History of the Jacksonville Jaguars
The history of the Jacksonville Jaguars, an American football team in the National Football League (NFL), formally dates to November 30, 1993, when the NFL awarded Jacksonville, Florida the expansion franchise that became the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars, along with the Carolina Panthers, started play in the 1995 NFL season as expansion teams.
Jacksonville football history
For decades, Jacksonville had earned a reputation of being a good football town, hospitable for both college and pro football. Every year the city hosts the Gator Bowl, an annual civic highlight traditionally accompanied by parties, ceremonies, parades and other events leading up to the game. Jacksonville is also host to the Florida–Georgia rivalry, the annual college football rivalry game between the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Gator Bowl stadium was built out of steel trusses and was frequently built onto, with the final addition of the reinforced-concrete west upper deck coming in 1982. The stadium hosted short-lived teams in both the World Football League (Jacksonville Sharks/Express), American Football Association (Jacksonville Firebirds, a team that coincidentally used the Jaguars name in its earlier years) and the United States Football League (Jacksonville Bulls) and the occasional NFL exhibition game. The city briefly attempted to lure the Baltimore Colts, whose team owner Robert Irsay famously landed a helicopter in the stadium as thousands of Jacksonville citizens urged him to move the team there. City leaders also attempted to get the Houston Oilers to move to Jacksonville at one point in the late 1980s. (At the time, Oilers owner Bud Adams threatened the relocation of the Oilers out of Houston since the Astrodome was not updated until the Harris County Sports Authority responded with a $67 million improvement.) Great efforts were made to lure the Oilers, including the creation of a "Jacksonville Oilers" banner and designation of a specific section of the Gator Bowl as a non-alcohol, family section for proposed home games. Though the efforts proved unsuccessful, it did serve as a launching pad for the city's attempt to gain an NFL expansion team.
Welcome to the NFL: 1991–94
Jacksonville had long sought an NFL franchise, and in 1989 an ownership group, Touchdown Jacksonville!, organized. The group initially included future Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Jacksonville developer Tom Petway, and came to be led by shoe magnate Wayne Weaver, founder of Nine West. In 1991, the NFL announced its decision to expand the league by two teams, its first expansion since it added the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1976 season. Touchdown Jacksonville! announced its official bid for a team, and Jacksonville was ultimately chosen as one of five finalists, along with Charlotte, North Carolina; St. Louis, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; and Memphis, Tennessee. For several reasons Jacksonville was believed to be the least likely candidate. Its metropolitan area and television market were smaller than nearly every city with an NFL team. In addition, its stadium, the Gator Bowl, was outdated and the ownership group struggled to negotiate a lease with the city. In July Touchdown Jacksonville! withdrew its bid after failing to come to terms with the city.
However, Jacksonville had other assets and a number of strong supporters. It had a very strong football culture, evidenced by the high level of support for the University of Florida Gators and the Florida State University Seminoles, a solid ownership group, and a location in the growing and attractive Southeast region. Supporters included NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, President Neil Austrian, Vice President Roger Goodell, Bud Adams of the Houston Oilers, Rankin Smith of the Atlanta Falcons and Ken Hofmann of the Seattle Seahawks. Encouraged by Tagliabue, Jacksonville interests revisited the issue, and the city agreed to fund $121 million in renovations for the Gator Bowl including sky boxes and club seats. The stadium's 10,000 preferred seats were sold in just ten days, and Jacksonville officially returned to the bidding.
Charlotte was awarded the first franchise – the Carolina Panthers – in October 1993. St. Louis was considered the favorite for the second franchise, with Baltimore's three bids also considered strong. However, in a surprising move, the NFL owners voted 26-2 in favor of awarding the 30th franchise to Jacksonville.
1995: A year of firsts
Along with the Carolina Panthers, the Jacksonville Jaguars entered the NFL as the first expansion teams in almost 20 years. Both teams participated in the 1995 NFL Expansion Draft, with the Jaguars taking Steve Beuerlein with the first pick. Beuerlein quickly lost his starting job to former Green Bay Packer backup Mark Brunell. The Jaguars finished their inaugural season with a record of 4–12. Both the Jaguars and the Panthers (7–9) broke the previous record for most wins by an expansion team (3) set by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968. The inaugural season featured many of the players who would lead Jacksonville into the playoffs in the team's next four seasons, including quarterback Mark Brunell (acquired in a draft day trade from Green Bay), offensive lineman Tony Boselli (drafted with the 2nd pick overall in the 1995 NFL Draft) running back James Stewart (also drafted in 1995), and wide receiver Jimmy Smith (signed as a free agent).
