From New York to Jacksonville

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I was at a good game Wednesday night, for the first time in forever. I went to Madison Square Garden for Heat-Knicks, primarily to watch Shaq and Dwyane Wade, but also to decompress after the Game That Started All This Silly Dynasty Talk. After an endless NFL season, I'd forgotten what it was like to simply sit in a seat and watch a game -- no play-charting, no score-keeping, no frenzied trips to the press-box loo. I didn't even mind that going to the game meant having to watch the Knicks, who fielded a crunch-time lineup of self-proclaimed all-timer Stephon Marbury, athletic-if-unskilled Trevor Ariza, stiff Nazr Mohammed, decrepit Penny Hardaway (whose lack of mobility and vertical leap is astonishing) and some other dude.

And just when it seemed the evening would end appropriately, the Knicks down 92-86 and floundering with a couple minutes left, New York went on an 8-0 run, and ultimately forced overtime, to the delight of my three Knicks-loving companions. It was so purely good, I didn't have the heart to tell them the obvious -- that they'd been given a gift, the thrill of moral victory. And we strode into the misty Gotham night after the agony of New York's 116-110 defeat, I was privately overjoyed at the return to my life of sports for sports' sake.


(But man, the Knicks are terrible.)

So I was rather critical of the Super Bowl host city last week, which as of last Wednesday had been hit by a perfect storm of hideous traffic, terrible weather, and too many visitors for not enough rooms. But as the week wore on -- and angry Jacksonvilleans peppered me with countless e-mails unfit for print on a family-friendly Web site -- something else entirely occurred to me. It wasn't just that it wasn't Jacksonville's fault.

It was the Super Bowl's fault.

The Game That Started All This Silly Dynasty Talk virtually demands bloated, wretched excess. It demands that a city turn overnight into some sort of adult Disneyland -- only with no lines at the rides. It demands that a city provide climate-controlled, easily navigated perfection for a roiling, drunken mass of visitors (and many an overly critical sportswriter) that put the sacking Huns to shame. And this year, Jacksonville was cast as the overmatched Rome, a municipal sitting duck.

By the weekend, though, it occurred to me: I really like Rome. And so I thought back to the 10-12 visits I've made to Jacksonville over the last six years, and realized I'd enjoyed most of them. Oh sure, there were a few too many Confederate flags for my taste, and the sprawl is a bit absurd, but to call the town a "swampy, godforsaken roach motel" is a little much. (Seriously, who would write such a thing?). As The Game That Started All This Silly Dynasty Talk drew near, I found the more-than-decent restaurants (including a life-saving Mexican joint at the corner of Beach and Kernan) I'd begged for. I found more cabs than anyone had a right to find. And, as one angry environmental scientist astutely pointed out, I'd slept on a quality of life that no addled, impatient visitor last week could've possibly understood.