Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Easy Winner, Bobby Bowden

Every time I see him he calls me boy. He calls everybody “boy.”

“Hey boy, it’s good to see you,” is how Bobby Bowden greeted me Saturday night after his FSU Seminoles dismantled an overmatched BYU team. It’s a comfortable sound, hearing Bowden’s voice call after you like a long lost friend. Bowden probably knows most of the names, but it is his nature to be homey, comfortable and friendly.

Detractors (Gator fans) like to think it’s an act, a long involved syrupy act to cover up the ills and win over the media. Knowing Bowden for twenty years, I can tell you, it’s not an act. At a restaurant in Tallahassee, in his office on the FSU campus and in stadiums from Gainesville to Arizona, Bowden is the same. “Hey boy!” he says over and over to familiar faces, friends and family.

That’s not to say everything Bowden has done is right. I think he’s needed a more firm hand with discipline in recent years. He’s been asked about that, rather pointedly prior to the National Championship game last year, and he had a well thought out response. Part of it was about giving players a second chance, particularly those from single parent families who perhaps didn’t know any better. Part of it was his feeling of responsibility toward the players’ entire family, having been trusted with the safety and well being of a teenaged son. Having not been privy to the inside workings of the problem situations at FSU, I’ve relied on my confidence in Bowden to accept his decisions. I really don’t think the man can be devious.

Does he take advantage of the rules? Absolutely. Ask him about it and he’ll say emphatically, “change the rules!” “I’ll play by the rules, whatever they are.” Did his team get a break in 1993 when they dropped only one spot after losing to Notre Dame? Bowden says “probably, but we’re just following the system.”

Bowden has been working the system, whether it’s getting a break from the media because he’s generous and gracious with his time, or getting kids in school who are marginal because the system allows it. He thinks many parts of college football are flawed, but is sensible enough to know he’s not going to change them alone.

There have been National Championship chances gone by the boards with loses in bowl games or an errant field goal costing the Seminoles a shot. The pictures of Bowden in the instant following those disappointments are not of him stomping on his hat, or yelling at some assistant. Rather the resignation and understanding of the moment, a moment he has no control over, a moment ruled by teenagers trying their best, and perhaps coming up short. That’s a parental instinct taking over, something learned or inherited as a coach and something in this day of the “win or else” mentality in sports could be hard to understand for the uninitiated.

Bowden’s not one of my favorite coaches in the country, he’s one of my favorite people. I’ve asked him general questions about football, and extremely technical questions about his team, all met with an easy manner and a plain explanation.

If you think he’s removed himself from running his team, think again. He might not wear the headsets on the sidelines, but he’s in charge. Magically, those headsets appear and he’s making calls in crunch time.

The recruiting, the game planning, the game day coaching, talking to the media, greeting the boosters, they’re all part of Bowden’s repertoire, one with many moving parts, but with a constant positive outlook. I account much of that to Bowden’s faith. He doesn’t flaunt it, but you’ve seen him speak at a Billy Graham crusade. His even temperament follows a certain trust in a higher authority.

I’ve played golf with Bobby Bowden in the past. We rode together in the cart and talked and played for 5 hours. He played well. I think you can learn a lot about people playing golf with them. How they handle adversity, and good fortune, all the while trying to compete. You might not know if Bowden made birdie or bogey by watching him walk off a green.

Perhaps the most underrated part of Bowden’s coaching career is his adaptability. From his days as the “riverboat gambler,” Bowden showed his willingness to take a chance. Why? Because he had to. Bowden knew he didn’t have the horses to beat the big schools, so he had to scheme to compete with them. Remember Octoberfest? Bobby was part of that five game road trip that helped put FSU on the college football map.

Using a two quarterback system Bowden has won. He’s won coaching a Heisman Trophy winner. He’s won with defense, wild offense and a dominant kicker. Whatever he’s presented with, he’s used. At 70 years old, even Steve Spurrier said Bowden looks better and healthier than he has in a decade. I guess winning will do that to you. More than that, winning at life’s game keeps you young.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tiger Woods, Heavyweight Champ

It’s a pretty complex relationship, the one between sports fans and Tiger Woods. For a while, it was pretty easy to not like Tiger. A young phenom, who hit it long, Woods was kind of surly, kind of brash, and easy to dislike as he made the transition from amateur to professional.

