A theme that seems to arise every season in our Swampland footprint is the choice of NFL teams to draft a local college favorite. Most professional organizations will deny that this decision ever enters their thinking, and that they always select the next best player on their Draft board. Most NFL teams don’t need the popularity of a collegiate star to appeal to their market, but one organization that does is Jacksonville.
This theme occurred to me when I saw that the Jaguars were changing their uniforms. While underwhelmed by the jerseys, I was amazed by this quote from Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver about the clothing change:
"No longer will there be a question about who we are, what our identity is," Weaver said. "We felt one of the things we should do after being 15 years in the NFL [is] we should establish a more permanent identity."
Instead of thinking as the uniform as an identity, how about putting a team on the field that your fans can appreciate? For a club who routinely struggles to sell out their games, the Jaguars have interestingly drafted Florida Gators Reggie Nelson (’07) and Derrick Harvey (’08) with their last two 1st-round picks. The Buccaneers won a Super Bowl with talent from the state of Florida (Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Brad Johnson, Dexter Jackson) and finally built up a lasting fan base in the process. There's evidence that Jacksonville should continue this trend.
With the recent news that Harvin failed a Combine drug test, we don’t expect the Jags to take a chance on the former Gator at #8. However before that news broke, many mock drafts had Jacksonville selecting Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin with their first-round pick. It’s hard to believe that the media in our area did not question that prognostication more. Did they not see Harvin playing hurt and still making big plays in the National Title game? It’s hard to see Maclin, who has the same route running and injury concerns, as being that much better of a selection than the local favorite.
Outside of tradition-laden organizations like Dallas and Miami (who have won consistently over time), history tells us that it does matter to the fans in our Footprint that they identify with the players on their favorite team. Think of the ‘70s when the New Orleans Saints were dreadful on the field, but they were still able to build up a fan following behind SEC legend Archie Manning. The Houston Oilers were the talk of the town during the “Luv Ya Blue” era because of Texans Earl Campbell on the field and “Bum” Phillips on the sideline. On the other hand, the Atlanta Falcons (even though they had good teams in the early ‘80s) were not able to build a solid foundation to their fan base with West Coast guys like Steve Bartkowski or Gerald Riggs.
Archie Manning as a Saint
Archie Manning at Ole Miss
Obviously, if you’re an NFL General Manager and feel like you have a chance to get a superstar, then you select him and you don’t worry about the local angle. However, if the evaluation is close, GMs could make more quality decisions to improve their team and their fan base with a local playmaker.
Earl Campbell at Texas
Earl Campbell with the Houston Oilers