A couple of years ago I was sitting in the press box during a Jaguars game next to my good friend and colleague Dan Hicken. After a particularly goofy play, you know kind where the Jaguars get a turnover and immediately throw an interception that goes the other way for six? Dan turned to me and said, “Is this team cursed?”
We laughed and I told him the story of the phone calls and emails I received when the Jaguars original logo came out in 1994. “Don’t they know the blue tongue shows a cursed animal!” the writers exclaimed. I passed that along to Wayne Weaver at the time, knowing the “blue tongue” was his wife Delores’ idea. Wayne laughed it off, as did the current Jaguars ownership when they redesigned the Jaguars head. Dan and I had a laugh, then stopped with raised eyebrows and said, “Really?”
Google “Blue Tongue Curse” and this phrase pops up: “According to legend, animals that have blue tongues are a curse that was brought down by the gods.”
So, in some cultures, the blue tongue is a thing.
As we watch the Super Bowl today, we’ll suffer through the numerous former Jaguars who have populated the Bucs and the Chiefs rosters, including THREE former Jaguars starting quarterbacks.
It would be bad enough that Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert, the two backup quarterbacks in the game, are former starters here, but even Byron Leftwich plays a significant role in Super Bowl LV as the Bucs Offensive Coordinator. The Chiefs also have Patrick Omameh on their practice squad, as well as Dustin Colquitt who spent a minute here in December. In addition to Leftwich, the Bucs are using Leonard Fournette in a two-man backfield in a much more effective role than his three years here.
This is a familiar song for Jaguars fans. “Everybody who leaves here gets a Super Bowl ring,” is a common refrain. Because it’s true. If not a spot in the big game, former Jaguars players litter the rosters of playoff teams year after year.
Under different ownership, different personnel decision makers and coaches, the Jaguars have been on the wrong side of players’ decisions at nearly every turn in their history.
After buying a car specifically with a full lay-down front seat so he could sleep there in the parking lot trying to make the Jaguars, Allen Lazard was cut, signed with the Packers and is now one of Aaron Rodgers favorite targets. Marcedes Lewis is in his third year with the Pack, the Jaguars letting him go in free agency.
When it comes to players, and decisions about who to keep, who to let become a free agent and whom to draft, it’s not hard to see the path the Jaguars took to the bottom of the league and the top of the draft.
Go all the way back to the 2006 draft and there aren’t many players picked that year even still playing in the league, but the Jaguars first round pick is still a productive player. Problem is that Marcedes is still playing. With the Packers. Inexcusable to let him become a free agent at a time they desperately needed him in the locker room.
Jump ahead to the 2010 draft and there are about half of the players picked in the first round now finishing ten years in the league. Including the Jaguars first pick, Tyson Alulu. But he’s been in Pittsburgh starting nearly every game for the Steelers for the last four years. Could it have been that expensive to keep him around? It wasn’t like he was a hotly sought-after free agent.
It’s difficult to play the “But they could have had that guy” game when the context of the team isn’t part of the discussion.
But it’s hard not to play that game though in the 2011 draft. Blaine Gabbert was the best player in the draft according to Jack Del Rio at the time and while Gabbert is still in the league, he proved not to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. And the player taken right after him was J.J. Watt. At least the Jaguars didn’t take Christian Ponder in the first round. He was taken right after Watt by the Vikings and only lasted 38 games in the league.
In 2012 the Jaguars famously took Justin Blackmon in Shad Khan’s first draft as an owner. Supremely talented, Blackmon had problems beyond football and was out of the league after 20 games. Interestingly, none of the first six wide receivers taken that year, including four taken in the first round, are still in the league.
There were five tackles taken in the first round in 2013. Four are still playing and starting in the NFL. Only the Jaguars second overall pick Luke Joeckel isn’t playing football right now. Eric Williams was the first pick and while he’s injured and won’t play in the Super Bowl, he’s been a mainstay for the Chiefs up front.
