Tempers have cooled and absence has made the heart grow fonder (or more tolerant), but little more than a decade ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars were in the midst of establishing one of the most passionate rivalries in the NFL.
In the "old" AFC Central loomed storied franchises who embodied rich pasts, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Along for the ride were the "Luv' Ya, Blue!" Houston Oilers and the snake-bitten Cincinnati Bengals. ;
Pittsburgh was the biggest bully on the block, in the midst of "Cowher Power," and preparing itself for a "One for the Thumb" championship. Truly, the AFC Central belonged to the Steelers in the mid-90's, a time when Super Bowl aspirations were high!
Following a narrow defeat to the San Diego Chargers in January, the Steelers looked ahead to the 1995 season as an opportunity to return to the AFC Championship Game and win.
Pittsburgh was the perennial favorite in the division and the American Conference, and Steelers fans couldn't be blamed if they perceived the road to Arizona (the host site for the Super Bowl) a bit easier.
Two winnable games stood out like sore thumbs, and the opponent was the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. After all, expansion teams were "freebies," and to many towel-twirling fans, Pittsburgh was perceived as having a 2-0 handicap.
In this time, the Baltimore Ravens were a team dressed in brown and Pittsburgh's arch-rival. The season that was 1995 would become the springboard for odd circumstances. These unbelievable happenings truly set the stage for a new rivalry to be born in the final years of the old Central Division.
In that season, the Cleveland Browns owner, Art Modell, would announce his plans to relocate his franchise, prompting Steelers fans to wear orange bands during a Monday Night Football game as a showing of support for fans against the move.
Later, the Titans would be birthed from the former Houston Oilers, and in the first year of realignment, Houston's new franchise would be the Texans, an old Dallas franchise that is now the Kansas City Chiefs!
(Taking a breath for air....)
Yet, in lieu of all of that business, nothing was odder in the AFC Central than those new cats with the teal uniforms.
Like a defensive kitten with sharp teeth and a penchant to strike its claws at those who approach it, the Jags were pesky. Steelers fans perceived a 20-16 loss to the expansion Jaguars as a display of their own team's deficiencies.
After all, expansion squads, a la the 1976 Tampa Buccaneers, didn't win games let alone beat great teams.
The warning signs were there, though, that both new teams, Jacksonville and Carolina (who beat the great 49ers in the NFC West that season), could be a new breed of cat as it concerned first-year franchises in the NFL.
Unlike prior expansions, the two teams were afforded additional draft picks on top of the expansion lottery, which allowed them to pick players from the other NFL franchises.
On top of this, the free agency era, which allowed teams to wheel and deal for players more freely than restrictive eras, gave the squads the opportunity to solidify an actual competitive roster.
The result was two squads that combined for 11 wins in their inaugural seasons. In their sophomore campaigns, Jacksonville and Carolina both competed in their respective conference's championship bout, a feat that both teams have not combined to accomplish in the same season since that unpredictable 1996 campaign.
Kittens and little brothers are very similar. They are scrappy when they're little, but they'll reserve themselves to a dominant figure if they press hard enough.
Unlike little brothers, however, both clubs became cats, with a big bite, in the space of under a year. In this case, the older brother is a proud franchise that is more than 60 years the senior of its opponent.
The storied Steelers saw the Browns leave town, and with Baltimore off to a slow start, it was absolutely unexpected that the Jacksonville Jaguars, who hardly earned their stripes for such successes, would be their new arch-rival.
Yet, that's exactly how it was!
Losing in 1995 in the clubs' first-ever meeting, the Steelers wrote the defeat off as an aberration, defeating the Jags later in the season, 24-7, during a classic win streak that propelled them to their first Super Bowl since 1980.
The tried and true tradition of Pittsburgh would seemingly be no match for the inexperienced Jaguars, who went on record as saying they chose to design themselves after the Steelers, hoping to meet and exceed their rivals as the king of the AFC Central Division. The fast track to NFL legitimacy would be to dethrone the storied Steelers.
Immediately, Jacksonville held true to their belief that beating Pittsburgh was critical to their success. The Steelers lost all of their first five games against the Florida rivals, assuring the seeds of NFL rivalry would be planted and properly cultivated: balance of power....and hatred!
The Jaguars viewed the Steelers as "beating big brother," while the Men of Steel saw their ego as bruised with losses to the young franchise. By 1997, the most classic season of the rivalry, both teams had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Yet, the Steelers, for superiority or pride or both, fended off Jacksonville in their pursuit of the division title.
Nevertheless, like the car of the same name, the Jaguars wasted little time in clinching the division, winning it by 1998.
Realignment in 2002 separated the Steelers from their hated impersonators, but the ire of a heated rivalry continues to feed both teams when they meet for occasional inter-divisional battles to this day.
It's probably less intense for Pittsburgh, but nevertheless, memories of the late 1990's still burn in the fans old enough to remember!
The Jaguars still call it "Pittsburgh Week," and the Steelers and their fans certainly want to set the record straight against a franchise that has won exactly six fewer Super Bowls, yet boasts a distinct advantage in the series, 12-9.
The edge includes a four-game win streak, shutout, and a three-game stretch in which the Steelers did not score a touchdown.
Surely, some fans in the 'Burgh see these games as a chance for big brother to finally put that "little pest in his place!"
In a rivalry that has varied in its intensity, these are the 10 greatest games, pitting Man vs. Cat in the form of Men of Steel vs. Jaguars.