Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Brunell, Longtime Face of Franchise, Deserving of Honor

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Brunell, Longtime Face of Franchise, Deserving of Honor

Article excerpt

Byline: Gene Frenette

If you're trying to gauge the best Jaguar to ever play the game, there were probably a few teammates who belong above Mark Brunell.

But in franchise history, no player was more indispensable during the team's glory years. And during his time in teal and black, nobody made a bigger impact in connecting with the community beyond football. Whether it was charitable causes or making an honest effort at being a role model, Brunell took the initiative.

When Tom Coughlin traded a third-round and fifth-round pick to the Green Bay Packers before the 1995 draft to obtain Brunell, it was considered a fair and reasonable price tag for an unproven quarterback.

It turns out the Jaguars, and the city of Jacksonville, got a steal. The 43-year-old quarterback being inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars during Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills - joining Tony Boselli and Fred Taylor as the only players in that exclusive club - delivered for Jacksonville way beyond its initial investment.

After taking the starting job from Steve Beuerlein in the Jaguars' expansion season, Brunell was the driving force in the team reaching the playoffs the next four years. Receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark a combined 11 times with Brunell as their trigger man.

"I remember [offensive coordinator] Kevin Gilbride pulled me aside in our first training camp and said, 'You got a chance to be the starter here. How long that takes is up to you,' " said Brunell. "Once we got things rolling, it was a fun ride."

Brunell's numbers over nine seasons in Jacksonville were very good (25,698 passing yards, touchdown-interception ratio of 144-86, three Pro Bowls), though not spectacular. As southpaw quarterbacks go, he was about midway between Steve Young and Jim Zorn.

However, Brunell is one of those players whose impact on the franchise cannot be measured just by statistics. He was the player most associated with giving the Jaguars a national presence, jump-started, of course, by the 1996 playoff run to the AFC Championship game.

Without Brunell, one of the greatest upsets in NFL playoff history - the 30-27 comeback victory over the top-seeded Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium - never materializes. He outdueled Hall of Famer John Elway, throwing TD passes to McCardell and Smith, plus running 29 yards on a scramble to set up the Jaguars' final score.

That was Brunell's signature game, but it by no means defines his legacy in Jacksonville. Contrary to perception, getting into the Pride of the Jaguars isn't necessarily just what someone does on the field.

In terms of contribution, Brunell earned almost as much acclaim for what he did when he wasn't throwing passes. He immersed himself in building goodwill, from establishing his foundation to benefit Wolfson Children's Hospital, to espousing his Christian faith and being at the forefront in creating the non-denominational Southpoint Community Church. …

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