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Top 10: The start of a rivalry

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We begin this jaguars.com series looking at the Top 10 home games in Jaguars history in a fitting place, and we swear there was no fix in the voting.

The first game on the list happens to also be the first home victory in Jaguars history, and make no mistake:

It certainly belongs on the list.

That's because the Jaguars' 20-16 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 8, 1995, at what was then Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, was more than memorable, and more than surprising. It in a very real sense was the most improbable, significant victory of the 1995 inaugural season.

It also set the tone for the most significant rivalry of the franchise's early years.

"This was the game that let everyone know that the Jags belonged in the AFC Central," Derek Credit of Lexington Park, Md., wrote. "They played the bully on the block and punched them right in the mouth.  It&39;s also the first of many great games between the Steelers and Jags."

The improbability of the victory is hard to overstate, and nearly 16 years later, it may be easy to forget just how little reason there was to believe the Jaguars could beat the Steelers that day.

The Steelers had made the AFC Championship Game the year before, and were heading to the Super Bowl following the 1995 season. They were an established team, the unquestioned model franchise of the AFC Central and the team for which the Jaguars would build in their first few seasons.

The Jaguars?

Sure, they had beaten the Houston Oilers in Houston the week before for the first regular-season victory in franchise history, but this was not yet an established team. They would beat the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland two weeks later, but would spend much of the second half of that first season struggling with an inconsistent offense and an unreliable defense. They were a year and a half away from finding the combination of young talent and veteran experience that would provide the chemistry for the 1996 season's unlikely run to the AFC Championship Game. They were even further from compiling the talented roster that would produce four consecutive post-season appearances and two AFC Central titles the following four seasons.

No, on October 8, 1995, they were still an expansion team – and all that that implies.

It was unlikely, and for the fans who attended, it was thrilling.

"First big game we ever won at home," Chad T. Cox of Jacksonville wrote. "I remember leaving the stadium yelling, 'Let&39;s go Jaguars,' all the way to the car. One of my first memories ever in Alltel stadium and it was awesome."

Tod Hefflin of Denver, Col., wrote that he sat near the main Steelers section, adding that it was "priceless to see the shock on their faces as the game progressed."

The shock began early, with a quick drive to give the Jaguars the lead. This wasn't the Jaguars' offense that it would become in the next four years – a quick-striking, high-scoring unit. The Jaguars entered the game ranked last – No. 30 at the time – in total offense, but took the lead with an efficient, 79-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Mark Brunell to veteran wide receiver Cedric Tillman.

Brunell – making his first start, but the first with opening-game starter Steve Beuerlein healthy – started the drive with a scramble for a first down, then had key passes to tight end Rich Griffith and wide receiver Willie Jackson.

The Jaguars pushed the lead to 14-0 when rookie running back James Stewart scored on a 6-yard touchdown run with 14:02 remaining in the first half, then spent the rest of the game maintaining the lead.

"It was 14-0 early and we were hoping the clock would run out," Ed from Jacksonville wrote.

The Steelers sliced the lead to seven late in the second quarter, but rookie kicker Mike Hollis' 53-yard field goal – then a franchise record -- with 32 seconds remaining in the first half made it 17-7, Jaguars. The Steelers again cut the lead to seven before Hollis' 32-yarder with 6:03 remaining in the third quarter made it 20-10.

Pittsburgh drove to the Jaguars 1-, 4- and 7-yard lines on their final three possessions, but Jacksonville held the Steelers to 19- and 22-yard field goals by Norm Johnson before a fourth-down stop with just over a minute remaining.

The victory shocked many locally and nationally, and while it was hard to predict at the time, it also set the tone for what became one of the AFC Central's defining rivalries in the division's final five or six seasons.

The Jaguars in their early years had down times and up. They made the four consecutive playoff appearances, but they also had a 4-12 expansion season and a 4-7 start in 1996. They struggled from 2000-02, Tom Coughlin's final seasons as coach. But through it all, they always played the Steelers tough.

 They beat the Steelers in Jacksonville not only in 1995, but in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 as well. The Steelers won in Jacksonville in 2000, a disheartening loss for the Jaguars that was one of the losses that season that made you realize the early run was over, but the Jaguars turned in one of the most memorable games in franchise history later that season – the 34-24 victory at Three Rivers Stadium when Fred Taylor rushed for 234 yards and three touchdowns. That was the most rushing yards ever in that stadium, and one of the most dominant rushing performances of the last two decades.

The Jaguars also beat the Steelers in Jacksonville in 2001 and the Steelers never swept the Jaguars in the teams' seven seasons in the AFC Central. When the NFL re-aligned its divisions in 2002, Jacksonville led the series, 8-6.

There were bigger Steelers-Jaguars games in the series in terms of playoff positioning and league-wide profile, but for the fans who were there, the Jaguars' first victory at home and first over the Steelers remains one of the most memorable home games in franchise history.

"We beat the Steelers and started a rivalry," Jonathan from Lawrence, Kan., wrote. "The Jags-Steelers games of the old AFC Central days were some of the best."

Wrote Ted Grivas of Jacksonville, "This win showed that we were moving toward the right direction.  You have to beat the best to be the best."

(Note: This is the first of a series on jaguars.com looking at the Top 10 home games in Jaguars history. Voting took place on jaguars.com). 

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