Brunell: ``I'm not going to cry'' about demotion
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For the last nine years, Mark Brunell stood in front of his locker every Wednesday and talked about Jacksonville's upcoming opponent.
This Wednesday, though, he stood there and spoke about what it's like to be a backup.
During a poignant interview that was bound to come eventually, the 11-year veteran acknowledged a changing of the guard: He has been passed over for Byron Leftwich as the Jaguars starting quarterback.
"I don't think so," Brunell said, when asked if he would have a chance to compete for the starting job again this season.
Disappointed? "Absolutely," Brunell said. But, he insisted, he would not complain, would not ask to be traded, and would not ask for his release before the end of the season.
"I'm not going to go out of here like that," he said. "I'm not the starter, but I'm not going to cry, take my ball and go home."
Since he beat out Steve Beuerlein in Week 6 of Jacksonville's expansion season in 1995, Brunell has been the man in Jacksonville.
He built his reputation during the magical 1996 season, with a swashbuckling style that took advantage of his strong left arm as much as his nimble legs. He threw for 4,367 yards that season -- a team record that still stands -- and led the Jaguars to one of the biggest playoff upsets in NFL history, 30-27 over the Broncos.
He threw for 245 yards that day, ran for 44 more and, with the Broncos trying to stage a big comeback, he led a 74-yard scoring drive capped by Jacksonville's version of The Catch, an on-the-money throw to Jimmy Smith in the back, left corner of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown.
"Mark Brunell will be a household name," Smith guaranteed after the game.
And while Brunell did indeed rise into the top tier of NFL quarterbacks, he never quite became a superstar, in part because he never led his team to a championship.
Coming up short in 1996 -- when he threw a key interception in a 20-6 AFC title game loss to New England -- was no shame. His role in the team's collapse in the 1999 AFC title game against Tennessee (two interceptions in a 33-14 loss) was more damning; the Jaguars went 14-2 that year and were heavy favorites to make the Super Bowl.
Injuries and age made him more of a pocket passer and over the last three-plus seasons, Brunell had his share of good moments, but not many wins to show for them. He is 63-51 as a starter for the Jaguars, but just 19-30 since 2000, and 0-3 this season.
Now, barring an unexpected change or an injury to Leftwich, those records can be written in permanent ink.
On Tuesday, the team's day off, coach Jack Del Rio informed Brunell that he planned to go with Leftwich indefinitely. The first-round draft pick from Marshall threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-21 victory over San Diego last week. Leftwich got the starting job because of an injury to Brunell's elbow, a gash Brunell spent all of last week insisting was completely healed.
On Wednesday, however, Brunell said the wound had recently reopened. Unlike last week, he conceded the team's decision to list him as questionable on this week's injury report was legitimate.
But Del Rio wasn't using the injury to justify his decision this time. Leftwich, he said, is the starter for the long term.
"The bottom line is, I was very clear in my communication" with Brunell, Del Rio said. "We're moving forward as a football team."
Brunell might have delayed this had he agreed to the not-so-flattering contract extension the team offered him in the offseason. He declined, however, and when the Jaguars used their first pick on Leftwich in the draft, the first domino fell en route to Brunell's ouster. Brunell will make $6.75 million this year to sit on the bench. Next year, he'll almost certainly be gone.
"I'm disappointed," he said. "I had every intention of being the starter this year, because that's what was told to me. But I banged up my elbow, Byron came in and did well, and it is what it is."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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