- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

As if the Jacksonville Jaguars don't have enough problems, they can't even enlist Gertrude Green's support. Green lives in Jacksonville and is counting the days until Sunday's game against the Redskins at Alltel Stadium, where she will proudly sport her orange and blue "Washington Gators" T-shirt and root hard for the visiting team.
"I'm a Steve Spurrier fan," she explained.
Green, 70 ("and proud of it"), will have lots of company way too much to suit the Jaguars, who are 3-5 after four straight losses. Forget subplots or backdrops; Spurrier's return to Florida as coach of the Redskins is the story, overshadowing the game itself. And it is Spurrier's shadow that still covers every inch of the 75 miles between Jacksonville and Gainesville, where he coached the University of Florida for 12 rollicking seasons through 2001.
"I'm a Gator fan first," Green said. "If Steve Spurrier were coaching wherever, I'd be a fan of that team."
Not only has the game been sold out for weeks, each of the 73,000 seats is expected to be filled for the first time since 1999. The Jaguars, apparently headed for a third straight losing season, have seen attendance steadily decline. The situation became so dire this year that the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain bought and is giving away thousands of free tickets to five of the eight home games to ensure that the TV blackout is lifted.
This is not one of those games. But a full house of this sort is not necessarily what the Jaguars envisioned.
"Oh, man, I'm telling you what, there will be a lot of Gators in those stands in Jacksonville," said Norm Carlson, longtime Florida assistant athletic director for media relations who is one of Spurrier's closest friends. "It'll be interesting to see how much orange and blue is in the stands. It'll be a lot.
"Gator people have been talking about this game since Steve went up there, and then the Jags' schedule came out. People have become Redskins fans because of Steve. Jacksonville has one of the biggest contingents of Florida alumni in the state. A lot of them are Jaguars season-ticket holders. And I know a lot of people who are planning to go from here."
It already has been a good week for Florida fans. Last Saturday, the Gators continued Spurrier's dominance of archrival Georgia, upsetting the previously unbeaten Bulldogs 20-13 at Alltel. The game, known as the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," is played in Jacksonville (except for a short-lived home-and-home series) because it is close to Gainesville and the Georgia border. Under Spurrier, Florida beat Georgia 11 times in 12 seasons. The Gators won once at home, once on the road and nine times in Jacksonville.
"I think he views this as [just] another game," said Wayne McDaniel, director of the Florida Alumni Association, "but in a very special location."
Even before Spurrier left, the Redskins had a fan base in Northern Florida. Once upon a time, Washington was the southernmost NFL city and Redskins games were broadcast and televised here.
"When I was a kid growing up in Atlanta, the Redskins were our team because they were the only southern team," McDaniel said.
Expansion changed that. Florida now has three NFL teams, and the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers exist to the north. But after Spurrier was hired, a Gainesville radio station picked up the Redskins broadcasts. "There's a renewed interest in the Redskins," said McDaniel.
Lots of Gators fans will make the short trip to Jacksonville, and some will travel even further. On Saturday afternoon, Florida plays Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. Many fans, such as Jacksonville lawyer Andy Fawbush, will attend that game, then fly back in time for Sunday's extravaganza.
"In fact, I bought extra tickets," said Fawbush, a former president of the Jacksonville Gator Club.
One of the tickets is for Gertrude Green, who happens to be his mother-in-law and who attended Florida herself for about a year and a half, or "until I thought I had to leave and get married."
Her first husband was a Gator. Green sent all four of her daughters there; two stuck around and graduated. Green's brother has a graduate degree in journalism from Florida and worked as a reporter for the Tampa Tribune. Maybe that's why she likes the media, "unless somebody writes something bad about Steve. Then I'll fight 'em."
Fawbush, naturally, is a Florida grad, too. When the expansion Jaguars were created, he helped hustle club seats to prove the city could support a team. He has been a season-ticket holder from the start, 1995. But Fawbush will cheer for the Redskins.
"It's a tough thing," he said. "I like our coach [Tom Coughlin]. And we've got a great owner [Wayne Weaver]. But I'm a Spurrier fan. I'm gonna be torn. I'm gonna root for the Redskins for two reasons. First, I want to see Spurrier succeed. Two, I want us to lose a couple more games and maybe we'll get a new coach. Coach Coughlin is a quality person. He did a great job getting the team going. But now there's something missing."
To many, that something is Spurrier. More than a few Jaguars fans believe Weaver should have fired Coughlin, the only coach the team has had, and hired Spurrier. Instead, Weaver extended Coughlin's contract. Such an opinion was expressed by none other than Spurrier's mother, who lives in Green Cove Springs, a bedroom community about 35 miles from Jacksonville.
"Poor Jaguars," 81-year-old Marjorie Spurrier told Jacksonville's Florida Times-Union this week. "Maybe Winn-Dixie wouldn't have had to give away all those free tickets if he had come here. Isn't that amazing?"
Even Coughlin, who led the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game in 1996, the team's second season, and again in 1999, acknowledged the sentiment. "You try not to let anything affect you personally," he told reporters Monday. "Was I aware that the comments were being made? Yes. Did it affect me? No."
Still, more fans will be rooting for the visiting team than usual Sunday, and no matter how intense Coughlin's focus, he is sure to notice. Things might even get a little feisty in the stands.
"Gator fans will show up, cheering for the Redskins, wearing Gator colors," McDaniel said. "Which will probably make the Jaguars fans a little bit unhappy."

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