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The history of the Jacksonville Jaguars, an American football team in the National Football League (NFL), formally dates to 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.
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 vs. Georgia Football Classic, the annual college football rivalry game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators.
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. 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.
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.
In 1995, along with the Carolina Panthers, the Jacksonville Jaguars entered the NFL as the first expansion teams in almost 20 years. The Jaguars finished their inaugural season with a record of 4–12. During this inaugural season many of the players who would lead Jacksonville to early successes began establishing themselves, including quarterback Mark Brunell (obtained in a trade with 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).
Jacksonville's 1996 season was a marked success. They won six of their last seven games of the season and finished with a record of 9–7. The last of the 9 wins was snatched from Atlanta, 19-17, by the off chance that Atlanta kicker Morten Andersen, a career 96.9% under 30 yards kicker, shanked a 30-yard field goal. In doing so, they clinched the 5th seed in the AFC playoffs after winning a tiebreaker with the 9–7 Indianapolis Colts. Their first playoff game was against the Buffalo Bills at Buffalo, a game that the Jaguars won 30–27. Their next game was against the Denver Broncos, top seed in the AFC and a team that, with a 13–3 record, had dominated the AFC that year. Yet the Jaguars, unintimidated by the Broncos or their fans, largely dominated from the second quarter on, with a late Mark Brunell to Jimmy Smith touchdown giving the Jags a 30–20 lead late. They held on to win 30–27, in what was regarded by many as the second greatest upset in NFL history. 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 lost 20–6 to the New England Patriots. On an interesting sidenote, their fellow second-year NFC expansion team, the Carolina Panthers, also got to the NFC Championship, where they lost 30-13 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. In that year, Super Bowl XXXI almost became an all-expansion team Super Bowl.
In the franchise's third year (1997), the Jaguars got an 11–5 record and got into the playoffs for the second year in a row as a Wild Card Team. However, this return was short-lived as the Denver Broncos, whom the Jaguars had knocked out of the playoffs the previous year, trampled the Jaguars at Mile High Stadium 42–17, with five of their six touchdowns coming on run plays.
In December 1998, the Jaguars won the AFC Central Division and 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 won their very first playoff game at home against the New England Patriots 25–10. However. they lost in the Divisional Round as the New York Jets won at Giants Stadium 34–24.
The 1999 season was quite a success for the Jacksonville Jaguars as they compiled a record of 14–2, which was the best regular season record in the NFL that year; it remains the best season record in franchise history. In the January 2000 AFC Divisional playoffs, the Jaguars flattened the Miami Dolphins 62–7 in what turned out to 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 is the longest ever in an NFL playoff game. However, the Jaguars again failed to move on to the Super Bowl when they were defeated a week later by the Tennessee Titans 33–14. The Jaguars thus finished the 1999 season 15–3, 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.)
Following their defeat in the AFC Championship Game, the team's fortunes declined as players left due to the team's poor salary cap position. Boselli, along with strong defensive tackles Gary Walker and Seth Payne were exposed to be drafted by the expansion Texans in 2002. This move helped bring the Jaguars under the salary cap, but was emblematic of the loss of talent over these years. WR Keenan McCardell, CB Aaron Beasley, LB Kevin Hardy and RB James Stewart were other players lost to free agency because of salary-cap issues. The years 2000–02 all featured losing records. Coach Tom Coughlin was quoted as saying his 2002 squad had less talent on it than the original 1995 expansion team roster, a statement that many analysts agreed with. Coughlin would coach that team to 6 wins (compared to 4 wins in 1995), but he was also to blame for the team's roster and salary cap issues because he doubled as the team's general manager.
In January 2003, the Jaguars fired Tom Coughlin along with all of his staff. Team owner Wayne Weaver shortly announced Coughlin's replacements, they were former NFL quarterback James "Shack" Harris as the de facto General Manager (VP of Player Personnel) and former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio in the head coaching position. Del Rio also had an impressive NFL career, going to the Pro Bowl as a linebacker.
Del Rio has been referred to as a "players' coach" and is rarely seen yelling at his players on the sideline or saying bad things about them to the press (in stark contrast to Coughlin). His training camps are noted for having a low number of high-intensity workouts in full pads, tending to emphasize walking through the game's mental aspects instead. However, it should also be noted that Del Rio's style of game play is very physical, relying on a punishing rushing attack and stellar defensive play.
James Harris was noted for his "Best Player Available" draft philosophy, in which he ignores the team's current roster and simply picks the college player he feels is the best athlete. This is in contrast to Coughlin's draft philosophy, which was based on assessing needs in the current pro roster. James Harris put this philosophy to work immediately upon being hired, drafting quarterback Byron Leftwich even though Mark Brunell, who at the time was in the top ten for best QB rating in league history, was still on the roster. Harris's 2003 and 2004 draft classes were highly regarded.
The 2004 season, celebrated as the 10th season of the Jaguars' existence, resulted in a winning record of 9-7 with road victories against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field as well as the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome. The Jaguars' defense was a strong suit, as it included the 2 of the team's Pro Bowl players, defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. Byron Leftwich also 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 the Packers game. The very next week saw the Jaguars fall to the Houston Texans, which would ultimately eliminate the Jaguars from the playoffs. This denied them an opportunity to play the Super Bowl at their home stadium (the Super Bowl in February 2005 being the first the Jaguars, and Jacksonville, hosted).
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.
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.
Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars' second round draft pick, was one of the most surprising rookie sensations. He averaged 5.7 yards a carry, the highest in the league, and tied for 3rd in the NFL with 16 touchdowns. This season was also the first year the team played without their standout wide receiver Jimmy Smith as he decided to retire. His production was the wide receiver position is still missed as the Jaguars struggle to find an adequate replacement.
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.
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. Against teams with smaller defensive linemen, the 2008 Jaguars offense resembled the 2007 offense, because the line was able to dominate. An example is the 23–21 victory in Indianapolis against the Colts that saw David Garrard drive the Jaguars into field goal range in the final minute and Josh Scobee boot the game winning 51-yard field goal. However, the Jaguars struggled mostly, especially in the second half of the season as evidenced by a 19–21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals who entered the game with an 0–8 record.
2008 marked the end of running back Fred Taylor's 11 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 in his time 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.
The Jaguars hoped to begin a new era in 2009 under 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. Contributing to this decline in ticket sales is the fact that 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. As such, various commentators speculated that the team may relocate in the future, perhaps to Los Angeles, California, or even London.
To address this issue, in 2010 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 with disappointing record of 8–8.
In the 2011 NFL draft, the Jaguars traded a first and a second round pick in order to move up to the 10th pick and select Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. They also selected offensive lineman Will Rackley and wide receiver Cecil Shorts III in the 3rd and 4th round.
On September 6, 2011, 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 32–3 loss to the 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 a miraculous upset against 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 twelve 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.
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 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, hired John Bonamego, as special teams coordinator. They also hired running backs coach, Sylvester Croom, tight ends coach, Bobby Johnson, and wide receivers coach, Jerry Sullivan, to the coaching staff. On January 10, 2013, Mularkey was fired as the Jaguars head coach.
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.
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. They selected wide receiver Justin Blackmon in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft and acquired Laurent Robinson in free agency.
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