JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's been a while since there was this kind of buzz around the Jaguars. While the national media has always considered putting a team in Jacksonville "a mistake" and has always looked at Jacksonville as an outpost, they couldn't ignore the early success the franchise had particularly in 1996 and 1999.
Although they tried.
In '96 the Jaguars post-season success was considered a fluke but when you look back at the talent on those teams and how they won games at Buffalo and Denver in the playoffs, it's easy to see why they had that kind of success.
They were that good.
A talented quarterback, a hot running back and an opportunistic defense took them to the AFC Championship game. A couple of mistakes against the Patriots in New England in the bitter cold gave rise to the national chorus of "they were lucky and too young." But it's clear by looking at subsequent successful teams that the Jaguars deserved to be there.
In '99 they were the best team in the league, hands down. Before their salary cap problems came home to roost and injuries took away some of their key players, this was the year they were dominant. But of course the national discourse was how easy the Jaguars schedule was during the regular season. A 14-2 record (both losses to Tennessee) gave them the division championship and a first round bye. When Miami came to town with Dan Marino on a roll, the Jaguars might be in trouble. Instead, again with a Pro Bowl quarterback, a hot running back, two talented receivers and an opportunistic defense the Jaguars dismantled the Dolphins 62-7.
Hosting the AFC Championship against Tennessee the Jaguars led at halftime but Head Coach Tom Coughlin gave them no credit in the locker room at intermission, highlighting their mistakes instead of their lead and they were dominated in the second half, losing their second chance at a trip to the Super Bowl in three years.
Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher called Jacksonville their "other home stadium" fueling the rivalry during Tennessee's Super Bowl week. It was as much of a shot at Coughlin as anything. Their relationship might be different now as they're both coaches on other clubs but at the time Fisher told friends he thoroughly enjoyed beating the Jaguars because Coughlin "acted like he @*&%! Invented football."
I get asked all the time why the Jaguars don't get any credit from the national networks and reporters. First of all, we're not New York or Miami or Dallas or anywhere else in the league with restaurants and late night bars and adult entertainment. Most reporters coming to town to do a story go from the airport to the Hyatt to the stadium, back to the Hyatt and back to the airport. That route is no showcase for the city, but that's pretty true just about everywhere. Nobody makes it to the Southside, the beaches, Riverside or San Marco, the river or anywhere else things are happening.
Also, as an organization, the Jaguars have never been stocked with "insiders." The guys who talk about this team or that on the pregame shows on Sunday or on ESPN or the NFL Network rely on information from confidants in the league. The Jaguars were never stocked in the front office with those types who were chummy with anybody else in the league. When Coughlin was the GM as well as the Head Coach, he demanded that the team speak with one voice. Consequently, if there was information out there about his team that he didn't reveal, he knew exactly where it came from.
So it didn't happen.
Shack Harris, Gene Smith and Jack Del Rio weren't "connected" throughout the league so juicy tidbits about the Jaguars were non-existent. And it didn't help that the team was average to bad in those years as well. On top of that the other front office personnel with knowledge of what was going on were a banker and a lawyer who had somehow convinced Wayne Weaver that they knew something about football and running a team.
Recently there's been a lot more information and chatter about the Jaguars movements in the offseason and their prospects for the future. Part of that is because of the free agents they've signed. All will be instant contributors if not starters for the 2014 team and the personnel types in the media have lauded the quality of player the Jaguars are seeking and signing.
Obviously, Gus Bradley's engaging personality helps when it comes to PR but Dave Caldwell's connection to Bill Polian and Thomas Dimitroff gives him the appearance of an NFL "insider." And that's what is helping cause that "buzz" around the Jaguars. Caldwell has plenty of name recognition and respect around the league. Not because he's done anything, but because Polian and Dimitroff are telling everybody who's asking that Caldwell is the real deal.
Last year's draft class is, so far, a step in the right direction for showing that Caldwell does have the goods to get the job done. This year's free agency signings look like the second step in that process.
So don't be surprised if this year's national coverage of the Jaguars includes a lot of raised eyebrows and "I told you so" moments with everybody taking credit for knowing that the Caldwell/Bradley combination would work. We'll also get a lot of that, "There's something going on in Jacksonville" storyline.
Which happens to be true.
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