Forget about the Tennessee Titans. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the Jaguars' greatest rival, and for these reasons:
• The Steelers have held the interest of Jaguars fans from the first season through every season. Jaguars fans couldn't have cared less about the Titans/Oilers franchise until they beat the Jaguars three times in 1999 and denied the Jaguars their "rightful" place in that season's Super Bowl.
• Pittsburgh has always been an easy sell at Alltel Stadium. Jaguars fans treated the Titans/Oilers with indifference, and the first Titans-Jaguars game of the '99 season required a corporate buy to avoid having the game blacked out.
• Beating the Steelers in 1995, when Pittsburgh won the AFC title, earned the Jaguars immediate credibility and respect. Only 36,346 were on hand in the Astrodome the previous week to see the Jaguars score a franchise-first win that was largely ignored by the national media.
• The Jaguars have played more games in Three Rivers Stadium than in any other opponent's stadium. The Titans/Oilers have offered the Jaguars four separate facilities, none of which have provided anything near the memories or tradition Three Rivers did.
• Steelers-Jaguars games have given us high drama, such as the overtime classic in 1997; great memories, such as Mark Brunell's comeback game on Monday Night Football in '97; interesting controversy, such as Bill Cowher's "I'll punch you" advance on Chris Hudson as Hudson raced down the Steelers sideline on the final play of the game, and Greg Lloyd's vicious hit on Keenan McCardell and Lloyd's allegation that McCardell had threatened Lloyd's family; goal-line stands, such as the Steelers' stop on James Stewart in Pittsburgh in '97; great plays, such as Carnell Lake's sack, strip and 87-yard touchdown return against the Jaguars in '96; record-breaking performances, such as Fred Taylor's 234 yards rushing against the Steelers last season.
You say the Titans are the Jaguars' greatest rival? That's only because you want revenge.
No, the Steelers-Jaguars rivalry has delivered more of everything, including TV ratings the Titans and Jaguars couldn't approach until the two teams met in the '99 AFC title game. The '97 overtime game in Pittsburgh was one of the NFL's highest-rated games of the season, and the Steelers selected it as the eighth-best game in Three Rivers Stadium's 30-year history.
The Jaguars and Titans will move to the AFC South next season; the Steelers will move with their old buddies into the North. That means the Steelers won't be a twice-a-year thing for the Jaguars, as the Titans will be, and predictably the Titans will then become the Jaguars' greatest rival, but, for now, that distinction belongs to the Steelers.
Pittsburgh is the team that represents all that is good and distinguished about Jaguars football. Tennessee is just a haunting memory. Erase that, and there's very little.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.