There are a lot of amenities in Duval County, or known by its government name as Jacksonville, Florida. Jacksonville is a city known for its beaches, tourism, and red solo cups that only show up during Halloween Weekend. (Thanks, UGA and Florida!)
A host of schools surround the area, including the University of North Florida, whose mascot is the Osprey for those that want to know such things.
For the nearly 900,000 citizens that reside in Duval, nothing beats those Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, who happen to be the Double-A minor league affiliate for the Miami Marlins.
Those Jumbo Shrimp sure know how to devour the competition as evidenced by their 39-31 record to win the Southern League 2nd Half Division Championship. I also heard that their Safe Harbor Pavilion fan experience is a hit for fisherman that come off the coast searching for the catch of the day.
Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that “other” team in Jacksonville. You know, the one team that recently had to give away tickets to avoid being the laughingstock of the NFL.
Yes, that same team that went 17-63 since 2012 regular season. The franchise that avoided signing fan favorite University of Florida legendary quarterback Tim Tebow and settled on Blaine Gabbert as the signal caller.
Okay, that was a bad reference as Tebow flamed out after one playoff win and Gabbert couldn’t beat out some guy named Drew Stanton– but you get the point.
The Jaguars have been that little stepchild of the NFL for many years. They routinely get sent to London to be showcased as a prop to build the league’s footprint globally. They also get thrown horrible support, constantly getting stuck in the 1:00 p.m. time slot on any given Sunday.
Seriously, when is the last time that the Jaguars played in a true primetime game? You know, a game like the Super Bowl, maybe?
The answer to that question is never in a lifetime.
For as many times as the Jaguars have been kicked down, they have slowly started to fight back.
Under the guidance of owner Shad Khan, who took over in 2011, and executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars are on the cusp of shocking the world and dethroning the NFL elites.
Coughlin has brought a “Mister Miyagi” approach to Jacksonville and the Jaguars have waxed their competition this season. The Jaguars finished the regular season 10-6 and won the AFC South division.
They also ripped through the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Now they sit one game away from playing in the Super Bowl LII. Their opponent happens to be the New England Patriots, the ultimate bullies of the NFL.
I will let you in on a little secret: The Jaguars aren’t scared at all.
Jacksonville has a confidence that was hardened by everyone not believing in them. Every team tries to play the “No Respect” card, but the Jaguars truly earned theirs. No one wanted them to win. Nobody expected them to be competitive.
The Jaguars were the glorified “easy win” on the schedule. The doubt has inspired them to play for each other and that has made them scary.
It all started with a strong 2014 draft class that developed the core of the team. In that draft, Jacksonville found their quarterback in Blake Bortles out of Central Florida, two starting wide receivers in Allen Robinson and Marquise Lee. They also got perennial Pro Bowlers in guard Brandon Linder and linebacker Telvin Smith.
From there, the Jaguars started putting everything together. The 2015 draft brought lineman A.J. Cann and running back T.J. Yeldon. The next year saw All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack don the teal and black.
But, it was the 2017 offseason that found the elixir to their success. Coughlin drafted running back Leonard Fournette out of LSU and signed top free agents Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye to record deals.
The result created a devastating unit that relies on running the ball and mercilessness on defense. It has worked as the Jaguars led the NFL in rushing, allowed the fewest passing yards, and were second in total defense.
Opponents couldn’t handle the discipline that was instilled by Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone. The Jaguars allowed just one touchdown in 10 games and won nine of those contests. They also outscored those teams 267-72.
The dangerous part is that Jacksonville is just getting started. Don’t believe me, just ask any one of the players. They will definitely tell you the honest truth.
These aren’t the same ole Jaguars. These guys are out for blood with their aggressive style of play. They want to change the narrative and don’t want to be the NFL stepchild anymore.
Should they beat the defending Super Bowl Champions on Sunday afternoon, the Jaguars might just might write a whole new chapter as the NFL’s charismatic enigma.
And you can bet Duval County will finally know their name and celebrate with a homecoming that finally accepts the Jaguars as the kings of the NFL.
Scary as that is to believe, in 2018, the Jaguars playing in primetime is closer than you think.