Last week, the Steelers began a set of games against two AFC South opponents who have historically been a source of frustration. With a win over the Titans, the team sets its sights on the Jacksonville Jaguars, another franchise that has given Pittsburgh fits!
In the spring of 1995, two games stood out as nearly automatic wins to most Steelers fans. Those contests pitted Pittsburgh against the "pitiful," 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 heading into the year.
Yet, in lieu of all of that business, nothing was odder in the AFC Central than those new cats with the teal uniforms.
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.
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.
And, as it would turn out, the Steelers never really got to beat down the lame "expansion team." From the start, the Jaguars were better than expected- and even good!
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.
For the Jaguars, there was a simple truism. 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 road 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 out of the gates, winning the AFC Central 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.
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.
Even after the divisions were changes, the Jags continued to pester Pittsburgh, beating the Steelers in Mike Tomlin's inaugural playoff game as head coach.
Surely, some fans in the 'Burgh see these games as a chance for big brother to finally put that "little pest in his place!"
This Sunday, the Steelers have a chance to appease fans who have long awaited the day that the team took care of business against the Jacksonville Jaguars!