21 years ago, the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars, led by head coach Tom Coughlin, visited Foxboro to face the New England Patriots for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Sound familiar? Now Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Jaguars, Coughlin hopes this trip lends a different result.
The Jaguars Playoff Run
This has to be surreal for Tom Coughlin. January. New England Patriots. AFC Championship game. It is all too familiar yet completely different. He did it once before, in 1996, but the ending was not satisfactory.
That year, the Jaguars were in only their second year as an NFL Franchise, and Coughlin, coming off a successful stint as head coach of Boston College, was tabbed to lead the team. After a rough 4-12 record in their maiden season, the Jaguars found lightning in a bottle in 1996, riding the arm of Mark Brunell and the legs of Natrone Means to an 8-7 record heading into the final game of the season at home versus the Atlanta Falcons. Clinging to a 19-17 lead, Falcons kicker Morten Andersen missed the game winning field goal with time expiring, sending the Jaguars on an unexpected playoff run. And what a run it would be.
In the wildcard round, they defeated what was left of the 1990’s Buffalo Bills dynasty, 30-27. Coming off four consecutive Super Bowl defeats, the Bills were both aging and ravaged by free agent departures.
Alas, the Divisional Round would be the signature moment for the Jaguars. The number one seed Denver Broncos awaited, however they were not prepared for the discipline and intensity that Couglin’s Jaguars would show up with. In one of the greatest upsets in NFL Playoff history, the Jaguars shocked John Elway and a team with a victory of the identical score as the week before, 30-27. Of course, the Broncos would rebound to win the next two Super Bowls.
Fast forward to the AFC Title Game, the Jaguars met the Patriots, coached by Bill Parcells. While the final score would indicate a game that wasn’t close, the Jaguars fought mightily, out-gaining the Patriots in both passing and rushing yardage. Only a late-game interception by Brunell in the Patriots end zone stopped the final rally, with the Jaguars ultimately falling 20-7. The Patriots would go on to lose to the Green Bay Packers, in what would be Brett Favre‘s only Super Bowl victory.
New York Giants and Super Bowl Redemption
Following a 6-10 season in 2002, Coughlin was fired by the Jaguars. In 2004, he was hired as head coach of the New York Giants, where he was wide teceivers coach in the 1990’s as an assistant to head coach Parcells. The defensive coordinator of those 90’s Giants teams was Bill Belichick. With the Giants, Coughlin won two Super Bowls, beating the Patriots both times. There is symmetry everywhere, and the circles of pro football are as small as they get.
So now Coughlin returns to Foxboro. No longer stalking the sidelines, no longer barking out demands and telling players that if the are not 10 minutes early to a team meeting, they are late. This is the job of head coach Doug Marrone. But Coughlin’s influence and imprint is all over the team, in the model of his Giants pedigree, a stout defense, a formidable running game, and prudent clock management. All they have to do is find a way to defeat this year’s Patriots, the latest version of what may be the greatest dynasty in Pro Football history. For Coughlin, this is what it is all about, life, football, relationships, and another shot at the title against an old rival to finish some old business.
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