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ON TOP AT LAST THE JAGUARS, TIRED OF LOOKING UP TO EXPANSION-RIVAL CAROLINA, TOOK THE PANTHERS DOWN A PEG

Oct. 07, 1996
Oct. 07, 1996

Table of Contents
Oct. 7, 1996

ON TOP AT LAST THE JAGUARS, TIRED OF LOOKING UP TO EXPANSION-RIVAL CAROLINA, TOOK THE PANTHERS DOWN A PEG

NFL shrinks might have categorized it as a severe case of the
Jan Brady Syndrome. No matter how hard the Jacksonville Jaguars
have tried to make their mark during the last two seasons, they
have not been able to escape the long shadow of the Carolina
Panthers--their impeccable expansion sibling to the north.

This is an article from the Oct. 7, 1996 issue Original Layout

The battle actually began in October 1993, when Carolina was
awarded its franchise five weeks before Jacksonville got the
nod. The Panthers then won the coin flip to see who would pick
first in the expansion draft, beat the Jags 20-14 in the 1995
Hall of Fame exhibition game and proceeded to win seven games
(three more than Jacksonville) to become the NFL's most
successful expansion team ever. Meanwhile, the Jaguars settled
for the Mackey Award, which went to one of their players, Bryan
Barker, for having the highest net punting average in the NFL
last year. The plaque stands proudly--though a little
forlornly--in their team trophy case.

Even as the teams prepared to play each other for the first time
in the regular season--a game the Jags (now 2-3) won with
surprising ease, 24-14--the disparities got downright goofy.
Both teams have new facilities, yet NFL commissioner Paul
Tagliabue labeled the Panthers' Ericsson Stadium the model for
the rest of the league. Last week even O.J. Simpson singled out
Carolina, calling the Panthers a smart bet while talking
football with reporters during a break in his civil trial. And
although his son, Jeb, is a part owner of the Jaguars, former
president George Bush decided to visit a Carolina practice.
After telling the team that they had captured the imagination of
the American people with their 3-0 start, he left wearing a
Panthers hat.

"They're in the spotlight because they've had some early
success," said Michael Huyghue, the 35-year-old former Lions
exec who is the vice president of football operations in
Jacksonville. "We're not obsessed with them. But does it gnaw in
our side a little bit? Sure it does."

The differences between the teams go to the core of both clubs.
In a locked cabinet close to his desk inside Jacksonville
Municipal Stadium, Huyghue keeps a thick binder that maps out
his three-year plan to make the playoffs, a blueprint similar to
the one Jimmy Johnson used when he took over the Dallas Cowboys
in 1989. With sustained success as its No. 1 goal, Jacksonville
filled its first-year roster largely through the draft. The Jags
have the third-youngest team in the league, with only five
players who have eight or more years of NFL experience.

Carolina, by contrast, constructed its team with immediate
success in mind, signing free agents and veterans, including 15
players with eight or more years in the league. And while the
Panthers' plan has been more fruitful so far--at week's end they
were 10-5 in their last 15 games, the fifth-best record in the
NFL during that span--Jacksonville's investment in youth paid
huge dividends on Sunday.

Rookie defensive end Tony Brackens, a second-round pick from
Texas, forced and recovered two fumbles and finished with six
tackles and two sacks. As the Panthers' older linemen withered
in the 100[degree]-plus heat on the field (two starters had to
leave the game due to dehydration), Brackens, 21, began driving
blockers into the turf with such ease that he looked like he was
back home wrestling calves on his parents' 800-acre ranch in
Fairfield, Texas. "Our young guys grew up today," said
defensive tackle John Jurkovic, who is almost a team elder at
age 29. "We came out and popped Carolina in the mouth quick and
often. And it felt good. I think they ended up running out of IV
bags and needles over there."

The Jags' passing offense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL with 261
yards per game, had plenty of juice. Quarterback Mark Brunell,
26, had 270 yards of total offense. And mostly on the strength
of two second-year players, running back James Stewart and
tackle Tony Boselli, the Jags had 10 rushing first downs against
a team that had given up a total of eight in its three previous
games.

Stewart, 24, led all rushers with 96 yards and two TDs. His
second score, a four-yard explosion with 11:47 left to play, was
impressive both physically and symbolically, as he went
steamrolling over Carolina cornerback Eric Davis, a pricey
free-agent pickup who is in his seventh year in the league. That
score put the Jaguars up 24-6 and started a deafening
celebration that seemed to wash away two years of second-class
status in Jacksonville. Fans hugged and players pounded their
chests as Huyghue and other members of the front office stood on
the sidelines and basked in the applause.

"Our partners in Charlotte are more traditional than we are, and
that's fine," said Huyghue. "We're not trying to be mavericks.
But we're not afraid to stand alone, either."