The team played its first regular season game at home before a crowd of 72,363 on September 3, 1995, a 10–3 loss against the Houston Oilers. The team picked up its first win in Week 4 as the Jaguars defeated the Oilers 17–16 on October 1 in Houston. The next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Jaguars earned their first home win by defeating the eventual AFC Champions 20–16. The team's other two wins came in a season sweep of the Cleveland Browns including a Week 17 24–21 victory sealed by a Mike Hollis 34-yard field goal in the Browns' final game before the team relocated to Baltimore and was renamed the Ravens.
1996: "Jacksonville, do you believe in miracles?"
Jacksonville's 1996 season was a marked success as they won six of their last seven games of the season and finished with a record of 9–7. Quarterback Mark Brunell threw for over 4,000 yards and wide receivers Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith each accumulated over 1,000 receiving yards. In the team's final game of the regular season against the Atlanta Falcons, needing a win to earn a playoff berth, the Jaguars caught a bit of luck when Morten Andersen, one of the most accomplished kickers in NFL history, missed a 30-yard field goal with less than a minute remaining that would have given the Falcons the lead. The Jaguars clinched the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs.
The Jaguars visited the Buffalo Bills in their first playoff game in franchise history. Despite being a heavy underdog, the Jaguars won 30–27, and knocked Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly out of what would turn out to be the last game of his career. Their next game was on the road against the Denver Broncos, who had earned the AFC's top seed with a 13–3 record and were widely regarded as the best team in the AFC, if not the NFL. While the Broncos scored two touchdowns early in the game, after the first quarter, the Jaguars largely dominated. In what is often regarded as one of the three biggest upsets in NFL playoff history, the Jaguars defeated the Broncos by the same score as the previous week against the Bills, 30-27. Upon their return home, the Jags were greeted by an estimated 40,000 fans at the stadium. Many of these fans had watched the game on the stadium JumboTron displays and had stayed into the early hours of the morning when the team arrived. In the AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars miracle season came to an end, as they lost 20–6 to the New England Patriots, in Foxboro. Their fellow second-year NFC expansion team, the Carolina Panthers, also got to their conference championship game, where they lost 30–13 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
1997–99: An age of excellence
In 1997, the franchise's third season, the Jaguars and the Steelers both finished the season with an 11–5 record, tops in the AFC Central Division. Pittsburgh won the division in a tiebreaker as a result of having higher net in division games than Jacksonville. As a result, the Jaguars settled for 2nd place in the division, a Wild Card berth and, for the second straight year, the 5th seed in the AFC playoffs. The Jags postseason would end quickly as they fell in their first game, a 42–17 defeat against the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium. The Broncos, led by Terrell Davis, ran at will against the Jaguars, rushing for 5 touchdowns and over 300 yards.
In 1998, the Jaguars again finished 11–5 and won their first AFC Central Division title. The team became the first NFL expansion team to make the playoffs three times in its first four seasons of play. In the Wild Card Round, the Jaguars hosted their first home playoff game, a 25–10 win over the New England Patriots. The team's season ended the next week in the Divisional Round as the New York Jets defeated the Jaguars 34–24.
In 1999, the Jaguars compiled a league best 14–2 regular season record, the best record in franchise history. The team's two losses were to the Tennessee Titans. The Jaguars won the AFC Central Division for the second straight year and clinched the #1 seed in the AFC. The Jaguars hosted the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Divisional playoffs, a 62–7 victory in what would be Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson's last NFL game. Jacksonville's 62 points and 55-point margin are the second most ever in NFL playoff history, and Fred Taylor's 90-yard run in the first quarter is the longest ever in an NFL playoff game.
The Jaguars' bid for a Super Bowl title came to an end the next week in the AFC championship game. The Jags fell at home to the Titans 33–14 in a game that the Jaguars led 14–10 at halftime, before allowing 23 unanswered points in the 2nd half. The Jaguars finished the 1999 season 15–3, with all three of their losses coming against the Titans. The loss marked the end of an era that saw the Jaguars make the playoffs in four of the team's first five years and would be the team's last playoff appearance until the 2005 season. , with all three of their losses coming against the Titans. (Not surprisingly, this was the only time in NFL history that a 3-loss team met all of its losses at the hands of only one team.)
