The Dark Horse of The Expansion
In 1991 it was decided that the National Football League should be expanded by two teams, for the first time since 1976, ready for the 1993 season. Initially five cities were chosen as possible locations for these teams: Baltimore, St. Louis, Charlotte, Memphis and Jacksonville.
St. Louis and Charlotte had always been seen as the favourites and the most likely contenders to be awarded a franchise. Jacksonville was the dark horse of the competition; with two teams already in Florida and the college football teams being very popular in the town, it seemed unlikely Jacksonville could accommodate another one.
The ownership group who put forward their bid for a team were called Touchdown Jacksonville! with Jeb Bush as the Governor and Tom Petway as the political kingmaker. The name Jacksonville Jaguars was decided for the team and J. Wayne Weaver, the founder of Nine West, took over as owner.
The franchise faced difficulties from the start. In 1993 the NFL highlighted the poor state of the Gator Bowl, the home football stadium in Jacksonville, and told the Jaguars they would have to make some big renovations.
This caused some initial turmoil, and after months of negotiations a request was sent to the City Council to perform this work. But the Council failed to approve this funding, and Touchdown Jacksonville! had to refund all deposits that had been made for season tickets and the shutters were brought down on their offices.
A New Franchise
The NFL made it their priority to motivate Bush, Petway and Weaver to resurrect their bid with the Council. They made a revived bid and negotiations started once more. When this was approved by the majority of the Council, Touchdown Jacksonville! were motivated once more with their plans.
Their efforts were rewarded by selling 10,000 seats in the Gator Bowl in only 10 days. Shortly after, Deron Cherry, an NFL legend, showed interest in becoming an investor in the team and thus was signed on as a limited partner.
At 2.12 p.m. on 30th November 1993 it was announced that the 30th team to join the NFL would be the Jacksonville Jaguars. Celebrations were held in the Gator Bowl the following evening, with 25,000 potential fans showing up for the start of the ticket sales.
Just ten days after this it was reported that seat sales had passed 55,000 already. Early the following year, the renovations that the franchise had fought for began to take place, with the deadline for these being the end of the 1995 season.
The renovations almost resembled the construction of a new stadium, with the lower bowl being demolished and a concrete superstructure being put in its place. Works were completed in time for the deadline, and the first Jacksonville Jaguars preseason NFL game was played in the stadium on 18th August, 1995.
The First Season
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ first season as official members of the National Football League commenced with the 1995 season. During this season a number of players began to come into the spot light who would later establish themselves as star players for the team.
These included Tony Boselli, James Stewart, Mark Brunell and Jimmy Smith. The Jaguars ended their first season with a record of 4-12, but things improved with the following season. They managed to win six out seven of their last games which left them with a record of 9-7.
In the AFC playoffs they took the 5th seed after winning the tiebreaker against Indianapolis Colts, 9-7. The Jaguars stormed the first of the playoffs in a game against the Buffalo Bills, winning 30-27. Next they faced the Denver Broncos who were placed top of the AFC, which they had dominated for years previously.
But this did not deter the Jaguars, and they managed to win this game also, 30-27 – a game that is seen by many as one of their finest moments. From the start the Jaguars had an enormous fan base. 40,000 fans came to the stadium to see them home after this win against the Broncos, having watched it on the screens erected especially for the game at the Gator Bowl.
The AFC Championship was played against the New England Patriots. The Jaguars put up a good fight and managed to display excellent defence, but this was not enough to secure them the game, which they eventually lost 20-6.
A Steady Pace
Their third season started in a similar way to the last, with their record being 11-5, automatically entering them into the playoffs this time as a Wild Card team. Their first meeting at the playoffs was once again with the Denver Broncos, but this time the Broncos flattened the Jaguars 42-17.
In the 1998 season the Jaguars became the first NFL team to have reached the playoffs in three of their first four seasons, after winning the AFC Central Division. In the Wild Card Round they won their first playoff on home turf in a game against the New England Patriots, 25-10, but were defeated at the Divisional Round by the New York Jets.
The Height of Their Career
1999 was a season of success for the team. They finished with a record of 14-2, which was the best record of any NFL team that season, and still remains the second best in history. They met the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Divisional Playoffs in January 2000, and stormed the game, winning 62-7.
This 55-point margin is still the second highest ever to have been awarded in an NFL playoff game, and the 90-yard run made by Fred Taylor in the game is also still the longest in playoff history. Although they were now favourites for the AFC Championship their title was taken from them by the Tennessee Titans.
In this extraordinary game the Jaguars were leading 14-10 at half time, but with 23 answered points in the second half, the game was won by the Titans, 33-14. With three games being lost to the Titans that season, the Jaguars finished with a record of 15-3, making it the only time in NFL history that a franchise has lost all of their games to one team.
After this defeat, the franchise’s fortunes began to wane, which resulted in them having to draft players, including Seth Payne and Gary Walker, to other teams, due to salary capping. The 2000-2002 seasons were all losses with Tom Coughlin being both the General Manager and coach of the team.
Coughlin was fired in 2003, and James “Shack” Harris was brought in to replace him as General Manager, with Jack Del Rio as head coach. Del Rio earned himself the reputation for being a ‘player’s coach’ due to his calm manner on the pitch, never shouting at players or bad-mouthing them to the press.
His high-intensity workouts helped bring the team back into shape, and he brought in a new approach which emphasised the mental aspects of the game. Harris’ philosophy was that of ‘Best Player Available’ which meant he would often ignore the current line-up and draft players in from college teams instead who showed better potential.
A Change to the Team
Harris immediately hired Bryon Leftwich onto the team as quarterback, despite the fact Mark Brunnell, who had one of the best quarterback ratings in the NFL, was still on the roster. These changes seemed to have the desired effect with 2004 being a winning year again, 9-7.
The Jaguars had a strong defence which included John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. Fred Taylor was a star player on the team, and only the week after he sustained an injury, the Jaguars fell in a game against the Houston Texans which eliminated them from the playoffs.
The Super Bowl was played at the Jaguars’ home ground this year. Thus this loss denied them the rare opportunity to play in the Super Bowl on their home turf.
In 2005 they qualified for one of the Wild Card playoff positions with their 12-4 record, which also accounted for the second best record in their history. The key players at this time were Mike Peterson, Bryon Leftwich, Rashean Mathis and Paul Spicer. However, in the AFC wild card playoff round they lost out to the New England Patriots, 28-3.
A Return to Form
A series of season-end injuries to many of the players did not deter the team at the beginning of the following season, with them winning their first two games against the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But they then went on to lose the next two games and finished the season with an 8-8 record, meaning they did not make the playoffs.
Maurice Jones-Drew was the star rookie player that year, averaging 5.7 yards a carry and having 16 touchdowns. In 2007, numerous drafting and signings were made, including buying Reggie Nelson in exchange for Brady Quinn, and David Garrard for Bryon Leftwich. Garrard was definitely the player that the team needed, and he led them to success with an 11-5 record that got them to the playoffs.
They faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in their first game, which they won 31-29, making it their first playoff win for 10 years. However, they fell at the next hurdle after playing the New England Patriots who were undefeated. The start of the 2008 season has been characterised by many new signings, including Jerry Potter and Drayton Florence.