History of the Jacksonville Jaguars

History of the Jacksonville Jaguars

This article details the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars American Football Club. The Jaguars, along with the Carolina Panthers, joined the NFL as 1995 expansion teams. Jacksonville is one of three teams, including the Houston Texans and the New Orleans Saints, never to have played in either a Super Bowl or any other NFL Championship.

Jacksonville football history

For decades, Jacksonville had earned a reputation of being a good football town, hospitable for both college and pro football. Every year the city hosts the Gator Bowl, an annual civic highlight traditionally accompanied by parties, ceremonies, parades and other events leading up to the game. The annual University of Georgia vs. University of Florida game is also played in Jacksonville.

The Gator Bowl stadium was built out of steel trusses during the Great Depression and was frequently built onto, with the final addition of the reinforced-concrete west upper deck coming in 1982. The stadium hosted short-lived teams in both the World Football League (Jacksonville Sharks/Express) and the United States Football League (Jacksonville Bulls) and the occasional NFL exhibition game. The city briefly attempted to lure the Baltimore Colts, whose team owner Robert Irsay famously landed a helicopter in the stadium as thousands of Jacksonville citizens urged him to move the team there. City leaders also attempted to get the Houston Oilers to move to Jacksonville at one point in the late 1980s. Great efforts were made to lure the Oilers, including the creation of a "Jacksonville Oilers" banner and designation of a specific section of the Gator Bowl as a non-alcohol, family section for proposed home games. Though the efforts proved unsuccessful, it did serve as a launching pad for the city's attempt to gain an NFL expansion team.

Welcome to the NFL 1991-1994

In 1991, the NFL made a decision to expand the league by two teams, originally in time for the 1993 season. The league had not expanded since the 1976 season with the addition of Seattle and Tampa Bay and with the sport growing the NFL felt the time was right to add additional franchises. Five cities were ultimately chosen as finalists for the two new teams: Charlotte, North Carolina; St. Louis, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; Memphis, Tennessee; and Jacksonville. From the beginning, Charlotte and St. Louis were considered the heavy favorites to win, with Baltimore also a strong possibility. Though not as strong a bid, Memphis was still considered an outside possibility, as the NFL did not have a presence in the area.

For many reasons, Jacksonville was considered the darkest horse in the field. First, Florida already had two NFL teams: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who played about a four-hour ride away, and the Miami Dolphins, who were already popular in Jacksonville and most of the state. Secondly, any expansion team would also have to compete with existing college football interests. And thirdly, the Jacksonville bid was mired in turmoil and conflict throughout the process. The ownership group formed even before the NFL announced its intentions to expand, in 1989. The group called itself Touchdown Jacksonville! and it placed its formal application with the NFL in 1991. The original ownership group had included future Governor Jeb Bush and Jacksonville developer and political kingmaker Tom Petway. It was in 1991 this group confidently announced that it would call its team the Jacksonville Jaguars. After some defections and mutinies, the group came to be led by the relatively deep pockets of J. Wayne Weaver, shoe magnate and founder of Nine West.

From the time Touchdown Jacksonville! came to being, they faced several challenges. In April 1993, the NFL indicated to Jacksonville officials that additional renovations to the Gator Bowl on top of what had already been committed would be needed. After several weeks of negotiations, and at least one breakdown, an agreement was reached that capped the city's liability for construction and was sent to the City Council for approval. However, on July 21 1993, the Council failed to approve the financing package, dooming the bid. Deposits on season tickets were refunded, and Touchdown Jacksonville!'s offices were shuttered.

Largely due to being underwhelmed by the remaining suitors, the NFL and others encouraged Jacksonville interests to revisit the issue and resurrect their bid. About a month later negotiations between the city and Touchdown Jacksonville! resumed, and a slightly revised aid package was approved by a solid majority of the City Council. Officially back in the race, Jacksonville officials were energized, indicated by a drive to sell club seats that resulted in over 10,000 seats being sold in 10 days. The Jaguars also gained a high-profile investor when former NFL star player Deron Cherry signed on as a limited partner.

