OPINION: Florida’s eyes are on you, Jags

Ethan Leckie, Opinions Reporter

Well, hasn’t this been quite the playoffs? It only seems fitting that one of the craziest NFL seasons in my recent memory has had an equally unpredictable postseason to match. However, for us Floridians, it has been an especially historic occasion.

For the first time since 1997, all three Florida-based teams qualified for the playoffs. How did they do? Well, that’s partially why I’m writing this in the first place. The Miami Dolphins, lacking quarterback Tua Tagovailoa did far better than anyone expected, coming back from a score of 17-0 and briefly taking the lead, but still lost to the Buffalo Bills, 34-31 (the ghost of Len Dawson smiles upon Mike McDaniel). 

As for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they… made it? With the help of an atrocious NFC South division, this 8-9 team somehow got to play an extra game, and for the first time since Jimmy Johnson had real hair, most of America was rooting for the Dallas Cowboys to win said game. They did, 31-14 (Brett Maher is probably still stuck in Tampa).

So, who remains? The Jacksonville Jaguars, of course! Just like everyone predicted! Benefitting from the Tennessee Titans’ seven-game losing streak and a five-game winning streak of their own, these upstart Jaguars finished the season 9-8, securing their fourth divisional title in team history and their first playoff berth since 2017. 

In their Wild Card match last Saturday, they wowed us again, first in a bad way, then in a good way, finishing their 27-point comeback with a 31-30 win against the Los Angeles Chargers. This improbable series of events also became the third-largest comeback in NFL postseason history in a season where we already saw the largest comeback in NFL history, playoffs or otherwise.

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) sets back to pass during the first half of an NFL wild-card football game, against the Los Angeles Chargers, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Before coming to UNF, I had never lived in a city with an NFL team. Sure, Orlando has the Magic (Paolo Banchero is definitely Rookie of the Year) and Orlando City to root for, but basketball has far too many games to care about and soccer is still a niche hobby in America. Professional sports in Orlando always felt like an afterthought, and it certainly didn’t help that the last time the Magic were good was when I was a kindergartener.

As we all know, football is king. So when I got to Jacksonville, it took me some time to fully process the fact that a professional football franchise was playing in my backyard. Have the Jaguars always been good? Hell no. However, it’s been very fun to see an entire city excited about the exact same thing every Sunday from September to December.

That’s what I love about sports. It’s something that the young and old, Democrats and Republicans, and gays and straights can all rally around. I might have completely different beliefs and experiences than the dude sitting next to me, but damn it, if our team doesn’t win then we’re going to be sad all night. That’s another thing; when we talk about our favorite teams, we never use words like them. It’s always we because these teams are far more than just a group of athletes sweating on a field. They’re cultural institutions, a sign of where you come from and what you’re loyal to.

This is a special time for Jacksonville but also for the entire state of Florida. With the other two teams sent home, the Jaguars are the only Sunshine State team left. Was it always the Jags? No, but it is now. And for the first time in a while (*cough* 2017), there’s genuine optimism that this team can go far.   

So go get ‘em, and deny Andy Reid his victory cheeseburger. Beat those damn Chiefs. All of Florida is watching you now. Showtime, baby.


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].