It's 6pm on Sunday in Jacksonville, Florida, and Interstate 10 heading west out of town is jammed with moving trucks, overloaded pickups, and minivans stuffed to the roof with personal gear. Police helicopters hover overhead and emergency vehicles grind through bumper-to-bumper traffic as authorities work to manage the tide of humanity.
To the uninitiated, it might look like just another hurricane evacuation, but Browns reserve linebacker Brant Boyer knows better. He spent his entire career in Jacksonville until he signed with the Browns in September. Shaking his head as he watches the news feed on the stadium Jumbotron, Boyer knows he is looking at something special: The single greatest bandwagon jump in the history of sports.
It all began innocently enough. The Jaguars were a comfortable eight-point favorite over the Browns, thanks to a defense that had allowed just nine points in two games, fueling a 2-0 record. Despite the impressive start, Jacksonville fans had grown disinterested. Last season's disaster had rattled the bandwagon. Sales of teal house paint had crashed during the off-season. Unsold Mark Brunell bobblehead dolls lined the store shelves. Mothers stopped naming their babies Hardy.
So when the Jaguars take the field in a half empty Alltel Stadium on Sunday, Browns players could feel the unease. To coach Butch Davis, it smells just like blood.
With Fred Taylor on the sidelines with a horrific groin injury, Butch sets his defense loose on the Jags QB. The Jacksonville offensive line is entirely unprepared for the onslaught. After all, isn't this the same pathetic Browns team the Jaguars destroyed in December last year?
That question gets an answer on the very first Jacksonville play from scrimmage. Jamir Miller leaps over a weak Stacey Mack block to bury Brunell 10 yards behind scrimmage. On second and 20, Miller storms past tight end Kyle Brady so quickly that Brunell never sees him coming. The football, Brunell's helmet, and six of his teeth spray into the Jacksonville end zone, where Gerard Warren falls on the whole mess to score a quick Browns TD.
By the end of the first quarter, Tom Coughlin is fishing deep into his depth chart. Brunell is out, Mack has lost 48 yards on 12 carries, and Kyle Brady is hiding behind the Gatorade table muttering something about his staph infection flaring up. When backup QB Jonathan Quinn goes in for Brunell, he lasts exactly one play, forcing Phil Stambaugh, a rookie out of Lehigh for goodness sake, to take snaps.
There's no relief on defense. In a surprise move, Butch starts Ben Gay at tailback. The training camp phenom immediately lights up the Jaguars for two long scoring runs, and even manages a blitz pickup on a 60-yard Couch to KJ completion. The performance launches a series of "Bo Knows Ben" commercials that become instant fan favorites. With 10 minutes still left in the third quarter, the Browns have avenged last year's loss and then some, piling up over 750 yards in total offense.
It's right about then, during yet another Jacksonville injury timeout, that the Jumbotron displays images of the Houston Texans new uniforms. In the silence of the stunned stadium crowd, a small voice is heard. "So pretty…"
That's enough for these fans. Teal is so 1995, and that deep steel-blue is much more fashionable. Besides, everyone is just sick and tired of the insipid jaguar snarl. Within minutes the exodus is on. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the move--packing suitcases, loading cars, and filling out change of address forms. By noon the next day, the city of Houston is buried in Texans fans.
The final score? Browns 480, Jaguars -48
And that's the way I see it.