By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by Comdoctor.net
February 05, 2005

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Sunday Morning 8:50 a.m.

Starbucks, Jacksonville Beach

First off, sorry not to get back to you sooner but I got kind of spread out yesterday afternoon between enjoying the Super Bowl experience and my television gig last night.

Let me just say this: Jacksonville is getting a bad rap.

Sure, things are a little spread out and there aren't enough hotel rooms. But you know what? The average fan who's down here doesn't care and by the looks on their faces, they are having the times of their lives.

Yesterday afternoon, I took a stroll through the main drag of Bay Street and Jacksonville Landing to see what was going on. All I saw was a lot of music, food, souvenirs and smiles. The weather has begun to cooperate and you couldn't find a friendlier group of folks than the crowd from Jacksonville.

True, Jacksonville is no Miami or New Orleans but I'm glad I made it down and got to know this city. Jacksonville Beach is really fun and a blast to cruise through. There's a ton of great restaurants; they're just spread out over a larger area. But they are putting their best foot forward. You don't get the feeling that the hospitality industry down here is putting us on with the fake smile and welcome that you get in a lot of other places where they think that it is your privilege to visit them. Case in point was the amazing, synchronized fireworks display that went off at 10 o'clock last night. Fireworks were being fired off the top of high buildings, for God's sake. The Eastern Prom in Portland on the Fourth of July this was not.

As for the game, I don't want to sound flippant but I'm just not that nervous. Truth was, I was a helluva lot more nervous before the Colts game and even the Steelers game. Sure, the Eagles have a chance to win but history shows that a two-week preparation for the Super Bowl usually benefits the favored team. Maybe I need to stop looking at palm trees for a minute and get my head around what's at stake tonight.

What is at stake is a chance for immortality (an often overused word, but perhaps not here). The Patriots tonight have the chance to be put in the same category with the Packers of the 60s, the Steelers of the 70s, the 49ers of the 80s and the Cowboys of the 90s. Pretty heady company, my friends, for a franchise that was a laughing stock fifteen years ago.

And with Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel gone after this game, there's no guarantee that we will be booking a flight to Detroit for Super Bowl XL. Every season is different and complex. To me as an observer of the game, that's what makes July and August so much fun. You are scheming and trying to figure out just who is going to make the jump this year and who is going to slip up.

On another note, I have found a group of people who amazingly are harder drinkers than Red Sox and Yankees fans: Eagles fans. Man, they must be outnumbering Patriots fans 5-to-1 down here and I think they are intent on drinking every last beer to be found in North Florida. As for their confidence on the game, we'll see tonight, fellas.

Patriots fans, in general, are walking around down here like they've been there, done that. And why not, with the Red Sox winning it all last October and two Lombardi trophies sitting in Foxboro. I think my three-month old Jacob echoed the sentiment of these folks when he said telepathically to me during the AFC Championship trophy presentation two Sundays ago "What's the big deal dad? We win every year." "Jake, Jake, Jake, Jake, Jake," I replied. I think I heard my dad speaking when I said "When I was your age, O.J. Simpson was running all over the Pats and Jim Plunkett was getting himself killed thanks to an awful offensive line. And to boot, Luis Aparicio was falling down as he was rounding third base in Detroit to bring home a playoff spot for the 1972 Red Sox. Enjoy every one of these, son."

I better wrap this up as I'm getting a snooty look from the clerk behind the counter as if I am taking up this sofa set for too long. While I'm at, I just don't see what the big deal is on this Starbucks coffee. It's just not as good as some other stuff. Maybe if I run into Andy Rooney again, I'll ask him about this (See below).

Check back later today for an update"¦..

Saturday 1 p.m.

Prime Osborn Convention Center

You know you lead an interesting life when the following happens to you within five minutes as it did to me this morning: You see 60 Minutes' Andy Rooney hunched over and reading a media guide just a few feet over from you. I was half tempted to go up to him and ask "Did you ever notice that the coffee they serve here isn't nearly as good as it used to be?" Alas, he didn't look like he wanted to be bothered so I just sipped my coffee in peace and went back to my work station.

