It was a memorable sparring session between Jack Del Rio and the media at a press conference in Del Rio's rookie season as head coach. It centered around one of those deep-think subjects, the difference between perception and reality.
The coach was holding his own, then he made the fatal mistake of stepping directly into the path of a straight right hand. "I don't deal in perception, I deal in reality," the coach said.
I can remember thinking, oh, no. I saw the punch coming before Del Rio's sparring partner drew back his arm, but it was too late for the coach to duck. He had to know it was coming, too.
"Well, the reality is you're 1-7," came the haymaker.
That was two years ago. It was the worst of times for this team and its young coach. That was the perception and the reality. They were one and the same.
Well, what are they today? We kind of did the same press conference this past Monday, but this time Del Rio was ready to box. He had his guard up and he was the one scoring points with deft jabs and hard uppercuts. The doubting media was defenseless.
What is the reality today? The reality is the Jaguars are 10-4. The reality is the Jaguars are a win away from making the playoffs, a little more than two years from having been 1-7 and a strong contender for the number one draft choice.
If reality is fact, then here's what we know to be true:
• Since that sparring session in midseason, 2003, the Jaguars are 23-15.
• The Jaguars have the league's number four-ranked defense.
• As mentioned by Del Rio on Monday, only four teams in the league have a better record than the Jaguars and the Jaguars have beaten two of those teams. They've also played all four.
• Three other teams in the league also have a 10-4 record and those three teams are leading their respective divisions.
• The Jaguars are 3-1 without their starting quarterback and became the first team since 2001 to win three consecutive road games; 13 unsuccessful attempts at three in a row on the road were made by other teams during that period.
Yeah, the coach got a lot of reality working in his favor. He is not punchless, as he was at midseason in '03. He's got the facts working in his favor, now he has to find a way to change perception.
A soft schedule over the final 10 games of this season has seriously damaged perception. There's nothing Del Rio can do about that, for now, but it's fact that narrow wins over lightweights such as the 49ers have damaged the national perception of what's happening in Jacksonville.
The challenge Del Rio and the Jaguars are facing is effecting a fast finish and a strong playoff run that'll define and legitimize the Jaguars' record and the success this team has enjoyed and established since that sparring session in midseason, '03.
Yeah, perception often is reality. In this case, however, reality will eventually become perception.