They have been dream seasons; five years that have made Jimmy Smith's and Keenan McCardell's names synonymous. They are in a league with the great pass-catching tandems: Rice and Taylor, Swann and Stallworth, Branch and Biletnikoff, Duper and Clayton, Irvin and Harper, etc.
Now, Smith and McCardell are in their fifth season together in Jacksonville, where they have established themselves as one of the greatest pass-catching tandems in pro football history, and wonder how much longer this ride will continue.
"That's two great guys to be linked with," McCardell says of Smith and quarterback Mark Brunell. "We've been on a great ride. We talk about it all the time. We don't want to stop."
Eventually, age or injury or the salary cap will end this era in Jaguars football, an era that has been largely defined by Brunell's dramatic passes and Smith's and McCardell's heroic catches. They remain the symbol of Jaguars football.
It wasn't that way in the summer of 1996, when McCardell was attempting to establish himself as a true starting wide receiver, and Smith was trying to overcome the disappointment of Andre Rison's pre-camp arrival.
"I thought that was as far as I would go; third receiver. When they brought Andre in, you could see the writing on the wall," Smith said.
What no one foresaw is what McCardell and Smith would accomplish as a pass-catching duo over the next four seasons: 693 receptions for 9,750 yards and 47 touchdowns in the regular season, and 78 catches for 1,092 yards and nine touchdowns in the postseason. Now, in 2000, Smith leads the NFL in receptions (27) and yards receiving 384); McCardell is second in the league in receptions (26) and fourth in receiving yards (284).
"I think we've already qualified," Smith said of his and McCardell's status as one of the game's all-time great pass-catching duos, "but a couple of those duos have multiple Super Bowl wins."
That's what's left for Smith, McCardell and Brunell to accomplish. A Super Bowl title will define everything this team has accomplished over the last four years.
"To top it off would be to win a Super Bowl. They'll remember us if we win the big game or get in the big game," McCardell said.
"Been to the Pro Bowl; been to the playoffs; led the league in receiving. The only thing left is winning the Super Bowl," Smith said.
Along the way, Smith and McCardell will pad their stats and their reputation. "I think we're the best in the league. That's not being cocky; look at what we've done," Smith said.
"I never thought about it," McCardell said of the name-familiarity he and Smith have achieved as a pass-catching duo. "I just keep putting up the numbers year after year. We're like the Rodney Dangerfield of receivers. We don't get the credit; not as much. We're second fiddle to everybody."
Obviously, a Super Bowl appearance would aid their cause, and the longer they are maintained as two-thirds of the Brunell and company trio, the higher Smith and McCardell will climb on the all-time list.
How long? That's the burning question.
"The number of years depends on our production. I think we can do it for awhile, if they want us here," McCardell said.
"We need another threat, first and foremost, to take some of the pressure off Keenan and I," Smith said, referring to first-round pick R. Jay Soward as that new threat. "Secondly, you have to look at the age factor," Smith added of himself and McCardell.
Age is something McCardell doesn't accept as freely. "That's how he deals with it," Smith said of his buddy. "He stays competitive. He's a true fighter. I've benefited from that, just by playing with him."
Those who know McCardell well will tell you the older he gets, the more sensitive he becomes. The guys loves to play football, and he is very protective of his career.
"I'm a self-motivated person. I don't need somebody to bite at me. Keenan is going to play up to his best in every practice, every game," McCardell said.
"We're going to give it another shot," Smith said of his and McCardell's quest to define their careers together with a Super Bowl ring.