There’s plenty to argue about the when it comes to the decisions made in the draft room in 2014. Dave Caldwell thought they could get either Blake Bortles and Marqise Lee or Jimmy Garaoppolo and Allen Robinson. Luckily Johnny Manziel wasn’t on their radar. They decided on Bortles over Garaoppolo and ended up getting Robinson late in the second round. He didn’t want to be a receiver on a Blake Bortles quarterbacked team, so he left as a free agent a few years later and is a star for the Bears. Teddy Bridgewater is still playing, another quarterback taken in the first round.
In 2015 they missed on Dante Fowler and his character issues. In 2016 they got the player they wanted in Jalen Ramsey but didn’t realize what a goofball he was.
The 2017 draft should irk all Jaguars fans. Tom Coughlin selected Leonard Fournette, looking for a back to carry the load. That’s fine, take a running back, but it looked like Coughlin was building a team to win twenty years ago instead of in today’s pass-happy NFL. Christian McCaffrey was the most versatile running back in that draft. And I won’t mention that Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were taken tenth and twelfth in the first round. Yes, the Jaguars were a play away from the Super Bowl that year but in this exercise, we can look at the bigger picture.
That was also the year they let Lewis go as a free-agent and Paul Posluszny retired. They never have recovered from the leadership void they left in the locker room. Calais Campbell filled that for a bit, but it’s tough to do by yourself. Six of the eleven defensive starters from the 2017 defense are still starting in the league.
I’m still perplexed by Coughlin’s pick of Taven Bryan in the first round of the 2018 draft. I suppose he was building across the defensive line of scrimmage hoping to have a cadre of linemen in a rotation. But Lamar Jackson was taken three picks later.
Hard to say what will come of the personnel the Jaguars acquired in last year’s draft. C.J. Henderson only played eight games before getting hurt and K’Lavon Chaisson did show promise at the end of this season. Yannick Ngakoue is on his second team after getting bad advice and forcing his way out of Jacksonville. And not figuring out how to keep Calais Campbell showed the decision-makers didn’t have a good handle on what was going on in the locker room. It’s the unpardonable decision that eventually cost Caldwell his job.
In fact, you throw all of those decisions at one team in just ten years, it’s no wonder they’re 1-15 and will pick first in this year’s draft.
Here’s to hoping that the new brain trust of Trent Baalke and Urban Meyer somehow leaps away from the “blue tongue” curse and puts the Jaguars on a new path.
Don’t over think it. It was good to hear Baalke say he was interested in taking the best player available on the board in the draft. Take Trevor Lawrence and move on. Use some of that $76 million under the cap and invest in some of the premium positions on the offensive line, at linebacker and safety.
Watch the Super Bowl today and enjoy it. Look at what the Bucs and Chiefs did with a new coach and a new quarterback to move from pretenders to contenders. And think of what can be in short time.
The sports and broadcasting worlds lost an icon this week and I lost a close and true friend as tennis legend Tony Trabert died at his home in Ponte Vedra on Wednesday. He was ninety years old. A NCAA Tennis Champion who also started on the University of Cincinnati basketball team, “Trabes,” as he was known to his generational friends, went on to win ten Major Championships including three legs of the Grand Slam, the French, Wimbledon and US titles in 1955. His only loss was to Ken Rosewall in the semi’s in Australia after helping the US team bring home the Davis Cup. That year Tony had one of the all-time great yeas in tennis, winning 106 matches, including 38-straight and taking 10 straight titles. Trabert played on five Davis Cup teams and went on to Captain the squad for five years. A Hall of Famer himself, he served as the President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and his broadcasting career as the lead tennis analyst here in the US and in Australia spanned over three decades.
In the high-velocity worlds of sports and broadcasting it’s hard to find a mentor but Tony was mine for the second half of my career as a genuine and trusted friend. He made me better at my job but more importantly taught me to be a better person. His level of grace was unmatched. Tony had a kind soul, a quick wit, an easy smile, a generous spirit and a look-you-in-the-eye firm handshake. I was lucky to write about Tony in this column a few times, a small look into his life and legacy, on and off the court.
Trabert called North Florida home for nearly forty years, meeting his wife Vicky while broadcasting at The Players Championship on March 20, 1982. “You know, our zip code, 32082,” he often joked.
Like anybody who knew him, I will miss him terribly.