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Jax still has his heart


This "game of the heart," as it was once described, often requires players to have a change of heart.

Mark Brunell's heart was in Jacksonville. It still is. His left arm, however, works for the Washington Redskins and it's his arm that pays the bills.

"This is professional football. It's about the money," somebody else once said.

You bet it is.

"If I was in that situation, I might do the same thing," Brunell said about the Jaguars new regime's decision to stamp the team with a new quarterback. "You move on. It worked out."

This Sunday, Brunell will lead the Redskins against the visiting Jaguars. What will it be like for Brunell? Do you want the truth? Well, the truth is this game won't be much different for Brunell than any other game.

These guys are professionals. Soon into their careers they reject fantasy and accept the reality that they are football mercenaries. This is play for pay. Their employers don't care about their hearts.

Yeah, that's the way it is, until they retire. Then the heart beckons. Then the fantasy returns. Isn't it funny that when the money goes away, the heart comes back. Actually, it was always there, it's just that money and emotion don't mix, and the good players are the ones who learn how to separate the two.

When Brunell retires from pro football, he and his family will return to Jacksonville. They will do that not because someone will pay them to do so, but because they'll choose to do so. It's where they want to be.

"That's the plan," Brunell said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

Brunell's best buddy, Tony Boselli, came back to Jacksonville when his career ended. This weekend, Boselli, who a week from this Sunday will be made the first inductee into the "Pride of the Jaguars," will be rooting for Brunell to beat the Jaguars. Boselli, honestly but somewhat foolishly, admitted as much on his radio show.

"He better root for the Redskins. He's staying at my house," Brunell said.

There's your "game of the heart."

"I hoped I'd be able to finish in Jacksonville. That was three years ago. You move on," Brunell said.

He didn't have to be so honest. He could've dodged the questions; chosen more diplomatic responses. Brunell, however, was most sensitive and telling in Wednesday's interview.

"It's not home," he said of the D.C. area, "but if you're going to be somewhere else, it's a great place to be."

Jacksonville is home. Make no mistake about it. It always will be.

How long before he returns?

"I'd like to do this as long as I can," he said. "I really enjoy it. It's still a blast. I'd like to keep going."

Sooner or later – probably sooner – the "Turk" will call. It happens to every player. That's when the paychecks stop and players show their hearts.

"If you want to be good or play at a certain level, you have to pour yourself into it. It doesn't mean you forget about a former team. Whatever team you're on, you have to do whatever you have to do to be successful," Brunell explained.

The sentimental questions, as he expected, were many. He said the 1996 playoff game in Denver and the '97 Monday nighter against Pittsburgh were his favorite games while with the Jaguars.

If he could change one thing, what would it be?

"I'd throw a Super Bowl in there somewhere," he said.

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