His ship has come in

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Normally, Super Bowl Week is considered underway when the teams arrive and they hold the massive Tuesday media day. Not this one.

This year, because it's here, it's different.

Super Bowl XXXIX won't really begin until the fleet is in.

We're talking Holland America's Voledam, Zaandam and Zuiderdam, Carnival's Miracle and Radisson Seven Seas' Navigator. And, quite possibly, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

Take away the cruise ships and this is the U.S. equivalent of a Regina Grey Cup.

For a city which has palm trees, this is not a pretty place. There are next to no hotels here. Hence the fleet. They were 17,000 hotel rooms short of Super Bowl minimum.

Jacksonville is about the same size as Edmonton or Calgary. This is the world's first small-market, non-tourist-town Super Bowl.

The football storyline is the New England Patriots' chance to become an all-time team by matching the Dallas Cowboys' Super Bowl record of three titles in four years.

But before we get to that, this is a Super Bowl Canada can really relate to.

Oh, you go back to Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, the former Winnipeg Blue Bomber boss, going out of his way to tell the assembled scribes at the Super Bowl coaches' press conference that if you figured the Super Bowl is a party, you ought to go to a Grey Cup. It's not that.

A DECADE OF WONDERING

It's after a decade of wondering how there could be an NFL team in Jacksonville and yet not one in Los Angeles, that you arrive here wondering how this happened. Did the Shriners have Miami booked? Was New Orleans closed for alterations?

I mean, Jacksonville doesn't even give you a chance to bash it on your own.

It's not that people here don't like having somebody put their town down, it's that they prefer to do it themselves.

"Even the hurricanes don't bother with Jacksonville," said my cab driver. "They hit all the pretty places up the coast, take a pass on Jacksonville and go straight on up to the Carolinas."

I thought the guy was having fun with me, but apparently this is true. Jacksonville, I was informed at the host committee booth in the old terminal which this week has been transformed into a massive media centre, is the most western point on the east coast.

Take your best shot, editorializes the Florida Times-Union, promoting a list of 39 of the best Jacksonville put-downs which will appear in today's edition that out-of-town writers may "borrow."

Jacksonville magazine publisher Joseph White offers a quote about being the smallest market next to Green Bay that sums it up: "Let's hold the Super Bowl in Jacksonville! A few years ago the idea would have elicited wiseass responses like 'Sure, and after that we'll host the Winter Olympics' "

Yet you arrive here and are blown away by the welcome reception at an Ottawa-sized airport filled with volunteers. They've spent a small fortune decorating a dreary downtown with neon on the bridges and marvellously painted, decorated and dressed-up manatees, much like the cows in Calgary during Stampede week and the buffalo in Edmonton during the 2001 World Championships in Athletics.

SAME INSPIRATION

The inspiration to go after this Super Bowl, in fact, was the same as that Edmonton event. Jacksonville used the Super Bowl to get the money to make a $64-million renovation to their stadium like Edmonton used the Worlds to make a $22-million renovation to Commonwealth Stadium.

These guys get the gig. And it's got that small-market, welcome-the-world flavour.

I think I'm going to like it.

Besides, tonight's press party is on the 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass. Paul McCartney is the halftime entertainment. And next year's Super Bowl is in Detroit.


Videos

Photos