An era ended this morning for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Strong Safety and team spiritual leader Donovin Darius is no longer a Jaguar. Allow me to let that sink in.
Donovin has been (still is) my favorite Jaguar player of all time. His outreach to fans and the Jacksonville community, as well as serving as an ambassador for the NFL is outstanding and never matched by any other player. On the field he's a heat seeking hit machine that (might have) been a bit too aggressive, but served as a huge attribute in our run stuffing nasty defense. While Tom Coughlin might have drafted him in 1998 out of Syracuse University, Jack Del Rio used his hard practicing, hard playing attitude to re-shape the defense in his image. Donovin quickly emerged as one of the hardest hitting and powerful safeties in the league, though his last two seasons were limited by injury. Donovin leads all Jaguars in tackles and games played. I need to fact check this, but he might be the last Jaguar to play in the legendary 1998-1999 seasons. His most prominent memory is his crushing hit against Robert Ferguson in 2004 where he nearly killed him, however Donovin is a man of deep spirituality and went out of his way to make sure Robert was OK in the hospital. While I know football is a business decision, I have to believe that this was a hard decision to make and an even harder conversation.
I'm really speechless as to how I want to discuss this. Every time I play Madden as the Jags, I use Darius on defense. Every time I watch a game I try and note where he is and follow him as the play develops. I always wish I could go to his bowling tournaments and fan centered events.
When he was lost for the 2005 season, I knew that we'd feel it on defense with the loss of an absolute team leader, both on the field and in the locker room. As we enter the 2007 season I just don't know if we've found that replacement. Mike Peterson at MLB is a strong leader, and of course Stroud and Henderson have their roles, but it'll be an open competition to see who steps up and leads the defense. I'd be willing to bet that its Mathis.
Obviously there are far more "important" stories to discuss in the NFL right now. Nobody sheds a tear over the cutting of an aging player with injury problems. Everyone is, and perhaps should be, focused on the youth coming in at Safety. We've got Reggie Nelson at FS, and Josh Gattis/Gerald Sensabaugh at Strong Safety. And I know most of the main stream news will just mention his hit on Ferguson and his last two injuries. But I assure you Jacksonville fans, he's much much more than that. He's a hero, an absolute hero to the team and someone we should raise a glass and give thanks for. He's someone you didn't have to be ashamed to follow, he never got in trouble off the field and he mentored young players in his image. There might have been faster and stronger safeties, but none ever worked harder.
Here's to you Donovin, I hope you retire a Jag and take your place in our lore!