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Super Bowl Diary

From silly quotes to the hidden gems of Jacksonville

Posted: Tuesday February 8, 2005 12:38PM; Updated: Wednesday February 9, 2005 1:32PM
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Freddie Mitchell drew plenty of attention with his intriguing statements.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The trouble with having a two-week layoff before the Super Bowl is that there just isn't enough to write about. The same, actually, holds true for a one-weeker, but this is worse. So all the training-camp feature stories are dug up and rehashed. Angles get weirder. There is very little of news value, except what is self-generated. Controversies are dreamed up, wrestle-o-rama style. Slurs, rebuttals, all meaningless, of course. It's like holding up two fighting cocks, beak to beak, to get a look at each other and do some clawing and screeching before the battle starts.

I knew we were in trouble when Freddie Mitchell sounded off. The only question was how long until this foolish angle played itself out. Actually Freddie's an interesting fellow. I heard a TV interview in which he said the following, which I thought was precisely to the point. He was talking about ex-players who become analysts.

"The farther removed they are from the game," he said, "the easier it gets for them."

But then he had to go ruin it with such pretentious stuff as, "I love looking at the Swedish scenery" (way up North, maybe, but most of it just looks like parts of New Jersey). Or, in a rip of the playing surface at the University of Houston, he said, "You can't run your finest Clydesdales on a field with gopher holes" (Your finest Clydesdales? Aren't they those gigantic, big-assed things that pull the Budweiser wagon?).

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Writers called Jacksonville step two on the Super Bowl Death March. Houston last year, now Jacksonville, next year Detroit. Feeling my age and my mortality, I fully expected to run into a national press corps that was younger than ever, or at least seemed so. Instead I found the same writers -- make that same old writers -- only a year further along. There had been very little turnover.

I had passed through Jacksonville but never stopped there. I knew little about it. But the Flaming Redhead is the kind of person who takes every new trip as a challenge. Upon arrival she will settle in with an armload of literature and brochures, etc., and using them as a springboard, will conduct her own survey and find the nuggets.

So we had been there less than a day when she said, "I've got a special place to show you," and she led me to the Riverside District, to an avenue of stately if slightly worn Victorian dwellings. Think of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. And then, in one of them, we entered a world I know very well, the world of military miniatures -- toy soldiers.

Troops of Time the place was called. Conte, King & Country, Frontline Figures, Forward March, Beau Geste, Tradition of London, Trophy Miniatures of Wales, Lead Army of Russia, plus signature pieces by American artists and sculptors, all beautifully and lovingly displayed. Oh, my. We stayed for three hours. Please don't ask me how much I spent. Wonderful, gracious people, selling those marvelous figures.

I am concentrating on the good things we found in the Jacksonville area. For three nights we were treated to the the most spectacular fireworks display that either Linda or I had ever seen, the rockets launched from three barges on the St. John's River. We spent an afternoon in St. Augustine touring the antiquarian bookshops and the art galleries. We visited the quirky and intriguing Lightner Museum in what had once been the old Alcazar Hotel, whose lower level had housed an ornate swimming pool.

Now onto the bad things about Jacksonville ... you know something? I don't think I'm going to get into the bad things. We went to the Super Bowl, there were some good memories ... why pester you with a writer's whining? I will mention one thing, though, and please don't take it as a rip, just as a phenomenon.

Linda went to check out the B. Dalton bookstore. It had gone out of business. So she looked for bookstores in the yellow pages. There was one Borders listed. And 13 Christian bookstores.