Sports in Jacksonville, Florida

Sports in Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida is home to a number of professional sports teams. The Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League compete at the major league level. The city's other sports teams are minor league. Jacksonville is also home to two universities, a four year college, and the fourth largest community college in the country. All of these institutions field sports teams. Additionally, several college sports events are held in Jacksonville annually by teams and conferences not located in the city.

Professional sports


Jacksonville's history with professional football dates back to the 1960s. In 1967 and 1968 the city hosted the American Football League All Star Game at the Gator Bowl. Jacksonville was the only non-AFL city to host the game. It was presumed at the time that this was a prelude to Jacksonville getting an AFL expansion team, but when the AFL merged with the rival NFL in 1970 expansion plans were scrapped. Jacksonville had its first professional football teams with the Jacksonville Sharks (1974) and Jacksonville Express (1975) of the World Football League. The WFL folded in 1975. In 1979 the Gator Bowl was home for the minor league AFA Jacksonville Firebirds. In 1984 pro football returned for two seasons with the Jacksonville Bulls of the United States Football League. The USFL ceased operations after the 1985 season.

Several NFL teams discussed moving to the city over the years. The owners of the Baltimore Colts and Houston Oilers appeared to be serious. Both teams eventually moved elsewhere - the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, and the Oilers to Nashville in 1999 (after one season in Memphis). The Oilers became the Tennessee Titans. Several other teams mentioned Jacksonville as a relocation possibility, but things never progressed past the discussion stage.

The Jacksonville Jaguars joined the NFL in 1995 as an expansion franchise. They compete in the South Division of the American Football Conference. Ironically, two of their division rivals are the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans. The Jaguars have twice played for the AFC championship — following the 1996 and 1999 seasons.

Jacksonville hosted Super Bowl XXXIX, becoming the third city in Florida to host the game. As the smallest metropolitan area to ever host a Super Bowl special accommodations were necessary, such as the use of cruise ships as hotels.

There is also a Women's Football League team, the Jacksonville Dixie Blues. The city was previously home to the af2's Jacksonville Tomcats from 2000 to 2002. A National Indoor Football League expansion franchise, the Green Cove Lions, played briefly in nearby Green Cove Springs, Florida in 2007. There is also the DuvalPanthers, a semi-pro football team in the Florida Football Alliance.


Jacksonville is home to the Jacksonville Suns of the Class AA Southern League. The Suns are a farm team of the Florida Marlins. The team has won several Southern League championships, most recently in 2005. The Suns played at Sam W. Wolfson Baseball Park from 1955 until the park was demolished in 2002. They now play at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, frequently cited as the finest facility in AA baseball.

Baseball in Jacksonville began in 1904. The city had teams in lower classifications (mainly in the Southern and South Atlantic Leagues) for many years. The city joined the International League (AAA) in 1962 with a team moved from Havana, Cuba. After the 1968 season the parent New York Mets moved their AAA team to the Norfolk, Virginia area and the city was without baseball for one season before rejoining the Southern League in 1970. Many of the players on the "Miracle Mets" of 1969 played in Jacksonville just before their breakthrough season.

Many great players have worn a Jacksonville uniform, including Hall of Famers Hoyt Wilhelm, Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan.

Jacksonville was the spring training home of several major league teams in the early 1900s. According to Baseball Almanac, the Philadelphia Athletics trained in Jacksonville in 1903 and 1914-1918, the Cincinnati Reds in 1905, the Boston Beaneaters (later Braves) in 1906, the Brooklyn Superbas (later Dodgers) in 1907-1909, the Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers) in 1922, the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1918, and the New York Yankees in 1919-1920.

The Jacksonville Red Caps joined the Negro American League in 1938. They moved to Cleveland in 1939 and became the Cleveland Bears. They returned to Jacksonville in 1941 for two seasons. The Tampa Bay Rays wore Jax Red Caps uniforms for a 2008 game at Pittsburgh honoring the Negro Leagues.