Once back there, none other than ESPN's Chris Mortenson is sitting five feet away from me doing a radio interview over the phone. After he hangs up, he takes a few minutes to chat and I come away with the impression that he is just a prince of a guy.

At high noon, the smoke finally cleared from the roof of the Osborn Convention Center as the Pro Football Writers Association made their annual selections for induction. Pro football's version of the College of the Cardinals left us with something to talk about. Of the modern era, only Steve Young and Dan Marino were elected. Despite making the final six cut, Harry Carson and Michael Irvin did not make it as they did not receive 80% of the 38 votes. As a side note, the Globe's Ron Borges has the New England region's vote in this endeavour.

More later....

Saturday 9 a.m.

Prime Osborn Convention Center

Frankly, I underestimated how long of a drive it was from Tampa to Jacksonville. It took me the better part of four and a half hours thanks to traffic in Tampa and Orlando. So after an all day trek down from Maine, I finally got into town last night around 6 p.m.

What to do? I figured going to the NFL Experience would be a good start. The NFL Experience is nothing less than Disney World for the football fan. Whether it's having your kid run through blocking sleds or getting Larry Fitzgerald's autograph for free, it's all here. And if you like souvenirs (again, hello self), you will think that you found your personal nirvana here on earth.

Of great interest to me was the Topps memorabilia tent. Inside, there was a truckload of dealers and companies selling anything and everything having to do with the Super Bowl and the NFL. Looking for a program from Super Bowl X? Well, it's there if you got $175 to spend. Or how about placing a bid on the ball used for the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XXXVIII to help benefit tsunami relief? You've found the place.

And then, the Champs souvenir tent. Oh, my -as Dick Enberg would say. Anything from a $375 leather jacket to a $3 pennant. Or my personal favorite, a genuine Super Bowl XXXIX Wilson football for - I can't tell you because my wife will probably read this and shoot me if she finds out how much I spent on it.

Anyways, I figured that I would try the Park and Ride lot and $5 shuttle instead of fighting downtown Jacksonville traffic. Good move. Downtown Jacksonville looks like Kenmore Square on Patriots Day. It's a traffic black hole that will suck you in and not spit you out.

That said, the bus system seemed to work fine and everyone down here with the host committee is terrific and extra friendly. And the weather is starting to cooperate with temps well into the 60s today. I'm beginning to think that this is the little city that could. We'll see.

As for fans, man, this place is loaded with a lot of loud, boisterous Eagles fans. They're running around as if they've just won two out of the last three Super Bowls. I guess that's what you get when your team makes the Super Bowl once every quarter of a century. As Dan Shaughnessy wrote earlier this week, these Philly fans will fight back unlike St. Louis or Carolina fans. So watch out if you are down here.

I will say this: You do get the sense that there is a little bit of a developing backlash against the Patriots down here. Like we're the Cowboys or 49ers or something. A Raiders fan was giving a rash of you-know-what on the shuttle bus to me and two Patriot season ticket holders last night on one of her favorite subjects-you guessed it, the Tuck Rule. I half felt like saying that we are now almost even for Jack Tatum and Ben Dreith but I held my breath and figured that getting into an argument about the NFL rulebook with a Raiders fan was probably not the best way to start of my Super Bowl experience.

I pulled into the house that I am crashing at around 10 p.m. last night and got to know the strangers that I am staying with thanks to my grandmother. Turns out, this lady that I am imposing on was the one who introduced my grandmother and grandfather some years ago. And then, she makes me French toast and coffee this morning before heading out the door. Try getting that for $250 a night at a Comfort Inn in Brunswick, Georgia.

Got a big day ahead of me. Planning on attending the press conference at noon that will entail who gets into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Then it's off to tour the Holland America Zuiderdam cruise ship this afternoon and later it's a live appearance on Pats Game Day for Channel 8 out of Portland, Maine at 8 p.m.

I hope to file again sometime late this afternoon.

Friday 8:04 a.m.

