For obvious reasons these haven’t been the best of times at One Everbank Field Drive. The NFL lockout has placed a dark cloud over all 32 franchises, but perhaps more so for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

There was the December collapse that sent the Jaguars from playoff contender into offseason despair. There remains the ongoing outrage from many Jaguars fans who want to see Coach Jack Del Rio gone and who don’t understand why owner Wayne Weaver turns a deaf ear to their complaints. And then came the lockout and the fact the owners and players seemingly remain miles apart on reaching an agreement.

The main fallout from the lockout is more than fan indifference. Fans are revolting. Many are more than angry; they’re outraged. How can billionaire owners and millionaire players squabble over billions of dollars when so many fans are struggling to pay their mortgages during an ongoing recession?

The result is few are renewing their season tickets. Even fewer are buying tickets for a 2011 season that may never happen. Tony Boselli, the retired Jaguar great who heads up the Team Teal marketing group, is speaking mainly to empty chairs at Team Teal rallies.

Indeed, the people working the Jaguars ticket windows at Everbank Field are lonely.

Those are all reasons why the announcement of the NFL schedule couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I know the whole building is energized by it,” Del Rio said in a statement released by the team. “Everybody associated with the Jaguars is fired up to hear we are getting two Monday night games.”

Those two Monday night games are at Everbank Field: Baltimore, Oct. 24, and San Diego, Dec. 5. In all, the Jaguars have three prime-time games scheduled for 2011. The third is a Thursday night game at Atlanta on Dec. 15. Other highlights of the schedule include opening the season at home Sept. 11 against AFC South rival Tennessee; closing the season at New Year’s Day against AFC rival and kingpin Indianapolis; and visits from NFC power New Orleans and state rival Tampa Bay. In fact, the only unattractive game on the home schedule is a visit from Cincinnati on Oct. 9. Weaver calls it “one of the best home schedules we’ve had in a long time.” A bonus in the Jaguars’ home schedule is no game during the Christmas weekend, always a tough sale.

Weaver was described by one Jaguar employee as being “almost giddy” when the schedule came out. The buzz around the offices – from the administrators to the coaches to the ticket sellers to promotion staff to the support staff – has been a welcomed change.

The small-market Jaguars have often been given second-class treatment by the NFL. They’ve earned some of it by having one only one playoff victory since 1999. To say the Jaguars and their fans have an inferiority complex wouldn’t be stretching the truth.

So why has the NFL front office thrown Jacksonville such a tasty bone? I have several theories.

Weaver is one of the most popular owners. In fact, the NFL wanted Weaver, not Jacksonville, back in 1993 when the city was awarded a franchise. My sources told me then that Weaver was offered a franchise in St. Louis or Baltimore. Weaver, however, made it clear he was committed to Jacksonville and so the owners voted Jacksonville in. Weaver has become part of the NFL‘s power inner circle. Weaver was rewarded with an attractive schedule to help with the team’s struggle to sell tickets.

Other reasons are more obvious. The Jaguars did go into December with a chance to win the AFC South and the NFL brass, no doubt, sees the Jaguars as a potential breakthrough team in 2011. And in running back Maurice Jones Drew the Jaguars have a national face of the franchise. MJD’s national celebrity status may be greater than any Jaguar in history.

Whatever the reasons, the Jaguars will get more national exposure than half of the league’s 32 teams. Only 13 teams will play more prime-time games, the Dallas Cowboys leading the way with six such games. Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, the New York Jets and the reigning Super Bowl champ Green Bay each have five. New England, San Diego, Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta and the New York Giants each have four.

For the record, Tennessee, Arizona, Cincinnati, Carolina and Buffalo have no prime-time games. Houston, Cleveland and Washington each have one. Jacksonville usually has been in those groups.

There is a down side to all of this. The Jaguars’ schedule will be among the most difficult. The schedule against NFC South is challenging. There are road games against AFC champion Pittsburgh and the Jets. But part of any buzz-worthy schedule is its difficulty.

Now the big question: Will the fans feel the same buzz and race to the ticket window?

Well, actually, the biggest question is: Will the owners and players shut up whining and come to an agreement so the Jaguars can actually play this attractive schedule?

Perhaps MJD said it best Tuesday in a tweet: “We have the schedule now; all we need is a season.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s