By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)
I have never met a Jaguars fan that doesn’t like Mark Brunell. It may sound cliche’ or rehearsed or even a Will Rogers verse, but it is so true. The man who became the face of this franchise and led the team to two AFC Championship games was called the “Next Steve Young” at the height of his career, and believe or not, he's been in the league long enough, and with enough franchises, to finally earn a Super Bowl ring with New Orleans in 2009. Tuesday he may have achieved his greatest honor.
Brunell will be honored as a member of the Pride of Jaguars and have his No. 8 immortalized forever inside EverBank Field.
For Brunell, it is a journey he started at the University of Washington, then in the NFL when was drafted by the Green Bay Packers, sitting behind some guy named Brett Favre winding up in Jacksonville through a trade.
A 3rd round and 5th round pick in the 1995 draft was all it took to bring the greatest quarterback in franchise history to our great city. Brunell started 13 games in 1995, completed 201 out of 346 passes, for 2,168 yards, with 15 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also rushed for 480 yards. Not too bad for an expansion team that won only four games in its first season.
While we are consumed with a player's statistics and memories created on the field, it is his off-field work we remember him from and the work he continues to do through his church, his community and Episcopal High School, where he serves as head football coach.
And if you ever needed to remember Brunell for anything, it is a smile that is infectious. It is safe to say, before there was a Tim Tebow who captivated this community, there was Mark Brunell.
“This is a dream come true,’’ he said in a story on Jacksonville.com. “Coming home to be a part of the organization that I love so much. This is real special. The passing records, they get broken eventually. The other individual awards, Pro Bowls and those things, big games sometimes get forgotten. But the opportunity to be on the Pride, that goes on. That lives on,’’ he added.
“It’s so special for me, not only me but for my children. It’s something I always hold dear. This is our version of the Hall of Fame so it’s special. Any time my grandkids come to the stadium, they get to look up at it and be a part of it. That’s cool. I’m thankful for Mr. Khan, [president] Mark [Lamping] and the Jaguars organization for allowing me to be a part of this.’’
It’s only appropriate that Brunell’s “calling” comes when his best friend, Tony Boselli and Fred Taylor are the only three players to be made a part of this honor. Other players like Donovan Darius, Keenan McCardell, John Henderson and Marcus Stroud are part of that “era” that made this team in the last 1990s the best in the NFL. Had it not been for the Tennessee Titans in 1999, we would have been in the Super Bowl playing St. Louis for an NFL title and the 1999 playoff game, where all you need to do is mention 62-7 and you know how good Brunell, Boselli and Taylor were.
As a fan of the game, I loved watching the left-handed quarterback beat you in the air and with his feet, a rare combination back then that has become commonplace now.
And as a fan, all I can say is thank you for allowing us to believe through your loyalty to the franchise and leadership, that at one point, we may have very well been the best in the NFL.
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