Labriola On

Labriola on a perpetual house of horrors

Ready or not, here it comes:

• "Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, Coach Coughlin. Happy birthday to you."

• I have seen a lot, and even heard a lot in stadiums on the road during three-plus decades of covering the Pittsburgh Steelers, but for consistent "I can't believe what I just saw/heard" moments, I have to give it to Jacksonville.

• When Jacksonville was awarded a franchise that would join the NFL as an expansion team for the 1995 season, as a show of loyalty to Commissioner Paul Tagliabue Dan Rooney volunteered to have the Jaguars become a part of the AFC Central Division along with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Houston. If that was a decision Dan Rooney never came to regret, I wouldn't be so sure about Bill Cowher.

• Being a division opponent meant the Steelers and Jaguars played a home-and-home series each season. The Steelers lost their first five games in Jacksonville, and during the years when the teams shared a division, the Jaguars held a 6-2 edge at home. Cowher's teams won a lot of games at a lot of venues, but in Jacksonville his teams were 3-7.

• The Steelers' misery there started in 1995, Jacksonville's inaugural season.

• During the 1995 season, Jacksonville opened with four straight losses, not unusual for an expansion team, but the fact there were no blowouts was a testament to Coughlin. The week before the Steelers were to arrive for their first nightmare vs. the Jaguars, Coughlin's team went to Houston and defeated the Oilers, 17-16. At least the Steelers wouldn't represent the first victory in Jacksonville franchise history.

• But that was small consolation. The Jaguars raced to a 14-0 lead, and their defense not only limited the Steelers to one offensive touchdown but it also forced red zone field goal of 19 and 22 yards. Jacksonville won, 20-16.

• The next year, the NFL schedule-makers recognized potential drama when they saw it, and so it was Steelers at Jaguars in the regular season opener, the defending conference champion Steelers and new acquisition Jerome Bettis looking for some payback after the previous year's embarrassment of losing to an expansion team. Little did the Steelers realize, things would get worse, not better.

• It was 82-degrees and humid that day, and Bettis had an asthma attack in the second half. The Steelers lost Greg Lloyd to a torn patellar, Levon Kirkland and Jason Gildon also went to the sideline with an injuries, and starting defensive end Kevin Henry was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Jaguars converted 63 percent on third downs, and held an edge in total net yards of 313-187, and in time of possession of 35:06-24:54. Then after wide receiver Jahine Arnold lost a fumble with about 50 seconds to play, during the change of possession television timeout, 70,210 delirious Jaguars fans sang "Happy Birthday" to Coughlin, who had turned 50 the day before. The final score was 24-9.

• In 1997, the Steelers again found themselves schedule for an early-season game in Jacksonville, and this time the schedule-makers upped the ante by making it a Monday night game.

• After a typical blah showing in the first half for a game in Jacksonville, the Steelers mounted a second half comeback and appeared on the verge of winning the game on a last-second field goal. With the Steelers trailing, 23-21, Norm Johnson lined up for a 40-yard kick he could make in his sleep. But Mike Tomczak bobbled the snap, and then Johnson's kick was blocked by Jacksonville defensive lineman Clyde Simmons. Safety Chris Hudson scooped up the loose ball, and as he was sprinting down the sideline in front of the Steelers bench on the way to a meaningless but painful touchdown, Cowher took a step onto the field and for a second looked as though he was going to hit Hudson as he sped past. The Jaguars won, 30-21.

• Once the Jaguars had asserted themselves as a confirmed thorn in the Steelers' side, the team's mascot got into the act. During the 1998 and 1999 seasons, both of which had the Steelers finish with losing records, Jaxon de Ville would play to the always capacity crowd when Jacksonville's division rival was in town by using the Steelers as the foil for sophomoric "comedy."

• There was the time the goof in the mascot suit came off the sideline and joined the Steelers offensive huddle, and the time it was part of a skit that ended with hanging a Kordell Stewart doll in effigy over the crossbar.

• To the Jaguars and their fans, it was all good fun. To the Steelers and their fans, not so much.

• In 2001, the Steelers again were in Jacksonville for the regular season opener, and again they lost, this time by 21-3. It was another brutally humid day in Jacksonville on Sunday, Sept. 9, and again the Steelers seemed to wilt. Stewart was responsible for three of the team's four turnovers – two interceptions and a lost fumble – and the Steelers were minus-4 in turnover ratio. They lost punter Josh Miller and were forced to enlist placekicker Kris Brown as the punter, and on his first attempt he dropped the snap before getting off a 28-yard punt.

• The next weekend was to be the Steelers' inaugural game in brand new Heinz Field with the Cleveland Browns serving as the opponent, but two days after the game, Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the United States. The NFL postponed its Week 2 schedule, and since their bye was the following weekend, the Steelers didn't play again until Sept. 30 in Buffalo. When they finally took the field against the Bills, it had been three weeks since their last game.

• On Sunday, the Steelers will play their 14th game against the Jaguars in Jacksonville, in the same stadium that has been the cause of so much misery since that franchise joined the NFL. And if they win, they finally wil get to .500 there

THE TOP 10 ARE CHASING CHASE
• Chase Claypool was the 11th wide receiver picked in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he is way more than the No. 11 rookie at the position to this point in the regular season. Going into the NFL's Week 10 schedule, there may be rookie receivers who have more catches to this point than Claypool, but none of them have ended up in the end zone as often as he has.

• Here's a rundown of the receivers picked before the Steelers used the No. 49 overall pick on Claypool along with their statistics so far:

• Henry Ruggs was the No. 12 overall pick by the Las Vegas Raiders. Today he ranks tied-for-191st in the NFL with 13 receptions for 251 yards (19.3 average) and one touchdown.

• Jerry Jeudy was the No. 15 overall pick by the Denver Broncos. Today he ranks tied-for-53rd in the NFL with 34 catches for 552 yards (16.2 average) and two touchdowns.

• CeeDee Lamb was the No. 17 overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys. Today he ranks 19th in the NFL with 44 catches for 595 yards (13.5 average) and three touchdowns.

• Jalen Reagor was the No. 21 overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles. Today he ranks tied-for-204th in the NFL with 12 catches for 159 yards (13.3 average) and one touchdown.

• Justin Jefferson was the No. 22 overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings. Today he ranks tied-for-24th in the NFL with 42 catches for 762 yards (18.1 average) and three touchdowns.

• Brandon Aiyuk was the No. 25 overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers. Today he ranks tied-for-46th in the NFL 35 catches for 446 yards (12.7 average) and three touchdowns.

• Tee Higgins was the No. 33 overall pick – the first selection of the second round – by the Cincinnati Bengals. Today he ranks 30th in the NFL with 40 catches for 603 yards (15.1 average) and four touchdowns.

• Michael Pittman was the No. 34 overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts. Today he ranks tied-for-127th in the NFL with 21 catches for 236 yards (11.2 average) and no touchdowns.

• Laviska Shenault was the No. 42 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Today he ranks tied-for-72nd in the NFL with 30 catches for 323 yards (10.8 average) and one touchdown.

• K.J. Hamler was the No. 46 overall pick by the Denver Broncos. Today he ranks tied-for-127th in the NFL with 21 catches for 240 yards (11.4 average) and one touchdown.

• And Chase Claypool was the No. 49 overall pick by the Steelers. Today he ranks tied-for-46th in the NFL with 35 catches for 500 yards (14.3 average) and seven touchdowns.

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