JACKSONVILLE – The San Francisco 49ers brought a star-studded cast filled with Hall-of-Fame Players on their first trip to Jacksonville for Week 1 in 1999.
The names roll off the tongue: quarterback Steve Young, wide receivers Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens and defensive end Charles Haley … to name the 49ers from that '99 team who would go on to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Plus, a host of other 49ers players that season were at or near the top of the league such as center Chris Dalman, running back Charlie Garner, defensive tackle Bryant Young, linebacker Ken Norton Jr. and safety Tim McDonald.
The guys on the other sideline that rainy Sunday afternoon were rising stars – and a high-profile game against the five-time Super Bowl champion 49ers was an opportunity to show they were ready to be mentioned among the favorites that season.
Left tackle Tony Boselli was already an All-Pro and running back Fred Taylor looked headed that way after a 17-touchdown 1998 rookie season. Wide receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell and quarterback Mark Brunell were considered as potent a passing attack as there was in the AFC and the defense was fortified in free agency with defensive tackle Gary Walker and safety Carnell Lake.
This was the game everyone was talking about during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the season.
A steady rain and cool wind robbed the game of what should have been an aerial showcase. The 49ers took an early 3-0 lead. Neither team could get much traction on the wet track at Alltel Stadium, and it was only 6-3, Jaguars, at halftime.
Brunell alternated between McCardell and Taylor on the Jaguars' first drive of the second half, but Taylor lost his footing on third-and-1 at the San Francisco 30-yard line and the Jaguars settled for a 9-3 lead after kicker Mike Hollis' 50-yard field goal.
The rain didn't let up and soon it was the Jaguars who were pouring it on the Niners.
Rookie cornerback R.W. McQuarters took the ensuing kickoff at the 49ers four-yard line and weaved his way across the field through traffic until he ran into speedy wide receiver Alvis Whitted, who jarred the ball into the hands of rookie cornerback Jason Craft, who took it right down the sideline for a touchdown. The two-point conversion made it 17-3.
Brunell was in his prime and showed it on the next drive. Overcoming a 10-yard sack on first down, he hit McCardell for 12 yards and wide receiver Reggie Barlow for 12 more to the San Francisco red zone. Four plays later, on second-and-goal from the four, he hit tight end Damon Jones for a touchdown. The Jaguars lead looked commanding at 24-3 and rain came down harder.
Jeff Garcia replaced Young in the fourth quarter after Jaguars safety Donovin Darius intercepted Young deep in San Francisco territory, but Garcia was only slightly more successful.
He took the 49ers from their own 29-yard line and his 22-yard lob for Owens gave San Francisco first and goal at the ten-yard line and their best chance to find the end zone. But Garcia's next pass, also intended for Owens, was picked off by cornerback Aaron Beasley. He raced down the sidelines, past a dejected-looking Young, for a 93-yard touchdown and a 41-3 lead.
It would be a long flight home for the 49ers, who managed 200 yards offense. Young started three more games in his final NFL season and the 'Niners missed the playoffs for the second time in 15 seasons.
On the other hand, the Jaguars made a major statement. Brunell, Smith and McCardell connected 14 times for 217 yards and the defense forced five turnovers. The Jaguars looked like the class of the AFC, were loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball and ended the year hosting the AFC Championship Game with a 14-2 regular-season record – 15-3 overall.