Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Familiar First Step Teams Battle for Sixth Time in 7 Openers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Familiar First Step Teams Battle for Sixth Time in 7 Openers

Article excerpt

Byline: Vito Stellino, Times-Union sports writer

Just five years ago, the Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers were the talk and the envy of the pro football world.

The most successful expansion franchises in NFL history, they both reached the conference title games in just their second seasons in 1996.

Five years later, the comparisons are still inevitable.

When they battle in the opening exhibition game for the sixth time in the last seven years tonight at Alltel Stadium, they'll both be coming off 7-9 seasons; but that's about all they have in common these days.

The Panthers haven't had a winning season since that run to the NFC Championship in 1996, while the Jaguars made four consecutive trips to the playoffs before slumping last year when they were hit by a rash of injuries.

But neither Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver nor coach Tom Coughlin is willing to make any comparisons with the Panthers.

"I admire [owner] Jerry Richardson and what they've done up there in Carolina," Weaver said. "We like to play them every year because we came into the league at the same time and we've built a nice rivalry. We don't try to make comparisons because you can't. The thing about success in this business is you've got to do your job, but you've got to be a little bit lucky and stay healthy."

Coughlin said, "We've never done a lot of comparing ourselves. The media has compared us naturally since day one because we came into the league at the same time. They're NFC. We're AFC. We play each other in preseason, wish each other well and that's about it."

The key difference between the teams is the Jaguars have had more stability. They've had the same owner, coach and quarterback since the beginning.

Weaver hired Coughlin on Feb. 21, 1994 -- 18 months before the team played its first game. The two have a relationship reminiscent of Clint Murchinson's backing of Tom Landry in Dallas (Murchinson gave Landry a 10-year deal in the mid-60s when he was under fire) and Dan Rooney's rapport with Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh.

Coughlin, who is likely to be Weaver's coach as long as he wants the job, made his most significant move his first year when he traded for quarterback Mark Brunell. Though they've had a rocky relationship at times, Coughlin and Brunell have been a winning combination.

By contrast, Richardson hired Bill Polian as his general manager and he hired Dom Capers as his first coach. Although Polian and Capers had instant success, Polian had his differences with the owner and left following the 1997 season. Capers was fired after a 4-12 disaster in 1998.

The Panthers then put the franchise in the hands of coach George Seifert, who won two Super Bowls in San Francisco but has struggled through 8-8 and 7-9 seasons in his first two years in Carolina. …

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