At long last the Jaguars can.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERS Stewart shot Jacksonville into the lead for good with a high-flying TD for the Jaguars' first score. [James Stewart in game]COLOR CHART: CHART BY PARAGRAPHICS/SOURCE: BUD GOODE SPORTS COMPUTER STATS THROUGH SEPT. 30 [Chart not available--line graph comnparing New York Jets' yards per pass attempt with league average from 1986 to 1996]COLOR PHOTO: BILL WOOD Hail to the Redskins' sack leader. [Rich Owens]COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [Kent Graham]

COMING UP

COLTS AT BILLS

Buffalo linebacker Bryce Paup should have invited Indianapolis's
offensive line to attend the Pro Bowl with him last February.
Paup got six of his league-leading 17.5 sacks versus Indy in
'95. With QB Jim Kelly out, the Bills must keep this one a
low-scoring affair.

PACKERS AT BEARS

Bears quarterback Dave Krieg, in for injured starter Erik
Kramer, has fumbled more times (145) than anyone in NFL history
and has been sacked the second-most times (479). That spells
disaster against a Green Bay defense that has forced a
league-high 22 turnovers.

CHARGERS AT BRONCOS

A rumble between two teams tied for first in the NFL's best
division. San Diego has given up 76 points in two road games
this year, and if this turns into another shoot-out, Denver has
more big guns.

STEELERS AT CHIEFS

Kansas City is riding an 11-game winning streak at Arrowhead.
Pittsburgh might be well advised to use Kordell Stewart at QB
against Marty Schottenheimer's opportunistic defense. If Slash
accounts for two touchdowns--running, passing or receiving--the
Steelers have a shot.

49ERS AT RAMS

San Francisco quarterback Steve Young needs a tune-up for the
following week's foe, Green Bay, but coach George Seifert will
likely play Elvis Grbac because the Niners have won 12 straight
from the Rams in what was once a bloody intradivisional rivalry.

QUICK SLANT

GROUNDED JETS

The Jets were the NFL's worst passing team in 1995, netting a
league-low average of 4.4 yards per pass play. That's why New
York invested $40 million in free-agent quarterback Neil
O'Donnell and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the No. 1 pick in
the draft. After O'Donnell threw for 292 yards in Sunday's 31-16
loss to Washington, the Jets had improved their average to 5.1,
but that figure was still well below the league norm, and New
York was still winless.

Here's graphic evidence of how bad the Jets' passing attack has
been the last 10 seasons, during which New York has had a
winning record only once.

SPOTLIGHT

RICH OWENS

With Sunday's 31-16 win over the Jets, Washington improved its
record to 4-1, its best start since 1991--a season that ended
with a Skins Super Bowl victory. Much of the credit for the fast
getaway goes to a stingy defense of no-names, guys like
second-year defensive end Rich Owens, a 6'6", 279-pounder who
leads the Redskins with four sacks.

"I was 6'4" and 190 pounds when I entered college," says Owens.
"Nobody offered me a scholarship." He ended up at Lehigh, a
Division I-AA school in the Patriot League, and didn't start a
game there until his senior year. But by then he had grown to
6'6" and 235 pounds, with 4.5 speed and a childlike approach to
the game. "I didn't know any of the defensive sets," says Owens,
who had five sacks and blocked three kicks as a senior. "I just
ran around and made plays."

The Redskins selected him in the fifth round of the '95
draft--"I was the first rookie in the entire league to sign a
contract," he says with pride--and by the 14th game of his
rookie season, Owens was starting. His six sacks in his first
seven starts compares well with the early play of the Packers'
Reggie White, the NFL's alltime sack leader, who got seven sacks
in his first seven career starts.

"Richie's bright-eyed, smiling, happy, likes to play," says
Washington defensive coordinator Ron Lynn. "Some people are
already anointing him for Canton. He's not quite ready for that,
though, unless we play the Hall of Fame Game next July."

--John Walters

SIDELINES

Tampa Bay quarterback Trent Dilfer has thrown four passes for
touchdowns this season, but three of those TDs were scored by
opposing defenses. Dilfer's fourth-quarter QB rating is 0.0....
Patriots coach Bill Parcells sounds a little peeved that wide
receiver Vincent Brisby has been out for two months with a
pulled hamstring. "I told him I recovered from open-heart
surgery faster than he has from a hamstring," says Parcells....
Forty-Niners quarterback Steve Young and wide receiver Jerry
Rice have yet to hook up for a touchdown. Rice's only TD
reception of the season was thrown by reserve running back Terry
Kirby....Chargers linebacker Junior Seau had one of his best
games ever in the Chargers' 22-19 win over the Chiefs on Sunday.
He had 12 tackles, two interceptions and one sack, and
repositioned teammate Chris Mims just before the snap as K.C.
attempted a game-tying field goal with 0:28 left. Mims blocked
the kick....Playing the Saints is good for an ailing running
game. The Cardinals had the league's worst rushing offense when
they played New Orleans in Week 4 and got a franchise-record 214
yards on the ground from LeShon Johnson. On Sunday the Ravens'
Earnest Byner, 34, gained 149 yards against the Saints, his best
rushing performance in five years....Cardinals quarterback Kent
Graham (below) rallied Arizona to a 31-28 overtime win against
the Rams. He completed 37 of 58 passes for 366 yards, with four
touchdowns and no interceptions. In its last seven home games
Arizona has gone into overtime four times, winning three and
losing one.