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Bittersweet finale for outgoing Jags owner Weaver
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. (AP) - Wayne Weaver's office is nearly empty, the shelves cleared, the cabinets bare, most of his things packed in boxes. All that remains are some pictures, his computer and a few files scattered across his desk _ just enough to avoid echoes in the spacious room.
Weaver is down to his final few days as owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, a countdown that has been more bitter than sweet after 18 years, 352 games, six postseason appearances and few regrets.
A former shoe salesman who worked his way up the corporate ladder and became so successful that he was able to bring an expansion team to Jacksonville in 1993, Weaver sold the franchise last month to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan for $770 million. Khan officially takes over Jan. 4, meaning Weaver's final game in charge will be Sunday's season finale against Indianapolis.
He's leaving an exclusive club and taking plenty of memories with him.
"I'm at peace with where we are and I'm looking forward to the next chapter," Weaver told The Associated Press this week. "Who knows what I'll find to do. I know I won't sit home and twiddle my thumbs. I know that for sure."
The Jaguars will honor Weaver and his wife, Delores, at halftime of Sunday's game. The ceremony will include a video montage covering nearly two decades, as well as the presentation of a banner signed by fans.
"Every game is emotional for me, but this one will remind me of all the great things that have happened over the last 18 years," said Weaver, who will turn 77 next month. "It's hard to walk away. But I never let the NFL define who I am. I'm secure that I've built several businesses in my lifetime and been very successful at it, and I feel like there's something else out there for me to learn."
More than anything, the Jaguars (4-11) would like to send Weaver out with a victory. Players and coaches have talked about it all week, saying how special it would be to present the Weavers the game ball.
"They mean a lot to this city, mean a lot to everyone involved here," interim coach Mel Tucker said. "Our fans and our players know that, our coaches know that. Quite frankly, we'll give everything we can for them to finish on a high note. That's very, very important to this football team."
Weaver's legacy is secure: The former CEO and co-owner of Nine West and current chairman and majority owner of Shoe Carnival, Weaver almost single-handily secured a franchise for Jacksonville _ something few thought possible for a relatively small market that lacks big-money corporate support.
But Weaver made it happen, and fans showed their appreciation with signs that read "Dream Weaver." The owner and the city enjoyed four consecutive postseason appearances _ including two trips to the AFC championship game _ in the expansion franchise's first five seasons.
"I've been fortunate," Weaver said. "I thought this would be something special to do, and it's turned out to be even more special than I ever dreamed it would be."
The last decade hasn't been nearly as fruitful.
The Jaguars have missed the playoffs in 10 of the last 12 seasons, a drought that cost coaches Tom Coughlin and Jack Del Rio their jobs.
Maybe Weaver's biggest downfall was being too loyal. He kept former personnel chief James "Shack" Harris after he missed on first-round picks Byron Leftwich (2003), Reggie Williams (2004), Matt Jones (2005), Reggie Nelson (2007) and Derrick Harvey (2008). He also kept Del Rio after deciding to blow the roster up in 2009.
"When I came into the National Football League, I was smart enough to know what I didn't know," Weaver said. "I think that made me more patient in getting involved in the football side of the business than I should have been. I think I recognized things sooner than I made decisions to change them in terms of personnel. I think I was patient, too patient, and I take responsibility for that."
Weaver would have liked to have a few more years before walking away. But he had been looking for an exit strategy in recent years, and Khan seems to be a suitable successor.
They have known each other for years, so familiar that the $770 million agreement was initially drawn up on a cocktail napkin. It included a sale price of $660 million plus $110 million in debt.
The final paperwork also included a stability agreement that essentially guarantees that the team will remain in Jacksonville for at least five years. NFL.com has reported that Khan would have to pay $25 million to a Jacksonville charity of Weaver's choice if he moves the team within five years.
The stability agreement coupled with the team's stadium lease and the NFL's hefty relocation fee make a move unrealistic _ at least in the short term. The stadium lease runs through 2027 and would have to be bought out for the team to move. That would cost about $65 million right now. And the NFL's relocation fee could top $100 million.
Regardless, Khan has insisted he has no plans to leave Jacksonville.
"We're committed to this community and we are going to keep on carrying the work that was started here in perpetuity and hopefully move it up a notch," Khan said.
Weaver hopes for the same.
Although he and Delores plan to travel more beginning next year, they are keeping a suite for home games and plan to attend as many as possible.
What Wayne Weaver needs now is a new office.
"It's the first time in 60 years I haven't had a job to go to every morning," Weaver said. "That's a little bit scary."
By Tammy Bruce
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