His father said outrageous things and was the epitome of a stage parent. We were bombarded with video of Tiger when he was on the Mike Douglas show. Tiger was the youngest this and youngest that and his father was everywhere, reminding us about it at every turn. Woods talked about his “A” game, his “C” game, his penchant for fast food and video games.

People who didn’t know anything about sports, and had never even watched golf on television, let alone seen a golf course in person, knew Tiger liked to wear red on Sundays. His lucky color we were told.

Then there was the money. Millions thrown at him by corporations trying to jump on the Tiger train, grabbing a bit of this star.

Different ethic groups tried to claim him, but Tiger demurred, calling himself a “cablinasian.”

All of that was easy to distance yourself from as a sports fan, with one problem: he kept winning. A streak at the end of his rookie year showed him to be a force and a regular on tour. His Masters win in 1997 rewrote the record book.

Still a sports fan could call it a one time thing. The newest John Daly. Okay, we think he’s a player, but let him prove it over time.

Then came the well documented “finding” of the new swing, and the call to his swing coach from the back of the range.

“I got it,” we heard Tiger said.

“So what,” many sports fans groaned.

The streak of wins followed, the comeback at Pebble Beach, the challenge to Byron Nelson’s record.

“Now Nelson, he was a real player,” the old-timers said in the nineteenth hole. Even his victory at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the most dominating performance seen in modern golf, didn’t convince some.

“Perfect weather,” was the cry from the peanut gallery.

Although it did turn a few heads.

When David Duval shot 32 on the outward nine at St. Andrews there were whispers. “Now we’ll see what he’s made of,” and we did. As Duval opened the door on the tenth hole leaving a birdie putt one roll short, Woods stepped through it, making his putt and the march to history was on. Duval melted down, Woods kept up the parade, like royalty, marching in front for all to see.

But it wasn’t until he walked off the 18th hole at St. Andrews did we see a bit of Tiger we didn’t know about before. A small hand on the shoulder, the comment, “walk off like a champion, because you are a champion” to Duval awakened echoes of sports heroes of the past.

Was it Tiger changing, or was it us?

Perhaps a bit of both.

Woods, at 24, was now a real part of history and he seemed to know what that is and all that goes with it. Before, all we saw was the exultation of victory, the fist pumping and the uncommon celebrations. Perhaps his graciousness in losing the match play championship to Darren Clarke was a bit of a hint of things to come. Maybe his position as the best in the world is so unchallenged, he can concentrate on the little things “old school” champions possessed. Maybe it’s none of that.

Maybe it’s just growing up.

Something has changed though, in Tiger, and in us.

Watching closely through the first two rounds of the PGA Championship, we wanted to see how Woods would treat his playing partner, Jack Nicklaus, the one with the title Tiger wants: greatest to have every played. Woods deftly went about his business, posting a first round leading 66, all the while showing deference to Nicklaus. Not an easy two-step to pull off.

Even Nicklaus, heretofore rather spare with his praise of Woods, said Tiger was the total package. In his post-round interview, Jack said he didn’t know if he could keep up with Woods in his prime. Woods was on the two-shot during the interview, and very respectfully stood and listened, watching Nicklaus, listening to what he had to say. No rolling of the eyes, no big smiles, no guffaw’s, no false modesty. Just, perhaps learning. When asked, Tiger said the right things and shut up. No scene stealing, no melting into the background.

When faced with a final round challenge at the PGA Championship by a virtual unknown outside of golf, Bob May, Woods dug deep and matched May shot for shot, finally winning in a playoff. If you tuned in only for the final round it was like watching a world class athlete play your club pro who just came out from the shop after folding shirts. May is nothing of the kind, an accomplished player from Southern California who has been a force in Europe for the past three years. How do we know that?

Tiger told us. He knew all about May growing up. He told us “May was the man!” in Jr. golf circles when Tiger was young(er).

