light Party Zone is a 25,000 square foot sports bar and Fanduelville in the North end zone which has cabanas, a pool and a party area for those who want to shell out for it. Everbank also has the largest and most impressive videoboard in the NFL at over 60 foot tall and 350 foot wide.
The game start off with team mascot Jaxson DeVille zip-lining down from the top of he stadium onto mid field. I heard he occasionally does other ‘extreme’ stunts like bungee jumping off the light stanchion. Then the PA announcer gets the crowd ready for the players intros and entrance onto the field.
The Chargers led for most of the way but the game ended up in overtime after a wild and wacky final two minutes of regulation that included a fumble, two interceptions, a taunting penalty and a costly flag for roughing the passer. After all the chaos, Jacksonville kicker Josh Lambo drilled a 34-yard field goal to send it to the extra period. In overtime, Lambo kicked a 30-yard field goal with 3:12 remaining lifting the Jags to a 20-17 win.
The win gave Jacksonville its first three-game winning streak since 2013 and buoyed their playoff hopes. Jax QB Blake Bortles completed 28 of 51 passes for 273 yards, with a touchdown and two INTs. RB Leonard Fournette ran for only 33 yards on 17 carries and failed to score for the first time in his rookie season.
The food offerings at Everbank had all of the standard stadium offerings with a few standout – 95 Southern Fried, Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q, Bubba Burger, Dicks Wings, Southside Burrito, the SeaBest Seafood Zone and the Grid Iron Grille. Ticket prices for Jags games are well below the average for the NFL but concessions oddly are higher than average.
After the game, I grabbed the water taxi back across river walked to my hotel and hopped in my rental car for my 2 1/2 hour drive up I-95 for a quick 1 night / 1 day stopover in Hilton Head, SC before continuing up North on Monday afternoon for the night game in Charlotte.
Fans – C+ – Enthusiastic, since for the first time in years they have something to cheer for. The close game and OT win kept them engaged. Not terribly friendly though.
Features – B – The entertainment zone, the pool and cabanas, the cool mascot
Location – A – Close to downtown. Easy access by water taxi. Driving over the bridges on gameday can be tough. November in Florida
Food – C – Some decent offerings, nothing exceptional
Game – A – Kind of a sloppy game, but a home team OT win is always great
Overall Experience – B – Being in Florida in November can’t possibly get a lower rating than a B. Overall a nice stadium and a fun time.