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Monday, January 31, 2005
Jacksonville, little city that could

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6 | DAY 7

POSTED: MONDAY, JANUARY 31, 2005 -- 9:32 PM

First, a quick correction to this morning's entry: Rollins College is located in Winter Park, not Winter Haven. Inexcusable on my part -- I only visited my buddy Gus three freaking times there. I'm an idiot. Please accept my apologies if you went to Rollins, or even if you ever rooted for Clay Bellinger.

I'm writing this entry on an airplane, heading from Los Angeles to Jacksonville (through Atlanta). Unlike my first-class experience on last year's trip -- thanks to my Writer's Guild privileges from Jimmy Kimmel's show -- I'm sitting in coach this time. You can sum up the difference in a million ways, but I think this one works best: Last year, I moved seats before the flight to Houston, just so I could sit next to my friend Paul ... and found out later that I had given up a seat next to former Charlie's Angels star Jacyln Smith. This year, I'm sitting next to a lady who introduced herself to me by tossing a can of Cheese Whiz on her seat, then gruffly explained, "Lunch."

Anyway, since my editors demanded a night-time entry from me, I thought I would write about my weekend. My dad and stepmom visited for four days, which is always entertaining because the weather drops 25 degrees as soon as their plane lands. It's uncanny. There were four highlights from my time with dad, so I thought I would share them here. I mean, what else am I gonna write about? I'm not even in Jacksonville yet.

Highlight No. 1
Killing time before dinner on Saturday night, we flipped on "Dinner For Five" on IFC, which dad had never seen. First of all, it's always fun to see someone's reaction when they haven't seen Jon Favreau in awhile. They always end up looking like Dikembe Mutombo watching the Slam Dunk Contest. I can't believe SNL hasn't done a skit about this show yet -- just Horatio Sanz made up like Favreau, starting every sentence with "When we were doing Swingers," and eating off everyone's plate. Plus, they could parody some of the celebs who always end up getting hammered on the show. How has this not happened?

Will Farrell, James Caan, Jon Favreau
James Caan winces as he listens to Jon Favreau once again tell the story about using NHL '95 in "Swingers."
Second, I warned dad ahead of time that Favreau would keep bringing up "Swingers," since he does it roughly 30 to 40 times per show. Sure enough, he dropped three "Swingers" references in the first eight minutes, which absolutely slayed my dad. "Didn't that movie come out like 10 years ago?" dad asked. Then again, if I wrote "Swingers, I would bring it up every 5.3 seconds, too. But it's still funny. The "Dinner For Five" drinking game would be fantastic -- if you did a shot every time Favreau mentioned "Swingers," paramedics would be pumping your stomach within 20 minutes.

And third, this particular show included Carrie Fisher (blitzed and somewhat belligerent); Alec Baldwin (playing himself, like he does in every movie); Tracey Ullman (surprisingly tolerable); and the dwar-, whoops, little person from "Elf," the guy with the beard (delightfully full of himself). We only watched 15 minutes, made about 30 jokes, dad gave it his stamp of approval, then he decided, "There's no way I would ever watch this show ever again."

Highlight No. 2
During that same "killing time" period on Saturday night, we watched "Elimidate" with my stepmom. There should always be cameras on hand when you watch a show like "Elimidate" or "Blind Date" with your parents -- just a neverending cacophony of phrases like "Oh my God!" and "Wait, they just met!" No genre of TV shows better illustrated the gap between Baby Boomers and Gen X quite like those syndicated dating shows, with the possible exception of "Cheaters." I can't wait for my cousin Katie to land on one of these shows if she ever breaks up with her boyfriend -- it would cause the most Simmons family chaos in years. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Highlight No. 3
I took dad to Saturday night's Clippers-Warriors game, the first time he's attended an NBA game where the Celtics weren't the home team since the Fort Wayne Pistons played Sweetwater Clifton and the Knicks back in 1958. OK, I'm exaggerating a little -- it was the Bradley-Frazier Era at MSG. But we couldn't have picked a more mundane game -- the Warriors were missing Troy Murphy and Speedy Claxton, the banged-up Clippers were starting Quentin Ross and Rick Brunson, and neither team was .500 to begin with. At one point, dad was staring at the Clippers uniforms and said, "You know, I just realized, I've never seen them in person before, the Clippers are always the first tickets I give away every season." And this is coming from a guy who's had season tickets for the Celtics for 30 years.

