A few years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars caught a lot of flack when one of their players injured himself on the locker room axe. Yes, you read that right. Not a fire axe, either, but it turned out that then-Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio kept a chopping block with wood and an axe in the locker room and encouraged his players to chop wood. Del Rio's motto was "Keep chopping wood," an inspirational phrase meant to encourage his players to slowly whittle away as the giant obstacles in front of them. Punter Chris Hanson did just that: He chopped wood, injured himself with the axe, and missed what was left of the 2003 season.
That incident alone would make the Jaguars a strong contender to become the NFL's next great renegade island, like the Raiders, Saints, or Bengals. They're based in Jacksonville, Florida, and be honest: Did anyone realize there was a city called Jacksonville until the Jaguars were placed there?
Turns out Jacksonville had been trying to lure the NFL into town since 1979, when they tried to bring the Colts in from their original home in Baltimore. Colts owner Robert Irsay landed a helicopter in the stadium in the midst of thousands of fans who were there to urge him to move the team there. As we all know by now, that didn't pan out, but the NFL announced in 1992 that it would be expanding for the 1993 season. Since 1989 Jacksonville had been driving a campaign called Touchdown! Jacksonville, and it won a franchise over St. Louis, Baltimore, and Memphis and joined Charlotte as the other city to get a team. (Charlotte's team is the Carolina Panthers.) It was an unusual choice, since Florida already had strong fanbases for the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and some of the best college football the country has to offer.
One unique distinction the Jaguars have is that their first-ever head coach is now a two-time Super Bowl winner, including the current champion: Tom Coughlin. Jaguars then-owner Wayne Weaver picked his coach on intensity, and he probably couldn't have picked a more intense candidate. Coughlin has the same kind of steely glare as Clint Eastwood, so all he probably had to do was go into Weaver's office and stare for ten seconds before Weaver nervously told him "You're hired!" In the 1995 draft, Jacksonville grabbed quarterback Steve Beuerlein, a natural move since a new team would need a good quarterback, but Beuerlein eventually ended up losing his job to third stringer Mark Brunell, who led the Jags for those first few years of existence. They also grabbed running back James Stewart and wide receiver Jimmy Smith, who became synonymous with the team for a long time; he won Super Bowls in his first two years with the Dallas Cowboys, but left his mark in the NFL as a Jaguar, going to five Pro Bowls and winning two All-Pro selections.
Notable is the fact that almost, if not the entire existence of the Jaguars has been during the salary cap era. They were still an expansion team, and their first year did include the usual expansion troubles. They went 4-12. But their next season was a breakout season for both the team and the idea of NFL parity. The Jags went 9-7 after starting out 3-6, clinched the fifth seed in the playoffs, and shocked the Buffalo Bills - in Buffalo no less, and in the final game for Hall of Fame Bills quarterback Jim Kelly - 30-27 for their first playoff victory. Afterward, they faced the Denver Broncos and beat them too! This put them into the AFC Championship, where Jacksonville's Cinderella season chimed twelve as the team lost to the New England Patriots.
A large part of Jacksonville's identity is actually built on the amazing successes they had in those early years. Most expansion teams team to be free victories, but the Jaguars played great football. After the Miracle season, Jacksonville went 11-5 the next two years, even winning their division in 1998. In 1999 the Jaguars went above and beyond anything anyone could ever expect of a team only five years old: They won their second division title (also their latest), finished the regular season with the league's best record at an incredible 14-2, and returned to the AFC Championship. Unfortunately, the team they faced in the AFC Championship was the Tennessee Titans, the team both of Jacksonville's losses had come against. Tennessee just had Jacksonville's number that year, and the result was no different in the AFC Championship that year as the Jags lost 33-14 to Tennessee.
The team fell into disrepair in the 21st century because it ran headlong into salary cap problems. Unable to keep a whole lot of talent, the team began slipping, and even Tom Coughlin eventually admitted the team had more talent in their 4-12 first season than it had by then. Coughlin was fired in 2002 with a record of 68-60 and having drafted some of the young team's luminary talents: Fred Taylor, Donovin Darius, Marcus Stroud, and David Gerrard. 2002 was also the end for quarterback Mark Brunell, who resumed life as an NFL backup for other teams.
Enter Del Rio, and the team has had some fantastic years under him. Some of them should have resulted in, at the very least, division titles, but they were another team that had the misfortune of playing in the AFC South and having to face Peyton Manning twice a year. The Jaguars went 9-7 in 2004 and an awesome 12-4 in 2005, with that second year resulting in a Wild Card spot which they lost to defending champion New England. Those years introduced some f the other great players in the Jaguars' short history like Gerrard, who emerged to become the team's great passing leader; and running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Unfortunately, the team began to decline after going 11-5 in 2007, and they've been rebuilding for the last few years. They have a new owner in Shahid Khan now, and they also cut Gerrard and named Luke McCown as the starter. I don't see how the latter can possibly be a smart move. During the season they fired Jack Del Rio, and last month they hired a new coach, Mike Mularkey, to replace him. Mularkey's previous experience as head coach was in 2004 and 2005 with the Buffalo Bills. He led the Bills to their best record - their only winning record - of the decade by going 9-7 in 2004, but went 5-11 in 2005 before stepping down after the season. To be fair, Mularkey may well turn into a great coach. In 2005, he had a quarterback controversy between JP Losman and Kelly Holcomb and a series of problems with defensive personnel. When he quit, he cited disagreements with the direction the organization was taking when he did. Basically, he had stability in his good season and a lack of it in his bad season.
The current situation in Jacksonville is looking far more unstable than stable at the moment. Not only is there a change of ownership going on, but the NFL recently decided to name a handful of candidates up for a city swap, and the Jaguars were among those candidates. The team has trouble drawing fans; a couple of years ago, they were publicly implying the would draft Tim Tebow - who, notably, is a product of Florida's legendary college football system - with the hope that he would be a role-player. In football parlance, that carried the heavy idea the team would do it just to draw fans because when a team is in a rebuilding phase, it uses big draft picks as cornerstones who can lead the team, NOT be role-players.
17 years in the NFL has brought the Jaguars to an all-time record of 142-137, including playoffs. If new owner Khan knows what he's doing, the team may have another few years of glorious seasons ahead. If he doesn't, that may well be the end of the team's tenure in Jacksonville. But the team may well be moving no matter what. Khan is singing the old song about wanting to keep the team there, but every owner who ever moved a team has done that. The Jaguars may well end up turning into the Rams or the Cardinals - eternal nomads. So if my proverbial fan picks them, he better be doing it because he admires the team and not just out of geographical convenience.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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The Jacksonville Jaguars participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in Jacksonville, Florida. Jacksonville plays its games in the South of the AFC. The Jacksonville Jaguars, founded in 1995, play home games at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and have won zero NFL Titles.