In the first regular-season game in franchise history, the expansion Jaguars scrapped and clawed throughout a defensive-oriented game before losing an AFC Central matchup to the Houston Oilers, 10-3. In front of a sold-out crowd of 72,363 at what was then known as Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, the Jaguars fell behind Houston 10-0 early.
Date: September 3, 1995
Site: Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
Records entering game: Jaguars 0-0, Oilers 0-0.
What happened: In the first regular-season game in franchise history, the expansion Jaguars scrapped and clawed throughout a defensive-oriented game before losing an AFC Central matchup to the Houston Oilers, 10-3. In front of a sold-out crowd of 72,363 at what was then known as Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, the Jaguars fell behind Houston 10-0 early. Mark Brunell, who entered the season as the Jaguars’ backup quarterback after being acquired in an offseason trade with Green Bay, replaced starter Steve Beuerlein and led a fourth-quarter field goal drive that cut the Oilers’ lead to 10-3, but Oilers defensive back Daryll Lewis intercepted Brunell with just under a minute remaining to end the Jaguars’ comeback hopes. A four-yard first-quarter touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Chandler to wide receiver Haywood Jeffries gave the Oilers an early lead. The Jaguars finished with 146 total yards.
Jaguars leading passer: Beuerlein (7-17, 54 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions).
Jaguars leading rusher: Brunell (two carries, 23 yards).
Jaguars leading receiver: Desmond Howard (three receptions, 33 yards).
Oilers leading passer: Chris Chandler (9-14, 61 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions).
Oilers leading rusher: Gary Brown (29 carries, 101 yards).
Oilers leading receiver: Derek Russell (two receptions, 24 yards).
Brunell, who would go on to lead the Jaguars to four playoff appearances from 1996-1999, entered the team’s first regular-season game not expecting to play. The Jaguars had selected Beuerlein – an established veteran – from Arizona in the expansion draft, and Brunell said he had no pre-game inclination that Beuerlein wouldn’t play the entire game.
Brunell: “Steve Beuerlein was in front of me, a veteran. He was the starter. I didn’t know how it worked. I didn’t know the mindset was, ‘Hey, we’re going to ride out Beuerlein as long as we can and if it goes bad we’ll put the kid in.’”
Brunell said there was a reason his emotions upon entering the game were mixed.
Brunell: (Laughing) It wasn’t like Brunell was all that good. I wasn’t expecting to play at all. When I got called in, I was like, ‘Really? Seriously?’ I knew I was the next guy up, but I was like, ‘[third-team quarterback] Rob [Johnson] … do you want to do this?’ I knew I was the next guy up, but it wasn’t like I lit up training camp or preseason games. Looking back, if I’m Steve Beuerlein I’m pretty upset – and he was upset the rest of the year. He had a television show. He was the guy. Three-and-a-half quarters in, they put in the kid … I’m sure players are thinking, ‘Yeah, he’s great in the weight room, but I haven’t seen anything else.’ I wanted to be the starter, but I wasn’t out to take Steve’s job. I was looking for some veteran influence to show me how it’s done, and he was great. I thought there was maybe a chance I would get some playing time in ’95; I didn’t think it would come in Week 1.”
The city of Jacksonville had waited for this day for year. Brunell, like many other players there that day, vividly recalled what was a festive pre-game atmosphere with Boyz II Men signing the national anthem.
Brunell: “It was big at the time, and I understood that. It was the first game in franchise history, so I knew the magnitude of it. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it. It was more: ‘Hey, this is cool. It’s finally here. We’ve been working since March and here we are: Boyz II Men, the new stadium, jets flying over, the crowd going crazy.’ I also went into the game thinking, ‘This will be a fun one to watch.’’’
Rookie left tackle Tony Boselli, the No. 2 overall selection in the 1995 NFL Draft, missed the first four games of the ’95 season with a knee injury sustained in training camp.
Boselli: “I was on the sidelines, but I remember walking out and thinking, ‘Man, this place is going crazy’ – and thinking how disappointed I was that I didn’t get to walk out on the field and play.”
Veteran defensive end Jeff Lageman, a first-round selection in the 1989 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, was one of the premier offseason acquisitions by the Jaguars in the inaugural season.
Lageman: “It was a great atmosphere. It was so good that you just didn’t want to disappoint them. In the back of your mind, you’re playing the Houston Oilers so you’re saying, ‘OK, they’re not that good.’ (Laughing) But in the back of your mind, you’re going, ‘Well, we’re really not that good either.’ I remember I was offsides on a play early. It was so loud that I knew I was offsides, but I acted like I didn’t hear it and I crushed (Chandler). I knew it would help the rest of the day and it did. They scored 10 points. But it was that loud and it was awesome.”
The first game of the 1995 season was more than a festive, historic atmosphere. It also meant veteran players had gotten through the Jaguars’ first training camp – no small task considering the physical nature of a camp that began in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, in early July under Head Coach Tom Coughlin.
Lageman: “We had a grind. Tom was tough. But we were mentally tough, and I think that was the environment he wanted. It was part of his master plan. It was hard. It was demanding. We were grinding on Thursday, grinding on Friday, but we were tough. Physically, we were tough. Mentally, we were tough. And I think in the NFL, that counts for something.”
Despite Coughlin’s tough approach, Lageman said he never regretted leaving New York – and he said the move revived his enthusiasm for the game. Two-and-a-half decades later, Lageman still vividly recalled the special atmosphere around the Jaguars in that inaugural season.
Lageman: “I spent six years in New York and never had a winning season. The game kind of became for lack of a better phrase, ‘The No Fun Game.’ Coming here, I felt like the excitement of having an inaugural season would really help bring the excitement back of playing the game, and man, it did. I remember multiple times being out to dinner and fans were just so excited, ‘Man, you’re a Jaguar.’ After games there would be painted sheets in front yards on my way home because they knew I lived in the neighborhood and would drive past. You never get that in New York and that was the fun part of it. Everything that the Jaguars did at that point was news. And it was cool. It was fun. It brought the excitement back to the game for me at a level that was exactly what I was hoping for.”
Wide receiver Jimmy Smith, like Brunell and Boselli, would go on to define the early years of the franchise and was inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars in 2016. In the ’95 opener, however, Smith was a reserve. It would be another year before he emerged as a starter midway through the 1996 season. He returned kickoffs in the ’95 opener, and his return after an Oilers touchdown on the game’s first possession started the first offensive possession in franchise history.
Smith: “I just remember it was very hot. I was actually the first Jaguar in a regular-season game to touch the ball. It was a short kick, but I was scared out of my mind. I was like, ‘Please, Lord … don’t let me drop this kick.’ I was able to field the kick and gain a few yards.”
The Jaguars’ loss in the opener was far from their only loss in ’95. The Jaguars went 4-12, starting the season 3-4, then losing seven consecutive games before winning the regular-season finale. Still, for veterans such as Lageman, memories of the first season are fond ones – and the team built a foundation for what was to come.
Lageman: “There were games we went into that if you were being realistic you were going, ‘We don’t have a chance.’ But there were games where you felt like, ‘OK, if everything goes just right and we don’t make mistakes, let the other team make mistakes and be mentally tougher in the fourth quarter…’ It was probably one of the toughest teams I ever played for. It was all the crap we had to put up with, physically and mentally.”