2000–02: End of a run for coach and quarterback
The Jaguars struggled during this period, due in part to salary cap problems. In the 2000 season, veteran quarterback Mark Brunell and young running back Fred Taylor led the squad through a painful 7–9 season. The Jaguars finished with records of 6–10 in both the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
After the 2002 season, head coach Tom Coughlin was fired after eight seasons, leading the Jaguars to a total record of 68–60 and four trips to the playoffs. The 2002 season also marked the last full season for Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell, who was benched in the third game of 2003 in favor of Byron Leftwich. Brunell piled up over 25,000 yards as a Jaguar and earned three trips to the Pro Bowl. In 2002 the NFL split up the two conferences into four divisions, sending the Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC South. This put them in the same division as the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, and the expansion Houston Texans.
Return to the Playoffs: 2003–07
In 2003, the Jaguars hired Jack Del Rio as head coach. Del Rio was a linebacker during the late 80s and early 90s before retiring. He was formerly the Carolina Panthers' defensive coordinator, bringing the team's defensive ranking from 30th to second. Prior to that, Del Rio was the Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach, participating in that capacity on the Ravens' record setting championship 2000 defense. The Jaguars selected quarterback Byron Leftwich with the seventh pick of the NFL draft. The Jaguars had high hopes for their new quarterback. The team had many failures and heartbreaking moments, ending the 2003 season at 5–11 and missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Despite resolving their salary cap problems, the team's rebuilding was clearly taking longer than expected.
The 2004 season, the tenth season of the Jaguars franchise, resulted in a 9–7 record, their first winning season since 1999, with road victories against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field and the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome. The Jaguars' defense was a strong suit, as it included two Pro Bowl players, defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. Byron Leftwich enjoyed a solid year in 2004, helped by strong performances from holdovers Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith. Unfortunately, Taylor sustained a season-ending injury at Green Bay. The very next week the Jaguars fell to the Houston Texans, which would ultimately eliminate them from playoff contention. This denied them an opportunity to play the Super Bowl at their home stadium. In 2004, the Jaguars became the first NFL team to have three African-American quarterbacks on their roster. The quarterbacks were Byron Leftwich, David Garrard, and Quinn Gray.
The 2005 Jaguars' hoped to challenge the Colts for the division title. However, due to their 13-0 start, including two victories against the Jaguars, the Colts were able to easily clinch the AFC South title. With a 12–4 record (second best finish in team history), the Jaguars easily qualified for one of the conference's two wild card playoff allocations. Among these 12 wins were a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on October 9, 2005 and a 23-17 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 16, 2005. While the Jaguars managed to win key games in 2005, 9 of their final 10 games were played against opponents with losing records. Though these games were wins, key players Byron Leftwich, Mike Peterson, Paul Spicer, and Rashean Mathis were hurt during this stretch. The Jaguars ended the season losing 28-3 to the two-time defending champion New England Patriots on January 7, 2006 in the 2005 season's AFC wild card playoff round.
2006: Rookie running back becomes a star
Jacksonville looked like a team on the rise coming off of their 12–4 season, and was considered a playoff contender entering the season. But injuries plagued the team. Reggie Hayward, Greg Jones, Donovin Darius, Byron Leftwich, and Mike Peterson all suffered season-ending injuries. Marcus Stroud, Matt Jones, Paul Spicer, and Fred Taylor also faced injuries during the season. The team started off 2–0, defeating the Dallas Cowboys (earning the NFL's highest winning percentage on opening days at .750 with a record of 9–3), and shutting out the defending champs Pittsburgh Steelers. But the team lost its next two games, and suffered embarrassing losses to the Houston Texans over the course of the season (Jacksonville has struggled against the Texans since Houston entered the league in 2002). They missed the playoffs with an 8–8 record, but there were some positives, in particular an impressive rookie season by their second-round draft pick, running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
2007: Quarterback change leads to playoff run
On April 28, 2007, the Jaguars used their first-round pick (21st overall) to select Florida safety Reggie Nelson. On June 15, 2007, the Jaguars released longtime strong safety Donovin Darius, who had seen diminished playing time in recent years due to mounting injuries. On August 31, 2007, the Jaguars announced that long time back-up quarterback David Garrard would start for the team, ahead of former 1st round draft pick, Byron Leftwich who was released in the team's final roster cuts. Garrard led the Jaguars to an 11–5 record and the playoffs. On January 5, 2008, the Jaguars defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31–29 to win their first playoff game in almost 8 years and their first road playoff win since 1997. It was also the first time in the 50+ year history of the Steelers that they had been beaten twice at home by the same team in the same season. However, in the divisional round, the Jaguars fell to the as of then undefeated New England Patriots; the teams were tied at halftime, but the Patriots pulled ahead and won 31–20. Tom Brady completed 22 of 24 passes in this game, being pressured by the Jaguars' defense only once, on the first play. This game, more than any other, gave the Jaguars' front office a strong desire to upgrade the pass rush during the offseason.
