What is ‘Duuuval,’ and where did it come from? Inside the popular Jacksonville rally cry

NFL

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — D’Ernest Johnson was pretty sure the Jacksonville Jaguars fans were booing.

The running back didn’t understand why because the game between his team, the Cleveland Browns, and the Jaguars in 2020 at EverBank Field was tight. Plus, the “booing” was happening during breaks in play, and that didn’t make sense, either.

Three years later when he signed with the Jaguars as a free agent, he figured out they weren’t booing. They were yelling “Duuuval!” He had no idea what it meant.

“Because of how it sounded — Duuuval — I’m like, they must be booing, I don’t know,” Johnson said. “I really didn’t know what to expect, but when I got here, I get the whole Duval thing now.”

There are going to be people watching the Jaguars’ “Monday Night Football” matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals (8:15 ET, ABC/ESPN) who will make the same mistake. The Jaguars’ fan chant “Duuuval” does sound a lot like booing to those who don’t know what it means. They won’t know it’s actually a good thing.

But what exactly does it mean? We dug into the Jaguars’ iconic cheer — phonetically pronounced Dooo-valll with emphasis on the first syllable, but written as “Duuuval” with three U’s — to learn about its origin and how it became part of Jacksonville’s culture.

Why ‘Duuuval’?

First, a quick geography/history lesson.

Jacksonville is located on the northeast coast of Florida with the center of the city located 25 miles south of the Georgia state line. The St. Johns River — which despite local lore is not the only river in the United States that flows north — bisects the city. At 875 square miles, Jacksonville is the largest city by area in the continental United States per the city’s official website.

Jacksonville is also the county seat of Duval County, which has a population of just over one million people. Maxwell House coffee is headquartered in Jacksonville, writer Harriet Beecher Stowe and singer Ray Charles are among those who were born in the city, and Lynyrd Skynyrd is among the bands formed here.

Why is all of this important? Because it’s all part of what the chant represents. It’s more than just a cheer for the Jaguars, said 33-year-old Jaguars fan and season-ticket holder Jessie Pawlish. It’s for and about the larger Jacksonville community.

“This is our town,” Pawlish said. “We’re always defending it. We’re always saying, ‘This is where we’re from. We’ve always been here.’

“I do attempt to explain it to [people who don’t know about the chant]. I always find it interesting when people actually want to know. When they’re like, ‘What does that actually mean?’ I’m like, ‘OK, well, Duval County, that’s where we’re from. Jacksonville is Duval County.’ It’s just our identity. But Duval’s also, like, a state of mind.”

Where did it come from?

Back in the early 1990s, DJ Everette Eason (who goes by Easy E) on 92.7 FM The Beat used “Duuuval” as a radio drop during his mix shows. He said he first heard it from the streets, where people were using the phrase as a way to recognize where they come from.

Eason and Tee-Roy, another local DJ at 93.3 The Beat who now serves as an on-field emcee at Jaguars games, said they also used it while they were working in clubs around town doing promotions or events.

Eason’s radio drop quickly became popular, and hip-hop artists started using it at concerts. As it caught on and grew, rappers and other entertainers who came to Jacksonville and did radio interviews, and guest spots understood that it was a substitute for Jacksonville.

“Everybody has a real name and you have a nickname,” Tee-Roy said. “Jacksonville just didn’t have a nickname. So we’re traveling throughout Florida, so when you would say Duval they knew exactly where you were from. … That was the way for us to have an identity for Jacksonville.”

This all happened before the Jaguars’ inaugural season in 1995. The chant didn’t catch on as a way to support the Jaguars until much later. No one is exactly sure when “Duuuval” made its way from the clubs and radio into the football stadium. And nobody seems to remember which Jaguars player might have been the first to say it in the way it’s used today.

“It was more of a hip-hop thing in the streets,” said Eason, who now works at V101.5 in Jacksonville. “Radio was very powerful. What you say in the streets compared with what you play on the radio, the streets may reach 20,000. The radio reached a million.”

But the chant’s popularity surged while the franchise did the same in 2017. It makes sense, because there was certainly a lot more to cheer about. The defense was one of the best in the NFL, while the Jaguars won the AFC South for the first time and made the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

The Jags beat the Buffalo Bills 10-3 in a wild-card game at home, then upset the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42 at Heinz Field to reach the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots. They took a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Tom Brady led the Patriots to a pair of touchdowns, and New England won 24-20.

Now “Duuuval” is everywhere.

Draft picks and free agents are schooled on how to say it, and the Jaguars’ social media team posts them doing it shortly after they arrive in town. Rookie receiver Parker Washington was introduced to it the first day he was in the building after getting drafted in the sixth round.

He had no idea why or what it meant, but he rolled with it.

“Coming in right off the plane they told me, and I was like, ‘OK, let’s do it,'” Parker said. “I learned that’s what they do. I embraced it. It was fun. It’s cool to me.”