After Charlotte was granted the 29th franchise on October 26, the NFL announced they would name the 30th franchise on or before November 30 1993. By this time, conventional wisdom was that St. Louis would get the 30th franchise. In fact, so sure were some in St. Louis that the franchise would be granted that T-shirts of the "St. Louis Stallions" (the proposed new team name) briefly went on sale at some St. Louis area sporting goods shops. However, it was not meant to be, as at 2:12 p.m. (EST) on the afternoon of November 30, Jacksonville was announced as the winning franchise. The next evening, 25,000 fans celebrated at the Gator Bowl as season ticket sales were kicked off. Within ten days, the Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville's daily newspaper) announced sales had passed the 55,000 seat mark. (Incidentally, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Tennessee would gain relocated NFL franchises in 1995, 1996, and 1997, respectively)

After the Gator Bowl on January 3 1994, work commenced on renovations to the Gator Bowl, which would need to be completed prior to the start of the 1995 season. In fact, the renovation was essentially the construction of a new stadium, as the entire lower bowl was demolished and replaced with a reinforced concrete superstructure. The stadium would be completed on time and hosted its first preseason NFL game on August 18 1995. (For 1994 and 1995, Georgia and Florida alternated home games in their series, resuming the neutral-site matchups in Jacksonville in 1996).

On the field: 1995-1999

In 1995, along with the Carolina Panthers, the Jacksonville Jaguars entered the NFL as the first expansion teams in almost 20 years. The Jaguars finished their inaugural season with a record of 4-12. During this inaugural season many of the players who would lead Jacksonville to early successes began establishing themselves, including quarterback Mark Brunell (obtained in a trade with Green Bay), offensive lineman Tony Boselli (drafted with the 2nd pick overall in the 1995 NFL Draft) running back James Stewart (also drafted in 1995), and wide receiver Jimmy Smith (signed as a free agent).

Jacksonville's 1996 season was a marked success. They won six of their last seven games of the season and finished with a record of 9-7. In doing so, they clinched the 5th seed in the AFC playoffs after winning a tiebreaker with the 9-7 Indianapolis Colts. Their first playoff game would be against the Buffalo Bills at Buffalo, a game that the Jaguars would win 30-27. Their next game would be against the Denver Broncos, top seed in the AFC and a team that, with a 13-3 record, had dominated the AFC. Yet the Jaguars, unintimidated by the Broncos or their fans, largely dominated from the second quarter on, with a late Mark Brunell to Jimmy Smith touchdown giving the Jags a 30-20 lead late. They would hold on to win in what was a huge upset, 30-27, in a game that many people still consider the franchise's finest hour. Upon their return home, the Jags were greeted by an estimated 40,000 fans at the stadium. Many of these fans had watched the game on the stadium JumboTron displays and had stayed into the early hours of the morning when the team arrived. In the AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars would acquit themselves very well, playing a tight and close defensive game in a hostile environment for over three quarters before finally losing, 20-6 to the New England Patriots. On an interesting sidenote, their fellow second-year NFC expansion team, the Carolina Panthers, also got to the NFC Championship, where they lost 30-13 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. In that year, Super Bowl XXXI almost became an all-expansion team Super Bowl.

In the franchise's third year (1997), the Jaguars got an 11-5 record and got into the playoffs for the second year in a row as a Wild Card Team. However, this return was short-lived as the Denver Broncos (who the Jags took down last time in the post-season) trampled the Jaguars at Mile High Stadium 42-17, with 5 of their 6 touchdowns coming on run plays.

In December 1998, the Jaguars won the AFC Central Division and became the first NFL expansion team to make the playoffs three times in its first four seasons of play. In the Wild Card Round, the Jaguars won their very first playoff game at home against the New England Patriots 25-10. However. they would get booted out in the Divisional Round as the New York Jets would win at Giants Stadium 34-24.