This is the kind of stuff sports fans have been waiting for. A winner on the playing field, and somebody who understands the responsibility of his stature. It’s what the heavyweight champion of the world used to be. There was so much more to wearing the belt as the biggest and best. Perhaps that’s what the founders of golf at the Old Course had in mind when they gave a belt, instead of a trophy to the Open Champion. Young Tom Morris retired that belt, winning it three consecutive times and taking it home.

Maybe we should find it and fit it around Tiger’s waist.

Right now, he deserves it.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


I was having a conversation last night with my long time friend Andy. Andy used to work in Jacksonville 17 years ago and has traveled around since then. He’s one of my friends who I can go several months or even years without talking to, and pick up a conversation as if we spoke yesterday. He’s from New York, so not a lot turns his head. He’d come back with his family for a vacation and we were talking about how Jacksonville has changed since he left. He was overwhelmed. I mean could barely believe it. When he left, the town was just cresting past 200,00 residents. Now that number stands over 1 million. Two things have changed the landscape of North Florida: the Mayo Clinic and the NFL’s Jaguars.

It is pretty easy to document the Mayo Clinic’s influence. Prestigious diagnostic clinic picks Jacksonville for its first satellite. Patients are referred to this clinic and they and their families spend some time in North Florida, hopefully getting good news. Some of the nation’s top physicians are recruited to the Mayo Clinic and settle in the Jacksonville area.

The Jaguars influence is a little harder to define. It’s a mindset about Jacksonville that didn’t exist before. People from around the country know a little more about the city on the northern end of Florida, if not exactly how to get there.

Many have a general impression that NFL players are just thugs, living in a city during the season, taking advantage of the cushion local law enforcement might provide, raking down millions and moving on. The owner isn’t really local, he’s gotten a sweet deal from the city and is pulling down cash. That is the stereotype, and in some cases, even here, well deserved.

But I was standing on the practice field today and came across so many positive influences the team has provided they were hard to ignore.

Mark Brunell’s father, Dave, was at practice as he is occasionally. He moved to Jacksonville after it was apparent Mark had a long term future here. He’s a teacher and a coach. He’s influenced hundreds of local students already, including my own children. His local impact isn’t easy to define.

Aaron Beasley’s mother was watching practice from outside the fence this afternoon. She was a teenage mother to Aaron, and now has twin’s 3-years old. One has Down’s syndrome, and she had her in her arms today. Aaron’s mother lives in Jacksonville now, and Aaron is going to begin charity work, raising awareness and money regarding Down’s syndrome. Can you define his local impact?

Joel Smengee has been with the Jaguars from the beginning. He has a foundation that helps kids with facial disfigurement. His parents have moved here. His in-law’s now live in Jacksonville. Smengee and a couple of his teammates have started a business here, outside of football. His local impact could be immeasurable.

Ben Coleman was a Jaguar until this year, but his footprint has stayed behind, even though he’s playing in San Diego. I ran into Ben at a restaurant right before training camp started. He had 10 people at his table, and it was his treat. His ice cream shops provide not only a family atmosphere, but a place for young teens to congregate and stay out of trouble. Ben spent a lot of time here talking about “Family First” and a father’s responsibility. You don’t think that’s impact?

Jeff Lageman retired after the 1998 season. He still lives here, and plans on staying. In fact, his house on the St. Johns River was a fish camp in the early 1900’s so he says it has “good karma.” Lageman has an economics degree from Virginia, so he’s not locked into his celebrity here. But he’s stayed. He’s the Chairman of the local Channel 4 broadcast of the Children’s Miracle Network. I’ve seen him extend kindness to kids they’ll remember for life. His dedication to handicapped children is amazing to watch. Jeff’s having an impact.

Don Davey retired from the Jaguars two years ago. His knee wouldn’t let him play. Davey was a four time academic All-American at Wisconsin. He majored in Mechanical Engineering. I think he actually has more than one degree. I took him to Stanton Prep one afternoon to talk to the straight A students about continuing their work and Don told a story about how he wasn’t worthy to really talk to these students because he got one B in college. One. And he remembered everything about it, and how he disputed it with the professor. Don stayed in Jacksonville working in an engineering firm and doing charity work. He’s had an impact on me.

