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Jaguars fans are staying away in droves

Apathy toward the NFL reigns in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars open their home schedule today with an attractive matchup against the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals.

However, there still were 17,000 unsold tickets for the game as of Friday.

Today's game and every other Jaguars home game this year are expected to be blacked out from local television.

After the team went 5-11 last season, 17,000 Jaguars season tickets were dropped. That brought the total from 42,000 to 25,000, according to media reports in Jacksonville. The team has not announced how many new season tickets were sold during the offseason.

The team has 50,200 non-premium season tickets for sale. The stadium seats 61,164, and that's after 9,700 seats in the upper deck were covered in 2005.

It's not like the Jags' fans have been wandering in the Loserville Desert, either. The Jags went 12-4 in 2005 and 11-5 in 2007.

Jacksonville is the fourth smallest television market in the NFL, ranking 47th in the country. Buffalo ranks 51st, New Orleans 53rd and Green Bay-Appleton 70th.

Jacksonville is a beach town that simply does not have the rabid passion for the NFL that exists in the Northeast. College football takes a big bite out of the NFL fan base.

Another disadvantage Jacksonville faces is it can't regionalize its market, as Buffalo has done to the east and now is trying to do to the northwest in Toronto.

To the east of Jacksonville is the Atlantic Ocean. To the north are the swamps of southeastern Georgia. There isn't much to the immediate south. Ninety percent of the Jaguars' fans come from the five-county metro area. Further south is Orlando. But Tampa has a partial hold on that market, so it's hard for the Jaguars to sell to Orlando corporations.

Jacksonville's mayor, John Peyton, made a public plea last week for citizens to support the team.

"The viability of this team in our city is critically important," Peyton said. "The Jaguars have become a part of the fabric in this city. It's hard to imagine not having this team here. We need to do a better job citywide supporting this team."

One big thing in Jacksonville's favor is Jags owner Wayne Weaver is committed to the market and seems willing to wait a long time for the fan base to grow.

One wonders, however, how much patience Weaver will have if the fans stay away for a couple years.

Jacksonville has developed a reputation as a hospitable place to visitors. Vikings star Jared Allen noted the Jaguars' quiet stadium last week while speaking about making a road trip to Cleveland.

"It's great," Allen said of the Browns' rabid fans. "It doesn't make it tough. It makes it exciting. You love going to places [like that].

"It beats going on the road somewhere where there are no fans. Jacksonville last year you could hear the birds singing. You love to go places where the fans are rude and having a good time. That's what football is all about."

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Schobel pick

Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel intercepted a screen pass in practice last week, making essentially the same play he made in the game at New England.

"It was unbelievable," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. "Aaron is a really good athlete. He told me he was a wide receiver in high school."

Schobel, in fact, had 70 catches for 1,299 yards as a receiver his last two high school seasons. He had a 38-inch vertical jump when he entered the NFL, which is better than any of the defensive ends in the 2008 draft class and is equal to what Aaron Maybin jumped in February.

The great Ron McDole holds the Bills' record for interceptions by a defensive lineman with six. Schobel and Chris Kelsay both have three.

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Colts blitz

The Indianapolis Colts are taking on a different personality under new coach Jim Caldwell and new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer.

One thing to watch for in Monday night's game at Miami is how much the Colts are willing to blitz Chad Pennington. In last week's opener, the Colts blitzed on about 10 of the Jags' 28 passes. That's not even close to Rex Ryan territory, but it's more than the Colts attacked in Tony Dungy's traditional Cover 2 scheme.

This is no knock on Dungy. With Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis at defensive ends, the Colts have had the luxury of rushing four men, playing coverage, and still getting heat on the quarterback.

"Last year, that wasn't really our philosophy," linebacker Gary Brackett said. "We did have some blitzes in, but more so run blitzes."

Safety Melvin Bullitt blitzed twice from the slot. Mathis and fellow defensive end Raheem Brock stood up on some plays and changed their alignment.

Freeney got the lone sack, but Jags QB David Garrard was held to 14-of-28 passing for 122 yards.

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Onside kicks

*Bills punter Brian Moorman is holding his fourth annual Celebrity Wine Pairing on Oct. 26 at Asbury Hall, 341 Delaware Ave.

Tickets for the event, which includes dinner, still are available. Go to brianmoorman.org. Proceeds benefit Moorman's foundation, which supports families in Western New York with children affected by cancer.

*Even Dallas' Wade Phillips is on Twitter now. Find the former Bills coach's tweets via "sonofbum." Highlights from Wade: He needs to wear more sunscreen, he liked the movie "Julie and Julia," and his daughter Tracy is a dancer in the movie "(500) Days of Summer."

*Foxborough has to be the most inconveniently located stadium in the NFL. It's like putting a stadium at Darien Lake. There's one road in, and most of the fans are coming down it from the north. Parking in private lots a mile or two away is $50. It's cheaper ($40) in the stadium lot. Why? Because you're stuck in even more traffic the closer you get.

The place to park is in a private lot on the stadium side of the road 1 to 3 miles north of the stadium. Making the road trip even worse is the fact the great barbecue joint just south of the stadium, Outlaw BBQ, is closed.

*Two former entry-level Bill Belichick assistants meet for the first time today in Denver when the Browns visit the Broncos. Eric Mangini started as a ball boy for Belichick in 1994 in Cleveland. Then Mangini moved up to PR intern before joining the coaching staff. Josh McDaniels started with the Pats in 2001 as a personnel-coaching assistant. Actually, McDaniels was a gopher for Mangini his first year.

"I never went and got pizzas for him, although I know he's had a few pizzas in his days," McDaniels said.

*Like Bills fans, Browns fans know what it's like to see great special teams efforts wasted. Josh Cribbs had his seventh career punt or kickoff return for a TD last week. The Browns are 1-6 in those games.

*The Vikings' Brett Favre threw only four passes last week that traveled more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage.

* the time being, the Eagles apparently aren't interested in re-signing their old right tackle, Jon Runyan. Philadelphia was encouraged by the play of right tackle Winston Justice, the 2006 second-round pick, in the opener. Justice got plenty of help.

*Colts WR Anthony Gonzalez (knee) is out "two to six to eight weeks," according to Caldwell. He's not known as a quick healer. Rookie Austin Collie starts in his place.

*When Randy Moss and Wes Welker caught 12 balls apiece Monday night, it marked the first time that a Bills opponent had two players with 10 or more receptions.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com