The team's offense in 2007 was largely a run-first offense, with Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor each putting up a lot of yards. David Garrard, however showed to be an accurate passer in 2007, throwing only 3 interceptions.
End of the Del Rio era: 2008–11
The 2008 season began with high expectations for the Jaguars. The team acquired free agent wide receiver Jerry Porter and rookie defensive ends Quentin Groves of Auburn and Derrick Harvey of Florida to address the team's most glaring needs. (Porter was released the following year and Groves was traded to Oakland in 2010.) Journalists including ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert predicted the Jaguars were poised to make a Super Bowl run.
However, the Jaguars failed to live up to those expectations, struggling to a 5–11 finish, the franchise's worst record since 2003. The team's struggles were in part, the result of a rash of injuries to the team's offensive line. The Jaguars lost starting guards Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams for the season within the first quarter of the opening game. Tackle Richard Collier's career ended in early September when he was brutally attacked and shot 14 times. Center Brad Meester missed the first two months of the season and guard Chris Naeole, signed to the roster mid-season in response to these injuries, was injured in pregame warmups before playing a single snap. The 2008 season marked the end of running back Fred Taylor's eleven-year career as a Jaguar. Taylor, who is considered to be one of the greatest Jaguars in the history of the franchise, rushed for over 10,000 yards during his tenure with Jacksonville and earned one trip to the Pro Bowl. In 2009, he signed with the New England Patriots. Taylor's departure opened up the door for Maurice Jones-Drew to become the team's feature running back. In 2011, Taylor signed a one-day contract so he could retire as a Jaguar.
2009: New GM begins rebuilding phase
The Jaguars hoped to begin a new era in 2009 under their first-ever general manager, Gene Smith. Smith made his mark early on in the 2009 NFL Draft by acquiring talent such as Eugene Monroe, Terrance Knighton, Derek Cox, Eben Britton and Mike Thomas, who all made significant contributions in their rookie years. The Jaguars finished off this season 7–9 and did not manage to make the playoffs. In the offseason, the Jaguars parted ways with veteran players John Henderson and Reggie Hayward as part of the team's "youth movement".
However, 2009 also saw the team's attendance numbers plummet, leading to television blackouts and speculation that the team could eventually be moved or sold. 2009 marked a low point, with the team's attendance averaging around 50,000, causing seven of the eight home games to be blacked out, and leading NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to address the issue with owner Wayne Weaver. Jacksonville is one of the league's smallest markets, though its stadium is relatively large; since 2005 the team has covered nearly 10,000 of the stadium's 73,000 total seats with tarp in order to lower the stadium's official capacity to a more typical size and reduce blackouts. 73,000 total seats still ranks as one of the largest in the NFL. From 2008 the team further suffered from the late-2000s recession, which hit Florida particularly hard, and structural changes within the NFL that disadvantage teams in smaller markets.
2010: Reviving the Pride
In 2010, to address this issue, the team and the City of Jacksonville undertook several measures aimed at ensuring the franchise's continued viability in Jacksonville. Supporters began the "Team Teal" drive to drum up ticket sales. The city negotiated a five-year, $16.6 million naming rights deal with Jacksonville-based EverBank to rename the stadium EverBank Field. As a result, the Jaguars' attendance increased dramatically in 2010. While attendance figures were stagnant for most of the NFL, Jacksonville saw an increase of 36.5%, by far the highest in the league, and had none of their home games blacked out.
The 2010 season proved a big year for the Jaguars on the field as well. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew emerged as second in the league in rushing yards and David Garrard threw for 23 touchdowns, a franchise record. Marcedes Lewis went to his first pro bowl and the Jags had one of the best young defensive tackle duo with Terrance Knighton and rookie Tyson Alualu. Heading into December, Jacksonville was at the top of the AFC South and in playoff contention. In Week 15, they lost to Indianapolis, 34–24, which placed the Colts back atop the AFC South. The Jaguars lost their last two games, placing themselves out of playoff contention. They finished the season 8–8.
