The Jaguars will say hello to Heinz Field, then goodbye to Pittsburgh, where the Jaguars aren't scheduled to play again until 2005.
NFL realignment will send the Jaguars into the AFC South and the Steelers in the AFC North next season. Two teams who have authored one of the league's best rivalries since 1997 will part company and, according to the NFL's new scheduling format, the Jaguars aren't scheduled to play in Pittsburgh again for the next three seasons.
"It's been a great rivalry for us. The Steelers were the divisional champs when we came into existence. It's too bad we're going to be in different divisions," coach Tom Coughlin told reporters today.
In '97, this was the NFL's hottest new rivalry and it provided two classic games. The outcome of each was decided by a touchdown on the final play of the game, with the Jaguars winning at Alltel Stadium when Chris Hudson raced down the sideline following a block of a field goal attempt, and the Steelers winning in Three Rivers Stadium when Jerome Bettis scored on a shovel pass in overtime.
None of the Steelers-Jaguars games since then have provided similar heroics, but it's still a game that gets the Jaguars' attention. After all, it's the game that defines the challenge this expansion franchise faced and the success it achieved.
When the Jaguars first faced the Steelers in 1995, the Steelers were in the peak year of a six-year playoff run. Two years later, the Steelers had reached the end of that streak and it was the Jaguars who were hitting their stride. Now, in the two team's last AFC Central game against each other, the order has reversed again.
Nonetheless, the Jaguars would like to give the Steelers one parting shot, just as the expansion Jaguars did in '95. Then, with Mark Brunell in his first game as the Jaguars' number one quarterback, the Jaguars upset a Steelers team that would go on to win the AFC title that season.
"We won't miss them," Brunell joked. "There's been great history there. We've had great games against them."
And the Jaguars have certainly had success against the Steelers. Jacksonville leads the all-time series 8-5 and has won five of the last six meetings.
Most recently, the Jaguars dominated the Steelers, 21-3, in the season-opener, but much has changed since then. The Jaguars just ended a five-game losing streak, while the Steelers have won six of their last seven games and lead the division with a 6-2 record at the halfway point in the season.
The Jaguars' troubles can be traced directly to the absence of star running back Fred Taylor, who has missed six consecutive games and is listed on the team's injury report as "questionable" for the second consecutive week. Taylor offered no special hope he might play this week.
"Nobody wants to be back more than me. (When) I can compete at a high level, that would be the time I'll return. If it starts to hurt me, I've got to back off," he said of his practice prospects for today, which saw the Jaguars work out in a steady rain.
"I need a little more burst. My challenge is to come back (healthy), not caring about what people say. Each day has been better, but only by a little bit. But a little bit is not good enough. The thing that has me (angry) is that the season is winding down," Taylor added.
The Jaguars found a consistent rushing attack in the second half of this past Sunday's win over the Cincinnati Bengals, as Stacey Mack rushed for 69 yards and controlled the action. In Pittsburgh this Sunday, Mack would be facing the league's top-ranked defense.
"This is a great series. Each game has been a bruising, physical game. You've got to win in your division to move up in your division," wide receiver Keenan McCardell said.
The 3-5 Jaguars hope to climb back into the playoff race in a three-game stretch of schedule that will see them host Baltimore and Green Bay following Sunday's game in Pittsburgh.