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Full cycle; recovery is the challenge


The last time the Green Bay Packers played at Alltel Stadium, the Jaguars were a team of the future. Mark Brunell was making just his second pro start and had yet to take the permanent starting quarterback job from Steve Beuerlein. Tony Boselli made his pro debut.

That was 1995, the Jaguars' inaugural season. This is 2001, and it would seem the Jaguars have gone full cycle.

In the years between the Packers' first game against the Jaguars and this Monday's most recent appearance, the Jaguars enjoyed four consecutive playoff seasons, two AFC Central Division titles, two trips to the AFC title game and, most recently, two seasons of decline.

Sometimes you have to examine where you were to know exactly where you are. This Monday's game offers that kind of assessment.

The course is clear, now. There will be no talk of keeping the core of this team together this winter; no mention of taking one more swing at the Super Bowl.

What about the Packers? Well, when they played here in '95 they were a team a year removed from winning the Super Bowl. A few years later, their decline began, missing the playoffs in '99 and 2000. Now, they are back after a very brief exit from the ranks of the NFL elite.

Such is the way of life in the NFL. Fall follows rise and rise follows fall, unless you attempt to foil the system. Look at the teams that were on top of the league in '95.

• San Francisco was a franchise too proud to accept decline. They abusively toyed with their salary cap and managed to remain a playoff contender, but the 49ers were in hard decline and denial. It wasn't until they pulled the plug and accepted the bitterness of their fall that they began their recent ascent.

• Pittsburgh foresaw the cap dangers of retaining their star players, let them go and accepted harsh criticism for being a cheap organization that was unwilling to spend what it takes to put a winner on the field. Now, the Steelers are back, with Earl Holmes having replaced Chad Brown and Kendrell Bell stepping in for Levon Kirkland. Pittsburgh is living proof that success in the league is not about maintenance; it's about replacement.

• Dallas executed the double whammy. The Cowboys abused their cap and have failed to replace their former stars, a killer combination that offers Dallas little hope of foreseeable recovery.

Eventually, all teams fall. It's an undeniable fact. The challenge isn't about staying on top. The challenge is about how quickly you recover.

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