I was at Jeffrey's Sports Bar in Suwanee, GA, preparing for Year 2 of making this my home for watching Jaguars games. As usual, I looked around and saw a healthy collection of Vikings fans, Steelers fans, Falcons fans, Dolphins fans, and Giants fans. How many Jaguars fans were in the house? Well, that would've just been me. But I proudly wore my brand new #99 Marcus Stroud jersey and planned to represent the Jaguars the best that I could.
My spot at the sports bar was always at a high-top table, right under the #16 Joe Montana jersey. I always got my Jaguars game on one of the corner TVs, always without sound.
As the game unfolded between the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars, it was a series of peaks and valleys. Several muffs by Chad Owens. Watching the Jaguars defense use a 3-3-5 scheme to stifle QB Peyton Manning en route to an abysmal 122-yard passing performance. And then, in the end, the Colts squeaked out another close win over the Jaguars 10-3.
Distraught, I paid my tab and began to leave. And then.....I saw another black #99 Marcus Stroud jersey at a table near the front entrance.
Now, keep in mind that I have either seen a Jaguars game live at the stadium or gone to a sports bar to watch them play for every game since the beginning of the 1999 season. And in the years prior to hanging at Jeffrey's, I can name about 5 times that I was able to enjoy Jaguars games with other fellow Jacksonville fans at my prior sports bars. So when I saw this other Jaguars fan, I couldn't resist speaking with him about the game we just lost.
His name was Brad. And I never saw him again after that day.
We complained a little about losing to the Colts again, about seeing the Jaguars fumble 6 times but luckily not lose any of them. We agreed the offense needed help, but the defense would continue playing well going forward. We voiced our concerns about Byron Leftwich getting bent in half too many times. And, of course, we had quite a few good things to say about Marcus Stroud.
As we continued talking about the Jaguars, Brad mentioned that there was a sports bar in downtown Atlanta that was not only a Florida Gators bar but also a Jacksonville Jaguars bar. I was immediately interested in hearing more. I had been to several message boards for Jaguars fans, asking them if they lived in the Atlanta area and wanted to get together to watch Jaguars games to let me know. But most people simply read the posts I made but never replied. Now here I had finally found the pot of gold I was looking for: a place for the real teal fans in Atlanta. I shook Brad's hand, said "Go Jags!", and left Jeffrey's Sports Bar for the last time. The Lodge in downtown Atlanta would be my new Jaguars home.
I walked into The Lodge around 12:15 that next Sunday. The hostess said the Jaguars fans were in the room all the way to the back. So as I meandered down the small hallway toward the back room, I saw one couple who was there. I asked if this was the home of the Jaguars, and they said yes. Slowly, a few fans here and there trickled in. I believe there were about 12 fans that day. And we cheered the Jaguars to a thrilling 26-20 win in overtime vs. the New York Jets.
What did I find out about these new Jaguars fans I had met? Many of them were originally from the Jacksonville area and had been friends for many years. They were thrilled that I was an Atlanta native but loved the Jaguars, and they were hoping that we could eventually get even more Jaguars fans to show up. There was talk of building a Web site to entice new fans to join us.
Around February 2006, I launched ATL-Jags.com as a way to keep our fans up to speed on what was happening with the Jaguars' offseason as well as promoting any events that might be taking place with the ATL Jags fans leading up to the season. With the input of some of our regulars, we finally got our first promotional tool. We also became a huge supporter of JagNation.com, who in May 2006 were in the stages of becoming a major alternative news source for Jaguars football, and they gladly let us promote our ATL Jags fan club (which would eventually be deemed JagNation Atlanta).
Slowly but surely, we started building something good in 2006. We did a big JagNation Atlanta tailgate before the Jaguars-Falcons preseason game. More fans got word of the Web site and the collection of die hards continued to file into The Lodge. We were improving our attendance, getting up to 20-25 people for the big divisional games.
And then we found out after the 2006 season, our sports bar was going to be leveled in favor of condos and a shopping district. The Lodge was perfect because we had our own room and could watch nothing but Jaguars games without having to turn down the volume for other teams' games. What were we to do?
The ATL Jags fans were more determined than ever.
In August 2007, still without a home for Jaguars games, one of our regulars, James, found a place called Charlie Mopps Public House. He got a few of us out there for happy hour one Friday night. We were impressed with the service, the quality of food, and they were going to give us TWO rooms to fill up with Jaguars fans. Now it was our job to make good on their hospitality and get this mother fired up every Sunday with a house full of Jaguars fans.
With a combination of savvy marketing via our new JagNation Atlanta MySpace page as well as handing out business cards to promote ATL-Jags.com and JagNation.com, we connected with more Jaguars fans that were in a similar boat as me two years ago: they were die hards without a place to call home. Well, now, the teal is for real in the ATL.
This past Sunday, we had 44 Jaguars fans show up to our sports bar in Atlanta for the big game vs. Pittsburgh. You would've thought we brought the entire North End Zone of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium to Charlie Mopps Public House that day, as the "Move Those Chains" chants permeated the bar after every first down. There were high fives. There was a Pete Mitchell jersey sighting. A true JagNation Atlanta tradition is the passing around and kissing of the lucky football (which has been signed by former and current Jaguars greats) every time the Jaguars score. There were old friends enjoying the game that day, and new friends were made as five new fans showed up to the bar for the first time. Even the 20 Steelers fans that showed up were no match for the intensity displayed by this passionate fan base of JagNation Atlanta.
At one point, James, who has been with the core group of ATL Jags fans since before I came on board, looked around at all of the Jaguars fans in this one locale 350 miles from Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, and reflected on the day, saying, "I feel like a proud Papa. Just look at this. If you build it, they will come."
We built it alright.
JagNation Atlanta, a.k.a "North Duval," hopes to see you in our house if you're ever in town.