In keeping with the "Best of Vic" theme, here are some comments on some of my favorite Jaguars.
Tony Boselli—I was looking for my new Joe Greene when I arrived in Jacksonville, and Tony was the perfect fit. He was too good to be true: a dominant talent who possessed a passion for the game and a willingness to express it. He was always my go-to guy. He called me on a Saturday morning to tell me he had just had a visit from Tom Coughlin, who painfully advised Tony that he would be offered to the Texans in expansion, and that any player offered who wasn't selected by the Texans would be cut. It was one of those moments that reminds you that it's professional football and it's about the money.
Fred Taylor—I've never wanted to be friends with the players I've covered. Fred is one of the exceptions.
Mark Brunell—He played as impressively in 1995 and '96 as any quarterback I have ever covered. He made me feel like Robert Duval in "The Natural." Mark went on to have a long and great career, but the knee injury he suffered in the 1997 preseason took something from his game and he was never the same; better in some ways, just not the same. It was generally accepted that Brunell had torn his ACL when Jesse Armstead went low on Brunell in that game. After Brunell underwent surgery a few days later, however, it was revealed that his ACL wasn't torn. Mark graciously granted me an interview about the surprise discovery. The interview went something like this:
K: You must've been surprised that you didn't tear it.
B: Oh, I tore it.
K: I thought they said it wasn't torn.
B: It's not, now.
K: So it was torn but now it's not torn?
At that point there was a pause in the interview while I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong. Brunell saw that I was confused.
B: I knew it was torn. My faith healed it.
K: Oh, I see.
So how am I gonna write this? I remember asking myself.
Maurice Jones-Drew—He's a mini Earl Campbell, which is both the good news and the bad news. In other words, Mo plays too big for his body, which is fun to watch but I fear that we won't be able to watch for long. Mo, you are a player who embodies the essence of the game and I love that about you.
Keenan McCardell—Keenan was a reporter's dream. Anytime I was at a loss for a story, I knew I could go to Keenan for one. He just loved to talk about football and I quickly learned what buttons to push. On one particular occasion, I had written that Keenan might've lost a step. What a bonanza it was for me because it spawned two more stories: the denial that he had lost a step, followed by a performance in the following game that proved he hadn't lost a step. I love the true pros and Keenan was always a true pro.
Rashean Mathis—I've never seen the man treat any reporter, regardless of the question, with disrespect. He's always there at media time; Rashean is another true pro. What's always bothered me is that he's been so harshly criticized by fans in what is his hometown. I don't get it. He's made as many big plays as any defensive player in Jaguars history.
Byron Leftwich—My respect for him is immense. He never took anything but the high road. He was cruelly criticized for the way he spoke and the way he walked and even for the cut of his uniform, but I never, ever heard Byron say anything about this town or the fans that wasn't complimentary.
Jeff Lageman—When he was a player, I remember thinking that I wish I had covered him for more seasons than just three. Jeff was my Jack Lambert. Fortunately, I got to spend several years on the radio with Jeff. I'll really miss the Jaguars This Week shows.
Paul Spicer—This is a crazy guy, but he always intrigued me. He was always a great interview, and I liked that, but Paul could get testy at times and I never really knew what he was about. Then one day I found out. Paul was with the New Orleans Saints and headed toward a Super Bowl championship and I was in a hospital room recovering from a heart attack when my phone rang. It was Paul. I couldn't have been more surprised had I awakened and my head was sewn to the carpet. That's when I found out Paul really was my kind of guy; another true pro.
Terrance Knighton—Oh, I'm gonna miss this guy. If he isn't Joe Greene, he'll do until Joe Greene gets here, again. Nothing beats a guy who can play AND talk, and Terrance can do both.
Mike Peterson—He's a friend for life. He's a Fred. Mike and I could talk without speaking.
Jimmy Smith—As big, as fast and as talented as any receiver I have ever covered. Here's the crazy part: If he hadn't been so good on special teams coming out of the 1995 training camp, Coughlin would've likely cut him.
Leon Searcy—I will love this guy to the day I die. He's as kind, sincere and fun-loving as any player I've ever covered, but don't let his wonderful personality fool you: Leon had a "punch" that will live in infamy.
David Garrard—What if he had spent most of his career with Boselli and Searcy at the tackles and McCardell and Smith as the receivers? Makes you wonder, huh?
Mike Thomas—He would've fit perfectly on those Steelers teams of the '70's. Not everybody can get away with being cocky. Mike can. He makes it fun.
Marcedes Lewis—I found him too late. That's my fault. He was a jewel in the locker room this past season.
Jeremy Mincey—He gets it and he knows I know he gets it. He's my kind of guy, and he knows that, too.
A lot of guys who've come and gone in that locker room know they're my kind of guy.