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Home stretch

If you come, you'll be a real nowhere fan

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Four words of advice if you plan on coming to Super Bowl XXXIX.

Buy the plasma instead.

You might want to rethink things if you're still plotting that once-in-a-lifetime trip south, especially if you haven't already scored tickets. Your money might be better spent on a billboard-sized, wall-hugging TV. Two reasons: 1. Jacksonville; 2. Eagles fans are going to fight back.

Let's go to the second point first.

Road-tripping New Englanders have had it pretty good in recent years. Citizens of Red Sox Nation and weekend warriors who love the Patriots have been able to invade other folks' houses and take control. They get the keys to the bar, the liquor cabinet, and the remote.

These days, when the Sox play in Tampa, Baltimore, Oakland, Montreal, or just about any town in Baseball America, it sounds like Fenway Park. With the exception of an ancient ballyard in the Bronx, every game is a home game for the Red Sox. The scene at Busch Stadium Oct. 27, 2004, was truly remarkable. Cardinals fans capitulated. Completely. The theme was "beat us, whip us, take our luxury boxes." The polite Midwesterners put up less fight than Tony La Russa's ballplayers. It was like the invasion of Grenada. In the late innings of Game 4, people manning the entrances to the ballpark opened the gates and allowed ticketless Sox fans to enter the park and participate in the Hub's historic moment.

The last three Super Bowls involving the Patriots featured the same one-sided dynamic. In New Orleans in 1997, there was only one Cheesehead for every 10 jambalaya-chanting Patriots fans. Sure, the Packers won the game, but Patriot fans owned the French Quarter. It was the same deal in the same city three years ago. Even though the Rams were 14-point favorites, no one stalked Bourbon Street in a Kurt Warner jersey. All of the people hurling beads and just plain hurling were holding tickets for return flights to Logan.

Houston represented a greater challenge last year, but not because of resistance from Carolina Panthers fans. No. There was simply no main place to gather and drink and brag about Tom Brady. But Patriots fans were undaunted. They took over the giant Texas town -- singing and pouring New England dollars into the local economy. Again, nobody objected. It was as if there was only one team playing in the Super Bowl.

Not this year. The Eagles have landed, and soon their fans will follow. And they are going to be loud, proud, and every bit the match of Patriot Nation.

These Philadelphia football fans are crazy. They have a love-hate relationship with their team. They are hardened by history and disappointment. They come from a cold climate. They think they are smarter than everyone else. They will not back down. They care. And they are not going to sit there and listen politely when they hear New Englanders boasting about the genius of Belichick or the clutch kicking of Adam Vinatieri.

You know the deal. Philadelphia is where the fans booed Santa Claus and cheered Cowboy Michael Irvin when it appeared he might be paralyzed. They also booed a bride during one of those hokey pregame marriages at the old Vet. They have attitude. They talk back. They are not going to get steamrolled by the Patriot fan wagon.

This would make for some really interesting fan-to-fan, belly-to-belly encounters if Jacksonville were a normal American city with any kind of late-night gathering place or entertainment district. But, alas, this year's Super Bowl has been hijacked by a town that has no business playing host to the event.

Already there has been a tonnage of type regarding the absurdity of having a Super Bowl in this city. The locals are on guard, waiting for the predictable avalanche of gun-rack/NASCAR jokes from the elitist, lazy, and pampered Northeast media corps (happy to oblige). There were two full-blown columns on the topic in yesterday's fine edition of the Florida Times-Union: "Take your best shot, then stop whining" by Mike Freeman and "Visiting media, trust me to keep you from the horror" by Mark Woods.

Sorry, but it has to be said. Putting a Super Bowl in Jacksonville makes about as much sense as having the Olympics in Havana or the World's Fair in Tikrit. Jacksonville has a wonderful stadium, the weather should be football-friendly, and the locals could not be more hospitable. The local spirit of volunteerism will melt the most cynical soul. But it's still a yahoo town with no apparent borders. You can drive forever and you are still within the city limits. It makes sprawling Houston feel like a one-hour photo booth. There is simply no place to gather.

Jacksonville as a super site is preposterous. It makes Detroit next year sound like a fine idea. In fact, folks in Cleveland, Newark, Buffalo, Hartford, and Altoona (Pa.) at this moment are printing T-shirts with the slogan, "Why not us?"

So you New England road-tripping warriors who deign to make the trip here for the big game -- beware.

Rent a copy of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Scroll ahead to the scene when Newman and Redford get off the train in Bolivia, stunned at the stark nothingness of their destination.

"All Bolivia can't look like this," says Butch.

"How do you know?" counters Sundance. "This might be the garden spot of the whole country. People may travel for hundreds of miles just to get to this spot where we're standing."

"You get a lot more for your money in Bolivia," says a hopeful Butch. "I checked on it."

And his sidekick snaps back, "What could they have here that you could possibly want to buy?"

There it is, Patriots fans. If you don't already have game tickets, don't bother. Save the money. Buy the plasma instead. There will be Philly fans here who want to fight back, but you'll never find them.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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