Senior writer John Oehser’s “oral history” of 25 memorable games in Jaguars history continues with this look at a 29-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in November of 1998 – a game that featured one of the highlight plays of running back Fred Taylor’s dynamic career
Date: November 15, 1998.
Site: Alltel Stadium; Jacksonville.
Records entering game: Jaguars 7-2, Buccaneers 4-5.
What happened: The Jaguars, on the way to a third consecutive playoff appearance and their first of back-to-back AFC Central titles, beat a team from Florida at home for the second time in a month – and did so in dramatic, memorable fashion with a 29-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s also a game Jaguars running back Fred Taylor long has counted as his most memorable – with his game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter one of the jewels of his career. The Jaguars took a 14-3 lead on runs of six and three yards by Taylor, but Buccaneers quarterback Trent Dilfer’s 47-yard pass to wide receiver Reidel Anthony and a one-yard pass from Dilfer to John Davis gave the Buccaneers a 17-14 halftime lead. The game was back and forth in a tight second half with the Buccaneers scoring on a 79-yard fourth-quarter pass from Dilfer to Anthony and Jaguars kicker Mike Hollis converting field goals of 31, 27 and 24 yards. The Jaguars regained possession at their 30 with just under three minutes remaining, trailing 24-23. Taylor took a handoff from Brunell on the first play of the possession, started right and cut back left, shrugging off one tackle then outracing the Buccaneers defense down the left sideline for a 70-yard touchdown and a 29-24 lead. Jaguars cornerback Aaron Beasley intercepted Dilfer to end the ensuing series and the Jaguars converted a first down to run out the clock.
Jaguars leading passer: Brunell (22-37, 248 yards, zero touchdowns, no interceptions).
Jaguars leading rusher: Taylor (20 carries, 128 yards, three touchdowns).
Jaguars leading receivers: Jimmy Smith (seven receptions, 72 yards); Pete Mitchell (six receptions, 56 yards), Taylor (five receptions, 68 yards).
Buccaneers leading passer: Dilfer (9-23, 189 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions).
Buccaneers leading rusher: Warrick Dunn (16 carries, 107 yards); Mike Alstott (16 carries, 48 yards).
Buccaneers leading receiver: Anthony (two receptions, 126 yards).
For Taylor, the game remains special.
Taylor: “That’s my favorite game of all-time. That’s still the game that stands out the most.”
For Taylor, the buildup for Jaguars-Buccaneers began the previous offseason – shortly after he was selected by the Jaguars No. 9 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft.
Taylor: “Reidel Anthony was my childhood best friend, high school best friend – still my best friend now. He was drafted in 1997 by Tampa and I was drafted in 1998. I went to Tampa to visit Reidel and he was hanging out with [Buccaneers defensive tackle] Warren [Sapp]. We ended up at Warren’s place. We took his jet skis out to Clearwater Beach. While we were there having fun, I built up the confidence to say, ‘Hey, Sapp … you know we play you guys this year.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I saw that. Boy, there’s going to be trouble.’ I said, ‘Man, I’m going to have 150 yards on y’all.’ I was just throwing it out there, not even knowing if I was going to play much. And the Bucs’ defense, they were good – [linebacker] Derrick Brooks, [linebacker] Hardy Nickerson, [cornerback] Ronde Barber. Warren said, ‘All right, Freddy … I’ll remember that. Don’t write a check your ass can’t cash.’’’
By the time of the game against the Buccaneers, Taylor was emerging as a star. After a slow start in training camp and not starting the first three games, he finished the regular season with 17 touchdowns receiving and rushing. Teammates knew quickly that he was special.
McCardell: “It was like he had arrived. He was probably as good as any back I’ve been around except for LT [LaDainian Tomlinson]. He was a true game-changer, an unbelievable game-changer. He could play. I knew we had a player early in his rookie year, the things he would do in practice. One thing about Fred was he just waited his time and when he got his opportunity, he didn’t talk about it. He didn’t say a lot. He just went out and said, ‘I’m going to show you.’ He went out and showed everybody.”
