“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
- Albert Camus
I feel like everything has been a gut punch since January 23, 2000. Sitting in Alltel Stadium’s north end zone, it was somewhere around 1:45 pm EST, when Al Del Greco kicked a 34 yard field goal with :20 seconds left in the first half that I knew happiness was over. With 5:13 left in the 3rd quarter, when Josh Evans sacked Mark Brunell for a safety, the hollow sound of the casket closing confirmed it.
Four years of competitive football. Two AFC Championship runs. The most successful expansion franchise in NFL history. We were so spoiled with success.
Then came the fall.
Nothing has been the same since that awful day. Existence as a Jaguars fan moving forward would consist mostly of failed expectations bracketed by mediocrity and spotty highlights, clothed in abject failure.
The Jack Del Rio era frames the former. Del Rio may be most remembered for epic December collapses when the team was trending playoffs. In 2006 and 2009 he closed those campaigns with three and four game losing streaks respectively. The Jaguars would end up 8-8 and 7-9.
Yet there were glimmers of hope.
In 2004, his second year as head coach, Jack led the team to a 9-7 record, 2nd in the AFC South, but failed to make the playoffs. In 2005, a 12-4 season was good enough for a Wild Card spot, but the team was soundly beaten by the New England Patriots in the opening playoff weekend. The glory was the 11-5, 2007 season, where the high of defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC Wild Card game, was followed by a loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional game, and bled into a 5-11 2008 season.
The team would not have another winning season until 2017, one which hauntingly mirrored 2007. Over confidence in a squad that played a relatively average (at best) schedule, investments in players with little track records of success, and failed draft classes blinded us to man behind the curtain.
After Jack came Mel Tucker, Mike Mularkey, and Gus Bradley. None of these men managed to plate more than five victories in a given season.
The fans were mostly relegated to game highlights to carry them across the mess. A David Garrard Hail Mary to Mike Thomas. Any number of Josh Scobee game winning field goals (Colts, Giants). The 375 rushing evisceration of the Super Bowl winning Indianapolis Colts. Byron Leftwich to Ernest Wilford on the final play to defeat the Buffalo Bills.
I bet you forgot the Chad Henne to Cecil Shorts touchdown pass with :40 left in the game to beat the Cleveland Browns in 2013, or the Jason Myers 53 yard FG to beat the Baltimore Ravens in 2015 with zeros on the clock.
Actually, three of the five wins in 2015 were late 4th quarter wins. What a glorious year 2015 was! So much late game excitement!
Ahhhhhhhh hope. Every Autumn there is hope, and in 2019 that hope was named Nick Foles. Little did we know the name Gardner Minshew. What we thought was just a dying leaf in the Foles injury was actually this magnificent red and yellow hued piece of natural beauty. If you have ever ventured to the Blue Ridge Parkway for the changing of the leaves you know how overwhelmingly glorious the death of green can be.
Back up. Not death. Transition.
Three games into 2019, sitting at 1-2, the Jaguars fan base, and soon the nation (if not already there) are awash with this Washington State Cougars rookie. The man who looked lost during the preseason has single handedly changed the perspective, and expectations, of those around him. The playoff chances for the Jaguars has moved to the green, and is approaching double digits. Am I taking crazy pills?
We can, in jest, compare him to another 6th round quarterback in Tom Brady (Tom was taken 199 overall while Minshew 178), but the point is not whether the comparison is fair. No, the point is that we can compare. A personality takes the field in teal and black for which our confidence is not misplaced. Who has elevated those around him (see D.J. Chark), and appears to not take it all that seriously.
He is endearing. He is not polarizing. Give me a quarterback, since Brunell, who has not been polarizing.
I will wait.
Until I had gone back and researched the seasons since 1999 I had forgotten how many highlights existed amidst the losing seasons. It reminded that when those victories happened after a seven game losing streak, the spark of change was seen. The want to escape the darkness of failure is so compelling that we grasp onto to any means of escape, even if we confuse sewing thread with braided hemp rope.
It is easy to be the sceptic. To focus more on Jalen Ramsey and Tom Coughlin. But why? After living through Blake Bortles and Gus Bradley, are you not exhausted with avarice, apathy, and melancholic fandom?
For every Brady/Patriots there is a Matt Ryan/Atlanta Falcons relationship. Most teams do not get an Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, or Peyton Manning. Most have the “what if” of Andrew Luck. The potential of Matthew Stafford. The cannot quite reach the mountain in Philip Rivers.
And the Cleveland Browns. Or maybe, just maybe, the Philadelphia Eagles. A fan base that surely wonders whether Carson Wentz is more Luck and less Rodgers.
Heed the words of Albert Camus. If you are reading this you are more than likely already neck deep in the mania. Good for you. If you are still holding back, just let yourself go. Stop looking at the schedule to see where Gardner will finally be exposed. The NFL season is one week at a time.
Think of each weekend as a new Autumn, and every game as a beautiful changing leaf.