Somewhere 20,000 feet in the air over the East Coast

Over the last two Super Bowls, I have enjoyed ESPN.com's Bill Simmons "Super Blogs" that have detailed his trials and tribulations while covering the Big Game. To me, these blogs are far more interesting to read than the recycled, standard coverage of Super Bowl week that you get in most other places. As an interested reader, I want to know "What's it like to be there?" In many ways, the little, side stories taken together give the reader the bigger picture about the event.

And so in this tradition and as a service to you, I thought that my own blog would be some fun and a good way to pass the last few, agonizing days of this two-week purgatory before Sunday night at 6:30 p.m.

Over the next three days, I will strive to be your eyes and ears down in Jacksonville. If you never been to a Super Bowl, you are missing out. I mean the game is a once in a lifetime experience that should be taken in if you can by any means can. But having been to one other Super Bowl in my life (XXXVI in New Orleans), I was just as enthralled by the scene. The parties, the events, the people watching, the souvenirs; you name it. That's what I hope to give you an appreciation for this weekend. If at the end of this blog, you have increased your desire to go to a city hosting a Super Bowl - even without a ticket (hello, self) - well, then this high-wire act will have been a success.

There's been a lot of Jacksonville-bashing going on this week among the mainstream media. "Jacksonville is too small. They're unprepared!!" they cry out. I want to see for my own eyes before I pass judgment. Really, the Super Bowl should only be played in a few places -Miami, Tampa, New Orleans, San Diego, etc. And if you think that Jacksonville has been a barrel of laughs guys, just wait until you are trudging through snow and ice in downtown Detroit next year. Detroit will make Jacksonville seem like Puerto Vallarta.

Okay, a little background before we begin: I don't have a ticket. If I come across one, great. But I'm down here for the scene. I am staying in a spare room with my grandmother's best friend in Jacksonville Beach whom I am told that I met when I was about five or six. But what I do have is a "Week of Game" credential issued by the NFL for some work I'm doing for one of my newspaper assignments along with an upcoming TV appearance this evening. As I understand it, what this entitles me to is the ability to cover press conferences, the NFL experience, radio row, etc.; essentially, everything but the game. I'll hope to take you into places that few of us are fortunate enough to venture into. I have no idea what I am in for, but I know this: I can't wait.

I can't wait because I never thought this "little writing thing" would come to this. Three years ago, I never, ever dreamed of having my weekly column appear in a bunch of newspapers or having a regular, weekly spot on a sports radio station. And I would have been smoking grass if I ever gave a passing thought to the idea of being asked to appear on a live Patriots television program on a local ABC affiliate (Channel 8-WMTW, Portland, Maine) with Alltell Stadium as a backdrop on Saturday night. There are few times in life when you can feel you are on the verge of something special happening to you; perhaps when you finally find that special someone or when your first born is days away. This is one of those moments for me and I'm taking you along for the ride.

So after landing in Tampa (closest place I could get into with endangered USAirways frequent flier miles), I'll make the three and a half hour trek up to Jacksonville this afternoon. Once there, I hope to get my bearings and report back to you sometime this evening.

Before I sign off for the day, let me take a minute and thank a few people for making this happen. First, the lovely and talented Mrs. Rousseau has been my biggest supporter and encouraged me to see where "this writing thing" leads me. If I've done one thing right in my life, I married well. How else do you explain her not batting an eye at letting me jet down to Florida for four days while having a three-month old at home in the middle of a Maine winter? Next, to Patsfans.com guru Ian Logue, a big thanks. You have no idea how many late nights and sweat he puts into this website and how easy and seamless he makes it look.

Finally, a huge shout-out goes to Bill Roy and the good folks at Comdoctor.net in Augusta, Maine. Bill came through with this laptop that I am typing away on right now and is always there with sound advice and equipment for computer-challenged folks like me. If you are in the market for a custom-built computer or service at a good price, check them out. I'm glad I did. Just about every single one of my columns from the last three years has been written on a Comdoctor-built computer.

That's all for now. Can't wait to bring you the inside dope on what exactly is going on down in Jax later tonight.

Next update sometime on Friday night


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