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Those First Jaguars: Widell kept them loose


Of the group of misfits who were the Jaguars' first-ever team, center Dave Widell would've probably been voted most likely to one day own a safety barrier supply company. He does.

On a team of poignant stories, tragedy and re-birth, all of which was coached by a guy who passed out fines as though they were subway tokens, Widell was the player who kept the team loose; as loose as was permitted.

Prior to the Jaguars' inaugural game, coach Tom Coughlin conducted an under-the-lights practice at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. As the Jaguars practiced, stadium workers applied the finishing touches.

In testing the new Jumbotron scoreboards, Widell was captured pulling up his shirt and exposing his considerable belly. The players burst into laughter, which didn't exactly fit Coughlin's mood.

"I enjoyed that role in Denver," Widell said of being a guy who kept the Broncos' locker room light. "I had to temper that in Jacksonville, but I did enjoy keeping guys loose after they had prepared to perform. But that was not the role I was asked to perform."

He was signed in free agency to be the veteran leader of an offensive line that would have two rookies at the starting tackle positions, and a revolving door at the guard spots.

"It was an opportunity. I could be a veteran leader of that offensive line. Coach Coughlin expected me to be a veteran leader," Widell said.

Widell was always quick to provide proper perspective. His remarks to the media never conflicted with the message Coughlin wanted delivered, but the players always knew Widell was one of them. Widell, who would play 11 years in the NFL, taught a young locker room how to play the game off the field.

"Football still has to be fun. It still has to be that game you wanted to play as a kid in blue jeans, and come home with a bloody lip and still have had a good time. It's difficult playing the game unless you're having fun doing it," he said.

The Jaguars' inaugural season was anything but fun. It began with a brutal training camp and ended with a 4-12 record. Widell helped make it bearable.

"By living through the experience in '95, we became stronger. It's like going through boot camp. You become life-long friends with the guys you went through boot camp with," Widell said.

"You have to be able to survive in that situation. There's not a lot to be happy about at 4-12, but you have to keep people motivated and enjoying the game, and giving them hope for the next season. If there's no hope, there's not going to be any performance," he added.

That was the '95 team's greatest victory. "It left everyone with hope for '96," Widell said.

These days, Widell continues to call Jacksonville home, where he manages his safety barrier business and is father to four children age six and under.

Why does he sell safety barriers?

"Because I want (my kids) to know their daddy works for a living," he said.

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