The Jacksonville Jaguars had great reason for hope following their second NFL season in 1996. In that amazing second season Tom Coughlin lead the upstart Jaguars to the AFC Championship game where they would lose to the New England Patriots. They returned to the AFC title tilt in 1999 and the period between those appearances was generally very good for the franchise.
What followed that period can be summed up in two words: Peyton Manning.
After Manning's ascension the Jaguars shrunk beneath the weight of expectations, a horrific coaching change to Jack Del Rio and a period of personnel instability under general managers Shack Harris and later Gene Smith. Former owner Wayne Weaver finagled the league into letting the city host a Super Bowl that left behind too many seats now sadly covered by tarps due to a lack of interest from local fans.
That's not to say there weren't bright spots during the Jack Del Rio years but one certainly still burns bright for many Jaguars fans: December 10, 2006.
Per usual routine Indianapolis began the 2006 campaign by rolling out nine consecutive wins. They brought a 10-2 record to Jacksonville despite a porous defense that badly missed Bob Sanders whose presence was the only spark for the league's worst run stoppers. They had the look of a paper-tiger: all offense with no defense.
Jacksonville also played their role well up to that moment. At 7-5 they sat three games back, like the little brother who still had to sit at the kids table come Thanksgiving. They were clearly a good team, one that hoped to snatch the division crown but still hadn't quite put together a plan to do so. Sulking and fighting for pride the Jaguars featured a proud defense and the two-headed monster of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.
What actually happened on the field seems like a folly in hindsight. On his first carry "Fragile" Fred Taylor danced away from Colts defenders for a 76 yard run. With Taylor winded from the long run, Jones-Drew entered the game and ripped off an 18 yard touchdown carry on the next play. By the half both Taylor and Jones-Drew had crossed the century mark. At one point the team could have offered a raffle for fans to get come down to the field to see if they too could juke the Colts. They would finish the day with 375 yard rushing, a number that Jaguars fans would tout for years to come like their own trophy. The unbelievably day for the Jaguars running backs translated into a 44-17 win
The teams took divergent paths through the rest of the season. The Jaguars lost their remaining three games missing the playoffs in the process. The Colts would go on to win two of their last three regular season games before stunning the league by marching through the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl title behind a revitalized defense.
Little of that matters today with both teams featuring overhauled rosters, new coaches and little understanding about the grudge they once shared. While both teams are scrapping for respect and their future look for a few t-shirts in the stands recalling that sober day in 2006.
As a Hoosier transplanted to Florida, I had hoped my first Colts game would be memorable. Sitting in the stands in Jacksonville, it was pretty obvious by half time that it wasn't going to be the kind of memory I had hoped for. I recall at one point turning to my brother and saying that I had never missed a man as much as I missed Bob Sanders during that game. Of course, the Jags fan behind me gave me hell as he laughed, "What difference would a safety make?" Honestly, I'm still amazed at the difference Bob did make a few weeks later when he returned.