JACKSONVILLE – To Keenan McCardell, Jacksonville matters.
Not that other cities don't. McCardell in 17 NFL seasons was as productive and well-traveled as pretty much any wide receiver of his era, playing in Washington, Cleveland, Jacksonville, San Diego, Houston – and finally, Washington again. His professional memories are many, vivid and widespread.
But his time playing in Jacksonville, from 1996 through 2001, was just … different.
And in a very real sense, Jacksonville feels like home.
"It does … it does," McCardell said. "I spent the lonest tenure of my career in Jacksonville, but it was home. It was from the start of the franchise's history. We went from a team nobody really wanted to see on prime time to a team that people wanted to see."
McCardell, the Jaguars' wide receivers coach since 2017, joined senior writer John Oehser for this week's O-Zone Podcast. McCardell among other topics past and present went deep into his relationship with former Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith – "Thunder and Lightning," he said with a laugh – and said while he played on multiple great teams, including the 2002 Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 1999 Jaguars team was perhaps the best.
"We were really good in Tampa, but I really think the world didn't see one of the best teams in '99," McCardell said of a team that went 14-2 that season before losing in the AFC Championship Game to Tennessee. "Tennessee … I got to give them credit; they came in and did what they had to do. They were a good team, not taking anything away from them. But I think we were the better team.
"And I think it would have been a pretty exciting Super Bowl. … It would have been interesting to see the Greatest Show on Turf (the St. Louis Rams featuring Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner and Hall of Fame wide receiver Isaac Bruce) play us. It would have been fun."
Smith and McCardell formed one of the NFL's most productive receiving duos from 1996-2001, with McCardell catching 499 passes for 6,393 yards and 30 touchdowns during the span and Smith catching 562 passes for 7,972 yards and 41 touchdowns.
McCardell said the duo's success stemmed from a desire to prove to the rest of the league they belonged in the NFL. McCardell entered the NFL as a 12th-round selection by Washington in the 1991 NFL Draft and Smith spent the 1994 season out of football after being released by Dallas and Philadelphia.
"We had the same chip," McCardell said. "We had chips on our shoulder and we told each other, 'They tried to get us out of here. This time, we're going to leave this league when we want to leave this league.' Every day in practice, we were going to demonstrate that we were the best in the league. We were going to dominate."
To listen to the O-Zone podcast with McCardell, click here.