Tim Tebow will help the Jacksonville Jaguars draw their biggest crowd so far this season, the team’s top official said, even if he isn’t in uniform for the visiting New York Jets.
The hometown Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from the University of Florida is among the reasons the Jaguars have removed a tarp that usually covers 1,100 seats in the upper deck of EverBank Field to accommodate increased ticket demand for the Dec. 9 game against the Jets, Jaguars President Mark Lamping said in an interview. Those seats sell for $35 each.
“We’re pleased with demand for tickets for this game and we’re thrilled to be able to make additional tickets available to our fans,” Lamping said in a statement.
The Jaguars are tied for the worst record in the National Football League at 2-10. Jacksonville has drawn an average of 63,765 fans for its six home games this season, with a high of 67,012 for a 41-3 loss to the Chicago Bears on Oct. 7, in a stadium that can hold as much as 82,000 for events such as the Super Bowl and Georgia-Florida college football games.
“I have a lot of family and friends who will be there,” Tebow, the Jets’ No. 2-listed quarterback who is trying to come back from broken ribs, told reporters yesterday. “Jacksonville will always be a special place to me. It’s where I grew up and where a lot of my family still calls home. It will be a lot of fun.”
Tebow played high school football in Jacksonville before winning two national championships and the Heisman as college football’s best player at Florida, about 70 miles southwest of Jacksonville in Gainesville.
The Jets will start Mark Sanchez at quarterback against the Jaguars, one week after he threw three first-half interceptions and was benched as third-stringer Greg McElroy led the team to a 7-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals to move to 5-7 and stay in the playoff hunt. Tebow wasn’t available in that game due to cracked ribs, and coach Rex Ryan said Tebow will only be the backup this week if he’s fully healthy.
“That’s up to the trainers, doctors and coach depending on how much I continue to heal and what the X-rays say,” said Tebow, who has completed 6-of-7 passes for 39 yards this season while rushing for 87 yards on 29 carries.
Lamping said the game against the Jets and a Dec. 23 home date against the New England Patriots will yield the biggest turnouts of the season for the Jaguars, without disclosing the anticipated attendance. He said the crowd for those games is boosted by residents from the New York and Boston areas who now live in Florida, as well as fans from the Northeast who are taking winter vacations.
The Jaguars rank 21st of 32 NFL teams in home attendance this season.
Jacksonville had been one of the teams interested in acquiring Tebow during the offseason, according to ESPN. Shahid Khan, who took ownership of the club in December 2011, has been seeking ways to boost ticket sales and interest in the team. Khan said this year that he “absolutely” would have drafted Tebow, who was taken by the Denver Broncos with the 25th pick in 2010 after the Jaguars opted for defensive tackle Tyson Alualu with the 10th selection.
The Jaguars, the only team in the four major U.S. professional sports to play in Jacksonville, had been favored by oddsmakers to land Tebow before the Jets got him from the Broncos for fourth- and sixth-round draft picks.
“I would have loved to play for both organizations, but I am a Jet, I’m glad I’m a Jet,” Tebow said. “I’m looking forward to this game and going back home.”
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