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Gerry Dulac: Steelers-Jaguars has brought some odd moments

By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

PITTSBURGH — It might not matter the Steelers are on a nine-game winning streak, are the NFL's only unbeaten team and have won the past three meetings with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Nor might it matter the Jaguars have lost eight in a row after a season-opening victory against the Indianapolis Colts, have allowed the most points in the AFC and will use a quarterback making only his second NFL start.

If history is any indication, none of that will matter Sunday when the Steelers go to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars — the worst thing to stink in that northern Florida city since the paper mills shut down.

Strange things always seem to happen when the Steelers and Jaguars meet, which they have since 1995 when the Jaguars came into the NFL as an expansion team and were placed in the same division with the Steelers. Their rivalry wasn't on the order of the nasty meetings with the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s and didn't have the significance of the more respectful battles with the Houston Oilers in the 1980s.

But over the course of 26 lifetime meetings — 14 won by the Jaguars — the series saw a little of everything. And most of it occurred in Jacksonville.

Oh, there were accusations of death threats and kicks to the groin and an intrusive mascot who paid the price for getting too close to the opposing huddle. There were "gut feelings" that went wrong and the spike of a live ball that was almost as costly as it was embarrassing.

 

There was even a near Woody Hayes-type incident right there on the same field, almost in the exact same spot, where the career of the legendary Ohio State coach came to a shocking and humiliating end. And it all started 25 years ago.

The Steelers went to the Super Bowl in 1995, the year the Jaguars entered the league, but in Week 6 they lost their first-ever meeting with the expansion team — the first of five consecutive losses in Jacksonville. It was a portent of things to come.

The following year, after losing quarterback Neil O'Donnell in free agency, the Steelers opened their season in Jacksonville on a day so hot a dozen players had to leave the field during pre-game warmups to receive IVs, including running back Jerome Bettis, who had asthma. But a bigger issue was a debate about which quarterback should replace O'Donnell — third-year Jim Miller, veteran Mike Tomczak or the multi-dimensional Kordell Stewart.

Saying he had a "gut feeling," coach Bill Cowher started Miller, then yanked him at halftime after he completed 9 of 17 passes for 83 yards and produced just two field goals. Tomczak was inserted and remained the starter for the rest of the season. Not only did the Steelers lose, 24-9, but they lost outside linebacker Greg Lloyd for the season with a torn patella tendon.

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