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Steelers Extra: A little hatred and a lot at stake can turn opponents into passionate rivals

Saturday, October 02, 1999

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Greg Lloyd came out of nowhere to crush an unsuspecting Keenan McCardell in 1997 here, then he came out of the blue with his explanation. Lloyd accused the Jaguars' wide receiver of making a threatening phone call to his family the week before the game.

Hello, Greg, this is Keenan McCardell of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and I'm going to KILL you. See you Sunday. Click.

"So," said an incredulous Earl Holmes of the Steelers, "you're telling me that wasn't actually him who made that call?"

Hmmmm.

"I just know Greg was teed off."

It was another in a list of bizarre, vicious and comical incidents that have turned the short series between the Steelers and Jaguars as sweet as a sucker punch.

"I don't know if it's the chemistry," Steelers safety Lee Flowers said, "but for some reason when Jacksonville and the Steelers get on the field, there's just all kind of drama going on."

Once the rivalry was Oakland, once it was Houston, almost always it is Cleveland, but for current pure animosity, Jacksonville has become the late '90s rival for the Steelers.

It got off to a fast start when the upstart Jaguars upset the Steelers in their very first meeting in 1995, 20-16. It took off the following year when guard Brian DeMarco accused Lloyd of kicking him in the groin and he threatened to retaliate. Instead, Lloyd was lost for the '96 season with a knee injury in the first game at Jacksonville, a day also noted for Jim Miller's one half of one game as the Steelers' new starting quarterback. Linebackers Jason Gildon and Steve Conley also left that game with injuries.

"They really put a whuppin' on us," Holmes said. "We were coming off the Super Bowl and they had beaten the team that went to Super Bowl. That pretty much put the rivalry in effect.

"Everything else is history. We made a goalline stand to beat them once up here. We won in overtime. We went for a field goal to win the game down there, the guy blocked that and Coach Cowher jumped at the guy.

"Yeah, it's a big rivalry game."

Bill Cowher nearly pulled off the most memorable play in Monday Night Football history on Sept. 22, 1997 in Jacksonville. Norm Johnson lined up to kick what would have been the game-winning field goal on the last play, but it was blocked and Jacksonville's Chris Hudson picked up the ball and ran down the sideline in front of the Steelers' bench. Cowher stepped onto the field, raised his forearm and thought of hitting Hudson as he went by.

He did not, preventing this from becoming an even bigger rivalry.

There was also the overtime win by the Steelers a month later back here. Lloyd stopped running back James Stewart on fourth-and-goal at the one in the third quarter with Jacksonville holding a three-point lead. The Steelers then drove 98 yards for a touchdown. Jerome Bettis won it in overtime on a 17-yard run with a shovel pass.

Last year, the Steelers crushed the Jaguars in Three Rivers Stadium when Dewayne Washington intercepted two Mark Brunell passes, which brought the quarterback a rebuke from Coach Tom Coughlin on the way home to Jacksonville.

The Jaguars returned the favor in a meaningless Monday night game in Jacksonville that ended last season and brought even more animosity when a mascot taunted the Steelers on the field.

It's a nice, little rivalry that has filled the void after Cleveland disappeared and the Houston Oilers went to Nashville.

Dan Rooney, who added to it this week when he suggested what Jack Lambert or Greg Lloyd would have done to that mascot, has seen rivalries come and go.

"The Browns rivalry transcends all the others," Rooney said. "We've had rivalries with the Raiders in the '70s with the fights and all that stuff. We had them with the Oilers when they played here for the AFCchampionship games, and we also had a rivalry with Cincinnati when they were really good in the '70s.

"Now Jacksonville is a rivalry because they're on top. But Cleveland is always there."

Until the Browns can close that 43-point gap, however, Jacksonville will command his players' attention more than anyone, particularly since the Jaguars finally knocked the Steelers off the AFC Central mountaintop.

"It would be nice to get back on top," center Dermontti Dawson said. "They're the kings, they're the defending champs. That's something to shoot at for us."

The rivalry has been accentuated by the way Jacksonville has picked up former Steelers, sometimes just in the week before they play them. They signed quarterback Jim Miller two weeks before they played the Steelers in 1997 and cut him the week after the game.

They also sent a scout this summer to one Steelers training camp practice in Greensburg, to their scrimmage against the Redskins in Frostburg, Md., and to three of their four exhibition games.

Coughlin hired former Steelers defensive coordinator Dom Capers this year and put him in charge of his defense, which is similar to the one he ran here, although out of a 4-3 and not a 3-4. Cowher hired Kevin Gilbride to run his offense, a job Gilbride also held in Jacksonville.

The teams traded safeties through free agency with Carnell Lake going to Jacksonville and Travis Davis coming here.

"They have Carnell down there and he probably knows this defense as well as anybody in this locker room," Flowers said. "You have all the tangibles there to be a great game."

Davis has seen the rivalry from both perspectives.

"It pretty much was everything down there. They know that you had to beat the Steelers if you wanted to go on and win the AFC Central Division. Down there it was the No. 1 game. Cleveland was always the rivalry here. But now it's the Jaguars.

"Everybody's looking forward to it."



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