While the Jacksonville Jaguars wrapped up a disappointing 2-14 season on December 30, their home, EverBank Field played host to two fan bases full of hope in the 68th Annual TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, a matchup that saw the Northwestern Wildcats (10-3) defeat the Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-5) 34-20.
The first Gator Bowl saw Wake Forest defeat Clemson 26-14 on New Year’s Day in 1946. While the game developed an ACC flavor around 1976, the bowl inked a deal with the SEC and Big Ten to set up the third New Year’s Day, Florida-based matchup between the two conferences in 2010. Since that change, Mississippi State has represented the SEC on two occasions, and the Florida Gators made the trip to Jacksonville once. On the Big Ten side, Michigan, Ohio State, and Northwestern have all played in the Gator Bowl.
The 2012-13 edition of the game saw the worst attendance figure since 2000, a matchup between Miami and Georgia Tech, which drew 43,416, with only 48,612 fans showing up to watch the Mississippi State-Northwestern showdown. Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett told the Florida Times-Union that neither team provided much of a draw for local fans.
Of note from the game, the Wildcats snapped a nine-game losing streak in bowls, a streak that dated back to the 1995 Rose Bowl. The last bowl victory for Northwestern had come in 1948, a 20-14 Rose Bowl victory over California. Mississippi State had won a nation-high six straight bowl games coming into the contest.
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Having walked around a bit, nothing too spectacular stood out about the menu options at EverBank Field. My son and I took down a pre-game lunch to the tune of $30.50. That lunch included a chicken finger basket, which came with fries, a hot dog, a bag of peanuts, a bottled water, and a stadium souvenir cup, which came with $3 refills of Sierra Mist. The stadium looks to be Pepsi only on the soft drinks, with a marginal beer selection for $8 each.
While there are some local restaurant options in the stadium, this has become quite common in most venues, and little stood out to garner extra attention.
The Gator Bowl is far from a must-see event of a lifetime, but Jacksonville does a good job embracing the game. If your team makes it to the contest, or if you live in the area, the bowl and all of the activities in the run-up make for an exciting event.
Additionally, for those that have more time to spend in the area, St. John's County offers a bit for everyone. History buffs will enjoy a trip to St. Augustine, the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States, and golfers can head to Ponte Vedra to see the Golf Hall of Fame, and with enough planning, play the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course and try to land their tee shot on the island green on the 17th hole.
EverBank Field itself provides a great game-time experience. I sat in Section 105, Row G for the Gator Bowl. If the goal-line (I'm channeling an inner John Madden here) extends forever, it would have run through my seat. However, my sight line pointed to around the 15-yard line. It appeared that all corner sections did this.
All of the seats in the stadium are chair backs with cup holders, making it much easier to keep up with concessions.
Entrance to the stadium proved to be quick and easy with multiple gates open around the stadium. After entering the stadium, fans, except those with end zone seats, travel to one of four escalators to the concourse of the stadium. From there, patrons find their seats. The spacious walk area at EverBank adds to a pleasant game day experience.
The neighborhood surrounding EverBank Field is not easy to define, but given that the Jacksonville Landing area is within easy access of the stadium, fans should have no problems finding things to do before and after the game.
Tailgating looked to be easy to do as well around EverBank Field as fans in Bulldog maroon and others in Wildcat purple set up their tents, tables, grills and more.
Fans going to the Gator Bowl should be able to replicate that college game day experience they love so much before kickoff.
While the Gator Bowl Association would have undoubtedly like more fans in EverBank Field, those who showed up managed to stay loud for most of the game. The Gator Bowl allowed Bulldog fans to bring their cowbells into the stadium, and they took advantage of the opportunity to ring them. Northwestern fans, even though they did not have cowbells, still managed to make their presence felt during the game as well.
Both sides deserve extra credit for managing to bring it with the team colors. There were not many people to be seen in colors other than maroon or purple at the contest.
Getting to EverBank Field proved to be remarkably easy. For fans staying outside of the downtown area or traveling in on game day, the stadium's close proximity to Interstate 95 and Interstate 10 coupled with a large number of parking lots makes it easy to park and walk into the stadium in a reasonable time.
Fans staying downtown near the river can take the water taxi to the stadium. Fans hop on a boat and cruise across the St. John's River and have about a five-minute walk from the dock to the stadium. At five dollars a person each way, this makes for an easy way to get into the stadium. I used this method, and it took me about 35 minutes to be on I-10 headed west after the game.
The seats I had for the Gator Bowl came in at $65 a piece, a price higher than most college fans would have to pay for seats to any of their team's games. Additionally, the costs of concessions at EverBank were higher than many fans pay at their home college stadium. What did fans get for this? If they only came in on game day, they got a football game.
The game itself saw little thrills beyond the action on the gridiron. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. showed up to do the coin toss, and he took a few pictures with fans and signed a few things before an ESPN interview. Other than that, little added to the fans' experience during the game.
Fans did get to witness a special moment before the game as new members of the Marines were sworn into service.
In order to get a better return on investment, fans may consider making the Gator Bowl a vacation and staying a few days in Jacksonville. With activities such as pep rallies, coaches' luncheons and a 5K, there were plenty of activities associated with the Gator Bowl. For those doing this, buying the Gator Bowl patch entitled fans to deals at restaurants and price breaks on merchandise. The patch cost $10, and that value could easily be recouped.
EverBank Field provided a great atmosphere to take in a football game. While there is nothing that is just spectacular about the stadium, it does most things well. The seats were comfortable, the bathrooms were clean (a huge plus if traveling with young children), and everyone associated with the stadium was beyond friendly.
The Gator Bowl matches a Big Ten team versus a SEC team on New Year’s Day and is played at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Florida. Normally EverBank Field is home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The stadium is average at best as an NFL facility. As a Bowl game venue it falls a little flat and provides a less than spectacular experience.
The Gator Bowl matches a Big Ten team versus a SEC team on New Year's Day and is played at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Normally EverBank Field is home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The stadium is average at best as an NFL facility. As a Bowl game venue it falls a little flat and provides a less than spectacular experience.
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