Rivalries come in all shapes and sizes. Two of my children graduated from Florida eight years apart. My oldest says Tennessee was the Gators biggest rival while she was in Gainesville, while my son names Georgia as the team he wanted to beat the most. Neither have very good things to say about Florida State.
In their 26-year history, the Jaguars have counted the Steelers, the Colts, the Texans and most recently the Titans as rivals.
Without much recent Jaguars success against the Titans, is it still a rivalry?
When they were emerging stars early in their careers, Andy Roddick was asked about his budding rivalry with Roger Federer. Roddick and Federer were meeting in the Wimbledon final for the second straight year.
“To be a rivalry, I’ve got to win a few of these,” Roddick said to laughter among the assembled media. But he was right. Despite playing some epic matches, Federer had beaten him eight of the last nine times they had played.
In the last ten years the Titans/Jaguars “rivalry” has shifted Tennessee’s way. The two teams split the first fourteen games of the decade, but the Titans have won six of the last seven, including a 33-30 win this year in Nashville.
“You have to take into account the history,” former Jaguars and Titans linebacker Lonnie Marts said this week. “They want to shut Derrick Henry down. They want to see what Cleveland did last week to keep him in check. They’re thinking, ‘If we can win this game, that means the rivalry is still lit.’”
Most Jaguars fans don’t have to go too far back in their memory to hear then-Titans head coach Jeff Fisher refer to Jacksonville as Tennessee’s “other home stadium.” Fisher made the comment leading up to the Titans appearance in the Super Bowl after beating the Jaguars three times in the ’99 season. That run including the AFC Conference Championship game here in January of 2000.
While Fisher mellowed and distanced himself from that comment in subsequent years, his contempt for the Jaguars as a rival was real. And personal. “He thinks he invented football,” Fisher told a media friend of mine from Nashville when asked what he thought of Tom Coughlin.
Losing those three games to the Titans, in Marts’ mind, “is like it was last week,” he said.
“I didn’t cover a guy down the seam, and they scored a touchdown in the first game. I was too focused on Eddie George. The next time we played them they used some different players and beat us again. So, when we went to play them the last time, we were focused on shutting all of that stuff down. And we did that for the first half. But when it came to the third quarter, they must have wanted it more. I went to tackle Steve McNair and it’s a tackle I make a hundred out of a hundred times and he stepped out it. And to this day, I don’t know how that happened.”
Former Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny agrees that the Titans are still a rival for the Jaguars, even with Tennessee’s recent success.
“You play teams in your division all the time, so you get to know them so well,” he said this week. “You know how to tackle them; you know how they run so we’d be prepped on all of that. When you look at game tape, you’re covering and tackling the same guys. From the outside a rivalry has to be close. From the inside, it doesn’t matter. That’s who you want to beat no matter what else is going on.”
Players and coaches universally agree that division games almost count as two in the standings. They’re a pathway to the playoffs. Every division opponent could be considered a rival. When he was with the Colts, Peyton Manning would say “Jacksonville” with a certain disdain. The Texans would wear that silly “Battle Red” at home when the Jaguars were coming to town.
“When I was with Buffalo, we didn’t like Miami, but we really had a thing going with the Jets,” Posluszny said of the Bills’ AFC East rivals. “You might think it was the Patriots, but they just got us twice a year,” he added with a laugh.
Some rivalries look like a real “hate-fest” from the outside. Marts was a part of one of those when he was with the Chiefs.
“In Kansas City it was the Raiders. It was unspoken with the Chiefs. Raider week was when the coaches stressed to putting pressure on them. And you could set your watch by it, they were going to do something stupid, maybe a late hit and give us a chance to score.”
When the Jaguars were in the AFC Central, the Steelers were their unquestioned rival. Tom Coughlin said as much noting that the division title went through Pittsburgh. And he built the Jaguars specifically to compete with the Steelers.
That rivalry was very tense. So tense in fact that being on the field at Three Rivers Stadium after a Jaguars victory could be a dangerous place. That was obvious in November of 2000 after Fred Taylor had rushed for a record 234 yards in a 34-24 win by the Jaguars.
“Stay near me,” one veteran Jaguars defensive lineman told me as we were exiting the field toward the tunnel. “They’ll throw batteries and stuff at you from up in the stands but if I have my helmet on, they won’t try it.”
Lehigh and Lafayette have played each other more times than any other two college football teams in the country. They’ve played so many times their matchup is just called, “The Rivalry.” Georgia and Georgia Tech is known as “Clean, Old Fashioned Hate.” Oregon and Oregon State have called their game the “Civil War” since the 1920’s. Steve Spurrier thought everybody considered Florida a rival, but he took special pleasure in beating Georgia and always referred to Florida State as “FSU,” or “that school up north.” Unless he was coining the phrase “Free Shoes University.”
“I think rivalries comes from personalities,” Marts theorized, admitting he still thinks of his rivals in high school. “Every other Catholic school in our district in New Orleans was a rival. My wife went to my biggest rival in high school. We still talk about it all the time. Heck, my Mom went to my rival high school!”
Posluszny has no problem remembering his college rivalries because they run deep. “At Penn State is was Ohio State and Michigan State. But being over there on the border with Ohio, you knew those guys at Ohio State. You played those guys in high school.”
What can be the difference in a rivalry game?
“Sometimes it was just ‘Who wanted it the most?’ Marts explained.
Posluszny echoed the same thought.
“It just sometimes came down to who played harder. You’re not going to get outsmarted playing your rival.”