The 2016 Jacksonville Sharks season featured few ups and several downs. On the field, they were a disappointment. As one of the odds-on ArenaBowl favorites, the Sharks needed to rally to finish 7-9, and fell in the American Conference championship game to the Philadelphia Soul. Off the field, fans and insiders were questioning if the team would even exist after the conclusion of the season.
In what’s become a regular scheduling quirk since Jacksonville came into the League, the Sharks opened up on the road (yes, in their history, the Sharks have never played at home Week 1). This year’s opponent was the revamped Los Angeles KISS, featuring several players from the now-defunct San Jose Sabercats. As was the case in the third quarter in Stockton, the Sharks couldn’t get out of their own way, and the team stumbled to a 64-39 loss.
Recovering with a win in the state that would end their season four months later, Jacksonville then lost three of their next four (including a 75-68 loss to the Arizona Rattlers, the first overtime game in franchise history) to limp into their first bye week at 2-4.
Going into Week 8, head coach Les Moss was already on the hot seat, and wide receiver Joe Hills not only continued his 2015 form, but forced opposing defenses to plan for him week in and week out. Rumors quelled thanks to two straight wins off the bye.
Hills had a career and franchise night against the Orlando Predators in Week 9, hauling in a team record eight touchdowns in what was considered an upset win despite the talent on both teams. Hills was on his way to his first-ever 2,000 yard season that won him First Team All-Arena, Wide Receiver of the Year, and Offensive Player of the Year honors, thanks in large part to leading the league in receptions (161, a franchise record), yards (2,020), and touchdowns (58).
As quickly as fires died out, they reignited after Week 12, when a home loss to the Predators, facing both Randy Hippeard and former teammate Bernard Morris under center due to Hippeard’s season-ending injury, sparked a four-game losing streak that included another one-point loss to the Cleveland Gladiators (which would cost them dearly come playoff time), a two-point loss in Arizona, and a loss to one-win Portland.
The one-point loss to Cleveland was the second time during the season that the Sharks gave up a double digit lead to the Gladiators in a loss (they blew a 19-point lead in a 41-40 loss to them in Week 6).
By the time the July 4 League-wide bye came around, Moss was almost out the door, and there were even more questions surrounding then Managing Partner Jeff Bouchy surrounding payments of league dues and the stability and future of the franchise for 2017 and beyond.
Following the Week 16 loss, the on-field questions got answered when Moss was given his walking papers, and offensive line coach Bob Landsee took over to finish the season. There were immediate dividends, as the Sharks won two in a row to head to the playoffs.
During what was a surprising postseason run, off the field issues came to a resolution with a new ownership plan coming into place, and Bouchy seeing a demotion to Operating Manager. On the field, the Sharks and Predators played yet another classic.
Jacksonville came back from two scores down in the first half to nearly tie the game at halftime, then used a missed extra point to force overtime, where they won a playoff game for the fifth time in six seasons.
While the Sharks have new owners, they still need a new coach, a possibly reorganized front office, and a team that has both the talent to compete and can perform well enough to give Jacksonville their first home playoff game since 2013. Will Joe Hills and other top offensive players stick around? Can Jacksonville convince Joe Sykes to come back and anchor the defense? Will 2017 finally be the season where Jacksonville will live up to their potential?
In short, it was an interesting four months, and we’re in store for an even more interesting five or six months this offseason.