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Thunder and Lightning: Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell

Just one season after entering the league, the Jacksonville Jaguars would burst onto the scene in the NFL with a dynamic duo of receivers. Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell were given the chance to make a name for themselves in the NFL in 1996 and took full advantage of that opportunity.

The Jaguars became an expansion team in 1995 and had a lackluster first season, only winning four games. Expectations around the league for the Jags were low entering their sophomore season as an NFL franchise. Just before the season started the team would sign Keenan McCardell to join a receiving core that included Jimmy Smith and Andre Rison. The Jaguars would start out the ’96 season slow, losing four of their first six games. Rison was becoming an issue for the team and would be released mid-season, giving Jimmy Smith the opportunity to showcase his talents.

A little known player in the past, Jimmy Smith would become an immediate impact after Rison was cut and would go on to be the best receiver in franchise history. His talents were paired up with Keenan McCardell, creating a receiving duo that could not be stopped. “Thunder and Lightning”, as they were nicknamed, would both record over 1,000 receiving yards that season on their way to a surprising playoff run. After Jimmy was inserted full-time to the lineup, the Jaguars would win six out of their last seven games. Most importantly, the Jaguars would win the final game of the year against the Atlanta Falcons, giving the team its first ever playoff berth. The Jaguars would win two incredible playoff games because of the spectacular play of Smith and McCardell against the Bills and the Broncos before losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

Jimmy and Keenan would play six seasons together before McCardell signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. While in Jacksonville, Keenan McCardell would catch 499 passes for 6,393 yards and 30 touchdowns. In his 11 seasons with the team, Jimmy Smith would catch 862 passes for 12,287 yards and 67 touchdowns, making him the franchise’s best receiver of all-time in every category. The two receivers took an expansion team to three playoff appearances in its first four years, the only team to ever accomplish such a feat. While some believe the success of “Thunder and Lightning” will never be matched, two young pass catchers in Jacksonville named Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are starting to write a similar story. 

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