Other than the starting lineups and the cheerleaders ("They look like hookers!"), dad was most stunned by the demeanor of the crowd, which always sounds like a bunch of soccer moms watching their kids, especially when nobody cares about the other team. "It's so quiet in here," he kept saying. "Everyone's so nice. Nobody's yelling at the players or the refs. It's very relaxed. It's like being at the opera." Within an hour, he was sound asleep. I'm not even kidding. I had to wake him up.

(The 2004-2005 Los Angeles Clippers -- get your tickets now!!!!!)

Highlight No. 4
Since it rained on Friday afternoon, we decided to see a 2:30 showing of "Assault on Precinct 13" at the Grove, a seductive outdoor mall in West Hollywood. Once you walk around the Grove on a sunny day, you can never shop indoors again. It's like getting HDTV or a navigation system. There's no going back. Anyway, "Precinct 13" was a classic Five O'Clocker, dad's term for any mindless action movie he sees at 5:00 after an especially grueling workday, when he just wants to turn his brain off and watch things blow up and people getting shot. There's something to be said about a quality Five O'Clocker. It's like a stiff drink -- it defrazzles you.

(Note: Since I've never held a real 9-to-5 job, I wouldn't know. But I'm taking dad's word for it.)

Brian Dennehy
"Entertainment Weekly" is reporting that Dennehy's mustache has signed a three-picture deal with New Line.
Here's the plot for "Precinct 13": Ethan Hawke plays a Detroit narcotics cop recovering from a traumatic bust gone wrong. Now he's shuffling papers at Precinct 13 on New Year's Eve, the classic "He used to be the best, now he's going through the motions until someone disrupts his serenity" action hero. I don't have a problem with this scenario, except for the fact that Hawke was way too scrawny for the role -- he shouldn't be cast as anything other than a long-distance runner or a barista. Not exactly my ideal choice to handle an M-80.

Of course, because of a blinding snowstorm, a notorious local crime figure named Bishop -- played with enjoyable gusto by Lawrence Fishburne, who's one of those "Always the same guy in every movie, only the job changes" actors, but I still like him, if that makes sense -- ends up getting transferred to Precinct 13 for the night, along with fellow prisoners John Leguizamo (playing a strung-out addict) and Arthur Agee from "Hoop Dreams" (using the pseudonym "Ja Rule"). Also, a mutaschioed Brian Dennehy (openly mailing it in) and Drea DeMatteo (no, she doesn't get naked) are the only people working with Hawke, not to mention his psychiatrist (the always luscious Maria Bello), who's stuck there for the night because of the snowstorn (don't ask). Sorry for all the parentheses there, but I needed to fit everything in one paragraph.

Well, you can guess what happens. Because Fishburne was working with dirty cops, the dirty cops (led by the always mediocre Gabriel Byrne) decide they need to wipe him out before he goes under protective custody. Only Herm Edwards and Paul Hackett would come up with a game plan like this: "Either we could poison his food tonight, or we could leave a 10-person body count and destroy an entire precinct ... let's go for Plan B." That leads to a mildly entertaining 90-minute assault on Precinct 13, highlighted by things blowing up and Dennehy's insanely dreadful performance. I can't even describe how bad Dennehy was in this movie; it's like when SNL has one of those hosts who can't remember their lines, so they avoid making eye contact with anyone else and openly read cue card lines with the wrong inflections. That's Dennehy. They should have just had him wearing different outfits from his other movies. One scene, he could have worn his jacket from "First Blood," another scene, he could have been wearing his red sweater from "Season on the Brink," and so on.

Between him and Hawke, poor "Precinct 13" never had a chance. Of course, I loved it -- from the moment Dennehy strode onto the screen with his fake mustache, I was giddy. Dad wasn't as happy -- he gave the movie a 5 out of 10, blaming the casting over everything else. When I reminded him that it was a decent Five O'Clocker, he responded, "Yeah, but we saw it at 2:30." Pretty good point.

And on that note, I think my time is up. See you in Jacksonville.

