It began two years ago: a defense of a failing player by a random supporter who lived 1,000 miles north; just a lighthearted and futile effort to protect the professional reputation of Blake Bortles from the most vicious of his critics.
It has become a Twitter phenomenon.
The account, @bortlesfacts, is a tongue-in-helmet celebration of Bortles’ modest accomplishments, usually presented completely out of context. It caught fire as the Jaguars’ 2017 season heated up. It had 3,000 followers in September, before podcaster Bill Simmons mentioned it and almost immediately spiked it to more than 30,000. That more than doubled after a Wall Street Journal story last month. This week it hovered at more than 77,000 before it got even more attention, from the New York Post, the Florida Times-Union, Ringer.com and, of course, us.
“I had no idea this would happen,” said its creator, 30-year-old Mike Tiscione.
Neither did Bortles, who, of course, is flabbergasted.
“I have not seen it. I have heard some of it. I think some of them are pretty funny. I am sure they are all funny,” he said. “It is awesome. I appreciate it.”
Tiscione watched Bortles’ comments Wednesday afternoon from his home in Glenville, N.Y., outside of Albany. He spoke with us by phone after dinnertime Wednesday night, but he still hadn’t eaten; ESPN had invaded his home for a four-hour shoot.
All this because, in 1995, an 8-year-old kid didn’t like the local teams.
Tiscione (ti-shown) lived too far north to connect with the Giants or Jets, too far east to care about the Bills and too far west to follow the Patriots. However, an expansion team with a cool name and hot colors formed that year in Jacksonville, Fla. Tiscione latched on to them.
They quickly rewarded his interest, with two appearances in the AFC championship game in their first five years. Tom Coughlin coached and Mark Brunell passed and Jimmy Smith caught and Tony Brackens bracketed a line with our old friend Clyde Simmons. Young, vulnerable Mikey was hooked.
That’s why he couldn’t turn away during the leather-clad disappointments overseen by Jack Del Rio. That’s why he finished his 20s in the anguish of the Gus Bradley disaster, which, of course, featured pleasant, flawed Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft. From that anguish, in the spring of 2015, sprang @bortlesfacts. It was clever and edgy from its inception.
But then it should be, shouldn’t it? Tiscione majored in communications as an undergrad, has a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications and he has worked in social-media marketing for years. His professionalism is obvious, and prospective employers should be impressed at the succinct wit in @bortlesfacts.
The first tweet: “Peyton Manning has never beat (sic) Blake Bortles.” Of course, back in April 2015, the two quarterbacks had never faced each other, and, since they weren’t scheduled to meet in 2015 and Manning retired after the season, they never would. The tone was set, and, 723 tweets later, Tiscione consistently hit the mark:
- “Blake Bortles has never punched a teammate over $600,” 8-12-15, referring to Jets quarterback Geno Smith getting his jaw broken by a teammate.
- “Blake Bortles is undefeated in 194 countries,” 1-15-18, referring to the Jags’ losses in London since 2014. You can order a T-shirt with this one on it.
- “Following Week 7, Blake Bortles has thrown more touchdown passes than Matt Ryan (7), Joe Flacco (5), Marcus Mariota (4) and Brett Favre (0).” 10-24-17.
The last one was actually a rare, straight-faced observation that highlighted proficiency and success; rare, because Bortles lacked proficiency and success in the first three seasons. He went 11-34 in 45 starts, with a 79.6 passer rating.
New coach Doug Marrone arrived at the end of 2016 and things got better so fast that Tiscione couldn’t believe it. Wouldn’t believe it. He remained skeptical as the Jags surged to the top of the standings, and he sounded a lot like the typical 2017 Eagles fan.
“I tried not to get too excited. You were always kind of waiting for the wheels to fall off,” he said. He couldn’t even enjoy it when the Jags won seven of eight. “They were at the fourth game in their streak, and then they lost. It really took me until [Game 13] to buy in.”
That’s when the Jags beat the Seahawks and improved to 9-4. That was the sort of marquee game Tiscione would have attended in the past.
Over the years, he said, he has seen the Jags play in 20 stadiums, and since 2006 he has attended at least two games in Jacksonville every season. This year, though, he and his wife were expecting a baby — Aria arrived two months ago — so he stayed home. That’s where he’ll remain.
He believes he’s bringing them luck by staying away, even though he could have driven to Pittsburgh for the divisional round and could drive to New England for the AFC championship game on Sunday. He’s relishing the winning from afar.
“I knew they’d beat Buffalo, but I wasn’t sure about Pittsburgh, even though they beat the Steelers earlier this year,” said Tiscione.
Now, though, he’s fully committed.
“I’m sure they’re going to shock the world and win in New England!” said Tiscione.
After that, though, he has no interest in playing the Vikings in the Super Bowl at their home field: “I’ve got lots of friends in Philly. I hope it’s the Jags and the Eagles!”
If that happens, someone will probably start an @NickFolesFacts account.
It’ll sell Napoleon Dynamite T-shirts.