2011: A year of major changes
On September 6, 2011, quarterback David Garrard was cut from the team just days before the start of the season; Luke McCown was named starter. The move was similar to the one that named Garrard himself the starter over Byron Leftwich in 2007. McCown started two games until he threw four interceptions in a lopsided loss to the New York Jets and Blaine Gabbert was named the starter the following week. The Jaguars offense would continue to struggle under the rookie quarterback, losing the next 4 games in a row, until an upset victory over the Baltimore Ravens at home on Monday Night Football.
On November 29, 2011, owner Wayne Weaver announced the firing of head coach Jack Del Rio, whose record had been 3–8 through the first 12 weeks of the season and 68–71 over his nine-year tenure. Del Rio was succeeded by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker on an interim basis. Weaver also announced that General Manager Gene Smith had been given a three-year extension of his contract.
Ownership Change and the NFL International Series (2012)
Immediately following the announcement of Del Rio being fired, Weaver also announced that the team would be sold to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan. Khan's assumption of ownership was approved a couple of weeks later by the NFL owners, and Khan took over full ownership on January 4, 2012. He immediately began the team's search for head coaching candidates.
On February 13, 2012, the Jaguars hired MetLife Stadium president and CEO Mark Lamping as team president. Lamping also spent 13 years as the president of the St. Louis Cardinals. Lamping is the second team president in franchise history and the first since 1997, when David Seldin left that position.
2012: Mike Mularkey
On January 10, 2012, former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was named head coach of the Jaguars. On January 13, it was announced that interim head coach Mel Tucker would remain on the staff as defensive coordinator/assistant head coach and that former Falcons quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski would become offensive coordinator. On January 20, 2012, the team hired John Bonamego as special teams coordinator.
The Jaguars began the 2012 season with a new coaching staff and a new owner. One of the main priorities of the new leadership was to improve the team's struggling receiving corps and see improvement from quarterback Blaine Gabbert after a disappointing rookie season. To do this, the team selected wide receiver Justin Blackmon in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft and acquired Laurent Robinson in free agency. Despite the changes, the team struggled mightily on both sides of the ball. The team finished with a 2–14 record, the worst in franchise history. Both general manager Gene Smith and head coach Mike Mularkey were fired shortly after the end of the season.
NFL International Series
On August 21, 2012, the Jaguars announced they had finalized a deal to play one regular season home game each year between 2013 and 2016 at London's historic Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL International Series. The first of these games was against the San Francisco 49ers on October 27, 2013.
Regime change and rebuilding: 2013–present
2013: New GM and Head Coach
On January 8, 2013, former Atlanta Falcons Director of Player Personnel David Caldwell was hired as the second full-time General Manager in Jaguars history. He formerly served as a scout for the Indianapolis Colts for 10 years from 1998–2007. His first task with the team was to lead the interview process for a new head coach. Nine days later former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was named head coach of the Jaguars. The Jaguars struggled early on in 2013 and went into the bye week with an 0–8 record. On November 1 Justin Blackmon was suspended indefinitely after violating the NFL's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. Despite the loss of Blackmon the Jaguars got their first win with Gus Bradley on November 10 with a 29–27 victory over the Tennessee Titans. This was followed by a respectable showing against the Arizona Cardinals, despite a 27-14 loss, and the Jaguars' second and third victory of the season against the Houston Texans and the Cleveland Browns. The Jaguars would win again the very next week against the Houston Texans 27-20 on Thursday night, improving to 4-9.
2014: Blake Bortles replaces Gabbert and EverBank Field is upgraded
After finishing the 2013 season with a 4-12 record, a two-win improvement over the previous season, the Jaguars traded their 2011 NFL draft first round draft pick Blaine Gabbert to the San Francisco 49ers for the 6th round pick of the 2014 NFL draft. Maurice Jones-Drew, after 7 years with the Jaguars, also left the team and signed a three-year contract with the Oakland Raiders.
In the first round of the 2014 NFL draft the Jaguars selected quarterback Blake Bortles from University of Central Florida and then wide receiver Marqise Lee from University of Southern California in the second round. The new draft picks helped put more confidence in the struggling team. Justin Blackmon was suspended yet again for violating the NFL's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse in July. Later in July, EverBank Field unveiled their two new endzone scoreboards, which are considered to be the world's largest. The Jaguars managed to end their season with a 3-13 record.
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