Score: Jaguars 30, Broncos 27
Date: Jan. 4, 1997 Site: Mile High Stadium
We have a winner. The voters picked Mark Brunell's pass to Jimmy Smith to beat the Denver Broncos in the playoffs as the Jacksonville Jaguars' most memorable play. And it's understandable because of what a huge upset that was, but Morten Andersen’s missed field goal in 1996 is the play that I consider the most memorable.
What happened in late December 1996 and early January 1997 is the most magical time in Jaguars history. The playoff victory in Buffalo and the amazing come-from-behind victory the following week in Denver against the top-seeded Broncos sent Jaguars fans into a frenzy.
Who can blame them? A second-year franchise playing in the conference title game? Ridiculous. The New Orleans Saints were born in 1967 but didn’t have a winning season until 1987. They didn’t get their first playoff victory until their 34th season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the playoffs in their fourth season (1979) but lost their first 26 games and went 7-37 in their first three seasons.
Yet here were the Jaguars, with a winning record and a postseason appearance one year after going 4-12.
Perhaps the most captivating part of their playoff run happened in the early morning hours following their 30-27 upset of the 14-point favorite Broncos, a game which included one of the other nominees for most memorable play. The pilot of the team charter had gotten word that about 40,000 fans who had watched the game on the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium scoreboards hadn’t left and were waiting for the team. He even detoured for a quick flyover of the stadium.
Fans lined the main road to Jacksonville International Airport and cheered as the team buses headed toward the stadium. They arrived to a raucous pep rally that lasted well past 1:30 a.m.
Even though the Jaguars lost at New England in the AFC Championship Game, that 16-day span remains the most wonderful time in franchise history -- even ahead of the 1999 season in which the Jaguars went 14-2 and lost in the AFC title game.
Remember how incredible it was? The amazement? electricity around the city?
None of that would have been possible without Andersen missing that field-goal attempt.
Andersen had made 59 consecutive field goals from 30 yards or closer dating back to 1989, and this was a 30-yarder from the middle of the field. Piece. Of. Cake.
But then ... his right foot slipped as he planted ... his left-footed attempt sailed just left of the upright ... and the Jaguars were in the playoffs.
That play started it all and it should be the one Jaguars fans never forget.