Well, Jacksonville, do you believe in miracles? Jaguars bring back memories of 1996

Jaguars receiver Marvin Jones Jr. celebrates a touchdown catch in a 31-30 win over the Chargers. (Kevin Nguyen, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dave Widell stepped to the microphone after another unlikely playoff win and uttered the phrase that lives on in Jaguars sound bites.

Longtime Jaguars fans remember the moment like it was just the other day. It’s unforgettable. In many ways, it’s timeless and applies to this year’s worst-to-first Jacksonville team.

“Jacksonville,” Widell asked a crowd, estimated to be 40,000, that showed up after midnight to celebrate a 30-27 win over the Broncos, “do you believe in miracles?”

Well, do you Jacksonville fans?

The Jaguars needed a miraculous finish this season to turn things around and they did just that, becoming just the third team in NFL history to go from the No. 1 overall draft pick to division champ. They needed a similar miracle to do it in 1996, too. Can Jacksonville keep that going on Saturday in the AFC divisional round when the team travels to face the Chiefs?

Keenan McCardell and Tony Brackens celebrate after a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Week 17 of the 1996 season. The Jaguars won the game, 19-17. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport (Getty Images)

Widell asked that question well into the early morning hours of Jan. 5, 1997, when a crowd packed then-Jacksonville Municipal Stadium to welcome home its underdog Jaguars. They’d gone on the road and shocked John Elway and the Broncos 30-27 in the AFC divisional round. The Broncos, the No. 1 seed in the AFC, were 12.5-point favorites. Denver Post columnist Woody Paige infamously called Jacksonville the Jagwads and said they had no business playing the mighty Broncos.

There’s disrespect heaved at the Jaguars from folks all the time, but there is plenty of respect in NFL circles for what Jacksonville has done in Doug Pederson’s first year with the franchise. While the barbs will always be flung in this direction (is the team still moving to London?), the Jaguars have shown that they’re a team to be taken lightly at your own peril.

That disrespect started when the city was awarded an NFL franchise in 1993 and cranked up during a 1996 season that saw Jacksonville go from picking No. 2 in the draft to playing for the AFC championship. And there are certainly parallels from this year’s team to the 1996 club that emerged from the ashes to earn an unlikely AFC championship game appearance.

A few of the similarities.

The prior year’s teams were bad.

The Jaguars were an expansion team in 1995 and went 4-12. The 2021 Jaguars were led by a rookie NFL head coach during Urban Meyer’s short era and went 3-14.

Both the 1996 team and this year’s squad had quarterbacks who were in their second years as starters. Between his time in Green Bay and Jacksonville, Mark Brunell had played in 34 career games. Trevor Lawrence has started all 35 since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2021.

Both teams were sitting at 3-6 and going nowhere in the regular season before notching their fourth win of the year. Guess who that came against? The Ravens both times and in thrillers; 30-27 in 1996 and 28-27 this season.

The game after the Ravens both years were blowout losses; 28-3 to the Steelers in 1996 and 40-14 to the Lions this year.

What happened after those losses? Both the 1996 and the 2022 Jaguars ripped off five-game winning streaks (with an OT victory in those streaks, too), capped by shocking victories in must-win regular season finales. The 1996 Jaguars got an improbable win over the Falcons on a 30-yard missed field goal by Morten Andersen, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, to sneak in with a 19-17 win.

This season, Jacksonville trailed 10-0 to the Titans and needed a 37-yard scoop-and-score fumble recovery in the final minutes to secure a 20-16 win. The 1996 Jaguars finished 9-7 and made it as a wild-card team. This year’s Jaguars finished 9-8 and won the AFC South.

The playoff openers in both of those seasons were unforgettable, too. The 1996 Jaguars went to Buffalo and upset the 8.5-point favorite Bills, 30-27. Lawrence led the third-biggest comeback in playoff history with a 31-30 win over the Chargers last Saturday night. Jacksonville then went on the road to play the Broncos, the No. 1 seed, who had a first-round bye. John Elway was already an MVP, just like Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.

We all know what happened next.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.