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Brunell gives Jaguars hope in Denver

Image: Mark Brunell (© Stephen Dunn/Allsport/Getty Images)
Mark Brunell led the Jaguars to an upset of the Broncos.
FOX Sports By David Whitley, Special to FOXSports.com
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So you’re betting that Jacksonville has absolutely no hope against Denver on Sunday? Mark Brunell has something to say about that.

Before you call to have him Baker Acted, it should be noted that Brunell wasn’t talking about Jacksonville actually beating the Broncos. He thinks the 28-point spread is wacko.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said.

Brunell can’t help recalling an eerily similar scenario 16 years ago. It was at Mile High Stadium. Denver media called them the “Jagwads.” Facing a Hall of Fame quarterback, they were one of the biggest underdogs in playoff history.

Jagwads 30, Denver 27.

Could it happen Sunday?

Get serious. Again, we’re not talking about Jacksonville winning. We’re talking about the Jaguars maintaining what’s left of their dignity.

There have been approximately 10,500 games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. This is the biggest point spread since, and probably the biggest since the first bookie landed in Las Vegas.

On sheer numbers, that makes it the biggest insult. It could only happen to Jacksonville, the most abused city in NFL history.

Charlotte was ecstatic to get the first franchise awarded in the 1993 expansion.

When Jacksonville got one a month later, Charlotte media joked that it was like winning the Miss America pageant and finding out the runner-up was Roseanne Barr.

Other than being the hometown of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tim Tebow (try to top that, Charlotte), the Jaguars are the city’s main source of civic pride. Now we’re just one blowout away from having the World Wildlife Fund demand Jacksonville change its nickname since it is offensive to jaguars.

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That’s why if you’ve gotten a wedgie from the school bully or been turned down for a date by a Roseanne lookalike, you should cheer for the Jags on Sunday. Even if you’re not a loser, do it out of a sense of compassion.

“There is a measure of dread here,” Brunell said.

Every gambler in North America knows why. Denver is looking at 16-0. Jacksonville is looking at 0-16.

Denver scored 51 points last week; Jacksonville has scored 51 points all season.

Denver has Peyton Manning (QB rating 136.4); Jacksonville has Blaine Gabbert (QB rating DOA).

Manning has 20 touchdown passes; Gabbert has one, not counting the three he’s thrown to the other team.

The good news for Jacksonville is Gabbert has a bad hamstring and isn’t expected to play. The bad news is his replacement, Chad Henne, isn’t much better.

He’ll be protected by a make-shift line after top pick -- No. 2 overall -- Luke Joeckel broke his ankle last week.

That was five days after Jacksonville traded its other starting tackle to Baltimore.

The Jags aren’t just bad, they’re cursed. It’s enough to drive fans to drink, which the Jaguars tried.

They gave away two free beers to fans at their last home game. All that did was serve up another round of ridicule, especially after Mothers Against Drunk Driving complained.

How did a once-respectable franchise end up on skid row?

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“If you ask 10 people, you’ll get 10 answers,” Brunell said.

Tom Coughlin was fired 11 years ago. Jack Del Rio took things from mediocre to bad. Mike Mularkey was in charge of bad to worse. Now Gus Bradley is overseeing worse to whatever this is.

The dysfunction has revved the talk about empty seats, tiny TV market and how the Jaguars will inevitably move to Los Angeles or London or any city that doesn’t have a Waffle House on every corner. It’s all tearing a hole in Brunell’s heart.

He led the Jaguars to two AFC title games in the 1990s, and retired to Jacksonville. He loves the city, and last week became the third player named to the Pride of the Jaguars. That’s Jacksonville’s greatest football honor outside of being named an honorary Tebow.

Like Bradley, Brunell is a rookie head coach. His Episcopal High Eagles are 2-3 after a 59-7 loss to Trinity Christian last week. Las Vegas would probably make them a 24-point underdog to the Broncos.

“What Jacksonville needs more than anything is to just win one game,” Brunell said.

Just win, baby. That was Al Davis’ mantra, and he didn’t care how the Raiders did it. Jacksonville’s best hope might be if Bradley shows the 1997 playoff game on the flight to Denver.

The Jaguars were two years old. They went 9-7 and upset Buffalo in the first playoff game. That impressed oddsmakers so much they made Jacksonville a 14½-point underdog to John Elway’s machine.

“Nobody gave us a chance,” Brunell said.

The Jaguars didn’t give themselves much of one, either.

“I think a lot of us in the locker room were surprised,” Brunell said. “We looked around and said, ‘Golly gee, we actually won that game! We pulled that off!' ”

“Golly gee” was not the operative phrase in Denver after the game. Forget last year’s loss against Baltimore. Losing to the expansion Jaguars ranks as the all-time playoff wedgie.

“I’m just going to go home, sit on my couch and probably cry,” Shannon Sharpe said.

As the Jaguars’ plane approached the airport that night, it veered south and circled over the Gator Bowl. Almost 40,000 fans had gathered for a midnight pep rally.

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It was like the Miss America pageant with Roseanne turning into a Victoria’s Secret model. The players were bused over, and everybody reveled in the magnificence of Jacksonville and its football team.

Now, despite the historic spread, about 60 percent of the money is reportedly being bet against the Jaguars. That despite the fact Gabbert isn’t playing and Denver’s defense (coached by Del Rio) might have trouble stopping Episcopal High.

It’s bad enough to be insulted. The only thing worse would be proving the all-time slap in the face was warranted.

“What is it, 26 or 27?” Brunell asked.

It’s 28.

His mind raced back to 1997.

Just cover, baby. Poor little Jacksonville has suffered enough.

Tagged: Tim Tebow, Broncos, Jets, Jaguars, Mark Brunell, Blaine Gabbert

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