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Remembering the Titans


We move on today in the series counting down the all-time Top 10 Jaguars home games, and at No. 8, we come to one of the most important games in franchise history.

Not that it's a pleasant memory for the Jaguars, or their fans.  Hardly.

But while the Jaguars lost the AFC Championship Game following the 1999 season, the 33-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans on January 23, 2000, remains a memorable date to the Jaguars – their lone opportunity to host a conference championship game.

It also was the last time they were so close to the Super Bowl.

"The outcome was an unfortunate one, but it was a memorable one because the crowd was out in full force," reader Colby from Denver, Col., wrote. "Definitely a historic day for anyone who attended."

Wrote Joe Dougherty of Fleming Island, Fla., "I will never forget this game for the way our hearts were broken when it ended. How could this have happened after the incredible season the Jaguars had, including the decimation of Miami the previous week? This game proved that your window of opportunity isn&39;t open for very long."

The Jaguars, who went 14-2 in the 1999 regular season, had made history of a more enjoyable kind for the crowd at then-Alltel Stadium the week before, beating the Miami Dolphins, 62-7, in a game that featured the second-most one-sided post-season result in NFL history.

The change from one week to the net was drastic, and showed the up-and-down emotion of the NFL post-season.

"This game probably hurt the most of any loss," Jami Stuart of Arlington, Va., wrote. "The euphoria from the previous week, to dark despair the next.  It was the beginning of a decline that the team has endured for a decade.  I&39;m not sure the team and the city has recovered."

"Has to be number one," reader Shawn Heivilin of Three Rivers, Mich., wrote of the game and its status of memorable home games. "Still can&39;t get this game out of my head."

The victory over the Dolphins put the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game for a second time in four seasons, and continued the team's recent run of success.

Since missing the playoffs in their 1995 inaugural season, the Jaguars had improved steadily. They put together a remarkable five-game, season-ending winning streak in 1996 to qualify for the post-season as a wild-card team, then followed that by upsetting Buffalo and Denver in the playoffs before losing at New England in the AFC Championship game.

They followed that season with two 11-5 seasons, qualifying for the AFC playoffs as a wild card in 1997, then winning their first AFC Central title in 1998. They lost at Denver in an AFC Wild Card game following the 1997 season, then beat New England before losing at the New York Jets in the '98 post-season.

Still, progress was steady. The roster had been built through free agency and the draft, and throughout the '99 season, the Jaguars seemed poised to fulfill with precise timing the five-year plan laid out by Head Coach Tom Coughlin.

The Jaguars in 1999 turned in a dominant season, finishing fourth in the NFL in total defense and first in points allowed. They started the season 2-0, won their next 11 games, and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the only time in franchise history.

The wrinkle in the walk to the Super Bowl: the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans had been the only team to beat the Jaguars during the season, winning in Jacksonville, 20-19, in Week 3, and in Tennessee, 41-14, the second-to-last week of the regular season. They had qualified for the playoffs as a wild-card entrant, beating the Buffalo Bills in the Music City Miracle game before winning in Indianapolis, 19-16, in an AFC Divisional Playoff.

Still, the Jaguars entered the title game confident, and early on against the Titans they not only appeared in control, they had chances to build a sizeable lead.

The Jaguars took a 7-0 lead with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Mark Brunell to tight end Kyle Brady on the game's opening drive. The Titans tied it on the ensuing possession, after which Jacksonville squandered a chance at a touchdown when Titans safety Marcus Robertson intercepted Brunell after the Jaguars drove to the Tennessee 6.

Running back James Stewart's 33-yard run on the Jaguars' next possession gave the Jaguars a 14-7 lead, and although a fumble by punt returner Reggie Barlow set up a Tennessee field goal, Jacksonville still led at the half, 14-10.

The game and the season turned quickly in the third quarter, with the Titans scoring 16 points in a span of 4:28. Titans quarterback Steve McNair capped a 76-yard drive with a sneak for a 17-14 lead, and following a pair of fumbles, Jason Fisk and Josh Evans sacked Brunell for a safety.

"It&39;s so tough to put a loss on this list, especially one as painful as this, but this game is the most important in the team&39;s history even still," Quinton White of Jacksonville wrote. "From leading at halftime to getting shut out in the second half, a tragic fall for a team, only made more dramatic by the struggles this team would face in the next few years. The beginning of the end of an era."

After the safety, Titans wide receiver Derrick Mason returned the ensuing free kick 80 yards for a touchdown and a 26-14 lead, and when a 49-yard scramble by McNair in the fourth quarter set up another 1-yard sneak for a touchdown, Jacksonville's Super Bowl dreams were over.

"The franchise has still not recovered from this one," reader Joe Fisher of Jacksonville wrote, and Shawn from St. Augustine, Fla., recalled his feelings as a 15-year-old fan.

"I don&39;t recall much from the actual game but I remember the feeling I had at the end of the game -- tearing up the Super Bowl-bound sign I had made," Shawn wrote. "This is my most memorable game because it reminds me of how much I love this team even from that low point till now: being a season ticket owner and raising a new young Jaguars fan."

Despite the unpleasantness of the memory for some fans, its vividness and the emotion it still brings up makes it powerful.

"Never before this day did I realize how much this team meant to the city of Jacksonville," Michael Napier II from Macon, Ga., wrote. "Maybe our early success kept me from seeing the truth but I realized that day, while teary-eyed along with 75,000 of my closest friends, that we needed this team and this team needed us."

Chris Geib of Tallahassee and Fernandina Beach wrote that it was the first time he ever cried over a game, while Nicholas Ortiz write that it not only ended one era, but set the tone for another.

"Very sad, but certainly memorable – the game that defined the next several years of the Jaguars," Ortiz wrote, adding, "Although the Jaguars have been to the playoffs (and won one game) since then, it&39;s still never felt like we&39;ve ever really had a fighter&39;s chance at making the Super Bowl."

Reader Nick A-Z of St. Paul, Minn., summed up this game's place in Jaguars history – and its place on the list of memorable home games.

"Some might say a loss shouldn&39;t be on this list, but ask any Jaguars fan what the lowest point in Jaguars history is and they will say this game," he wrote. "It&39;s not a happy memory, but it&39;s definitely the most memorable game in Jaguars history."

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