- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2006

The Grudge Bowl comes next week when LaVar Arrington faces the Washington Redskins for the first time since their divorce last spring. Arrington played six seasons before signing with the New York Giants.

Mark Brunell played nine seasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars, becoming the face of the expansion franchise and helping them to two AFC Championship games. Now the Redskins quarterback, Brunell faces the Jaguars for the first time since his March 2004 trade when Jacksonville visits on Sunday.

The time that has passed since the trade — nearly three years — and the location of the game, FedEx Field, has made the Brunell-Jaguars reunion special, but not overly emotional, and certainly not something where Brunell wants to get back at coach Jack Del Rio and Co.

“If I was a year out of Jacksonville, this would be tough,” Brunell said. “If we were playing down there, it would be tough.”

Brunell missed practice again yesterday because of a left elbow laceration sustained at Houston. But he is expected to start on Sunday.

Joe Gibbs’ first trade upon returning to the Redskins was acquiring Brunell. Jacksonville’s first-ever trade involved Brunell. He had spent two seasons watching Brett Favre in Green Bay before being acquired for two draft picks on April 21, 1995. He backed up Steve Beuerlein for two games before starting 10 games. He remained the starter until Week 3 in 2003 when he injured his left elbow at Indianapolis.

Brunell went 61-45 as the Jaguars starter, passing for 25,698 yards, 144 touchdowns and 86 interceptions.

In 1996, Jacksonville won its final six regular season games and then upset Buffalo and Denver in the playoffs before losing to New England for the AFC title.

Three years later, the Jaguars went 14-2, defeated Miami 62-7 in the playoffs but lost to Tennessee 33-14 at home in the conference championship game. Brunell didn’t return to the postseason until last year with the Redskins.

“We had the most talent in 1999,” he said. “I would look back at that year as one that got away from us. The 1996 team, we had some talent, but we had heart and guys that fought every week. That was probably the most fun I had down there because we weren’t expected to do much.”

Tom Coughlin was ousted after the 2002 season and replaced by Del Rio. The Jaguars drafted Byron Leftwich in 2003, a clear blow to Brunell’s hopes of finishing his career with Jacksonville.

“When Mark got hurt, we looked to the future,” Del Rio said. “It’s one of the more difficult things I’ve had to deal with. Any decision regarding the quarterback is going to be magnified and second, Mark was a great player here. You look at what he did in the first 10 years here, he’s one of the team’s all-time greats. The team played well and he was a big reason why.”

When Brunell and the Jaguars couldn’t agree to a contract extension to have him serve as Leftwich’s backup, he was allowed to pursue a trade. Joe Gibbs jumped at the opportunity to acquire Brunell, who is 14-15 (including playoffs) as the Redskins’ starter.

“I thought he handled it very well,” Del Rio said. “I thought he could still play several more years. He understood. He’s been in this business a long time. He’s moved on and played good football.”

Brunell is the only player to wear No. 8 in Jacksonville, something Del Rio said will not change. The coach has said he would like to honor Brunell by retiring his number once the quarterback retires.

“Hopefully not too soon,” Brunell said.

When he does retire, Brunell, 36, said he plans to live in the Jacksonville area, where his family still has a home.

“It was more than just playing for the Jaguars,” he said. “We felt connected to the community and had done a lot of things off the field. Particularly when you thought you would finish there, it was difficult. But that’s the business.”

The business at hand for Brunell is a tough Jaguars defense. It would be hard to expect another 24-for-27 passing day. Although Brunell has stressed that he wants to beat Jacksonville so the Redskins will be 2-2, not because they discarded him after years of service, his teammates know there’s a part of him who will be in show-them mode.

“You always want to beat a team that you came from, but you can’t hold grudges and you have to keep your focus,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “Three years is a long time. Mark will be ready and won’t let this get into his head.”

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