JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's up for debate what the "Top 20 Moments" are in the 20 years the Jaguars have played in the NFL. And actually, some of the top moments happened before they started playing football at all. There might even be a debate about what the No. 1 moment in team history could be, but we picked the announcement of a team as our No. 1. After 14 years of pursuing the NFL through "Colt Fever" and the USFL, when NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the name "Jacksonville" as the next franchise in the league, it's as if time stopped for a second or so and the city would never be the same.
Second on our list is the return trip from Denver after beating the Broncos in the Divisional Playoff game in 1996, 30-27 despite being heavy underdogs. At Channel 4 we stayed on the air continuously after the game up until the team returned to Jacksonville. Perhaps because we were on the air and a lot of people were excited and watching, fans spontaneously flocked to the stadium, looking for a communal place to celebrate. City leaders didn't know what to do, but did the right thing by mobilizing some staff and security and getting the cooperation of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, opened the stadium and turned the lights on. No concessions, no game, just a place to high-five fellow revelers. It must have been some scene from the team charter when they flew over the stadium and rocked their wings in acknowledgement. Fans wouldn't give up and the team buses brought the players to the stadium for a victory lap around the field. This is a pretty good candidate for the top spot on this list, and I could probably be convinced either way.
Without the win in Denver the celebration wouldn't have happened, so the game vs. the Broncos is our third choice. A famous writer in the Denver press box heckled me before the game, asking what we were doing there since we were "a USFL team anyway." I ignored him then (as I do now, although he's risen to unexplained national prominence) but did say after the game walking out of the locker room, "USFL in the Conference Championship game, NFL staying home." I guess it's no wonder he hasn't spoken to me since! (which is OK). I remember standing on a rooftop in Denver doing live television in about 12 degrees for four hours. Our field producer happened to be my boss at the time (he had lived in Denver) and told me to "come inside and warm up." I was so into it, I just said, "Really? Our team just beat the Broncos and is going to the AFC Title game and I'm coming inside because I'm cold? No!" We both got a laugh out of that in subsequent years.
I guess most of these "moments" get onto the list because, if you've followed the Jaguars, you know right where you were when they happened. That's why Morten Andersen missing the field goal that put the Jaguars in the playoffs in the first place in 1996 occupies the fourth spot. I've had so many people over the years say, "I was standing in my seat," or "I was crossing my fingers screaming from the upper deck," when they talk about the win over the Falcons here at home. I was part of the "I can't watch" segment. It's the only time I've ever done that, but I couldn't bear to watch the dream go away in an instant. That's why I turned my back on it and stood next to my friend and colleague Todd on the sidelines when Andersen lined up for the chip shot to win it. I remember Todd saying very calmly (the first time), "He missed it." I was like, "What?!" And then he screamed, "He missed it! He missed it!" and jumped up and down with the rest of the people in the stadium.
People still talk about Tony Boselli waving Jason Taylor downfield as the Jaguars beat the Dolphins on national television. It was one of the validations of the teams of the '90s. It's in the top five. In our sixth spot, the playoff win over the Dolphins was such a demolition that the game seemed to be over just when it started. Some think it might be the best home win in franchise history. It ended the careers of both Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson.
In defining a "moment," (it's a pretty nebulous term) for this list it's the times you have seared in your memory of Jaguars history. Driving to the stadium for the first game in 1995 is a memory most people who lived here then will remember, whether they were Jaguars' fans or not. An NFL game in our city with our team? It had seemed impossible, but there it was: Jaguars vs. Oilers right next to the Green Bay, New England and Pittsburgh scores. It made it real. Mark Brunell's run against Denver in the win there makes the list at No. 8, because it might have been the first time most fans thought, "Hey, this team is hot and pretty good. They might be able to pull this off!"
A few weeks into the inaugural season, the Jaguars' win against the Oilers in Houston makes the list as a milestone and a relief that the team wouldn't go winless in its expansion season. An unproven coach coming out of college with a bunch of expansion castoffs was a complete unknown.
Going to Pittsburgh and beating the Steelers in 2007 was made possible by an improbable run by QB David Garrard. Steeler fans to this day scream "What about the holding?" when you bring that play up. That certainly makes it memorable at No. 10. Eleventh was hotly debated, but the way Josh Scobee ran around the field with his helmet in the air after beating the Colts with a 59-yard field goal in 2010 qualifies. Maybe because the Colts were the Jaguars' nemesis at the time, but we thought it belonged here. And ditto for Fred Taylor's run against the Dolphins to open the scoring. Never really given his due while he was playing, Taylor showed the speed and power that very few backs have for a moment many Jaguars and Dolphins fans won't forget.
