// by Ron P. Whittington
Compared to the other cities that wanted the next two NFL franchises, Jacksonville was considered the least likely expansion candidate for several reasons: the television market was smaller than nearly every team in the league, it was a medium-sized market because the surrounding suburbs and rural areas are far smaller than the city itself and the Gator Bowl was outdated and would require demolition and reconstruction to accommodate a pro team.
But the NFL surprised football pundits when it voted 26-to-2 to award its 30th franchise to Jacksonville in 1993.
With the vote came the work to construct a new stadium in time for the 1995 season, with new Jacksonville Jaguars majority owner Wayne Weaver selecting Tom Coughlin as the first head coach. Coughlin spent his first year at the helm without a team, preparing for the personnel moves that would come from the expansion draft, free agency and the rookie draft in the spring of 1995.
“The excitement at the time was unparalleled,” says Channel 4 sports director Sam Kouvaris. “There we were, ten years after the [USFC] Bulls played here, getting legitimate NFL players who were going to wear Jaguars uniforms.”
When the expansion draft began, the Jaguars selected Steve Beuerlein as the team’s first quarterback, an NFL player known for stints with the Los Angeles Raiders, Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals.
“Coach Coughlin picked him not only because they needed a quarterback, but also because they needed a leader to help shape the beginning of the franchise,” Kouvaris says. “Beuerlein took the role seriously, too.”
When the regular draft came around, Jacksonville selected offensive tackle Tony Boselli, whom Coughlin noted at the time would be “the cornerstone of the franchise” for the next ten years.
“Being the second overall pick, there was some external pressure to perform,” Boselli says. “Probably, more than anything, was the pressure I put on myself to live up to [the hype]. I wanted to give as much as possible, so the fans and organization would know that they picked the right guy.”
Boselli had visited town about a month before the draft, but wasn’t familiar with Jacksonville at all at the time.
“Obviously it was a lot different culturally and city-size wise than Los Angeles, where I spent my college years,” he says. “There was a little bit of cultural shock moving from the West Coast to the East Coast, and to the South, but the fans and people were so excited about having a team. It was fun to be involved in it.”
Boselli, an All-American lineman from USC, played for the Jaguars until 2002—and became the first player to be inducted in the ‘Pride of the Jaguars’ in 2006.
Mark Brunell, who had played at the University of Washington and was a back-up quarterback for the Green Bay Packers for two years, was acquired by the Jaguars in 1995 through a draft-day trade for a third- and fifth-round draft pick.
“Mark was about to be traded to the Philadelphia Eagles when we got him,” Kouvaris says. “Once the team went to training camp, you knew that Mark at some point was going to be the starting quarterback. He was very young at the time, but he had an awful lot of talent.”
After Beuerlein was injured in the second regular season game, Brunell started in 13 games that season, completed 201 out of 346 passes, 15 touchdowns and rushed for 480 yards.
Other high-impact players on the 1995 roster included defensive back Corey Raymond (drafted from the New York Giants), tackle Jeff Novak (Miami Dolphins) and guard Tom Myslinski (Chicago Bears)—who continues working with the Jaguars as a conditioning coach today. Wide receiver Jimmy Smith was signed as a free agent earlier in the year.
The Jaguars’ inaugural 1995 draft no doubt shaped the franchise as fans know it today. The first season featured many of the players who would lead Jacksonville into the playoffs in the team's next four seasons, including Brunell, Boselli and running back Jimmy Stewart.
While Stewart, selected as the 19th pick overall, had an impressive performance as a running back in college, he initially caught a lot of grief from fans because he played for the University of Tennessee.
“Most of the fans here were Gator fans too, and they’d get on me all the time,” he says. “I didn’t understand why because this was the NFL, not college. After my second year, I didn’t get it as much, but it was there.”
Stewart, who now owns Studio 33 Fitness Training in Atlantic Beach, still holds the franchise record for the most points in a single game (30) and the most touchdowns in a game with five rushing touchdowns (both records reached during the October 12, 1997 game against the Philadelphia Eagles).
“I had wanted to join a team with a foundation already in place,” Stewart says. “I was a young kid then, so you’ve got to understand why I’d make that comment. Now that I’m older, I realize I was the part of the starting foundation for a legacy and the franchise.”
The following year the Jags won six of their last seven games of the season, finished with a record of 9–7 and clinched the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs. The Jaguars won their first playoff game in franchise history against the Buffalo Bills, then dispatched the heavily-favored Denver Broncos (at the time regarded as the best team in the AFC, if not the NFL) in a 30-27 victory.
“I think in the 1996 year we were just too dumb and young to know what was happening,” Boselli says. “But we had veterans who knew what was going on and we were all trying to find a way to win. After that year, we felt like we were one of the better teams in the AFC and we could make the Super Bowl. Unfortunately we never got there, but after the ’96 season we felt like we belonged.”
Interestingly, there was another player drafted in 1995 that helped the Jaguars keep their playoff streak alive.
“Coughlin was looking at a board of names that listed all the guys that they thought would be taken before we made our selection,” Kouvaris says. “The only name left among the first-round selections was quarterback Rob Johnson. Even though we didn’t need a quarterback, they felt they had to take him.”
While it didn’t look like the right move to observers at the time, it was his role in a subsequent trade that further set up the Jaguars for success in their early years.
“Johnson stepped in to play admirably in a couple of situations when Brunell got injured during the first season, but what makes him important was that the Jaguars traded him to the Buffalo Bills for a first round draft pick in 1998, which eventually turned out to be running back Fred Taylor,” Kouvaris says. “In that way, Rob certainly played an important part of our franchise history.”