It’s now been several years since the First Coast hosted Super Bowl XXXIX at TIAA Bank Field, which at the time went by the name of Alltel Stadium. Having been awarded the event in 2000 by a vote of NFL team owners, the game itself took place on February 6, 2005.
Of course, with such a massive event comes quite a bit of attention and responsibility. When Jacksonville was announced as a host city, the decision was immediately questioned by media personalities who insisted the city was simply not capable of hosting a Super Bowl.
Despite the doubts, Jacksonville forged ahead in preparation for hosting. Many local establishments upgraded their facades and interiors in hopes of drawing in out-of-towners. The Avenues Mall underwent a renovation costing around $10 million. Unfortunately for the mall, much of the construction had not been completed by the time the influx of visitors came to town, although there was a special Super Bowl shop set up in one of the mall’s storefronts. Local hotels struggled to work the logistics of accommodating the massive hordes of visitors; ultimately, the city would infamously have to bring in cruise ships to serve as “floating hotels” in order to ensure space for all visitors.
The league chose to market the game around the theme of “building bridges.” This was done as a nod to the city’s seven bridges, with the Main Street Bridge being featured within the logo designed for the game. It also represented a desire within the NFL to establish a theme of creating connections across various boundaries through the game of football.
As the big game drew closer, excitement grew within the city. The fairgrounds became a “Super Bowl City” complete with games, exhibits, autograph signings, and various other fun, family-oriented activities. Traffic patterns for the game were painstakingly planned out by officials. The entire city rallied around its monumental task, and by most (well-informed) accounts the event was more successful than anyone could have imagined. The game went off without a hitch, and featured a halftime show by Paul McCartney and a 24-21 New England Patriots victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in front of a crowd of over 78,000.
Of course, not being well-informed rarely stops people from voicing their opinions, and the national coverage of Jacksonville’s stint as host was no exception. In both pre- and post-game coverage, national news outlets and fans throughout the country took great delight in bashing Jacksonville’s ability to host the Super Bowl. Most of these comments focused on the small size of Jacksonville relative to previous Super Bowl host city markets, as well as the city’s lack of abundant hotel space. To this day, Jacksonville is often cited as one of the worst Super Bowl hosts ever, although no one ever seems able to cite any particular reason beyond the hotel fiasco.
While there may have been small issues, the reality is that Jacksonville performed quite admirably as a host for Super Bowl XXXIX. And while the criticism and mockery may have been discouraging, it was clear to anyone living in the First Coast area at the time that the event was a fantastic confidence boost to an already-growing city.
Don’t look for the city to host any more Super Bowls in the near future, however. City officials are focused on bringing in other major sports events such as college sports playoff games and U.S. national team events.
Nonetheless, it’s fun to take this opportunity to look back on an important moment in our city’s history.