Most people know I am incredibly jaded, as that tends to happen when you cover the team you love for over a decade. You have to force yourself to take the fan hat off a lot of times and try to be an objective and analytical voice and after a while it just becomes what you are. On Sunday, from the moment I woke up I had butterflies in my belly for the first time in over a decade.
I used to get insanely anxious prior to Jaguars games, so much so that I’d often feel sick after the game from the adrenaline. I lived and died with the Jaguars wins and losses. It felt like that on Sunday. From the moment I made a quick trip to Publix to buy my groceries for the week before heading out to meet my friends. It was packed with Jaguars fans and all the employees were wearing Jaguars Publix shirts. Each time I walked by a fan we’d nod to each other with a smile or let out a little “Go Jags”. I couldn’t remember the last time I, let alone “it”, felt like this.
I met up with one of my friends I tailgate with and we made a quick trip to Publix again (a different one) and as soon as we walked in there was a “44 WAS NOT DOWN” display made up with Pepsi can boxes. We both let out a little “Hell yeah” and picked up some beer for the tailgate (shout to to Day Break by Intuition) and some sunscreen, because we’re responsible adults.
The nervous tinglies were picking up and I could feel it in my chest while we grabbed lunch, delaying our inevitable roasting in the sun at the tailgate on Duval and Bryan with Bold City Brigade and Teal Street Hooligans. I didn’t actually drink much beer, I kept burping up my brisket sandwich from Bearded Pig and overall it was just too damn hot.
We made our way into the stadium around 2:45, because I figured it was going to be a mess with the electronic ticketing. It was pretty quick and I ended up going right to me seat. My intention to go inside so early in part was to just hangout in the concourse to escape the sweltering sun, but I just couldn’t wait to get to my seat even though the game didn’t kick off for at least another hour. It’s the most excited I’ve been for any game I can remember.
I was more excited for this game than any of the playoff games last year, because the playoffs last year was just euphoric in the sense that we broke through the glass. I was just happy to be there, didn’t really care how far they got and was thrilled where they ended up.
Sunday there were nerves in the belly.
I couldn’t sit during the Patriots first drive. I almost couldn’t watch. They missed a field goal and then the Jaguars went right down the field, with ease, and Blake Bortles threw a perfect fade to Donte Moncrief who snatched it out of the air.
Boom. 14-0. What is happening.
14-3. Oh God it’s starting.
I have never been more excited at a football game. I went down to get a drink at halftime. I also stood in line for 10 minutes only to get up to the register to see a small cardboard sign that read “CASH ONLY”. Man what the hell put that sign up higher, please.
I come back up the stairs as the Jaguars are driving down the field for a field goal to push it to 24-3. All I could think about was the Atlanta Falcons and 28-3 (SORRY ATLANTA) and I tried to taper my excitement. Then Bortles threw a terrible interceptions and boy was I hot about it. As soon as the ball left his hand and I could tell it wasn’t going to the receiver on the left sideline coming open down the field I yanked my hat off and yelled “WHY THROW THAT” as it’s tipped in the air between defenders and picked off.
I was so mad. I was mad for the next three drives. This can’t happen.
Then good ol’ Dante Fowler Jr., who apparently straight up owns the Patriots, made probably the most impressive play of his entire football life. Fowler beats the right tackle with a speed rush, while being held, and swatted the ball from Tom Brady’s hand. Then, Fowler fought through the defender choking him as he pulled the ball to his chest and recovered his own forced fumble. He only played 19 snaps, but all that mattered was he made one of them count at a critical point in the game and swung the momentum back.
“Getting off the ball, being relentless, got into the offensive tackle, just doing a good job of keeping us away from [Tom] Brady throughout the game,” Fowler said after the game. “We were getting there, Brady felt us, we would bump into him. So I knew we were going to get there eventually. We came in at halftime and we said that we need to make a play, we need to get a takeaway. I told myself that I would put it upon myself that I’d do it for my team and I was able to make that happen.”
I’m super critical of Fowler, but you won’t hear anything from me about him this week. He made a hell of a play.
At that point, I knew it was over. Bortles hit Dede Westbrook on a short pass and he made a few nifty moves and weaved through the downfield blocking of Corey Grant and Keelan Cole for a 61-yard touchdown.
We did it. We slayed the dragon.
I don’t care that it was Week 2. It was huge. We did it.
In the car on the ride back home, I felt it. I was nauseous. I wanted to puke.
I felt like I had to puke, but everyone in the car was so hype and talking about the game. I didn’t want to bring it up. I could have just made myself puke out the window and they probably would have thought it was funny, but weirdly I wanted to savor the feeling of being nauseous after a Jaguars football game because I was so excited.
I’d missed it.