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The St. Johns River is party central

By JAY CRIDLIN, Times Staff Writer
Published February 7, 2005

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JACKSONVILLE - The banks of the St. Johns River were tinged with green Eagles gear and navy Tom Brady jerseys all day and night Sunday.

On the river, it was more of the same.

The St. Johns, the centerpiece of this city's Super Bowl bid, remained the center of the Super Bowl circus for a floating contingent of local and out-of-town tailgaters who opted to party on the river rather than inside Alltel Stadium.

Hundreds of yachts of all sizes pulled into Jacksonville last week. If owners couldn't get into the game, their boats were rocking all night, no matter who they were rooting for.

"We like the river better," said Jacksonville resident Dennis Jones, aboard the Comanche , a friend's yacht. "Warm beds and cold beer. What more could you want?"

Paula Whipple, also from Jacksonville, cooked Italian sausage and meatballs to go with cheese and crackers, avocado dip and a whole lot of beer. She planned to watch the game on four televisions and party until late in the night aboard her 501/2-foot yacht, the Aquaholic .

"I came fully equipped," Whipple said. "Why would you want to stay home with all this going on?"

Most Philly fans at the Jacksonville Landing had stopped by the boat occupied by Pennsylvania stepbrothers John Touring and Brian Muck. "This ain't no tea party," read a green and white sign in the window.

On Saturday night, they had 22 people - all Eagles fans - on board. They drank 17 cases of beer. On Sunday night, they were ready for more.

Theirs was the second boat from the center of the Jacksonville Landing, one of the hot spots of the Super Bowl. From their deck, they could see the stage for Fox Sports Net's Best Damn Sports Show Period .

"We're in the right spot," Muck said. "We've been here since Friday. I haven't moved."

At the Landing, recreational sailboaters could dock near colossal three- and four-story liners with names such as Detroit Eagle and the Invictus, yachts with tinted windows and security guards at each gate.

Those yachts belong to the haves, the corporate executives with Super Bowl tickets in hand. The have-nots, on the other hand, docked along the Northbank Riverwalk, where dock space was free but limited to winners of a lottery.

"Between here and the stadium, it's one big block party," said Mark Pfeffer of Boston, who spent Sunday afternoon working his cell phone in a frantic last-minute ticket hunt.

"My family would hate me (if I found a way in)," Pfeffer said. "They already hate me."

Who wouldn't? Pfeffer is living every New Englander's dream. Last fall, he attended a Pedro Martinez start against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. He set sail from Boston Harbor right after the Red Sox won the World Series - months before the Patriots clinched their Super Bowl berth - for a long, leisurely journey to Jacksonville.

"That's once in a lifetime right there," said Pfeffer, a tour boat captain whose business dries up during the winter. "But I'd trade both wins for John Kerry."

None of these fans minded watching the game from a 13-inch black and white TV a mile from Alltel Stadium. Boating is a way of life and you don't change it for anything, not even the Super Bowl.

"It's a good gig if you can get it," said Guy Ziriak of Nashua, N.H., who pulled for the Patriots. His father's 33-foot boat, the Classy Lady , was docked beneath the Main Street Bridge and stocked with a cooler full of Coronas.

Rob Brooks, who lives in Jacksonville Beach, ditched his warm bed for a tiny cabin outside the loudest party area in downtown Jacksonville.

"My wife thinks I'm crazy," he said, "but that's all right."

--Jay Cridlin can be reached at cridlin@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 7, 2005, 01:45:08]


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