Sports in Jacksonville - Professional Sports - American Football

American Football

Football is by far the most popular sport in the Jacksonville area. The city is home to the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League (NFL). The only major league-level sports team to play in Jacksonville, the Jaguars currently play in South Division of the NFL's American Football Conference (AFC). They joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1995, along with the Carolina Panthers.

The city has long supported football, particularly college football. Florida's first ever college football game was held in Jacksonville in 1901, between Florida Agricultural College (a predecessor to the University of Florida) and Stetson College (now Stetson University). Jacksonville newspaper The Florida Times-Union recorded the state college championships and awarded the Championship Cup in the early years. The annual Florida–Georgia game between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the University of Florida Gators has been played in the city nearly every year since 1933. The Gator Bowl, a post-season bowl game, has been held annually since 1946. The success of such events led to interest in bringing professional football to Jacksonville, which began in earnest in the 1960s. In 1967 and 1968 the city hosted the American Football League All Star Game at the Gator Bowl. Jacksonville was the only non-AFL city to host the game. It was presumed at the time that this was a prelude to Jacksonville getting an AFL expansion team, but when the AFL merged with the rival NFL in 1970 expansion plans were scrapped. The city also hosted a number of preseason games from both the AFL and NFL.

Jacksonville's first attempt at professional football came in 1926, when former Stanford University star Ernie Nevers organized the Jacksonville All-Stars to play exhibition games against traveling NFL opponents. The All-Stars faced the Chicago Cardinals and their star Red Grange on January 2, and the New York Giants on January 9; however, both games drew meager crowds, and the All-Stars subsequently ended operations. Jacksonville had its first professional football team in 1974 with the Jacksonville Sharks of the World Football League, a short-lived attempt to establish a rival to the NFL. The Sharks' financial troubles led the league to fold the team; the franchise was revived the following year as the Jacksonville Express. However, the WFL folded before the end of the 1975 season. The Jacksonville Firebirds played in the American Football Association, a spring minor league, for three seasons, 1979–1981. In 1984 professional football returned with the Jacksonville Bulls of the United States Football League (USFL). The Bulls set many USFL attendance records, including the only two sell-out games; however the league ceased operations after the 1985 season.

The success of these earlier attempts generated interest in bringing the NFL to Jacksonville. Several NFL teams discussed moving to the city over the years, with the Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts) and the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) making the most serious offers. In 1990, the NFL announced it would expand by two teams, and Jacksonville entered the bidding war. Jacksonville was the smallest market among the bidders, and was considered the unlikeliest choice. However, in 1993, after a series of negotiations, the NFL announced that the second franchise would go to Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Jaguars play at EverBank Field in downtown Jacksonville. The Jaguars have won two division championships, in 1996 and 1999, and they have made a total of six playoff appearances.

Jacksonville hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. As the smallest metropolitan area to ever host a Super Bowl, special accommodations were necessary, such as the use of cruise ships as hotels.

Jacksonville also has a number of amateur football teams, including the Jacksonville Dixie Blues, a women's football team in the Women's Football Alliance, and the Jacksonville Knights of the Florida Football Alliance.

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