JACKSONVILLE – They're not a secret anymore.
The Jaguars on Sunday will play the biggest game of their season, the biggest game of their lives. If you thought that might somehow get overlooked …
It's AFC Championship Game week, folks – and that meant Wednesday around the Jaguars was far from an everyday, ordinary Wednesday. No, on this day the national spotlight shined on the Jaguars with a glare not seen in a long, long time.
"It's different; I will say that," cornerback Aaron Colvin said, glancing toward the media contingent in the Jaguars' locker room at EverBank Field Wednesday.
Thought no one knew about the Jags? Thought they were being ignored?
Guess again …
"It's crazy; it's for sure different," wide receiver Allen Hurns said Wednesday as the AFC South Champion Jaguars (12-6) prepared to play the AFC East Champion New England Patriots (14-3) in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Sunday at 3:05 p.m.
"Even being out there at practice and seeing more than the usual [media] come out … it's crazy."
Now, make no mistake:
The media crush during conference championship week doesn't match that of twenty or even 15 years ago. In days gone by, league-centric newspapers routinely dispatched writers to conference title sites – and postseason locker rooms teemed with media during conference-championship-game week.
But even with the digital age reducing media's numbers, conference championship games are big stuff. And Wednesday around the Jaguars was big stuff indeed.
Head Coach Doug Marrone talked around 10:40. This was his usual time, and Marrone sent his expected message that the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots are very good.
Marrone called the Patriots the biggest sports dynasty outside the New York Yankees – and if you grasp Marrone's deep love of the Yankees, you know that's as high a compliment as he can give.
"It's going to be an unbelievable challenge for us," Marrone said.
Where you really saw a difference was late in the day. The Jaguars practiced at their normal time – around 11:45, and the team's open locker room when media interviews players followed. Usually, this is 45 minutes of players talking to familiar local media.
That happened Wednesday, but local media was joined by national media. ESPN. NFL Network. USA Today. Boston-area media. And while that was going on, several Jaguars players spoke at podiums in the Jaguars' television studio with those press conferences televised live on NFL Network.
"Packed house," Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said upon entering the room, and defensive end Calais Campbell – who on Wednesday was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association – spoke to the media before Bortles.
All of this was done behind a spanking-new Jaguars Podium and in front of a red AFC Championship Game backdrop. Linebacker Telvin Smith is expected to talk Thursday, as is cornerback A.J. Bouye and others along with the Jaguars' coordinators.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey will talk Friday and Bortles will talk again Friday with Bortles talking twice because that's what quarterbacks do.
A highlight Wednesday was Bortles on what fan reaction would be to a victory Sunday.
"It was pretty cool last week, to come home and have all the people here in the stadium," he said. "I imagine the bigger game, the bigger the celebration. We've gotten a chance to see how important football is to this town and how important the Jaguars are to this town.
"We understand it has been a decade or so of bad ball. To bring success to the town and the city … it's been cool to share it …"
Campbell agreed. "The city's on fire," he said. "The excitement around the city has been incredible. For us to win this game would be huge for the city."
The Jaguars talked, too, about respect for the Patriots – and for quarterback Tom Brady. There was talk of Xs and Os and the need to be on Ps and Qs. There was also the message that while media attention is cool for a team that has craved respect, the mission Sunday is bigger than the buildup.
"It's great to see, but we know we're here to handle business," Hurns said.
This is what such media sessions usually are. And if you've followed this team closely you've heard a lot of it before. This week isn't about plowing new ground as much as letting the nation and NFL world start paying attention to a team overlooked for far too long.
As far as that "overlooked" stuff, that's in the past. At least for how.
Are the Jaguars ready for their close-up?
We'll find out Sunday, because what happens at 3:05 remains what really matters.
But the Jaguars have talked all season about wanting recognition, and wanting the NFL world to realize that yes … they're really good – and they're really good right now. On Wednesday, they got a taste of that respect.
And they're not a secret anymore.