**NEXT UPDATE: TUESDAY MORNING**

POSTED: MONDAY, JANUARY 31, 2005 -- 9:49 AM My buddy Gus spent four years at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., then lived for another five years in Orlando. According to my calculations, that means he spent nine whole years within a two-hour ride of Jacksonville, which just happens to be the official site of Super Bowl XXXIX, as well as Super Blog II.

Well, I don't know anything about Jacksonville. I don't know anyone who lives there. I never thought about visiting there. About two minutes ago, I just found out where it was on a map -- right at the top of Florida, on the Georgia border. When my wife asked me what Jacksonville was famous for, I actually responded, "I don't know, alligators?" I don't have anything against the place. It just seems like a goofy city to have the Super Bowl, like holding the Oscars in Sacramento or something. Either the NFL intends on eventually bringing the Super Bowl to every mid-sized American city, or Paul Tagliabue lost a high-stakes poker games to the Jacksonville mayor at Corey Fuller's house. There's no in-between.

Since Gus was my only hope for a feel on Jacksonville, I gave him a call. Surely, he'd spent some time there, right?

"Actually, I never did," he said matter-of-factly.

"What? You were like two hours away! You never went there once?"

"I mean, I remember driving through there once, but that's about it. Heard it's pretty nice. My friend Rondeau lives there."

"Does he like it?"

"Yeah, I guess. He has been there awhile. Has kids and everything."

Katie Holmes
Katie shows up at the Maxim party in her best port-a-john duds
And that was that. Gus lived two hours away from Jacksonville for nine years, and there was nothing about the city that ever made him say, "Maybe I'll cruise down there for the weekend and check it out." Now we're having Super Bowl XXXIX there. I wasn't sure how this added up.

Then I started thinking about it.

There's a method to the NFL's madness. Sure, the league could take the easy way out and adopt my "Real World" theory -- namely, that Super Bowl sites should be held to the same scrutiny as the selections of "Real World" seasons. (For instance, MTV would never have a "Real World: Jacksonville," or a "Real World: Detroit." So why have a Super Bowl there?) The NFL also could have adopted my "Five Trademarks For Every Super Bowl Experience" template, which I introduced in Super Blog I and reads as follows ...

  1. Warm weather.
  2. Serviceable stadium.
  3. A downtown that's easy to get around.
  4. Fun things to do at night.
  5. A city that gives you that "Wow, what a city!" feeling.

... then rotated the game between San Diego, Miami, New Orleans and Vegas. And everyone would have probably lived happily ever after.

But when you bring the biggest event in sports to a place like Jacksonville, isn't that like Douglas beating Tyson, or Adam Duritz nailing Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox in the same calendar year? Doesn't that give hope to all the little cities that never had a chance to get there, places like Hartford, Conn., and Newark, N.J., or Birmingham, Ala., and Duluth, Minn., or Anchorage, Alaska, or even that island in Hawaii where they film "Lost"? If Jacksonville can host the Super Bowl, anything's possible. For the locals there, this has to be -- hands-down -- the most exciting week ever. So what's wrong with that?

Would I have more fun in New Orleans? Absolutely. But who gives a crap about me and the other meatheads covering this event?

When I was complaining about the weather in Houston last January, some astute readers thankfully sent along some scathing "Stop sounding like an ungrateful jerk and appreciate the chance that you get to attend a Super Bowl" e-mails. And they were right. Ten years ago, I remember working at the Boston Herald during the Niners-Chargers Super Bowl -- I think the highlight of my workday was organizing a Chinese food order for six unfriendly copy editors, at least three of whom might have been Satan. So I shouldn't be complaining about anything.

Boat Trip
Cuba Gooding should stop by. If he asks around maybe someone here has seen his career.
That's not to say that Jacksonville was an ideal choice. Supposedly, the city only has 15,000 available hotel rooms, plus another 5,000 available on various luxury cruise ships, although there's no truth to the rumor that the gay cruise ship from "Boat Trip" will be there. Considering that Alltel Stadium holds nearly 77,000 fans ... well, do the math. There aren't enough rooms.

