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Despite Irma, football games in Florida get a go-ahead

By The Associated Press
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Amid the misery in Florida caused by Hurricane Irma, the state still has places to play.

The Jacksonville Jaguars were the latest to announce they will play at home this weekend.

Team president Mark Lamping and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry delivered the news at a local fire station Tuesday, just hours after the team returned home following an extended stay in Houston because of Irma.

"It's so important on so many different levels that we show the world that Jacksonville is open for business," Lamping said.

The Jaguars spent three nights in Houston because of the hurricane.

Lamping said EverBank Field in Jacksonville passed its final NFL inspection Tuesday to gain clearance to host a game. Stadiums in Tampa Bay and Miami also were declared safe after structural engineers found no damage related to Irma.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the Chicago Bears as scheduled Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. It will serve as the Bucs' season opener.

"Hosting the game is important to us, as Tampa Bay has been through a lot over the past few days," Buccaneers CEO Brian Ford said. The Bucs' game last Sunday at Miami was postponed until Nov. 19 because of the storm.

In college football, No. 22 South Florida was to resume practice Tuesday and will play host to Illinois on Friday, also at Raymond James. USF athletic director Mark Harlan said the Bulls determined their game could be safely played as scheduled without hurting recovery efforts.

No. 23 Tennessee and 24th-ranked Florida will play as scheduled Saturday in Gainesville. Florida Field sustained only minor storm damage to signage.

Florida (0-1) canceled its home opener last week against Northern Colorado because of the hurricane.

Florida Atlantic targeted a Wednesday return to its campus in Boca Raton and hopes to play its scheduled home game Saturday against Bethune-Cookman.

Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens was determined to be safe for the Hurricanes, who are scheduled to play the next game there Sept. 23 against Toledo, and for the Dolphins.

"After thorough inspection by engineers, it has been deemed that Hard Rock Stadium experienced no structural damage from Irma," Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel tweeted. "We are good to go with CanesFootball on the 23rd!"

The Dolphins' first game at the stadium will be Oct. 8. Their season opener scheduled at home this past Sunday was postponed until November because of the storm.

Engineers inspected the stadium canopy that was part of a recent $500 million renovation and found no issues, despite fears of a tornado in the area spawned by Irma.

The Dolphins' practice complex has also been declared safe and will be available when the team returns from this week's stay in California for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Garfinkel said.

Back in Jacksonville, the Jaguars and owner Shad Khan donated $1 million to Florida's First Coast Relief Fund.

The team also is giving away 5,000 tickets to the opener to first-responders and local residents affected by Irma.

"This is about bringing our city and community together," Curry, the mayor, said. "This is about getting back to normal operations."

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL .

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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HURRICANE NEWSLETTER - Get the best of the AP's all-formats reporting on Irma and Harvey in your inbox: http://apne.ws/ahYQGtb

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