Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Stories to Cover

For our final Top 20 of the year recognizing the 20th anniversary of the Jaguars, we’re being a bit self-indulgent. Our topic is “Top 20 Stories to Cover” fun or not, newsworthy or just small anecdotes. While a majority of the list was compiled by Sports Director Sam Kouvaris, Senior Photographer/Producer Matt Kingston and Senior Producer/Photographer Kevin Talley, we solicited opinions from Channel 4 reporters and anchors, past and present to see what their favorite stories have been in the last 20 years. Some were a consensus; others were things that perhaps only the reporter would know that made the story that much more special.

We thought it was interesting that the list seems to come from both ends of the Jaguars history. Much of the “fun” stuff from the beginning and the success under Tom Coughlin, and stories created by the current leadership both on and off the field. Not much during the Del Rio era made it onto our list.

You’d have to be a “veteran” at Channel 4 to have been a part of our top story in Jaguars history and that’s actually getting a team. Channel 4 Anchorman Tom Wills and Sam Kouvaris were in Chicago for the announcement. Sam’s time in the Jaguars private suite when they were told they were getting a team along with the look on his face (according to Tom) when he peaked behind the curtain to see a “Jacksonville Jaguars” banner being prepared for the announcement were pretty incredible. The spontaneous celebration in town was like nothing we’ve seen before or since and covering that, nonstop for 8 hours from Jacksonville and Chicago and the happiness it brought so many people remains at number one.

Getting plenty of support at the top from contributors like Executive Producer Sharon Siegel-Cohen and Channel 4 Anchor Joy Purdy, the coverage of the flight home from Denver after beating the Broncos in the 1996 playoffs is at number two. Most of our contributors named this in the top two or three. The fly over of the stadium and the spontaneous arrival of 40,000 people at the downtown, as well as our spontaneous coverage, is sometimes hard to believe in retrospect. Our colleague Cole Pepper noted how it solidified just what a sports team and its success can do for a city.

Sam put the press box scene in Denver in 1996 in the 3rd spot, although he was the only one there. Noted Denver writers were hacking on the Jaguars and Jacksonville all throughout the game, asking if this was a real game or just an “exhibition with the USFL.” They were only slowed down when Sam noted at halftime in a loud voice, “USFL 13, NFL 12.” The Jaguars went on to back that up with a 30-27 victory over the heavily favored Broncos.

Beating Buffalo the week before in the playoffs in Buffalo by an identical score was also a fun story to be a part of. Tom and Sam were also on that trip, with Tom finding Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s sisters in the corner of the parking lot tailgating with a Jaguars flag flying. He asked them if they’d ever seen their brother smile and they answered in unison, “Only when he wins!” Tom caught Coughlin after the game and related the story to the Jaguars head coach, who broke out into a memorable smile. At the end of the game, Sam and Photographer Kevin Talley were going down the elevator to the field with about 2:00 to play. They arrived in the tunnel just as Bills QB Jim Kelly was arriving on a cart, clearly suffering from a concussion after a hit by Chris Hudson. Kelly stepped off the cart and started walking down the hall, the wrong way. Sam grabbed him and turned him around saying “this way Jim” as Buffalo medical personnel were scrambling for their quarterback.

When Kevin and Sam got to the end line of the field with about a minute to play, the fans were pretty hostile. The end line isn’t that far from the low wall of the stands and the constant barrage of four-letter words eventually lead Kevin to turn around and say, “We might (stink), but you have to live here.” To which Sam asked Kevin if he was crazy and hastened their move to midfield for some interviews.

A similar thing happened in Pittsburgh at Three Rivers the first time the Jaguars beat the Steelers there. Fans were so hostile the players instructed Sam and other reporters to “stay close” walking off the field. “We’ll keep out helmets on. They won’t throw anything if you have out helmets on.”

