[Note by River City Rage, 11/22/10 5:40 PM EST ]: FP'ed, thoughtful piece.
Gene Smith, we all agree, has done a remarkable job of bringing in good football players. Everyone from his two draft classes is contributing to the team, or they were before going on IR. Aaron Kampman, before he got hurt, looked like our best free agent acquisition ever; Osgood is a special teams monster and capable WR back-up; and Torry Holt had a huge impact on the young receivers last year. But the real mark of Smith's genius is in how he has completely transformed the character of this team in less than two years.
Gone are all the guys who played only to get a paycheck. Gone are the guys who passed out at 4 am at the McDonalds drive-thru, who blamed their poor judgment on Jacksonville police officers or who got coked up in the off season. They've all been replaced by high-character guys who believe in teamwork and believe in their coaches.
My feeling is that this is already paying off at the box office. This is a blue collar, military town that values work ethic and discipline, and some of our fan base issues were rooted in the team's lack of character. We will pay good money to see good guys play good football, but not to watch self-absorbed knuckleheads quit because something doesn't go their way. The fans are starting to return.
It paid off yesterday on the field. Past Jaguar teams would have folded their tents after two or three consecutive turnovers in the second half: but this one didn't. They kept fighting. Our much-maligned defense came through time after time and they found a way to pull it out. And I give Jack and the coaches a lot of credit. They have done a great job of instilling an almost military-like belief in "team", and of building a culture of selflessness and perseverance. Fourth and one in our own territory? No problem. Take a knee with 8 seconds and 67 yards to go? I don't think so. But you can't do any of that without quality people, and Gene Smith's extraordinary transformation of this team's character has been his greatest masterstroke to date.
I also want to give some credit to yesterday's crowd. The fans were like the team: they never quit, they never stopped believing, and the noise level was consistently intense until the wonderful payoff at the end. There is something beautifully symbiotic going on here between the guys on this team and a fan base that is starting to trust them. It's fun to be a part of it.