The Jacksonville Jam began playing as an ABA expansion team in November of 2006. They have since moved to the PBL, where they were replaced by the Jacksonville Slam in early 2008. As of September 2008, all basketball operations had been suspended by the Jam, and the SLAM of the PBL has folded.

Jacksonville had a brief experience with professional basketball in 1970 and 1971 with The Floridians of the American Basketball Association. Originally the Miami Floridians, the team became a regional franchise during these two seasons, playing home games in Jacksonville and the MIami and Tampa Bay areas. The Floridians disbanded in 1972, and the ABA partially merged with the NBA in 1976.


The current ice hockey team is the Jacksonville Barracudas, of the Southern Professional Hockey League. The Barracudas brought the city its only professional hockey championship with the WHA2 President's Cup in 2004. The Barracudas are on a self-imposed one year hiatus so they can find a new arena.

The city had several teams in the past. The Jacksonville Rockets played in the Eastern Hockey League from 1964 to 1972. For the 1966 and 1967 seasons they were called the Florida Rockets, splitting home games between Jacksonville, St. Petersburg and West Palm Beach. The Jacksonville Barons of the American Hockey League relocated from Cleveland in 1973 and stayed through the 1974-'75 season. The Jacksonville Bullets of the Southern Hockey League played for one season (1995), and the Jacksonville Lizard Kings of the East Coast Hockey League played from 1995-2000.


The city and surrounding communities boast 64 golf courses of which 18 are public, 18 are semi-private, 15 are private and 13 are resort courses. [ [ Florida's Tees & Jacksonville Florida Golf Courses] ]

Several PGA Tour players make the Jacksonville area their year-round home.


Professional tennis is in town each year when the WTA holds the Bausch & Lomb Championships at Amelia Island Plantation near Fernandina Beach, just north of Jacksonville. Additionally, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) has its American headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Rugby League

In rugby league, the Jacksonville Axemen play in the American National Rugby League. Jacksonville is considered by many the home of Rugby League in the United States.Fact|date=July 2008

College Sports

Jacksonville's football bowl game, the Gator Bowl, began in 1946. The Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs have played their annual Southeastern Conference football game (commonly known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party") in Jacksonville every year since 1933, save a two-year hiatus caused by the razing of the Gator Bowl Stadium and construction of the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. The Florida State Seminoles have also held individual regular season games there, and in 1964 Georgia Tech and Navy played a regular season game there. The latter game was notable because 1963 Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach played quarterback for Navy.

Jacksonville is the host city for the Atlantic Coast Conference championships in football and baseball. They are held at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and the Baseball Grounds, respectively.

In March 2006, Jacksonville was a host site for the first round of the NCAA Division I Basketball Championship. The games were held at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The eventual national champion Florida Gators emerged from the Jacksonville regional.

Jacksonville is also home to three four-year colleges.
*The University of North Florida Ospreys recently moved into NCAA Division I for all sports, with eligibility for post-season tournaments expected in the 2009-10 school year.
*The Jacksonville University Dolphins compete in Division I in most sports. Football competes in the Championship Subdivision (Formerly Division I-AA) The JU basketball team has a storied past, particularly in 1970, when JU became the smallest college ever to make it to the NCAA championship game. The 1969-'70 JU Dolphins boasted two seven-footers (Artis Gilmore and Pembrook Burrows), and for most of the season they averaged over 100 points per game at a time when there was no shot clock and no three-point shot in college basketball.
*The Edward Waters College Tigers compete in a limited number of sports, including football, which was added around the turn of the millennium. The Tigers are members of the NAIA.

References and further reading

*James B. Cooks, "Jacksonville: The Consolidation Story, from Civil Rights to the Jaguars," University Press of Florida, 2004.
*Buddy Martin, "The Boys from Old Florida: Inside Gator Nation," Sports Publishing, 2006
*John Oehser, "Jags to Riches: The Cinderella Season of the Jacksonville Jaguars," St. Martins Press, 1997.
*Daniel Schaefer, "From scratch pads and dreams: A ten year history of the University of North Florida," University of North Florida, 1982.

External links

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