Commentary: Like it or not, Jaguars becoming a national story

Owner Shad Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on before the start of a game against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field on September 19, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Owner Shad Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on before the start of a game against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field on September 19, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) (2019 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Get used to it, national folks.

Like it or not, the Jaguars are a story. A big story.

With the blockbuster hire of coach Urban Meyer on Thursday evening and the No. 1 draft pick coming to town in just over three months, the franchise that has been tortured on the field and across the media landscape for years is finally on its way to relevance.

Yes, it’s January and the Jaguars just wrapped up a 1-15 season, but Jacksonville is more on the radar than it’s ever been.

Remember when Gardner Minshew’s popularity surged during his rookie season. There were promos cut. A segment with Uncle Rico filmed. The word jorts was mentioned more than it had been in decades.

And then ... back to irrelevance.

But think of that small slice of time when Minshew and the Jaguars were the talk of the league and amplify that substantially.

With Meyer and potential No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence on the way, there will be national television games.

There will be national spotlight pieces.

There will be national advertisement possibilities.

There will be massive attention heaped this way like few times before.

Hiring Meyer is one part of the franchise reset, but it is a massive one. In landing Meyer, Shad Khan pulled off the biggest move of his time as the Jaguars’ owner, poaching him from the comforts of the TV booth for the biggest makeover job of his professional life.

It’s about time for a new era in town.

Jacksonville has been a running joke on the national landscape ever since it was awarded a franchise in November of 1993.

Who can forget Denver Post columnist Woody Paige’s “Jagwads” insult in the magical run in the 1996 playoffs? What about Tony Kornheiser’s column in the Washington Post skewering the city for getting the Super Bowl in 2005? And how much has the city heard about becoming the London/San Diego/whatever big city Jaguars over the years?

When the Jaguars secured the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, the disrespect was off the charts from the national folks.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen couldn’t stomach the thought of a No. 1 draft pick headed to a market like Jacksonville. The nerve of a franchise to lose games!

ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap delivered this barb on Twitter, saying that the NFL’s worst team shouldn’t automatically be rewarded with the first pick, and that the Jaguars deserve “relegation” and not a player like Lawrence.

Save your 240 characters, Jeremy. It’s all been said, tweeted, written, published and spoken before.

And I get it.

Jacksonville has made for an easy target for a long, long time. It has had to tarp seats to prevent television blackouts years ago. It plays in a small market. There aren’t enough hotel rooms. It’s a college town, not an NFL city.

Beyond the disdain for the city itself by outsiders, the product on the field has been substandard.

Since Khan bought the team from Wayne Weaver in 2012, the Jaguars have gone 39-105 and have looked worse than that record at times.

The team has whiffed on one first-round pick after another. It drafted a punter over a quarterback who went on to win a Super Bowl. It had terrible two-tone helmets. It mismanaged players with an out of touch style by Tom Coughlin. It has had awful free agent signings. It handed the keys to the franchise to guys like Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles and Nick Foles.

Khan finally had enough, muscled up and did something about it. Instead of a conservative hire like that of Doug Marrone in 2017, Khan went big and landed one of the best coaches in college football history.

Is Meyer the savior? While he’s never coached in the NFL, he’s won at every level. It’s a spectacular hire, and Khan should be commended for going after arguably the best coach on the market.

The real key, however, is talent.

Last season’s Jaguars roster was bereft of playmakers. Those young players may eventually develop, but 2020 wasn’t a year of much visible progress. Getting a player of Lawrence’s caliber at No. 1 is franchise-altering, and the trove of assets after that is substantial.

The expectations will be, too.

But for the first time in a long time, there’s excitement. There’s a buzz. There’s a feel around town like there was in 1996 during the team’s unexpected run to the AFC championship game.

Finally, some good news for the fanbase. And it feels like it’s just getting started.

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