Jaguars Defensive End Jeff Lageman thought the bus ride home from the airport to the stadium after the Buffalo win was the best story of that year that might have been only known to the players. “The road was packed with cars and pickups, the busses could only go about 5 miles an hour because of all the fans lined up and cheering.” Pretty cool inside stuff.

The win over Atlanta in 1996 that put the Jaguars in the playoffs for the first time rounds out the top five. It was an unlikely scenario and just when it appeared the Jaguars would win the game, the Falcons ripped off a long screen pass that Tony Brackens came out of nowhere to stop inside the 20. Atlanta sent one of the all time great kickers in league history, Morten Andersen on to kick the game winning FG, only to see him miss wide left. Bedlam ensued. Sam says it’s the only time in his career that he couldn’t watch. “Too painful,” he said about the prospect of getting beat like that.

Hosting the Super Bowl here starts the second five. Despite all of the criticism, the league was very happy with the city’s ability to handle the game. More cabs and another luxury hotel would have to be in place to ever host the game again but the owners made a ton of money, stayed at Amelia Island and we had great weather from Thursday through the game. A Super bowl in Jacksonville? Really?

Shad Khan occupies spots 7 and eight. Although he was supposed to buy the St. Louis Rams the year before, he came out of nowhere to be the Jaguars owner. He and Wayne Weaver had gotten to know each other in the process of selling the Rams and when that didn’t happen, they eventually made a deal for the Jaguars. Weaver rejected suitors who wanted to buy the team and potentially move it to California (i.e. Fidelity’s Bill Foley) and put a deal in place for Khan to keep the team here. He also fired Del Rio that day (who didn’t know about the sale until Channel 4 told him in front of his house during an interview) and extended Gene Smith’s contract as General Manager. Pretty big day for the franchise and multiple great stories.

It’s only been a few times, but anytime we get a chance to sit down with Shad Khan it always provides insight to his thought process for the Jaguars. He’s a businessman first, but he has big ideas for the team and for the city and is honest in his assessment of both.

Growing into a ‘big city” can bring big city problems and the shooting of Richard Collier is at nine because of that. While none of the reporting there has been fun, it did show the “celebrity” status that players have in town and covering Richard’s fight to stay alive, his spirit and continuing commitment to the community is an important thread in Jaguars history.

If you saw the end of the Cleveland game where they showered the field with debris because they didn’t like a call, you knew that would be on this list somewhere. It makes it as #10, not only for what happened on the field, but for the goofy way the game ended. The Jaguars and Browns left the field for their safety and Referee Jeff Triplett called the game with three seconds on the clock. During the post game press conference, the commissioner’s office called to say they had to “finish the game.” Players from both teams scrambled for uniforms and rushed out onto the field together. QB Mark Brunell knelt on it one time and they ran off. We’re pretty sure Brunell was wearing somebody else’s pants for that play.

By the way, some of the debris being thrown on the field at the end of the game included full beer bottles, obviously not full of beer. Because of that game, the league changed their policy on alcohol sales in the 4th quarter and now when you buy a beer at the stadium, they hand you the bottle with the top off.

Covering that 1999 season was a great story for everybody. The Jaguars went 14-2, they galvanized the city and were the best team in football. Once things got rolling, sports became news with most of the top stories each night on the newscasts involving the Jaguars on and off the field. While everybody has their favorite stories from 1999, the season itself was a great story to cover. Until the end.

You might know that Sam is the Pro Football Hall of Fame representative for Jacksonville. Weaver asked him to sit on that committee of (at the time) just 32 members so he slipped it in at number 12. Going to his first meeting in Phoenix, the committee makeup was a who’s who of 1st generation reporters covering the NFL from its infancy. John Steadman, Edwin Pope, Furman Bishop, Tom McEwen, Will McDonough, Jack Buck and others were the leaders on the committee. Pretty memorable when Jacksonville got a vote among those titans of what was then, “Sports journalism.”

