On Dec. 8, 2019, as I watched Tyrod Taylor of the Los Angeles Chargers complete a 14-yard pass to Virgil Green, thereby giving us the downright embarrassing final score of 45-10, I wondered, “Why do I still root for this team?”
In the time that I have been alive, the Jacksonville Jaguars have amassed a grand total of three playoff berths. During that same time, perennial favorites such as the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers have earned 15 and 11 playoff berths respectively, and won a combined six Super Bowl titles.
While I’ve been alive, the Jaguars have compiled 109 wins to 175 losses, a 0.384 win percentage. Only the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions have a worse record over that same period. The Jaguars have not had two straight winning seasons since 2005. The Jaguars have no Hall of Famers. The Houston Texans, a team that only started playing in 2002, is the only other NFL team to have no Hall of Famers, and even they probably have J.J. Watt on his way to Canton.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are arguably the most depressing team in the NFL. In their early years, they were a powerhouse of the former AFC Central, earning two division titles and four playoff berths in their first five years. “Do You Believe In Miracles?” was practically the city motto back in the days when the Jaguars shocked the world by knocking off Elway’s heavily favored Broncos in the ‘96 playoffs, annihilating Marino’s Dolphins 62-7 in ‘99, and appearing in two conference championships in four years.
But that time is long in the rearview mirror. It’s almost a forgotten era. The only person who was involved in that run who is still working with the Jaguars today is Keenan McCardell, former wide receiver and now wide receivers coach. These days instead of competing for conference championships, they’re competing for first overall picks.
The only Jaguars I have ever known are the mediocre ones. The team you could reliably make money from by betting against them.
It’s a matter of pride, I suppose. And pride transcends traditional measures of success. The Jaguars are Jacksonville’s most visible representative on the national stage. When somebody in Indianapolis, Houston, Nashville or Pittsburgh hears “Jacksonville,” they don’t think of Lenny Curry, John Rutherford or Duval County. They grit their teeth and think, “Jaguars.”
Jacksonville itself is like a forgotten city. It’s thought of as a small town where nothing happens, but the fact is this is the most populous city in Florida, and the largest city by square mileage in the contiguous United States. Jacksonville’s population, by the most recent census, is about 892,000, which is almost twice as much as Miami. In fact, it’s roughly the population of Miami, Orlando and Tallahassee combined. It’s the biggest small town in America, or else the smallest big city.
Jacksonville is one of only 30 cities that has the distinct honor of hosting the NFL. The Jaguars have a huge effect on our economy and our way of life. The Jaguars’ average ticket price is $117, and they can usually sell about 60,000 tickets even in a bad week, which comes to roughly $7.02 million in ticket sales per home game, of which there are seven. The mayor’s approval rating rises and falls with the success (or lack thereof) of the Jaguars. Even if you aren’t an active Jaguars fan, the fact is that their very existence impacts your life.
Whether they’re good or bad, the Jaguars represent me and my city. I relish in their successes, I mourn their losses (I do a lot more of the latter). They’re part of my identity, and a form of consistent entertainment. No matter what is going on in life, the Jacksonville Jaguars are there for me every Sunday.
And while it’s certainly true that rooting for a successful team is infinitely more fun than rooting for a bad one, it’s also true that one must suffer through the bad times in order to properly enjoy the good times. You see, fans of teams like the New England Patriots lack a certain aspect of sports fandom that we in Jacksonville are highly familiar with: the bitter taste of disappointment, and the ecstasy when you realize why it was all worth it.
The Jaguars’ AFC Championship berth in 2017, as flukey as it may have seemed, was sweeter to the Jacksonville faithful than anything that Patriots fans have felt in years. They’ve grown accustomed to success. Success for the New England Patriots has been a given since Tom Brady stepped onto the field to replace the injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001. The Jaguars’ success, meanwhile, has always been a question mark. We never know if our Jaguars will win a close game or be beaten into the ground. So when we have that rare tremendous success like we had in 2017, it’s sweeter than anything Patriots fans will be able to experience for a long time.
There’s nothing more exciting than cheering for the underdog. It’s thrilling to shock the world when those underdogs show everyone what you’ve known all along. Patriots fans are actually vaguely familiar with this fact. They themselves were underdogs at one point, as almost nobody could have predicted the hapless Patriots, led by then-uncelebrated backup from Michigan Tom Brady, would defeat The Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI.
The Patriots won their first Super Bowl in their 42nd year of their existence, after years of miserable play and mediocrity. They upended the football establishment with that win and turned it into one of the most successful dynasties in sports history, one that has stretched over two decades. So the question is, Jacksonville, Do You Believe In Miracles?