Moeller: Florida Feasted on the NFL Playoffs in 1997

By Jeff Moeller

It was 1997 and Florida was a pro football feast.

The Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and those infant Jacksonville Jaguars all punched their ticket to the postseason. It was January, and pro football took center stage in the sunshine state.

Miami had an 8-8 record under Jimmy Johnson and 36-year-old Dan Marino and a forgotten running back named Karim Abdul-Jabbar. Tampa had a 10-6 record with Tony Dungy at the helm and Trent Dilfer had called signals. Jacksonville had an 11-5 mark under legendary head coach Tom Coughlin and upstart quarterback Mark Brunnell.

The Dolphins were dumped in the wildcard game, while the Bucs and Jaguars both made it both to the divisional round before their seasons ended. Jacksonville lost to eventual Super Bowl champion Denver, who got there behind running back Terrel Davis.

Now, ironically, 25 (if you count the season) years (or 26) later, all three will kick off the postseason this weekend with only Miami on the road at Buffalo.

Pro football is alive again in Florida. For the first time since 1997, all three Florida teams are in the playoffs. Chances are, that situation may flourish for a while. Miami and Jacksonville can continue to build on their foundations, while Tampa Bay likely will have to replaster its base.

Miami arguably has the toughest task ahead in Buffalo. The Dolphins are back in the big dance for the first time since 2016 and they are aiming for their first win since 2000.

Skylar Thompson will quarterback the Dolphins in a Bills’ environment that will be juiced with the recovery of Damar Hamlin as well as Super Bowl fever. It will be hovering around freezing at kickoff, and the Dolphins will have trouble warming up against the Bills’ defense. If Tua Tagovailoa was healthy, it would be a tighter game.

Yet, Dolphins’ fans can feel assured that there is a productive future ahead.

In Jacksonville, the Jaguars are back on the national scene Saturday night when they host the LA Chargers, a team they soundly beat in Week Three in LA, 38-10.

There was an uneasy feeling at TIAA Field last week for the 70,000-plus about the Jaguars advancing past the Titans until the fourth quarter.

Trevor Lawrence’s costly second-quarter fumble on an attempted toss to Jamal Agnew led to a Titans’ touchdown and a 10-0 Tennessee lead that jumped to a 13-7 halftime advantage.

Josh Allen saved the day when he scooped up a fumble and returned it for a game-winning touchdown with under two minutes left to play that turned TIAA Field into a state of delirious madness.
These days, there’s something in the air in Jacksonville, and all the football gods appear to be in place again for the Jags again.

You have to believe. What was Jacksonville’s last postseason game? Try the 2018 AFC Championship Game in a loss to New England.

Enough said.

While the stars apparently are aligned in Jacksonville, there are more and more rumblings about Tom Brady’s finale in Tampa. Derek Carr comes to Tampa next year, and Brady heads to Sin City to end his illustrious career. Somehow, that doesn’t fit the script.

The Tampa-Dallas showdown is a hard one to call. The Bucs don’t look like a NFC South champion, and it’s clear that Brady’s best days are behind him. They certainly took a hit when Bruce Arians left and Todd Bowles is showing why he couldn’t win the big games when he was with the Jets.

It will also be a matter of which Dallas team shows up. The Cowboys can look like Super Bowl contenders one week, and pretenders another week.

Still, Brady is still Brady. He may still have some tricks left in his bag. Since his return, Dak Prescott hasn’t provided a secure feeling for Cowboys’ fans with his propensity to throw the pick.

Dallas should have enough firepower, especially if their defense rises to the occasion. For the crazed faithful at Raymond James Stadium, they could see the end of their short championship when the clock strikes midnight Monday night.

Yet, Florida football fans should cherish the moment. Their teams have accomplished a feat for the first time in a long time.

However, that Jaguar storybook run from last to first still should have one more week in its run.

(Columnist Jeff Moeller covers the NFL and other sports for SportsDay and the Florida Sports Wire.)

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