Right tackle Leon Searcy: “The first time I knew we had something special (in Taylor), we were scrimmaging our defense. We were backed up on our 10. We were supposed to be doing drives. Fred’s in the backfield. We ran a toss, a stretch play. Fred comes to the right side and be bent it back all the way. He takes it 90 yards. I looked at [left tackle Tony] Boselli and said, ‘Bro, we got us something here.’ That was his rookie year. When you play enough football, you see guys who are special. Fred was special. He was real special.”
Smith: “There were plays I would see Fred out of the corner of my eye just come to a complete stop, like the play was over. He would actually make the defense think the play was over, then kick it into gear again and gain more yards. I’ve never seen that before in my life. The game was so easy to Fred. He was a man against boys out there.”
Chris Hudson: “Fred Taylor was so good. I remember thinking, ‘Every time he runs, he falls forward. I’m glad he’s on my team.’ He was just a fast guy. He was scooting. He would make a guy miss on the back side and just be gone. He was a great player.”
Sapp, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle, remembered his conversation with Taylor from the previous offseason.
Taylor: “First play of the game, it was a four-yard loss – by Sapp. He said, ‘Remember I told you about writing checks you can’t cash. That check’s going to bounce today, young man.’ Second play … he hit me again. I’m like, ‘Holy moly. What did I get myself into?’ Then things loosened up a little bit. I ended up finishing 20 for 128 yards, three touchdowns with a long of 70. Five catches for 68 yards … so 25 touches, 176 yards. It wasn’t a bad day. I cashed the check.”
Even without Taylor’s run at the end, this game would have been memorable. It started late in the afternoon, and Alltel had an electric feel. The Jaguars took a 14-3 lead on early runs by Taylor, but Dilfer and Anthony kept the Buccaneers in it.
Taylor: “The game turned dark, I remember the lights being on. My family came in town, all of our families came in town. We had a lot of guys from college in town. Reidel scored, then I scored, then Reidel scored, then I scored.”
The Buccaneers led 24-23 when the Jaguars took possession at their 30 with just under three minutes remaining.
Taylor: “All I remember is fourth quarter with 2:52 on the clock, [Jaguars Head] Coach [Tom] Coughlin called a 36-0 out of shotgun formation. Tony was pulling. We were just going to run the clock down to get to the two-minute warning. I don’t recall the timeout situation, but we were going to try to run it down and get into two-minute offense and try to score and take the ball away from them.”
Instead, Taylor started right and found a huge hole in the line. He started back left then got behind a block from wide receiver Reggie Barlow before outrunning the Buccaneers defense to the end zone.
Taylor: “I saw the Bucs defense over-pursue and I was able to get up into the line of scrimmage behind Tony. He pulled outside. I cut it up inside, cut back to the right, made the safety miss in the hole and went down the left sideline 70 yards for a touchdown.”
Searcy: “The only thing I remember was when Fred broke, the linebackers and safety had angles on him and couldn’t get him.”
McCardell: “That’s the specialty of Fred Taylor. Big, fast, 228 pounds that could run with the wind as if he was a 215-pound back. He was a great mix of size, power and speed.”
Smith: “He had some good blocking on that, too. We made up our minds as a receiver corps once Fred got there. He was going to be up on the safeties and the defensive backs in the blink of an eye. When Fred got in the lineup, we had to focus on our blocking downfield in the secondary. On that play, Reggie Barlow did an outstanding job blocking the corner. Had Reggie Barlow not made that block, Fred wouldn’t have scored – and I’m sure Fred would agree.”
Taylor’s job on the series wasn’t finished. At least not officially.
Taylor: “I was getting ready to jog off the field to go to the sideline. I was exhausted at that point and Coughlin said, ‘No. Go for two, go for two,’ because we were up by five.”
The run failed.
Taylor: “I was gassed. I had no power, no energy … nothing. That was a wrap for that day.”
More than two decades later, Taylor said he and Sapp remain friendly – and yes, both still remember the day well.
Taylor: “I was at a golf tournament with him recently and there were a lot of Hurricane, Seminole and Gator fans there. I told the story, and someone walked up to Sapp and said, ‘The check didn’t bounce.’ Sapp goes, ‘Oh, no … Freddy killed us that night.’ He’s cool about it. But that’s my favorite game of all time. Statistically not my best, but definitely my favorite.”