Washington has it down now, and so does his 2-year-old daughter.

“My daughter, after the games, she’ll run just yelling it out,” Johnson said. “Like, ‘Duuuval’ in her baby voice.”

It means what you want it to mean

We use words all the time that mean completely different things based on the context and tone in which they are used. Duuuval absolutely fits there, too.

Based on where, when and how it’s said, it could mean any of the following:

That’s not even close to a full list, Pawlish said.

“It’s funny because I always feel like context is everything,” he said. “You say it to a fan that you’re passing by somewhere that’s not in Jacksonville — you might be in Orlando just hanging out or somewhere else in another city and you see a fan wearing [Jaguars gear] and you’re yelling to each other. It’s kind of saying, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ You know, ‘We’re together.'”

But when it’s said at EverBank Stadium — and especially at stadiums on the road — Pawlish said it has a more sinister meaning.

“When you say it at a game and you’re yelling ‘Duuuval’ together, I feel that means more like, ‘We’re ready for you. We’re coming for you,'” Pawlish said. “… It’s just more like a menacing term, I think, when we’re saying it all together towards another fan base.”

Jaguars fans are, understandably, a little sensitive when it comes to the ridicule they’ve faced because of their franchise’s ineptitude for much of the past two decades. The Jaguars haven’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 2004-05 and haven’t made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since it made it four years in a row from 1996 to ’99. The franchise has had six head coaches in the past 13 seasons, and current owner Shad Khan is tied with former New Orleans owner John Mecom as the second-fastest owner in NFL history to reach 100 losses (141 games).

And Jaguars fans are really, really tired of hearing the relocation rumors and jokes, especially when it comes to London. Fans are already not happy with the fact that the team plays one home game there annually.

So “Duuuval” can sometimes mean a curse word. Or as John Caputo, the president of the Bold City Brigade fan club, put it: “It’s like, ‘We know you don’t like us and think we shouldn’t have a team and we don’t really care.'”

How Jaguars have embraced it

“Duuuval” was never intended to be about the Jaguars, but the franchise has certainly embraced it.

The Jaguars use it in their marketing. They use clips of players saying it on the video boards before third downs or key moments in games. There’s a First Duuuval before every game, when they have a guest — such as former player and Hall of Fame member Tony Boselli, actor and fan Asher Grodman, or four-time Olympic gold-medal-winning swimmer Ryan Murphy — yell it out before the team comes onto the field.

There are also plenty of clips of coach Doug Pederson leading the team saying it in the locker room after victories. “I had a good idea what it meant when I got here,” Pederson said. “I think it was the day I was introduced here [on Feb. 5, 2022], we went out back and actually had to do one. That was my first time. It’s been good for our team, after games and just something we can have pride in and what we do.

“We live here. I think it’s everything. It’s a part of the Jaguars and a part of the organization.”

Safety Andrew Wingard likes the chant because of what he believes it symbolizes.

“It’s kind of blue collar, you know?” he said. “The city’s kind of blue collar. We’re trying to build this contender, but it’s all built out of blue collar [values]. These fans are blue collar. We’ve got first-round picks, stuff like that, but we’ve got blue collar [players]. We’ve got grinders.

“… So when I heard ‘Duuuval,’ it’s kind of like grinder, get after it, stuff like that.”

You could also hear it in Canton, Ohio. Boselli ended his Pro Football Hall of Fame acceptance speech with it in 2022.

“That speech, it was obviously about me and my career and my family, my story,” Bosellis said. “But it was also about Jacksonville and it was about the Jaguars. And for when I got to get up there and give the ‘Duuuval’ in front of all of Canton, in front of the whole world, watching that [response from the crowd] … I love representing this community and to be able to do that and get the response from the crowd, it was awesome.”

You can also hear it in Montreal, Canada, which is where Grodman’s TV show, “Ghosts,” is filmed. As a kid, Grodman chose to root for the Jaguars in their inaugural season in 1995 and has never wavered.

“For years, the national media teased Jacksonville for being a small market and levied insulting speculation about relocation,” said Grodman, who did the First Duuuval before the Jaguars’ victory over the Baltimore Ravens in 2022. “But instead of kowtowing to the ridicule, the Jags and their fans lifted up their county name as a defiant, prideful and celebratory rallying cry.”

That’s one of the main things Eason and Tee-Roy continually stressed about the spirit of “Duuuval.” Regardless where it started and what it means to each person, at its core it’s about one thing: unity.

“It’s part of the city, part of the culture, just part of our fan base, and the city and who we are,” quarterback Trevor Lawrence said.

“It just connects the players, the coaches, the fans, everyone in the city together. … Everyone that’s not in this community doesn’t really understand it. I think that makes it kind of cool, too. People are like, ‘Why are they doing that?’ But the people that are here know and understand it means a lot to the city.”

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