Gene Frenette: Jaguars' fans have Trevor fever, cheering a loss now becomes fashionable
Since about 7 p.m. Sunday, the Jaguars’ fan base has been about as close to giddy as they were in 1993 when the city of Jacksonville was awarded an NFL expansion franchise.
Just knowing the Jaguars had taken the lead in the Trevor Lawrence derby with two games remaining – potentially landing the Clemson quarterback as the presumptive No. 1 draft pick in April – has sent a beleaguered fan base into a state of delirium.
The prospect of acquiring Lawrence has caused so much rejoicing, you’d think the entire city was holding a winning Lotto ticket. Everybody is testing positive for Trevor fever. That includes many in the local electronic media, where the excessive cheerleading for the Jaguars to lose has become both obligatory and comical.
Joining that jubilant chorus on Twitter was none other than Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who likes playing the part of jock in his spare time. "THE New York freaking Jets delivered an early Christmas gift to Jacksonville," tweeted Curry, then vowed to light up a victory cigar.
That said, the euphoria is understandable, right? Jaguars’ fans are starving for a semblance of hope. They’ve been beaten down by an avalanche of franchise incompetence on and off the field, as evidenced by an NFL-worst 52-122 regular season record since 2010 (Cleveland is 52-121-1).
Jets' early Christmas present
The 1-13 Jaguars’ record this season was like piling on, just a bigger dumpster fire than the others. And then an unexpected Christmas gift arrived Sunday, courtesy of the previously winless New York Jets. They beat the Los Angeles Rams, dropping into the No. 2 draft slot because the Jaguars hold a substantial tiebreaker edge (9.5 games better in combined opponents’ record) by virtue of playing an easier schedule.
Suddenly, everything brightened in the dark world of Jaguars’ fans. The quarterback every NFL scout dreams of finding and acquiring is now tantalizingly close to wearing black and teal.
Now all the Jaguars have to do is lose their last two games, or finish with the same record as the Jets, and they’ll likely land a once-in-a-generation quarterback with similar pre-draft hype to John Elway (1983) and Andrew Luck (2012), and more than Peyton Manning (1998).
Going into Sunday’s final home game against the Chicago Bears, it all makes for an awfully weird dynamic – Jaguars’ fans rooting against the hometown team. If the Jets can knock off the Browns at home, a Jaguars’ loss actually delivers one of the biggest wins in franchise history because it probably locks up draft access to Lawrence.
All of this puts many inside the Jaguars’ building in an uncomfortable quandary. Head coach Doug Marrone, his staff and the players don’t care one iota about which draft pick they get for obvious reasons. They’re paid to win games and want to put out quality tape for future employers. Besides, most of them won’t be with the Jaguars in 2021 anyway.
But for all other company employees, especially a sales department entrusted with selling season tickets, the possibility of landing Lawrence is impossible to not salivate over, even if it must be done in hushed tones.
'Tempered enthusiasm' among Jaguars
One source connected to the Jaguars, but not an employee, described the mood in the building this week as “tempered enthusiasm.”
Team President Mark Lamping fully grasps the tightrope that must be walked now that the franchise has a grip, which could still be temporary, on the No. 1 pick for the first time.
Remember, Lamping is trying to sell the passage of Lot J on behalf of owner Shad Khan to the City Council, a vote expected to be taken a few days after the regular season ends. It certainly wouldn’t hurt the chances of the vote going in Khan’s favor if the Jaguars were in position to acquire Lawrence.
When asked about the Lawrence rapture engulfing Jacksonville, Lamping was, shall we say, diplomatic.
“I’ve noticed that, it’s great to see people engaged. There’s a lot of conversation, that’s for sure,” said Lamping. “The draft will take care of itself. I’m sure whatever is going to play out will play out.
“But that’s not my responsibility. One thing we’ve been consistent over the years is, on the business side, we don’t control wins and losses or the draft. We focus on things we have influence on. I know that’s a little bit of a dodging answer.”
Sure it is, but the ticklish position Jaguars employees now find themselves demands it. They’re sensitive to the awkward position of feeling good about a Jaguars’ loss on Sunday. It’s a testament to the power and financial impact of Trevor Lawrence.
The moment the Jaguars lock up the No. 1 pick, and Lawrence makes it official that he’s entering the draft, season-ticket sales will spike substantially. Once his No. 16 jersey (last worn by receiver C.J Board in 2019) comes out, it’ll fly off the shelves.
If Lawrence becomes anywhere near as good as his talent suggests, and consistent playoff appearances eventually happen, it’s incalculable the money the Jaguars would generate. Who knows, it might be enough local revenue to convince Khan to eventually stop playing a home game every year in London.
But that’s getting ahead of the story. Lawrence isn’t in black-and-teal yet. It’s all just fantasy football until the Jaguars secure the No. 1 pick, and there’s no guarantee of that happening. The Jets’ road win over the first-place Los Angeles Rams came a week after they got blown out, 40-3, against the Seattle Seahawks. That’s the unpredictability of the NFL, especially during the December grind.
To Marrone’s credit, he has no intention of handing the Chicago Bears a victory. He has too much integrity and respect for the game to do that, and his players have a responsibility to follow suit.
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If the Jaguars purposely held out healthy players to increase their chances of not winning, that would deserve more criticism than the blistering comments sure to descend on them from fans and certain media members if they actually beat the Bears.
That’s why a lot of black-and-teal supporters may be torn as the game unfolds Sunday. Do they cheer or gasp if James Robinson scores a touchdown to give the Jaguars a lead? Will they scream in delight or frustration at the TV set when Gardner Minshew or Mike Glennon – whichever one starts Sunday -- completes a long pass to move the chains?
Marrone understands the fans
Marrone has no issue with fans who hope the Jaguars continue to lose because he remembers being “fired up” as a 15-year-old kid when his favorite team, the Detroit Lions, secured the No. 1 pick in 1980. That’s because he knew that would mean them drafting Oklahoma running back Billy Sims, who made three Pro Bowls in five years before suffering a career-ending knee injury.
When reflecting on his feelings as a teenager, Marrone added he understands the mad love the Jaguars’ fan base has for Lawrence, though never mentioning him specifically by name.
“I always want to make sure that I understand it,” said Marrone. “I don’t judge that. I don’t look at that. I told the players today, obviously there’s a lot of [Lawrence] talk now. I told the players we don’t know what the future holds, we don’t know what tomorrow holds. . . . When you’re not winning football games, there’s going to be a lot of talk out there and you have to understand that. It’s what we brought upon ourselves.
“To go ahead and battle, to try to be argumentative in what people that love the program and love the Jacksonville Jaguars and what they’re feeling. . . . It’s their right. I understand it. I don’t really have a feeling either way. I’m not pissed off or I’m not overly excited about it.”
The truth is, it’d be phenomenal to see Lawrence in Jacksonville, but let the season play out accordingly. Nobody should deny Jaguars’ players who have suffered through a 13-game losing streak the joy of experiencing victory, even at the expense of losing Clemson’s golden boy.
Jaguars’ fans should remember they wouldn’t be so gleeful over being in the top draft spot had the 0-13 Jets not given maximum effort and executed so well against the Rams. The Jaguars owe it to themselves to try and do the same against the Bears, and everybody just let the chips fall where they may.
But by all means, go ahead and be jubilant over the delicious possibility of Trevor Lawrence in a Jaguars’ uniform. Dream on. It’s hard not to think about the potential transformation of a downtrodden franchise.
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