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A look back at Jaguars Opening Days


Andy Reid's eyes probably bulged when he got his first look at his team's 2019 schedule: one o'clock in Jacksonville in the season opener. Congratulations, coach, you're it.

"I look at the schedule each year and I look at the games where teams are going to melt, and that could be one right there," former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. "It's huge for teams not accustomed to that heat and humidity. A one o'clock start is brutal for teams not practicing in those conditions."

Ask the Steelers about one o'clock starts in Jacksonville early in the season. A Steelers team that won the AFC title melted in the early October heat in 1995, as the Jaguars scored the franchise's first-ever home win. Linebacker Chad Brown literally passed out in the huddle and fell on his face. The Steelers played in Jacksonville in the 1996 and 2001 season openers; they didn't score a touchdown in either game.

Tom Coughlin delighted in putting the Steelers in their black jerseys and turning them into molten steel, and the schedule maker cooperated.

"The openers were always to our benefit. They brought it," Fred Taylor said of the Steelers, "but by the end of the third quarter they were tapping out, especially the 'Bus'."

I suspect the Chiefs will be wearing their red jerseys on Sunday. I can almost hear the Jaguars giggling.

The dark jersey thing has been a staple for the Jaguars, but it hasn't always worked. The Jaguars were wearing their tidy whities for the 2003 home opener against one of football's cold-climate kings, the Buffalo Bills.

"They came in and wore blue and smoked us," Del Rio said.

So, don't count on the jersey color thing. It might just be a mind game. The heat and humidity, however, are for real.

"It was hell," Taylor said of playing in the early season in Jacksonville. "It was so tough, especially when we had Coach Coughlin. It was tough but we embraced it. If it was tough for us, it was going to be to our advantage because it was going to drain the other team."

When I think of two visiting teams that were drained by the one o'clock Jacksonville heat and humidity, I think of the Seahawks in 2005 and the Cowboys in 2006.

The Cowboys? The team from hot and steamy Dallas? No, the Cowboys team that trained in sweater-weather Oxnard, Calif., that summer. What was Bill Parcells thinking?

"I remember that one because there was so much hype about the Cowboys and how they were going to roll us that day. I did a pregame TV interview and it was so insulting the questions they were asking me, as though we were going to get blown out," Del Rio said.

In the first quarter, it appeared the Jaguars would get blown out. The blue-clad Cowboys went up and down the field with ease. They led 10-0, and then it was as though the lights went out. The Jaguars won 24-17, and it wasn't that close.

The Cowboys had advance warning. The same thing happened to the Seahawks in the previous year's season opener in Jacksonville. The Seahawks, led by star running back Shaun Alexander, held a 14-13 lead at halftime. They didn't score a point in the second half. It was as though they got on their plane at halftime and left. The Seahawks won the NFC title that season.

"Teams don't know what they're coming into until they get there, and then it's too late. If you haven't trained in that heat, it'll zap you. That's what happened that day," Del Rio said.

The opener of all openers for Del Rio, and probably for most Jaguars fans, is the 2010 game against visiting Denver. It was a one o'clock start and the temperature at kickoff was a sizzling 90 degrees, but this one wasn't about weather. It was about Tim Tebow.

"The opener that has the most impact for me is the day Tebow played for Denver. I felt more pressure to know he wouldn't go off. This is the savior we passed on. It was an organizational decision. Wayne (Weaver) was saying how do we not take him? Wayne said if he's still there in the third or fourth round, I'm going to take him myself. I spent a lot of time in the offseason making sure we were prepared for the quarterback run thing. That was the most memorable (opener) for me," Del Rio said.

Tebow's stat line for that game was two rushing attempts for two yards with a long run of one yard.

One of the Jaguars' most disappointing season openers was a 13-10 loss to the visiting Titans in 2007 on a brutally hot day. The official weather conditions included "no wind." The Jaguars, not the Titans, were the gassed-looking team that day, but it was an incident in pregame that decided the outcome.

"(Josh Scobee) blew out his quad. We lost the game because we couldn't kick field goals. We lost him in pregame. Mike Ryan (Jaguars trainer) came into the locker room as white as a ghost and said Scobee kicked the ground and blew out his quad," Del Rio said.

Scobee managed a 22-yard field goal, but that was the limit of his range.

The 2002 season opener against the visiting Colts was a heartbreaking 28-25 loss that began a season that ended even more hurtfully. It was a season dedicated to salary cap repair and the Jaguars were forced to play with a roster that wasn't much better than their inaugural-season team. Somehow, Coughlin found a way to coach the '02 Jaguars to competitiveness. That team lost five games by three or fewer points. He was fired the day after the season ended. It was one of the best coaching jobs I ever covered.

"I was just hoping we weren't going to be a terrible team," Taylor said. In '02, Taylor played in all 16 games for the first time in his career. He posted one of his best rushing totals and his all-time best receiving totals.

The all-time best home opener? It's the 41-3 win against Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the 49ers. Young had a passer rating of 14.3 and Rice caught two passes for 17 yards, but the heat had nothing to do with it because the game was played in a steady rain.

"It was so wet that game. We beat them really bad. I was excited. It was the sign we were a great team that year," Taylor said.

"The 49ers were old. Steve Young was at the end and we were a good football team," Tony Boselli said.

Yeah, the Jaguars would lead the league with a 14-2 record in '99. You know the rest. I have an AFC Championship Game souvenir clock that bears the date Jan. 23, 2000. The clock has long been broken but I can't force myself to throw it away, and I don't know why.

The '99 opener is the best because it was in '99, the year the Jaguars should've won the Super Bowl. It's also a memorable opener because it was followed by a week dedicated to a hurricane named Floyd.

Much of the team moved into Alltel Stadium that week. They came as families -- their kids and dogs in tow -- and I got the sense they left after Floyd had passed as members of an even larger family.

What will it take for the Jaguars to return to those glory days? Maybe it'll begin for this year's team on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"I think you have to be careful with that. They were 3-1 last year and won two games the rest of the season," Boselli cautioned.

"I think the Jaguars themselves are going to beat the Chiefs. The heat is just going to help. I think the Jaguars are going to win the opener," Taylor said.

"If the Jags defense plays the way it did two years ago, yeah, they can beat them, but they have to make sure the Chiefs don't jump on them. They have to weather the storm early, and then the heat will work in their favor," Del Rio said.

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