Throw in all the Philly fans making their Mecca-like pilgrimage to their first Super Bowl in 25 years -- many of them coming down without even having tickets -- and we could have a numbers problem this weekend that even Judd Hirsch and Rob Morrow couldn't solve. There's at least a 25 percent chance that next weekend could turn out like one of those high school parties where someone invites 40 people, only 200 shows up, and it turns into a John Hughes movie.

I guess we'll see what happens. Jacksonville, as Steve Perry once sang, I come to you with open arms. In seven days, I hope that I will remember you as the place where the following things happened:

1. The successful execution of Super Blog II.

And not "execution" in the "murdered" sense. Last year, I ended up writing 25,000 words in seven days, which was absolutely insane. What was I thinking? I was sick for like three weeks afterwards. This year, I'm going to write shorter mini-columns and post a little more frequently, without blowing myself out like an overused reliever. Instead of having one of those "Bill Campbell in 1977" seasons (69 games, 140 innings, 1.23 WHIP, one blown-out elbow), I'm playing it smart like K-Rod does (69 games, 84 innings, 1.00 WHIP). In other words, I'll probably write something like 24,750 words this time.

2. I covered a third Patriots Super Bowl without writing too much about them.

That's going to be difficult. Unfortunately, the Pats have been too successful for too long, so the general public is turning against them ... which is bad for me, since I'm one of the more visible Patriots fans around. If they win another Super Bowl, I might as well start calling myself the Cobra Kai Sports Guy. We'll deal with this in detail later in the week.

3. After roughly 250,000,000 man hours of media coverage, "edgy" opinion columns, talk-show debates, split-screen TV arguments with middle-aged white guys screaming at one another and everything else devoted to the fortunes of his right ankle, Terrell Owens limps onto the field, catches one 7-yard out, limps back off the field and calls it a night.

For God's sake, the guy is using GRANT HILL'S OLD DOCTOR and people think he's actually having an impact Sunday? Are you crazy??? Let's hope he recovers in time for the 2009 season.

4. I hung out with some Philly fans and even enjoyed their company.

Despite my obvious bias toward the Pats, I have always liked Philly fans -- no other fan base has brought us more comedy, charisma and general anguish over the past 25 years. Six years ago, I wrote a column for my old Web site about the "20 Worst Sports Cities in America" and made Philly No. 1, listing the obvious reasons -- they booed Mike Schmidt, they're always unhappy, they seem to thrive on things going wrong, and so on. Then I braced for the inevitable deluge of angry e-mails from Philly fans ... which never came. If anything, they agreed with me. You have to love a fan base that admits they're miserable.

In fact, if I was forced to choose any NFL franchise to take down the budding Pats dynasty -- I'm not saying I'd be happy about it, but if I had to choose -- I'd pick the Jets first and the Eagles second.

(Just thinking about this makes me nervous. Forget I mentioned this.)

5. At least one fantastic "Brush with Greatness."

I'm hoping for one that topped last year's winner -- when I watched the Hilton Sisters share a cigarette and communicate telepathically by quivering and smiling maniacally. The bar was set pretty high there. But we'll see.

6. I didn't have a single cigarette.

Hilton Sisters
The bar has been set. Anything short of Sylvester Stallone and Flavor Flav fighting over the heart of Brigitte Nielsen would be a failure.
Not even one of those "3 a.m. after 25 jack-and-cokes" smokes. After last year's Super Bowl week, I came down with bronchitis and ended up coughing out a loogie that was bigger than Zeljko Rebraca's head. Let's hope that doesn't happen again.

7. Jacksonville goes down with New Orleans and Houston as "Cities where I watched the Patriots win a Super Bowl."

I know, I know ... you don't want to hear it. Belichick and Brady are like John Kreese and Johnny Lawrence at this point. But it's still my team, and they're one win away from going down as one of the all-time greatest. Isn't that every fan's dream? Be at least a little happy for me. I promise not to dress up like a skeleton on Halloween next year.

8. I had a good time.

To the point that I call Gus next week and tell him, "You should have checked out Jacksonville when you lived in Florida, you really missed out."

(Vegas odds of this happening? I'd say 2-to-1. And I'm being generous. But that's the great thing about Super Bowl Week ... you never know.)

** NEXT UPDATE: MONDAY NIGHT, 9 P.M. RANGE **

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.