Kevin Hardy runs a local golf tournament with his name on it, with the money going to charity. But Hardy also just set his cousin up in a shoe store on the Southside. Members of his family have moved to Jacksonville to work in the store, filling what they think is a void in the local merchant population. They hope to have an impact.

I could go on about the golf tournaments hosted by Brunell and Tony Boselli. The Helping Hands foundation set up by Keenan McCardell. Keenan and Jimmy Smith’s summer football camp for kids. Jimmy’s appearances for a variety of charities. The speeches given by Carnell Lake about family responsibility or the enormous sums of money Tom Coughlin has raised in his charitable efforts, especially at his golf tournament benefiting the Jay Fund.

I’m sure I missed some, but I just thought you should know.

Some of these guys, they’re having an impact.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Summer Dog Days

These are the true dog days of summer. Football teams are in training camps, sweating the sweat they hope separates them from the other teams who are sweating equally in another city. Baseball teams have come to the conclusion that they’re contenders or they’re not. The haves are getting players from the have-nots.

Being from Baltimore, this is usually the time as a kid when I would have a passing interest in what the Colts were doing at Goucher College in between checking the box score of the latest Oriole game. The Colts are long gone, and the Orioles aren’t even a shell of their former self. Summer is no fun when your team isn’t in contention. Now I know what those Royals fans felt like for all those years.

For about a twenty-five year stretch starting in the mid-60’s the Baltimore Orioles rivaled the Yankees, the Canadiens and the Packers as the winningest franchises around. The Orioles won pennants, won World Series and when they weren’t winning, they were contending until the last week of the season. All that’s changed. And how.

But some parts of it are still the same. Go to Camden Yards and there are legions of knowledgeable fans in the ballpark, paying customers, now getting to know the new names, numbers and faces of the players wearing the Oriole uniform. It is the uniform people follow. The organization, the tradition, the pride of a team “belonging” to their city.

There was always an “Oriole Way.” In fact, they wrote a book about it. It came down to very simple things like how to hit the cutoff man, how to start the double play, how to execute a sacrifice bunt. All basic, but all the “right” way to do things. Players liked it. I know, now you’re saying “he’s old school.” But even players now like it. Look at B.J. Surhoff’s reaction to getting traded to the Atlanta Braves last week. Surhoff was going to a team in contention from a team without a chance. He didn’t pack his bags and go running. He cried. He bemoaned leaving Baltimore, the city, the people and the fans.

There is something special that bonds a player to a city like that, something akin to what happens in St. Louis. That’s why it was doubly appalling to hear Will Clark say how exciting it was in a Cardinal uniform after being traded there from the Orioles.

Baseball is different from other sports. You don’t have to be 7 feet tall or 300 pounds to play it. Everyday, normal looking guys excel at the game. The rituals of spring training, the excitement of opening day, the long season, the home stands and the road trips, the history of the game all separate baseball from everything else. It’s a marathon with its own rhythms. The season has its highs and lows. A team that wins six out of every ten games dominates the league. A batter who is successful just three out of every ten attempts is a star.

Fans come from all over to see a game. They already know the players. And they know just about everything about him. Batting average, slugging percentage, hometown, and minor league history, none of it gets past a baseball fan. Some make it to one game. Others are there, night after night, checking to see the small things that can make a difference.

So how did Baltimore fall from grace and into the pack of Brewers, Royals and Rangers? Ownership. An owner sets the tone for his franchise. When Peter Angelos bought the Orioles, he brought his own brand of brash leadership to the organization. Did I say leadership? Angelos’ self-styled ownership has taken the Orioles from a once proud position as an organization to the near laughingstock of all of baseball. Win now, or else has been his edict to all who have worked for him. That’s not how you win in baseball! Even George Steinbrenner finally figured out that your baseball people need to run your baseball team. The Yankees have nurtured players like Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams through their organization, making them the backbone of winning.

Angelos doesn’t understand any of this. I’m still checking the box score everyday; I’m still waiting for Cal to return to the lineup. I’m still wearing my Orioles hat and each day somehow is a little brighter after an Oriole win. But for the first time, I’ve thought twice about going to a game. Put money in Angelos’ pocket?

I’m sure I will at some time.

But I wish somebody would bring my Orioles back.