And then the Jaguars came along and my football obsession exploded.
I couldn't get enough of the Sports page. I read it cover to cover, up to down, left to right several times a day the summer before they played their inaugural season. I was glued to the television set that August as they played the Carolina Panthers in the Hall of Fame game. I kept a scrap book in my room of every single newspaper article... and when there were articles on both sides of the page, I bought two copies of the newspaper. For integrity.
These were my Jacksonville Jaguars and I can scarcely remember a day when they weren't. Hell, I match up major life events with who the Jaguars grew into.
Graduating from elementary school? That was a few months after The Mile High Upset.
My last year of college? We had just stunned Pittsburgh three times in a season.
Getting married? Shad Khan bought the team.
The Jaguars were that safe place in my life -- a foundation that held up where most things faded away. Girlfriends, grades, arrest records... these things came and went. But the Jaguars were always within arm's length. That stadium, though the name's changed a few times, has only gotten stronger throughout the years.
Then January 25, 2012 came. On that chilly Wednesday morning, I packed up all my belongings and moved with my wife to New Haven, Connecticut.
It was bittersweet -- I was beyond excited to end my freelancing career and join a non-profit. But I can't tell you how many times I've looked in the rear view mirror of my life and wish I was back in Northeast Florida. My mind would go from racing to daydreaming, I was disconnected from work and I felt I was running towards a dead end knowing it was a dead end.
Add to a move across the country that I was newly married, I was entering into a new (and stressful...) job and the fact that absolutely no one understood much of me or what it meant to grow up in Northeast Florida and you get the idea of the mountain I was up against.
I started getting very, very discouraged with where I was and what my life looked like. I wouldn't leave the house some evenings, I would answer the phone, I was anxious about everything and nothing at all and I felt buried alive on our second floor apartment.
So, I turned to the one thing I'd turned to since I was nine -- the Jaguars.
I spent last spring following the Jags through websites, national media and the occasional Jacksonville mention on ESPN. But it was lacking and a little surreal... I didn't get to feel the Jaguars. I didn't get to live them. I had to read about them from others who were feeling and living them.
"It's alright," I said to myself. "When the games begin, I'll get it together."
But when the games began, I only slipped further and further into discouragement. I was sleeping longer. I wasn't eating. I was scouring the Internet for more news about the Jaguars, but the more I found, the more I realized this wasn't simply discouragement or homesickness...
This was me battling with depression.
As a follower of Jesus, I would like to say that prayer fixed everything... that when the going got tough, God was there to reach down from the heavens and give me some much-needed comfort and peace.
But He didn't. No matter how many times I asked, He didn't.
I tried turning my back of the Jaguars for a few weeks, fasting from looking at any news of my beloved team, but that didn't work either.
No matter what I tried, I felt an abject powerlessness rest itself on me. I went from sleeping 12 hours a day to 12 minutes a day and there was nothing I could do about it. I was discouraged and battling with depression and nothing I was trying was working.
Then a funny thing happened -- Jaguars Twitter.
At the end of last season, I saw a growing movement of Jaguars fans on Twitter -- coping with the misery of an absolute dumpster fire of a season by talking about it on Twitter.
I followed a few people, which led to a few more people (which led to me meeting some of them at the home finale against the Patriots) which led to a few more follows and you know what?
They were all talking about the city of Jacksonville and my beloved Jaguars.
But it wasn't just what they were talking about, it was how. From the occasional "y'all" to the ALL CAPS RANTS and the #BecauseJaguars hashtag... this group of Jaguars faithful was talking a language I understood in a way that grew my heart three sizes too big.
We affectionately called ourselves "Duval" more and more and whether we knew it or not, we were creating an international community that knew no geographic boundaries. If you were Duval, you were Duval... no matter if it was Jacksonville, San Antonio, Sydney or (in my case) New Haven.
For the last few months, I've become less and less homesick because... well... my home has been throwing itself into my Twitter feed. My Jaguars, my Jacksonville, my Bold City is clogging up my timeline...
And I couldn't be happier.
God didn't come down from the clouds and provide some peace and understanding. He didn't snap His fingers and take me to Jags games 10 times a year.
He threw Duval in my face... and it's helped me through a year in Connecticut marked by skirmishes with depression.
For that I'm thankful, y'all. I'm encouraged, I'm committed...
...and I'm Duval 'Til I Die.