Caption: JON M. FLETCHER / The Times-Union -- 112110 -- Fans show their support for Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew during Sunday's 24-20 Jacksonville Jaguars victory over the Cleveland Browns at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL, November 21, 2010. (Jon M. Fletcher, The Florida Times-Union)
I've been a Jaguar fan for over half of my life. I was just a kid in the late 90's so I had no idea how special the team was that I was seeing. In fact, I had only chosen to be a fan of the Jaguars in spite of my parents and brothers, Dolphins and Bucs fans respectively. So when I actually started learning more and about football in the early 2000's, the team was on the decline and I started getting accustomed to some things.
1st - Our team can only be good on one side of the ball from year to year.
2nd - Never hope for more than a wild-card.
3rd - Never, ever trust a 1st half or 4th quarter lead
4th - Trust that at least one player will be arrested per season.
5th - If the team has a chance to win the game, don't trust that they will: When you get a "bad feeling" about a game, about a situation, everything will go wrong.
(more after the jump)
Of course, I have always stuck with it, and have loved to see the growing pains for this team. I have never really been too negative, always trusting that the team will turn around and will make the most out of a season. However, those five things listed above and more were always in my heart and the back of my head.
Slowly, however, things are starting to change; and the team's last game against the Browns proved it to me, at least.
The biggest of those things I listed above, for me, is "the feeling." I remember having that feeling in games where the Jags were in the lead, or only down by a few points, and it would start at the pit of my stomach and I'd just "know" something was going to go wrong to keep the team from winning. A stalled drive, a bad turnover or not being able to stop the other team from winning. One way or another, this feeling has always been present, and while it wasn't always correct (there were those rare times when I had the feeling and we won - I was excited), it has plagued me for years. You guys know about "the feeling," right?
Last Sunday I was watching the game from my home - actually, I started by following it at work, and got off just in time to catch the end of the first quarter on TV. As I watched, I was reminded of that feeling when I had had it during other games in the past. The times when we would be ahead and would lose somehow.
Then one of those moments where I use to get the feeling came up: With 2:46 left on the clock and the Jaguars down 3. Tiquan Underwood caught the kickoff from the Browns and dropped it. He recovered and tried to make up for his mistake, but got the ball only to the 11 yard line. With 2:40 left on the clock, David Garrard (who had given 4 turnovers on the day) stepped onto the field with the offense. We had three timeouts and plenty of time, but with the way the game had been played in the 2nd half, the outlook any other year in the past 10 (safe 2007) would have been dim. Heck, even in 2007 it would have been.
However, when I looked at the offense and the clock, and saw them lining up, I didn't have "that feeling." Normally it would have felt like my stomach had fallen out of my body and onto the floor. Sunday, though, I didn't have that feeling. Instead, I had trust. I trusted - no, knew that the team would somehow get the points needed. I didn't know how - but despite the turnover ratio, despite the dropped passes, I knew at that point that the team was going to pull a win out of their magical hat.
I realized then that this team is changing for the better, and it wasn't only changing itself, but its fans. It was changing me. The process is slow and sometimes painful, but all change takes time, and is not always easy. The things that were true for this team from 2000-2009 are being changed for the better, and I am glad and privileged to be along for the ride. Perhaps this season won't turn into a playoff season (I hope it does). Even if it doesn't, though, the future is bright (barring a lockout). Where the changes started, I can't say. Was it when Gene Smith became General Manager? Perhaps. Was it when Jack Del Rio was confronted by owner Wayne Weaver? Maybe? Was it when the old and bad character players were removed, and new, younger and well behaving, role model-like players were added? I don't know. All I know is this:
Perceptions are changing. The team is changing. Fans are changing, and all for the better. This'll be one heck of a ride, the next few years.