The 2003 Jaguars football season began two weeks ago, and I know that many of my loyal fans have been patiently waiting for the first installment of the Joe Z. diary. For those of you who wanted it, it's back. For those of you that have never read it, welcome; and for those of you that never liked my diary, tough! The big bad bald man is back in town. Well, let's begin.
Monday, September 1
It is a long, hot road through training camp in the NFL, and it takes a special man to survive. The first Monday of the season is when the final roster gets established. Any player that even makes it into an NFL training camp has accomplished something, yet it is that final day that all players want to be on the roster. After the final cuts, players can once again turn on their cell phones without fear of a call from the front office asking for them to return their play books. I am no exception. My name is Joe Zelenka, (pronounced zuh-LIN-kuh). I am the long snapper for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Most of the fellas call me "Z" or "Z-pack," yet everyone seems to know me as "Joey Z." This is my third season here in Jacksonville. It seems like only yesterday that I arrived on a jet plane to begin my career here.
I drove to work that first Monday with a big smile on my face and my cell phone on for the first time in 48 hours. I had a lot of messages. The beginning of a new season brings with it all of the sugar-crazed excitement of Christmas, Halloween and Easter combined. Those exciting first game images began dancing in my head. I had to calm myself down before I went into the locker room. There were still about six days before kickoff. There was no need to peak this soon.
The first day of official practice for the 2003 Jaguars was a promising one. The 53 final Jaguars got their first look at the Carolina Panthers. Energized by the day's transactions, the team began its preparation for the opener. The "New Era" had begun.
Tuesday, September 2
The first off day came and went quietly. This early in the season, bodies, joints and spirits are still feeling new and refreshed, so the off day turns into kind of a recess. The first Tuesday, I ventured off-shore with Captain Chris Luzar, a.k.a. Luzilla, First Mate Kyle Brady and the young cabinboy Seth Marler. The salt air filled our lungs and the sound of me puking filled our ears. On a rare and rough day for Joey Z., we caught a lot of bait and absolutely no fish. At day's end, I was glad to be back home on solid ground with my beautiful wife, Rebekah.
Wednesday, September 3
Wednesday morning came early as I, Mark Brunell and others sauntered into the weight room for numerous tests of strength. Following our displays of manliness we began our 2003 Joe Z and Deuce show. The two of us, along with Seth Marler and Chris' wife, Kasey, headed downtown to the Landing for the NFL and Super Bowl Kick-Off Party. It was a great time. We signed autographs, met lots of new people and I even got to hang out with one of my old Demon Deacon football pals, Reid Sigmon.
Friday, September 5
Friday I got to work early. I wanted to get a few extra minutes of film time, personally viewing the Panthers. I could see, just like the coaches had been telling us, this was going to be one heck of a game. Practice and meetings were the final polishing to our game plan. I came home to find only the two wagging tails of my dogs. A house sure is a lonely one without a wife. The good news is, I won't get yelled at for wrestling with the dogs and knocking things over. The first match of the season was a shellacking. Those two pups didn't know what hit 'em. Joey Z-1, Dogs 0.
Saturday, September 6
Travel Day/Donut Day has finally arrived! The New Era has definitely ushered in many changes. One thing I'm glad that hasn't changed is the presence on Saturday mornings of Krispy Kreme donuts and of Luzilla stuffing his face with them. After a final walk-through, we caught the 1:00 flight to Charlotte. The only thing left for us to do was to wait and prepare mentally for the Panthers. This was going to be the Battle of the Big Cats!!