The 1999 season was quite a success for the Jacksonville Jaguars as they compiled a record of 14-2, which was the best regular season record in the NFL that year; it remains the best season record in franchise history. In the January 2000 AFC Divisional playoffs, the Jaguars flattened the Miami Dolphins 62-7 in what turned out to be Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson's last NFL game. Jacksonville's 62 points and 55-point margin are the second most ever in NFL playoff history, and Fred Taylor's 90-yard run is the longest ever in an NFL playoff game. However, the Jaguars would be yet again denied again in the AFC championship game - this time as the favorite - as they would be defeated by the Tennessee Titans 33-14 in a game that the Jaguars controlled for the first half, leading 14-10 at halftime, but then went on to allow 23 unanswered points in the 2nd half. The Jaguars would thus finish the 1999 season 15-3, with all three of their losses coming against the Titans. (Not surprisingly, this was the only time in NFL history that a 3-loss team met all of its losses at the hands of only one team.) It is explanatory to note that the Titans and Dolphins were the only teams with winning records that the Jaguars faced that year, as the team's apparently great win-loss record may have been largely the result of a lackluster schedule.

Decline: 2000-2002

Following their defeat in the AFC Championship Game, the team's fortunes declined as players left due to the team's poor salary cap position. Boselli, along with strong defensive tackles Gary Walker and Seth Payne were exposed to be drafted by the expansion Texans in 2002. This move helped bring the Jaguars under the salary cap, but was emblematic of the loss of talent over these years. WR Keenan McCardell, CB Aaron Beasley, LB Kevin Hardy and RB James Stewart were other players lost to free agency because of salary-cap issues. The years 2000-2002 all featured losing records. Coach Tom Coughlin was quoted as saying his 2002 squad had less talent on it than the original 1995 expansion team roster, a statement that many analysts agreed with. Coughlin would coach that team to 6 wins (compared to 4 wins in 1995), but he was also to blame for the team's roster and salary cap issues because he doubled as the team's general manager.

In January 2003, the Jaguars fired Tom Coughlin along with all of his staff. Team owner Wayne Weaver shortly announced Coughlin's replacements, they were former NFL quarterback James "Shack" Harris as General Manager (VP of Player Personnel) and former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio in the head coaching position. Del Rio also had an impressive NFL career, going to the Pro Bowl as a linebacker.

Return to the Playoffs: 2003-2005

Del Rio has been referred to as a "players' coach" and is rarely seen yelling at his players on the sideline or saying bad things about them to the press (in stark contrast to Coughlin). His training camps are noted for having a low number of high-intensity workouts in full pads, tending to emphasize walking through the game's mental aspects instead. However, it should also be noted that Del Rio's style of game play is very physical, relying on a punishing rushing attack and stellar defensive play.

James Harris is noted for his "Best Player Available" draft philosophy, in which he ignores the team's current roster and simply picks the college player he feels is the best athlete. This is in contrast to Coughlin's draft philosophy, which was based on assessing needs in the current pro roster. James Harris put this philosophy to work immediately upon being hired, drafting quarterback Byron Leftwich even though Mark Brunell, who at the time was in the top ten for best QB rating in league history, was still on the roster. Harris's 2003 and 2004 draft classes are already highly regarded.

The 2004 season, celebrated as the 10th season of the Jaguars' existence, resulted in a winning record of 9-7 with road victories against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field as well as the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome. The Jaguars' defense was a strong suit, as it included the 2 of the team's Pro Bowl players, defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. Byron Leftwich also enjoyed a solid year in 2004, helped by strong performances from holdovers Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith. Unfortunately, Taylor sustained a season-ending injury at the Packers game. The very next week saw the Jaguars fall to the Houston Texans, which would ultimately eliminate the Jaguars from the playoffs. This denied them an opportunity to play the Super Bowl at their home stadium (the Super Bowl in February 2005 being the first the Jaguars, and Jacksonville, hosted).

The 2005 Jaguars' hoped to challenge the Colts for the division title. However, due to their 13-0 start, including two victories against the Jaguars, the Colts were able to easily clinch the AFC South title. With a 12-4 record (second best finish in team history), the Jaguars easily qualified for one of the conference's two wild card playoff allocations. Among these 12 wins were a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on October 9 2005 and a 23-17 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 16 2005. While the Jaguars managed to win key games in 2005, 9 of their final 10 games were played against opponents with losing records. Though these games were wins, key players Byron Leftwich, Mike Peterson, Paul Spicer, and Rashean Mathis were hurt during this stretch. The Jaguars ended the season losing 28-3 to the two-time defending champion New England Patriots on January 7 2006 in the 2005 season's AFC wild card playoff round.

ee also

*Jacksonville Jaguars draft history

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