Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oakland Raiders 31 at Jacksonville Jaguars 38 - December 12, 2010

I saw this game over a week ago but flew back to Ottawa a couple of days later and have been hanging out with friends and family since then, so I haven't bothered to write about it. I'm going to avoid doing my usual detailed recap of the venue and just say it was one of the best sports experiences I've ever had.

I stopped in Waltersboro, SC and woke early, driving the remaining 3 hours to Jacksonville and arriving just before 11 am. I parked near the convention center as they have a shuttle service from there that costs $7. Sounds expensive, but they give you a coupon for a concession item (large soda in this case) which makes it a reasonable deal. I didn't want to waste time driving through the city as I've heard it can be difficult to find free parking and it was raining, so I didn't want to walk far. The lineups for the return shuttle were long, but moved quickly and I was still out on the highway less than an hour after the game ended.

After arriving at the stadium, I looked for somebody with an extra ticket and was fortunate to find Damon, who had a decent ducat in the middle 200 level. As it was still raining, I bought it from him and entered Everbank Field without checking out the environs. After the game, I did a short walk around and found some cool jaguar statues that were very popular photo spots for visiting fans.

The stadium is cool with teal seats all around. In the picture above you can see the three seating levels, the lower 100 level and middle 200 level are separated only by a concourse, while the 400 level requires a further trip up the ramp or escalator. You'll notice that there are a few sections in the upper deck that are covered with tarp; this is to reduce capacity and thereby increase the chance for a sellout so the Jags can be shown on local TV.

I took my usual walk around and didn't find much of interest. At one end there is the Bud Zone (above), a large bar/restaurant that was packed, likely due to the chilly conditions in the stadium. When the weather is warmer, they open the windows and you can watch the game from there, but on this day it was more of a refuge from the rotten weather.

There were some paintings on the walls that added a bit of spice but little else.

After I did my tour around both levels, I headed down to the field to watch some warm-ups. Oakland QB Jason Campbell tossed a few balls while appreciative Raider fans shouted encouragement.

As I watched the warm-up, the skies started to clear and by the time I returned to my seat, it was sunny and warm. Damon was sitting next to me and he turned out to be a regular fan who knew the history of the Jaguars and we chatted throughout the game. And what a game it turned out to be.

The Jaguars run onto the field

Oakland scored first when Campbell hit Darren McFadden with a short pass and McFadden juked past a couple of defenders for a 67-yard touchdown just over 4 minutes in. Jacksonville tied it up on a 1-yd pass from David Garrard to Marcedes Lewis early in the second, but Oakland added a field goal from Sebastian Janikowski (above) and another touchdown pass from Campbell, this one an 8-yarder to Louis Murphy (below), and it was 17-7 at the half.

In the 3rd quarter, Jacksonville started quickly with a 48-yard touchdown pass from Garrard to Jason Hill just 2 minutes in. McFadden replied with a 51-yard run just 3 plays later to restore the Raiders' 10-point cushion but the Jaguars got that one back when Rashad Jennings rumbled down the sideline for another touchdown. When Oakland muffed the kickoff, the Jags recovered and had a short field and Garrard converted with Mike Sims-Walker for a 10-yard TD that put them in front 28-24.

In the 4th, Jacksonville added an early FG to extend the lead to seven. When Campbell was knocked out for a play, backup Kyle Boller threw an interception but Jacksonville could only muster a quick 3-and-out and the Raiders made them pay when McFadden topped off an 83-yard drive with a fantastic 36-yard touchdown to tie the game.

It looked like overtime, but when Deji Karim took the kickoff back 65 yards, the Jaguars had the advantage. Sure enough, Jones-Drew scampered for a 30-yard TD on the first play from scrimmage and that was enough as Jacksonville won 38-31 to temporarily maintain their lead in the AFC South.

This was one of my best sports experiences ever. An amazing game with 6 touchdowns of 30 yards or greater, the home team pulling off the comeback win, a knowledgeable fan next to me, and a beautiful day to top it off. Thanks to Damon for the ticket and for being a great fan.

To complete the perfect day, I stopped in at Cocoa Beach on the way to Miami where I met with my friend Tom. He contacted me when I was going to the World University Baseball Championship and asked me to take some pictures of the Team USA players for him as there was no coverage of the event stateside and he had a number of friends on the squad. I sent some shots to him and we exchanged a few e-mails but I never thought I'd get a chance to meet him. Thanks to the $1-a-day rental special though, just 4 months later I found myself in chilly Cocoa Beach where we met up. Tom invited Brian Johnson, a University of Florida freshman who played on Team USA during the summer and we chatted about his time in Japan and his prospects for the future. It was really a great way to end a fantastic day of driving and sports, and is really what Sports Road Trips should be all about.

Thanks to Tom and Brian for the hospitality and hope to see you in Japan sometime!



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