Curse of the Marino

Taking a look back, it was January 15th, 2000. The Miami Dolphins and soon to be Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino entered Alltel Stadium, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars and 75,000 screaming fans.

With a 14-2 record, Jacksonville held the best record in the NFL and Marino was making one last shot at a championship. All Jaguars fans and Dolphins fans alike know the outcome which would be the final game of the great quarterback's career, as the Jaguars embarrassed him and the Dolphins to the overwhelming tune of 62-7.

While the victory was sweet for the young Jaguars' franchise, it was the last post-season win the team has recorded, as the Jags were beaten soundly at home to the Tennessee Titans just a week later, logging six turnovers in a game they probably could have won.

In fact, the Jaguars franchise has been wildly unstable ever since they sent the great Marino riding out towards the sunset, both ashamed, and in awe of the brutal beat down the Jaguars instilled upon him. Aside from no post-season success (just one appearance and no victories), the Jaguars' have found countless ways to lose or shoot themselves in the foot since that faithful day.

The team's regular season record in the past seven seasons after the slaughter in Jacksonville has been an unimpressive 53-59. In the five seasons before the Marino game (including the 1999 record) the Jags accumulated 39 wins and just 33 losses, and that's including the franchise's first season in the league, in which they finished 4-12.

Unfortunately for Jaguars fans, the Curse of the Marino doesn't end there, as the Jags have managed to pull out mind-boggling statistics since, losing in almost laughable fashion time and time again. In 2000, the Jags out-gained opponents through the air and ground, had a positive turnover ratio, and nearly had a 3,700 yard passer and 1,400 yard rusher, the end result was a 7-9 record. In 2001, the Jags managed to win big and lose close, outscoring their opponents 294-286. Despite outscoring their opponents, the Jaguars finished a game worse than the previous year, at 6-10. It gets worse, in 2002 the team again outscored opponents, had fewer turnovers, and lost nine games by an average of four points, as they went 6-10 for a second consecutive season. In '06, with a completely rebuilt roster, the Jaguars lost a handful of close games again, as seven of their eight losses were by ten points or less, and they also placed 15 players on injured reserve. They were also ranked in the top three in the league in total defense and run offense and still couldn't break .500.

These disappointments are just the tip of the iceberg for Jaguars fans. Off the field, the Jaguars have been hit hard since the 1999 playoffs. GM and head coach, Tom Coughlin, was fired just three seasons after that Marino game, compiling a 19-29 record over those three years while the team burned in the salary cap hell that Coughlin put them in. With Coughlin's departure came a handful of releases because of his over spending. Many of the key contributors of that 14-2 team started dropping like flies, the first coming in 2000 with offensive lineman Leon Searcy. After the 2001 season, monstrous cuts came again, as the Jags let go of integral players such as wide receiver Keenan McCardell and linebacker Hardy Nickerson. The Jaguars were also forced to part ways with the high priced contracts of defensive linemen Gary Walker and Seth Payne, as well as stellar cornerback Aaron Beasley.

The Ghost of Marino has also been vengeful on the Jaguars and their first round picks, at least on the offensive end. The season after Marino retired, Jacksonville selected WR R. Jay Soward from USC. Soward barley stepped on the field, and when he did, he couldn't catch a cold. Soward struggled with substance abuse and was out of the NFL seemingly in the blink of an eye. In 2003, Byron Leftwich fell to the Jags, and they took him to be the successor of the longtime face of the franchise, Mark Brunell. Leftwich showed potential as a rookie, but injuries (playing in just 71% of the games in his career, leaving several early) and inconsistency have hindered his relationship with Coach Del Rio. Now there is a bitter sweet relationship between him and the Jags, as he has again been given the reigns of the team, but he ultimately holds the cards, being that this is his contract year.

Receivers Reggie Williams and Matt   Jones, also first round picks, have been disappointing overall, neither living up to their hype or draft status. While both, as well as Leftwich, might still have career years, they are also in a do or die situation. Last years' first round pick, tight end Marcedes Lewis, has shown potential, but his first season was hijacked by an ankle injury that came in the first preseason game. Guess where? In Miami.

The list of poor personnel decisions and coulda', woulda', shoulda's only gets bigger, as the Curse of the Marino lives on. The last three seasons have been better for the Jaguars, but disappointment still seems to be around every corner. Maybe the young Jacksonville team angered the Football Gods when they shamed on of the all time greats? Maybe, for a franchise that became so good, so fast, they didn't know how to stay that way? Perhaps it was just their time to feel the pain that comes with football (ask anyone in Detroit or Cleveland). The reason for the Jags' meltdown following that infamous game in mid-January is to a certain degree, a mystery. While things are currently looking up, it seems as if something happens to keep a promising Jaguars squad from being great, whether it be a fluke injury involving an axe, hamstring pull, or broken legs. If Jaguars fans are wondering why, maybe you might just have to look in the direction of old number 13.

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