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Pragada: The Jacksonville Jaguars make me sad

The Daily’s Bobby Pragada takes an emotional look back at his relationship with the NFL’s most criticized player

Up until recently, I had always maintained that the outcome of a sporting event could not have a directly negative impact on my mood. Sure, bad news about a beloved team could certainly keep a bad day bad, but seeing my team lose would never turn my smile into a frown. I touted this belief publicly, lecturing people about “trusting the process,” seeing the positive light in every loss, the light at every tunnel. When my beloved Jacksonville Jaguars came up short in the AFC Championship game last January, I kept my mood afloat by assuring myself they’d be back next year.

Well, this year has shown me that I was dead wrong. Sports can make the happiest man in the world a miserable bastard. Optimistic Bobby is dead.

I’ve been a fan of the National Football League since 2014, when I first discovered professional football existed as a senior in high school. (Previously my only exposure to football was Navy football. My dad was a graduate of the academy, and my family owned season tickets. Imagine my surprise when I realized pro teams didn’t run the option and actually threw forward passes!) I was invited to a fantasy football league and instantly fell in love with the fake sport and the real sport. Like, I’m talking deep, deep infatuation. Football is one of the most important things in the world to me. I spent the summer after the infamous goal-line interception of Super Bowl 49 researching everything I could about the history, the technique and the passions of the game.

Funnily enough, another person joined the culture of the NFL in 2014 at the exact same time I did, although he had been around the establishment far longer than I, and he came in through the NFL Draft. He was the 3rd overall pick out of the University of Central Florida, and somehow, through god knows what power, he became my favorite player. His name is Blake Bortles, “starting” quarterback for my Jacksonville Jaguars.

I picked the Jaguars as my team because they were terrible. Like abysmally bad. From 2012-2016, the Jaguars put together a total of 17 wins and 63 losses. They had the longest streak of top five NFL draft picks since World War II. When looking at the 32 NFL teams, somehow my infallible logic decided to pick an awful one to make the moment they became good feel that much more genuine. I liked the colors, I liked the logo, I liked the name, I liked Florida. I was set. Time to go all-in on the Jaguars.

Not even one month later, the Jaguars’ 2015 first round pick, Dante Fowler Jr, a defensive end from Florida, tore his ACL on the practice field during rookie minicamp.

The 2015 season started, and Blake Bortles, who looked bad at best during the 2014 season as a rookie thrust into a starting role, stole my heart and the heart of Jaguar fans everywhere. Despite winning only five games, he broke nearly every passing record in the team’s brief history book. He threw for nearly 4500 yards and 35 touchdowns, the second most TD throws in the league behind Tom Brady. This admiration was two-fold for me, as he took a lead role on my fantasy team and boosted me to the championship game, where I promptly lost because I benched him for Ben Roethlisberger. I live my life in penance to Blake for that mistake.

Blake Bortles is immensely likable because he’s just a regular dude. He’s the most relatable person out of any quarterback in the NFL. When asked what he’d spend his last 50 dollars on, he responded “Bud Light and Tacos.” When asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t playing football, he said “Rippin’ cigs and working construction.”

He’s also one of the most criticized players in the NFL, but I will defend the man to the death. He’s worked so hard to improve every single year, he takes every loss personally, he puts everything he has on the field. There’s no player more capable of coming back from a loss or public doubt than Blake. I’ve believed in him since he came into the league. I’ve believed in him through a five-win season, a three-win season, a four-interception game, infinite pick-sixes, getting benched for Chad Henne and a meme twitter account dedicated in his honor.

In 2017, the belief paid off. Not only did Blake rise to the occasion but the Jaguars rose from the gutter of the NFL with one of the greatest defenses of the past 20 years. Draft picks like Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey, combined with free agents like Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson, turned the Jaguars into the incredible team they deserve to be.

But most importantly, they started winning.

And let me be clear, I love every member of the team, down to the perennial special teamer Donald Payne, the displaced kicker Josh Lambo, the ex-Stanford Cardinal Quenton Meeks and the reliable, undrafted defensive tackle Abry Jones. I love this team with my entire being. When they made the playoffs, I was overjoyed. When they beat the Bills in the wildcard round, I laughed at my friend who is a Bills. When they beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional game, I was ecstatic. When they lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, I was proud of my boys for an incredible season.

And now, I am sad.

The Jaguars currently sit at 3-5 on the season. That may sound alright, but the team is absolute garbage at the moment. They are wracked with injuries and plagued by seemingly infinite problems. They’ve lost 4 straight. The head coaching seems absolutely incompetent. Four players were recently arrested in London. Two left tackles have been placed on IR. Their star running back can’t stay on the field. They traded Fowler to the Los Angeles Rams. They signed Ereck Flowers. They lost to the COWBOYS.

But worst of all, Blake is having a bad season. And all of the fans, the coaches, the media, the defense are turning their heads inward and blaming him for the issues. He was benched in a game for Cody Kessler. His play is under constant scrutiny. He’s making awful, awful mistakes. But more than all of that, the most awful thing is that I can’t blame them for taking aim at Blake. He’s not playing well. Honestly, it might finally be time to move on from my favorite player in the game today.

Now, every time I think about the Jaguars, I have the urge to throw up. Upcoming Sundays fill me with existential dread rather than excitement. I blocked the Jaguars beat writers I follow on Twitter because I don’t want to know the details of what happens week to week. Don’t call me a fair weather fan because I stuck through this team through Gus Bradley and two win seasons. This isn’t about the team losing. It’s a combination of things: the wasted talent, the horrid coaching and the fact that it might be the last time I ever see Blake take the field in Teal and Black. It makes me legitimately sad. I’ve never felt as bad about sports as I currently do about the Jaguars.

I wear my two Blake Bortles jerseys only in the safety of my own room, afraid of people making fun of me for supporting a genuinely likable player who’s struggling at the moment. Maybe Justin Herbert would be better next year. Maybe we should trade for Teddy Bridgewater. But if either of those things happens, I’ll lose a little bit more of my football innocence.

Sometimes I look back sadly on the day nearly four years ago where I dedicated my life to the Jaguars. Yet any time I truly begin to regret that fateful moment, I remind myself, “Hey, at least I didn’t pick the Browns.”

 

Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu

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