The 1995 season was the best of times and the worst of times for Tom McManus. In Jacksonville, McManus was resurrecting his football career. Back in Chicago, his father was dying of cancer.
"For me, it was a re-birth. I was bartending the year before. If coach Coughlin doesn't get the job here, I don't play in the NFL. My dad, who passed away at the end of '95, got to see me play in the NFL," says McManus, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach with his wife Kristina, a former Jaguars cheerleader who is expecting the couple's first child in April.
McManus played for Tom Coughlin at Boston College, then failed in several attempts to carve out an NFL career. Coughlin's desire for tough players led him back to McManus, who won a roster spot as a reserve.
"It was awesome for a guy who always wanted to play in the NFL. I didn't even know where Jacksonville was until '95," McManus said.
His season reached a memorable high point in the seventh game of the season, on Oct. 15, when the Jaguars hosted the team of McManus' youth, the Chicago Bears. Coughlin, the insensitive taskmaster, named McManus a Jaguars captain. In the stands, McManus' father watched with the pride only a father could know.
"He saw me play against the Bears, of all teams. I got my first start in that game," McManus said.
"I'm grateful to the man. I'll always be appreciative," he added of Coughlin. "It was a great five-year run for a guy who was never supposed to make it."
McManus' father died on New Year's Eve 1995, seven days after the Jaguars' inaugural season ended. Meanwhile, his son's career was just beginning, and the following season McManus would be the Jaguars' starting middle linebacker in the AFC title game.
"Everybody there had something to prove," McManus said of the '95 team. "What's great about a lot of those guys is that they retired here.
"I have three things I want to accomplish. I want to get back into my charity work. I would love to do some motivational speaking, about how I got into the NFL, that if you keep on knocking someone is going to answer the door. And, three, I keep interviewing for sales positions here, and the response has been incredible. It would be foolish to move from here. I'm known here. I want to be a positive fixture here," he added.
McManus' enduring image is that of the middle linebacker who was too small and too slow, but plenty tough enough.