Photo: Nic Taylor, Flickr Creative Commons
They also have a semipro rugby team and one that is apparently pretty good as they went undefeated in their first season in 2012 and lost in the league final last year. The Jacksonville Axemen play in the US Rugby League, which plays under the Rugby League code as opposed to the Rugby Union code most of you will be more familiar with (if you're familiar with rugby to start with). Basically, the rules in Rugby League result in fewer chances to fight over possession for the ball, meaning the gameplay is faster paced and supposedly a little safer. For people more familiar with American football, the pace of Rugby Union is already ridiculously fast paced. League just takes that up a notch.
Now, I already love rugby. If I were able, I'd watch a lot more of it. The problem is that DirecTV has locked up pretty much every rugby competition worth watching on private deals for their personal rugby station and I have Dish Network. I'm also a lot more familiar with Rugby Union. The international competitions that got me into rugby in the first place (Tri-Nations, Rugby World Cup) are Union. There are comparable competitions in League, but they don't get any coverage in the US. When rugby returns to the Olympics 2016, it'll be the sevens form of Union. I have never actually watched a League game.
Despite this, I'm seriously considering going to a few games. I'll probably be in Atlanta when the Axemen play the Atlanta Rhinos. Jacksonville isn't far from me at all by local standards of distance to a city. Going to a few of their games this summer could be an easy excuse to get out of the house, especially since we're not really going on vacation this year. The games are cheap. The normal season ticket is $30. The most expensive is $75. Single games are $8 and kids are free. I wouldn't mind the excuse to go back and revisit Aardwolf Brewing and Green Room Brewing.
Those two breweries are incredible, by the way, and you're basically not going to get to try them unless you go to Jacksonville. Intuition Ale Works and Pinglehead weren't bad either and neither seem to have very wide distribution.
There are some catches to this idea of following a Jacksonville rugby team, though. First, there is the aforementioned Atlanta team in the same league and I have a strong tendency to default to the Atlanta team in any league where an Atlanta team exists. It makes picking a team easier (and picking a team makes following a sport easier), and Atlanta is a city where I actually spend a lot of time despite living a couple of hundred miles away. Jacksonville is closer, but they don't have a lot of teams in sports I care about and I hate Florida. I really, irrationally, hate the state of Florida. The only place I'll root against more than Florida is New York City and the New York thing is less about hate than it is my tendency to prefer the underdog over the favorite. New York is the Yankees of cities.
I actually just hate the Yankees.
Despite my strong dislike of Florida (its weather and speed traps are what I imagine inspired the creation of Hell), I've mellowed on Jacksonville in the last two years. Sure it's the epitome of urban sprawl. Sure it has crappy weather in the summer. Sure it's in Florida, but it's not the crapfest I'd always assumed it to be. They've got good restaurants. They've got good beer. They have interesting neighborhoods. Plus, Jacksonville really, culturally, should be the spirit city for where I live much more than Atlanta. I think I could manage one team in Jacksonville without feeling too dirty.
I'm still going to Jacksonville Armada games next season dressed in full Silverbacks gear, though. Screw Florida.