It hurt, but Fred Taylor didn't know how much it would continue to hurt as the years passed.
On Jan. 23, 2000, Taylor was a young, star running back who had just completed his second pro season. In two years, he had been in two postseasons. He had made it all the way to the AFC title game, to within 30 minutes of the Super Bowl when his and the Jaguars' dream collapsed in the wake of 23 unanswered points by the Titans.
Taylor left Alltel Stadium that day with his head bowed and his spirit dented. The loss hurt, but he had no doubt there would be other days.
"I didn't understand it then. My first year, we go to the playoffs. My second year, we go 14-2. I didn't understand how the (salary) cap could hurt you. I'm thinking it's just naturally going to happen for me. I was young and didn't understand it. Now, I understand it and I really miss it," Taylor said this week of that AFC title game and the Super Bowl that was stolen from his and the Jaguars' grasp.
There have been no other "days." Since that AFC title game there have only been losing seasons for Taylor and the Jaguars. The count is at four, now.
This Sunday's game against the Titans could move the 6-3 Jaguars to within one win of reversing the team's fortunes. A win over the Titans would guarantee that the Jaguars will own nothing less than a share of first place in the AFC South for at least another week. A win over the Titans would, simply put, move the Jaguars another win closer to a playoff berth; another win closer to getting back to where they were on the morning of Jan. 23, 2000.
Big game this Sunday? You bet it is. They're all big now. The stakes are getting higher every week.
"The bottom line is the win," Taylor said. "They took one of my dreams away, but would it make me forget about that? No."
A win over the Titans would claim the season series for the Jaguars, which would officially end the Titans' dominance of the Jaguars and that would certainly provide a large measure of satisfaction for players such as Taylor, Jimmy Smith, Donovin Darius and Kyle Brady. They are the last remaining Jaguars from that AFC title game loss.
Smith and Brady were seasoned veterans then. They understood what had been lost on that day. Taylor has come to learn what was lost and it has made him more dedicated than ever before.
"You think you can hang out, stay out, not eat right," Taylor said of the indestructibility of youth. "I'm not old, I'm wiser. I understand this game a whole lot more. If I put my whole heart into it, I believe I could be a good coach," Taylor said.
The "young" Taylor was dubbed "fragile." He missed a lot of games; 24 in his first four seasons. Since then, he hasn't missed a one and Taylor will tell you his new-found durability is largely the result of having a better understanding of professional football and its demands.
Now, in the seventh year of his career, he knows his chances of getting back to where he was, of reaching his dream, are running out. The years are passing. Maybe this will be the year.
"We have to make it there, first of all," Taylor said of the playoffs. "It would be a wonderful feeling, but I really don't want to talk on the playoffs right now. We want to win these games and lock up our division. That's the first thing we want to do."
He speaks with the wisdom of a veteran.