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Before the Jags
Jacksonville was often cited as being a hospitable city towards football, and indeed it was. Every year the city would host the Gator Bowl, a traditional rivalry game between the University of Florida and University of Georgia teams.
Hosting the game was the stadium of the same name and the site briefly welcomed the Jacksonville Sharks of the World Football League and the Jacksonville Bulls of the United States Football League; however eventually both teams folded as did their respective leagues.
In accordance with their desire for an NFL team, Jacksonville briefly attempted to lure the Baltimore Colts to the city, and later the Houston Oilers in the late 1980s. Both failed unfortunately, but events would soon favor professional football in Jacksonville.
The Jags Come to Town
In 1991 it was announced by the NFL that they intended to expand the league by two more franchises, as the sport was growing more in popularity and teams hadn't been added since 1976 (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks). Five cities were chosen as finalists:
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- St. Louis, Missouri
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Memphis Tennessee
- Jacksonville, Florida
At the start, Jacksonville was considered a minute possibility; the reasoning was that college football already gripped much of the fanbase there, there were already two NFL teams in Florida, and Jacksonville's television market was the smallest of the group.
Even before the announcement, a potential ownership group called Touchdown Jacksonville had formed two years earlier in 1989. Notable members of the original group included future Governor Jeb Bush and Tom Petway. Eventually the group came to be led by local shoe magnate Wayne Weaver, and after filing their application with the NFL, also revealed they intended to call the team the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In April 1993, the NFL noted that renovations would have to be made to the Gator Bowl if an expansion team were to be granted. After weeks of negotiation, a proposal for such was sent to City Council, but it was rejected. Disappointed, many assumed they'd lose yet another chance for an NFL team.
However, the other prospective cities were underwhelming also, and the NFL encouraged interests in Jacksonvilel to revisit the proposal and bid. About a month later, negotiations resumed and City Council approved a slightly different plan. Jacksonville was back in the race for an NFL team.
Charlotte was unanimously granted the first of two expansion teams on November 1, 1993, and the NFL stated the other city chosen would be announced before or on November 30. At the time, most assumed by reasoning that St. Louis would gain the other team; but on 2:12 P.M. Eastern Time on November 30, Jacksonville was announced as the winning city. The next evening 25,000 fans celebrated at the Gator Bowl.
The old Gator Bowl underwent heavy renovation starting in 1994, and opened on August 18, 1995 in the Jaguars first preseason game versus the St. Louis Rams (who had moved from Los Angeles awhile prior).
The Early Years
The 1995 season marked the year the Jaguars began play in the AFC Central division, and they finished with a record of 4-12, setting the new record for most wins by an expansion franchise. Many soon-to-be prominent players began playing in the inaugural season, including quarterback Mark Brunell, offensive lineman Tony Boselli, running back James Stewart, and wide receiver Jimmy Smith. The team was coached by Tom Coughlin.
1996 Season: To the Playoffs
The second season of play in 1996 was a shocking success; the Jaguars finished the season with a 9-7 record due to a five game win streak. Winning the tiebrekaer with the Indianapolis Colts, the team flew to Buffalo for their first playoff game, which they won in a tight fashion, 30-27.
The next game proved to daunting; the Jaguars were lined up to face the Denver Broncos, a dominant team led by legendary quarterback John Elway, and they had finished 13-3. However, the Jaguars did not let themselves be intimidated, and went to Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado, and upset the Broncos 30-27. In celebration, 40,000 fans went Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and greeted the team's return in the early hours of the morning.
The Jaguars went onto the AFC Championship game where they lost to the New England Patriots 20-6 in what was often described as a defensive battle.
In their third season of play, the Jaguars finished 11-5 and once again entered the playoffs as a wild-card selection. Hoping to strike lightning twice, the team flew to Mile High Stadium a second time, only to lose to the Broncos 42-17.
The 1998 season saw improvement, as the Jaguars won the AFC Central division, and became the first expansion NFL team to make the playoffs three times in their first four seasons. The first round was fought at home against the New England Patriots, who would lose this time to the Jaguars, 25-10. However, the Jaguars would lose in the divisional round to the New York Jets, 34-24.
1999 Season: On Top of the NFL
The 1999 season would prove to be the peak of the Jaguar's success. They once again won their division, this time with the best record in the NFL, 14-2, and therefore clinched a first round bye and home-field advantage. In the divisional round of the playoffs, the Jaguars annihilated the Miami Dolphins, 62-7, in what proved to be legend Dan Marino's final NFL game.
However, in what proved to be the franchise's darkest hour, the Jaguars lost at home to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship game, being denied a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
Harder Times For the Jaguars
Hopes were high following the successful 1999 season, but the Jaguars would finish with their first losing record since 1995, 7-9. The next two seasons would see the team finishing 6-10 each year, and after the 2002 season, Tom Coughlin was fired. Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio of the Carolina Panthers was hired to fill the void of head coach, and he led the Jaguars on a rough start, finishing his inaugural season with a 5-11 record.
2001 also saw the realignment of NFL divisions, and the Jaguars would begin play in the 2002 season as part of the newly formed AFC South Division, along with the Indianapolis Colts, the Tennessee Titans, and the Houston Texans.
The Modern Era
2004 Season: A Winning Season
In the 2004 season, the 10th season of play for the Jaguars, Jack del Rio rallied the team to a 9-7 finish; the season was defined by prominent victories against the Green Bay Packers and the Indinapolis Colts. The defense improved greatly and two defensive players, Marcus Stroud and John Henderson went to the NFL Pro Bowl. However, the Jaguars just barely missed out of the playoffs.
2005 Season: Back to the Playoffs (Briefly)
In 2005, the Jaguars continued their improvement, grinding out a 12-4 record with quality wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals; however 9 of their 10 final games were against opponents with losing records; many have concluded that such a weak schedule, in combination with a rash of injuries to quarterback Byron Leftwich, linebacker Mike Peterson, and defensive tackle Marcus Stroud among others, led to their defeat in the first round of the playoffs against the New England Patriots, 28-3.
2006 Season: Failure or Success?
The 2006 season was a mixed bag. Another plague of injuries to key players, coupled with a three game lose streak that would see the Jaguars plummet from an 8-5 record to a final of 8-8, defined much of the season; however positives were duly noted; the Jaguars second round NFL draft pick, Maurice Jones-Drew proved to be a rookie sensation, averaging 5.7 per carry as one of the team's primary running backs, with 16 touchdowns to boot. Also, quality wins including a shutout of defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh, along with a home-trampling of the Indianapolis Colts 44-17, showcased the teams potential.
Tom Coughlin 1995-2002
Jack Del Rio 2003-