We put the introduction press conferences of both Mike Mularkey and Gus Bradley in at thirteen. Both are nice people who, on that day, were full of hope and optimism. We’ll never know if given the same chance Mularkey would have been able to rebuild and the jury is still out on Bradley. But on those days, it was nothing but sunshine and roses.

When Khan took over the team, you knew it was going to be different and it has been. Among the changes is how the Jaguars fit into the league structure. No longer mentioned as the first city to lose their team elsewhere, Khan instead has expanded the Jaguars brand internationally. His announcement with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that the Jaguars would be the league’s “home” team in London for 4 years (and possibly beyond) hammered home the difference between Khan’s ideas and what had come before him. The league might eventually have a team in London, and Shad Khan might own it, but moving the Jaguars there right now is not an option.

The rest of our list is filled out with personal reflections on stories we’ve covered. Coughlin’s relationship with ALS patient Rick Murray was a reminder of the reality of life but what small gestures and just simple kindness can do for the human spirit. Kyle Brady’s interest in flight was fueled by Sam’s pilot training and to see a football player branch out into something completely different was good insight into the different kinds of people it takes to make up a team. (Brady went on to also get his financial adviser certification and is now a lawyer in town as well.) Despite the long days and schedule during the season, Jaguars players and coaches are out on a regular basis, helping with charities and foundations in the community. The amount of money the Weaver’s have donated is staggering in itself. Always great stories to be a part of. And while you have to have some history behind you to become part of the Pride of the Jaguars, those inductions are reminders of the good play and good times had in the past.

On a strictly “insider” basis, traveling with the team on charter flights is a story that might never be told. If so, it’ll have to be by a player who’s retired and had some fun. The amount of food and fun had on those flights, particularly by winning teams, is legendary. And get somebody to tell you the “Kyle Brady as Mango” story if you can. Hilarious.

And finally, watching such promise devolve into addiction and hopefully redemption makes the list. Former Channel 4 Sports Reporter Sean Woodland noted Jimmy Smith and Justin Blackmon but Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, R.J. Soward and others have been brought to Jacksonville and the NFL by the Jaguars with such high hopes, to see those hopes end, is a story that reminds you of how fleeting success, and especially fame, can be.

  • 1. Getting the team
  • 2. Flight home from Denver
  • 3. Press Box in Denver
  • 4. Win in Buffalo and coming home
  • 5. Beating Atlanta at home in 1996
  • 6. Super Bowl here
  • 7. Khan, Weaver, firing Del Rio, extending Gene Smith
  • 8. Khan 1 on 1 interviews
  • 9. Richard Collier shooting
  • 10. Cleveland game re-start
  • 11. 1999 season
  • 12. First Hall of Fame Meeting
  • 13. Mularkey, Bradley introduction press conferences
  • 14. Jaguars commit to London announcement
  • 15. Tom Coughlin and Rick Murray
  • 16. Flying with Kyle Brady
  • 17. Jaguars in the community
  • 18. Pride of the Jaguars Inductions
  • 19. Team Charter flights
  • 20. Jimmy Smith, Justin Blackmon problems

Others noted: Chris Hanson “chopping wood, Jaguars playing other sports (basketball, softball, taking BP at the baseball grounds). Fulham’s visit and Hugo Rodallega kicking a 35-yard FG in practice. Coach Robert Saleh’s story about his brother being in the World Trade Center during September 11th and how it changed his life. Anytime we talked with Mark Duffner, Dick Jauron, Dom Capers or Mel Tucker, all assistants who “got it.” The evolution of Fred Taylor from high school kid to full-time dad. Talking with John Jurkovic. Unveiling the new video boards and pools. The Jaguars relationship with JT Townsend. Leftwich released. Tony Boselli available to “expansion draft.”

Did we miss something? Let us know with #JagsTop20 on Twitter or email us at sports@wjxt.com. We’ll talk about this list with Jeff Lageman this week on Jaguars Friday Night at 11:20.