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Fate wrote a great script


It was supposed to be a day we would remember as having been Mark Brunell's farewell, but Brunell was upstaged by the zaniest play of the 2003 NFL season. Maybe it was appropriate.

Seven years earlier – almost to the day – Brunell's legendary 1996 Cinderella playoff run was born when Morten Andersen, then the most accurate kicker in NFL history, sent the Jaguars into the playoffs by missing a chip-shot, point-blank field-goal attempt. Today, Brunell's goodbye game ended with a missed extra-point attempt that followed a "Cal-Stanford" lateral fest that produced what would've been a game-tying touchdown.

It was perfect for the occasion. What better way to remember Brunell's final home game than with high drama?

Nobody had volunteered this script. Brunell's fans had jammed the radio waves and newspaper columns in recent weeks, offering goodbye scenarios that included Brunell taking the final knee in a Jaguars "victory" formation, to Brunell serving as the team's holder on extra-point attempts.

How lame? We're talking about the most distinguished player in Jaguars history. He is not to be treated as a sideshow act.

The fans wanted him to get a final start. They wanted him to at least get some playing time. Jacksonville wanted to say goodbye to the most popular player in Jacksonville sports history. That the Jaguars were attempting to win their fifth game of the season meant little. This day was all about Brunell.

OK, but how do you do it? Well, maybe fate wrote the best script.

Minus the Saints' wild, 75-yard touchdown play on the final play of regulation, this was just another game. Frankly speaking, it doesn't get any more low-profile than what the Saints and Jaguars offered in the way of a Sunday-before-Christmas matchup.

It was, very honestly, a game of very little prominence, until "The Play, II," which is now the pro football version of the Cal-Stanford "The Play." Now, there is no forgetting this day. It will forever be one of the most memorable moments in Jaguars history, and Brunell's farewell will be forever linked in trivia.

We owe fate a thanks. It wrote a great finish to a great marriage of man and place.

"My dad was here and my kids were up in the box. We're going to remember this one for a long time. The nine years I've been here have been the best nine years of my life," Brunell told reporters following the Jaguars' 20-19 win.

So, today, Jacksonville wished their favorite son well and said goodbye. He's a big boy now; he's ready to go out on his own, and already there is talk of where he might go.

The early betting line is on Miami and Dallas. Carolina, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and other NFL hamlets have been mentioned as possible destinations.

"He wants to go to a contender. He's excited to get this next week over and get on with it," Mark's father, Dave, said.

Dave Brunell has one of those father-son relationships every father wants to have. Dave was Mark's coach. Dave is the first person Mark calls after his games. Father and son were together on this final day in Jacksonville. Can you imagine what was in their hearts?

"I think they did the right amount of stuff," Dave Brunell said of what the Jaguars offered in the way of tributes to their departing quarterback. It was a very gracious touch by the elder Brunell. He knew the Jaguars had come under much criticism for not making his son's farewell more of an event.

They introduced him singularly and allowed him to run out of the tunnel for the final time. He sprinted across the field and into a touching embrace with his favorite receiver, Jimmy Smith. Mark Brunell waved to the fans and did everything he could to acknowledge the past, without stepping on the future.

It was a good day. It was tastefully done.

"The response of the people has been real rewarding," Mark said. "It was a very special day. A lot of gratitude to the Jaguars and the people. It's a moment I'll cherish for years."

And our memory of it will be aided by the drama that unfolded. It was perfect for the occasion. After all, we're talking about a player of high drama. It's how we found him, and it's how we leave him.

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