Sometimes it pays to have friends in high places. Like the good buddy who scored me a "club seat" ticket to the Jags-Browns game -- in the first row, right behind the Browns' bench.
Sitting on the 44-yard line, so low that I had to crane my neck to see over the Browns players, is a lousy place to watch a football game. But it's a hell of a spot to watch the coaches and the players when they're off the field.
Here, then, are a few observations from the $200 seats:
- Corey Fuller never shuts up. It's amazing he can play as well as he does, because he pretty much spends all his time off the field jawing at fans and shouting encouragement to teammates.
- Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is one intense dude. You definitely don't want to get a stupid penalty and have to get reamed by this guy. Butch Davis is a pussycat compared to Arians.
- It was interesting to see who stood with whom on the sideline. The QBs all hung out together, the lineman sat as a group, the defenders sat with other defenders and the kickers stood alone. All except for Fuller, who sat next to anyone who'd listen. Reminded me of the junior high lunch room.
- I witnessed one of the saddest things I've ever seen in a football stadium (and I'm not talking about Fred Taylor running on us at will). There were 25,000 empty seats at Alltel Stadium, and many Jag fans were actively rooting against their team. I asked one boobird what the hell he was doing, and he said he wanted the team to lose "so we can get rid of Tom Coughlin and get a good draft choice." He shoulda been evicted from the stadium on the spot and banned for life. I don't care if Hitler's your coach (hey, Coughlin's not THAT bad), you never, never, never pull for your team to lose. No way, no how, not now, not ever. Coaches come and go and draft choices are only as good as they players you pick with them. But how can you ever call yourself a fan again if you boo your own team? That's just wrong.
- Sitting that close to the field, I expected the players to be bigger. They're certainly big guys, but not the man-mountains I expected. What did surprise me was how fast the players are. Even the slow guys were quick, and the running backs, defensive backs and wide receivers were just amazing. On Fred Taylor's long touchdown run, he got past our linebackers and was just gone. That was the final proof I needed – I'm not fast enough to play this game anymore. Sorry to let you down, Butch.
- You have never heard 50,000 people shut up so fast as when Quincy Morgan hauled in the game-winning Hail Mary pass from Tim Couch. The crowd (what was left of it) was going wild, ready to celebrate the victory, but when the ref held up his arms to signal TD, the entire place went dead silent. All except for one guy 20 rows up, yelling "sonofabitch! goddammit! sonofabitch!" Then, of course, the Browns faithful erupted.
- Jag fans will forever argue that the ball hit the ground before Quincy had control. Aw, shaddup. But the refs reviewed the wrong end of that play. The catch was good, but was Couch behind the line of scrimmage when he threw it? Seems to me he took about three steps back and five steps forward before he launched the pass. But who am I to argue with the refs? They never get a call wrong, right?
- The TV highlights showed Couch pull off his helmet and run to the sideline (relax, Dwayne, the whistle had blown, he was allowed to take it off). What they didn't show was Couch standing on the bench, screaming at the fans who had been ragging on him the whole game. Apparently Timmy thought it was hunting season, because he was waving one finger in the air and yelling "duck you, duck you, DUCK YOU!!!" Or something like that.
- That game very nearly went into OT. Phil Dawson's PAT was barely good.
- I have to admit, standing between the Browns bench and the crowd, wearing a Browns jersey in the first few seconds after a controversial game-winning call, I couldn't help but think that flying beer bottles were about to rain down on my head. Hats off to the Jaguar fans for handling what had to be a heartbreaking loss with class.
- Speaking of Jaguar fans, though, I had to laugh as I walked out of the stadium. Walking through the cars stuck in post-game traffic, some guy in a Brunell jersey started giving me grief about how they had kicked our butt. No, I told him, check the scoreboard. Serves him right for leaving before the final whistle just to beat traffic.
- As I write this, it's Wednesday night, a good 72 hours after the final whistle. And the Jacksonville sports talk shows are still whining.
- And finally, to the Jag fan who was pulling for a loss so Coughlin would get fired: Cheer up, you're playing the Bengals this week. Lose that one and Coughlin's toast.