We put the Jack Del Rio firing and the Wayne Weaver selling the team as one entry, 13th on the list. Weaver had kept his intention to sell the team so quiet that when he fired Del Rio, he didn't even tell Jack when he sent him home. It wasn't a surprise that Del Rio was shown the door, but in retrospect, firing Jack before he got here was probably one of Shad Khan's "asks" when the deal was getting done. (Or maybe Weaver just wanted the pleasure of doing it.) It also solidified Jacksonville as the Jaguars' home. Despite the constant drumbeat regarding the team moving to L.A., the sale to Shad Khan was Weaver's parting gift to the city. He acknowledged that he had spurned offers from "groups in California," instead opting for Khan and his commitment to keep the team in town. So far, Khan hasn't done anything to make anybody think to the contrary.
In fact, 14th on the list is one of those wild things that Khan thinks up and then makes happen: World's largest video boards. New technology, new look, when they were unveiled in July 2014 it was hard not to be impressed. More than 53,000 showed up in a scene reminiscent of the old days where people just liked coming to the stadium to be together. A nice soccer match, a concert and the unveiling were all nice but being there was the thing that counted.
Our 15th selection happened on the road, or it might have been higher. Fred Taylor ran all over the Steelers for 234 yards at Three Rivers, the most for an opponent all time vs. Pittsburgh. At the time, the Jaguars were in the AFC Central and Tom Coughlin had used the Steelers as the gold standard when building his team. Manhandling the vaunted Steelers defense by running it right at them put the Jaguars on the map as a tough, physical team.
Sixteenth is a little obscure and wasn't seen by many people but everybody who was there says the same thing: "That was really cool." When Aaron Ross signed with the Jaguars, he was the second-best athlete in his household. His wife, Sonja Richards-Ross, was an Olympian and the favorite in the 200 meters in London. Head coach Mike Mularkey arranged for her race to be shown live on the screens in the stadium and surprised his team with a shortened practice and a walk onto the field to watch. Richards-Ross lost the lead in the middle of the race but finished strong to win the gold. Perhaps the best outcome any football coach could have asked for to show his team how to get the job done. Mularkey never got that chance, unlucky again as the head coach in the wrong situation. Very cool moment, though.
Three plays make the 17-19 spots on the list. Mike Thomas' catch of the Hail Mary for a TD is still talked about, perhaps mainly because it's so improbable it generally never happens. If you were at that New Orleans game here and remember it being cold and dank, the lateral-filled TD the team scored in the game's waning moments certainly woke up the crowd. And when John Carney (who later kicked for the Jaguars) missed the PAT, it was a stunning, head-scratching moment for everybody who was there. And in the Jaguars' first appearance on Monday Night Football, it seemed as if the stadium was the center of the universe that night against the rival Steelers. Chris Hudson's return of a blocked kick for a TD sealed the victory for the Jaguars, but Bill Cowher's half-step onto the field and the moment you thought he might actually punch Hudson is something considerably memorable.
Tagging on the 20th most memorable moment was debatable between several candidates. Chris Hanson hitting his own leg with an axe in the middle of the locker room while "chopping wood" made the list maybe because it's so preposterous. When Del Rio put that piece of wood in there to symbolize his whole silly "keep chopping wood" theme for a team that was losing, just about everybody thought it was a bad idea and a disaster waiting to happen. As a self-fulfilling prophecy and a memorable moment, it certainly qualifies.
Our honorable mention moments include the loss to the Titans in the AFC Championship game in 2000. It could have easily been anywhere after the top four or five on this list, but I think it's still too painful for the Jaguars faithful.
Here's a look at the list.
- Beating Buffalo in 1996 playoffs
- Khan approved by NFL owners
- James Stewart's five TDs vs. Philadelphia in Jacksonville
- Jimmy Smith's game vs. Baltimore
- Losing AFC title game to Titans
Did we leave out your favorite moment? I'm sure you have an opinion. Send us your "Most Memorable Moments" to Twitter with the hashtag #JagsTop20 or tweet them to @Sports4Jax and we'll list your top four Friday night on our weekly Jaguars wrap-up show.