JACKSONVILLE – Now, seriously … was that cool or what?
We’re not talking about the Jaguars’ 20-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field on a perfect late-December Sunday afternoon. When you think of the 2013 regular-season home finale at the ‘Bank, it won’t be the score you remember.
A play late in the first quarter told you all you needed to know about this game. It also told you a lot about what you need to know about the Jaguars 2013 season.
A nine-yard pass from Chad Henne to center Brad Meester …
That’s right, a pass to a center.
“It was awesome they did that for him,” Jaguars running back
And you know what? That quote couldn’t be more dead-on. Because this was indeed awesome.
Really, really awesome.
“You talk about memories you take on for the rest of your life,” Meester said afterward. “That’s one I’ll always remember.”
Meester, 14-year NFL and Jaguars veteran and the holder of every longevity record that matters around this franchise, on Sunday played his final game at EverBank Field. He had announced earlier this week announced he will retire after the season.
The team planned accordingly. A post-game retirement speech. A highlight video. Four framed jerseys. A cover photo on the game program. Heartfelt stuff, but hardly unexpected.
You want to know what wasn’t expected? That with a little more than five minutes remaining in the first quarter, you would hear the official over the loudspeaker say, “Sixty-three reports eligible.”
Sixty-three is the number Meester has worn for 208 Jaguars games.
Sixty-three? Eligible? Cool.
You know what else wasn’t expected? That No. 63 would be targeted, that he would make the catch, that he would turn second-and-8 from the 13 into first-and-goal on the four.
Now, that …
Well, that was really cool. Teammates thought it was cool. Shoot, they were ready to run onto the field and take the 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty had he scored.
“The bench probably would have emptied – I’m not going to lie to you,” Jones-Drew said.
Meester, a second-round selection in the 2000 NFL Draft from Northern Iowa, is the only player to have played for all five Jaguars head coaches. He has done so in very low-key fashion, which meant Sunday was particularly unusual for him.
When he was brought to the team meeting room for the post-game press conference, he noted that he never had been to the room in that situation. Shown the podium where he would speak, he laughed.
“Oh no,” he said, smiling.
He talked a lot about the day, and admitted he was emotional. He didn’t cry, but he said got emotional in pregame warmup when he realized some of the signs in the stands were about him for the first time. He got emotional, too, going through the Prowl and realizing it was for the last time. He said equally emotional was learning he would be the only player introduced in pregame introductions.
As for the play, he learned of it in meetings Wednesday.
“I started going through the playbook and found deep in there was, ‘Five Weak O-Line Screen to Brad,” he said. “I was like, ‘There ain’t no way.’ I thought maybe (offensive tackle)
Meester was exhausted from a long drive by the time the situation arose, and when it did, he said mainly he worried about catching the ball. The Jaguars practiced the play three or four times this week, but that was different. No pads. No opposing defense. No pressure. And Meester knew if he dropped the one pass ever thrown his way by a professional, he’d hear more than a little from the guys with whom he must still work for seven more days.
“That was the one thing I was focusing on was catching it,” Meester said, laughing, then added seriously, “I thank (offensive coordinator Jedd) Fisch and all the guys for giving me the opportunity to do that.”
Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said afterward the play was Fisch’s idea, and though Bradley said the Jaguars thought they could get a touchdown out of the play, he laughed when asked of the play would have been in had it not been Meester’s final game.
“I think that was part of it – a real big part of it,” Bradley said with a smile.
Don’t underestimate that attitude, that approach. That’s why the play mattered and why it said a great deal about the 2013 season.
These coaches, this staff – Bradley, in particularly – get what’s important, and get how to run this team. Bradley gets that a guy like Meester doesn’t happen for a franchise often, and how Meester was treated this week will resonate with players long after he’s gone.
“Even though this is their first year here in Jacksonville, they understand what he’s brought to the franchise for the last 14 seasons,” Jaguars seven-year veteran guard Uche Nwaneri said. “They really respect what he’s done and what he’s all about with his professional nature and how he’s always been a leader on the team. Brad has always exemplified what it is to be a professional athlete and how to be a student of the game, so we really enjoy every moment we get with him.”
Those moments are quickly coming to a close. In a week there will be no more. But on Sunday there was one early in the game that Meester said he’ll never forget.
The fact that the Jaguars coaches gave him that …
The fact that we all saw it and laughed and smiled and felt good for the guy for a moment . . .
Now, seriously …. was that cool or what?