JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Send in the clowns.
There wasn’t a large number of fans wearing clown attire — around 200 when you factor in the parking lots, tailgates and inside the stadium — but they were noticeable. Rainbow wigs, red noses and, in a few instances, face paint do tend to stand out from the normal Jaguars colors.
It’s not because the circus was town (though you could argue that former coach Urban Meyer’s 11-month tenure certainly qualifies as one), but rather, part of a Jaguars fan movement that began on social media to voice their displeasure over owner Shad Khan’s reported decision to retain general manager Trent Baalke — as well as the past decade of mismanagement, poor hiring decisions and losses.
A lot of losses.
“I don’t really know what the expectation was,” said John Caputo, the president of the Jaguars fan club Bold City Brigade. “It’s one thing to change your avatar, it’s another to show up in clown stuff.
“Some people are legit angry [at Khan]. I’m not happy. This is sort of what we do. We’re invested in making fun of ourselves and our team.”
The clown movement began several days after a Dec. 27 report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that Khan had decided to retain Baalke and have him assist in the search for a new head coach. After noticing a tweet by Jaguars fan Joshua Ford, in which Ford added a mustache to the clown emoji (a shot at Khan, who has a black handlebar mustache) and made it his avatar, Stephen Solliday did the same and thought it would be funny to ask people on Twitter to do the same.
It quickly caught on, as did the hashtag #FireBaalke. Jaguars fans flooded the team’s live internet broadcasts of interviews with coaches and players, as well as the team’s weekly internet shows, with both clown emojis and #FireBaalke.
And that, eventually, led to a small group of people talking about wearing clown attire to Sunday’s game.
The largest concentration of fans in garb was at the Bold City Brigade’s regular pregame tailgate spot roughly a half-mile from the stadium. Red clown noses were handed out — one fan said he bought 120 and another said he purchased 50 — and several other fans were in face paint.
Blake Zona went with a one-piece full-body clown suit and wig, and the 10-year season-ticket holder said he hoped that Khan got the message the fans were sending: They’re angry, exasperated and hurting at the current state of the franchise.
“If he doesn’t, there’s a problem, because hundreds of fans are walking into TIAA [Bank Field] in clown attire,” Zona said. “That’s not a good look for the franchise.”
Zona wanted to emphasize that the clown movement is not directed at the players in any way. It’s strictly about Khan’s decision-making and about retaining Baalke, who joined the franchise in February 2020 as the director of player personnel and was promoted to GM after Khan hired Meyer in January 2021.
“We can’t agree on what we had for breakfast,” Solliday said. “We agree on this. … We hate Blaine Gabbert [the team’s first-round pick in 2011] and we want Baalke fired.”
While the clown movement might not have had as big of a turnout as it seemed it would on social media all week — participants represented just a small percentage of the 60,516 tickets distributed — it certainly garnered a lot of national publicity. Jaguars fan Eric Dillard said he considers it a success anyway because of that attention and the spread on social media via photos and video.
That, and the Jaguars’ surprising 26-11 upset of the Colts, helped make the final game of another miserable season a little more bearable.
“The craziest part of it is if he [Khan] does fire him [Baalke] this goes down in sports history forever,” Dillard said.
As the most successful clown show.