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One last – difficult – day


One last time, Wayne Weaver stood before the players.

On a day of lasts, this may have been the most difficult of all, and it was made only a bit easier by the day's result. Yes, the Jaguars beat the Indianapolis Colts, 19-13, Sunday at EverBank Field, and yes, that was the right way to bid farewell to the man who brought the NFL to Jacksonville.

But just because the end was fitting didn't mean it wasn't difficult. How could it not be?

The last time walking into the locker room as Jaguars owner?

And even tougher, the last time walking out?

It was indeed tough, as tough as he knew it would be, and Weaver said after it was over it was in the locker room that the whole thing really sunk in – that as of Wednesday, he would no longer be the Jaguars' owner.

"There's no turning back now," Weaver said, forcing a laugh.

No, there's not, but that being true, what a way to finish.

Did you see that day on Sunday? The sun glistened off the St. Johns River on a New Year's Day so perfect for football it almost made you forget these two teams were long since out of the playoffs.

And while we're on that, remember all the talk all week about motivation?

Think these two teams weren't motivated, that this game was about draft position and Andrew Luck? The Colts played Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark and Pierre Garcon and Joseph Addai and Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis the whole game. They wanted to win, and Luck wasn't on their minds.

And the Jaguars?

Well, their motivation was obvious throughout, too. This was no mail-it-in, start-the-engines-before-kickoff game. Yes, they had heard people talk all week about how draft positioning was more important, but any time you said that to a player the eyes rolled.

On Sunday, they did more than roll their eyes. They played with the same heart and desire they had played with all season, even during the toughest times of this very tough season, and they didn't just play with heart and desire to get Maurice Jones-Drew the rushing title and franchise single-season rushing record he so deserved.  They didn't just play because new owner Shahid Khan was watching, either, although he was, and he had to like what he saw from the team he officially will take over Wednesday.

No, the Jaguars played with heart Sunday because they're professionals and because they're character guys, and because no matter the record that's important.

And because they did, Sunday ended right, and because Sunday ended right there's a good feeling to take from this admittedly difficult season. Sunday's victory didn't salvage anything. Not even Jones-Drew's rushing title or franchise record salvaged it. No one would tell you that, particularly not Jones-Drew.

But it did allow something good to happen and that was Weaver walking out of EverBank a winner on his 352nd and final game as Jaguars owner. Before the game, he spoke to Jones-Drew and told him he'd send pictures of him and Delores traveling, which the Weavers plan to do now that football and the Jaguars Foundation won't consume their every working day and every waking moment.

"That's cool," Jones-Drew told Weaver. "I'll still be working."

And that's what's strange to a lot of people around EverBank – that Weaver won't be. He and Delores weren't hands-on owners. They were in-the-office-everyday-run-it-for-real owners, and beginning Thursday they won't be, but on Sunday, the organization made sure the final day was memorable.

First, the Jaguars made the day Appreciation Day – not just for the fans, but for the Weavers.

Then, there was the halftime ceremony. The Jaguars showed a video tribute with former players talking about the Weavers, after which they unveiled Wayne and Delores Weaver as the second and third inductees into the Pride of the Jaguars. Their names are now on the stadium walls next to Tony Boselli, the franchise's best player of the first decade and a half.

Weaver said he was surprised by the honor. He shouldn't have been. Putting him there was the right thing to do, and all indications are Khan is about doing just that.

Whether what happened in the locker room afterward surprised anyone or not, it did say a lot about Weaver and his relationship with players and coaches.

Weaver, as he did after every game, visited the locker room. He spoke to the team, and told them how proud he was for the effort, and the victory. Interim coach Mel Tucker awarded him a game ball. Those who were there said Weaver's emotion was clear, and said Weaver wasn't alone.

"For the guys who have been here a long time, that was a pretty strong moment," Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri said.

Moments later, Weaver – still emotional – spoke to the media. He thanked them for their support, and said again he believes the Jaguars are closer to contention than many believe.

"This team is really on the rise," Weaver said, and added of the receiving the game ball and the accompanying hugs:

"It was special. It's a very emotional time today, to realize this really is it."

Yes, it is it, and as of Wednesday, the era is over, but anyone who has been around the Jaguars – not just this week, but any time in the last 18 years – knows that although the Weavers won't be at EverBank every day, their legacy is lasting.

Their commitment to the community, to Jacksonville, won't be forgotten. Not soon.

And really, not ever.

Weaver didn't speak long Sunday. Less than two minutes after he walked from the locker room, his brief chat with the media was over. And when it was, he walked the hallway of EverBank Field. It won't be the last time ever, but it will be for the last time as an NFL owner in the good, warm glow of post-game victory.

As Weaver walked, he walked with his legacy secure. He will never be forgotten, and Jacksonville will forever remember him as the man who brought the NFL to the city when few imagined it possible.

But he walked, too, knowing there was no turning back, and that made it a tough day.

After 18 years, how could it not be?

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