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JACKSONVILLE - Taking potshots at Jacksonville has become as much a part of Super Bowl week for out-of-town writers as keeping an eye on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for possible hangnails.
Mayor John Peyton and commentators from the town's main newspaper, the Florida Times-Union, have joined those who've spent the week defending the honor of their city against scribes suggesting that it's not nearly cool and glamorous enough to host the Super Bowl.
The smallest market to host the game has been easy fodder for some who've delighted in painting Jacksonville as a backward, redneck burg with either a Waffle House or a Hooters on every corner.
The Times-Union has been printing excerpts of what outsiders are saying about Jacksonville this week, and its own writers have fired back.
Among the nay-sayers:
"Here's a quick breakdown of Super Bowl Week in Jacksonville," wrote Bill Simmons of ESPN.com. "The positive: The locals have been extremely nice. The negatives: Everything else."
"Putting a Super Bowl in Jacksonville makes about as much sense as having the Olympics in Havana or the World's Fair in Tikrit," wrote Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe, calling it "a yahoo town with no apparent borders."
Jim Donaldson of the Providence (R.I.) Journal suggested the NFL put the game in Jacksonville to make next year's host - Detroit - look good.
Washington Post columnist and ESPN personality Tony Kornheiser started the whole thing, trashing Jacksonville in a column last week that rankled local folks. "Jacksonville makes Tampa look like Paris!" he wrote.
Longtime Times-Union op-ed columnist Ron Littlepage has kept track of the negative stories and responded this week in a daily column titled "Oh Yeah?"
Littlepage said everyone knew Jacksonville would be subject to cheap shots from writers looking for material - any material - during the long Super Bowl week, so his bosses appointed him "chief responder."
"Hopefully not everyone took it terribly seriously," he said. "It's meant in fun."
Times-Union writer Matt Soergel went the self-deprecating route, offering every "glamorous out-of-town journalist" a tongue-in-cheek list of reasons to bash his town, including: "Jacksonville is so boring, even hurricanes won't come here."
Mayor Peyton has been playing it straight, noting that the poison-pen writers probably haven't spent much time in Jacksonville.
"One thing we've learned is when people come here, they like what they see and want to return," he said. "We have a great life here, and I think the secret is out."