Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Birth Right

Growing up as a kid in Baltimore, I was a fan of the Orioles and the Colts, just like everybody else. Exactly when football came up on my radar screen I can’t pinpoint. I can vaguely remember a newspaper headline lamenting the Colts’ NFL Championship Game loss to the Cleveland Browns 27-0 (1963) and I sat on the porch and sulked when Joe Namath’s Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III as an 18-point underdog. I became a huge Namath fan after that, and even wore white shoes in my high school football days (way before it was considered OK).

Baseball is a different story though. I remember the day the Orioles traded Milt Pappas for Frank Robinson and I can trace my fan allegiance to the Orioles to one event: The’66 World Series. Baltimore sweeps the Dodgers in 4 straight to win their first world championship

It’s part of a working class town’s birth right to have a close tie to their sports teams. That’s true in Baltimore, there’s an added bonus;

You get to hate the Yankees.

It’s part of the deal. Nobody is an Oriole and a Yankee fan. You can like the Pirates, or the Phillies, even some of those teams out west, but not the Yankees. Paul Blair went to play for the Yankees and was immediately disowned. Don Larsen finished his career with Baltimore, but he was always that guy from the Yankees who threw the perfect game in the World Series.

There’s nothing similar about Baltimore and New York except both are port cities with immigrant neighborhoods. For the longest time, there was nothing similar about the Orioles and the Yankees either. In Baltimore there was “the Oriole way.” How you played baseball the right way. In New York, they were always trying to make some deal to get the top players away from inferior clubs.

If you followed the O’s, you hated the Yankees and that was that. (You also got to make fun of the Red Sox and laugh at the Senators but that’s a different story)

Hating the Yankees was a daily summer pastime. I’ll be the pitcher and you be Mickey Mantle and I’ll strike you out in the bottom of the ninth! You be Whitey Ford and I’ll hit a three run homer off you to win the game! Every day in the street in front of my house from March ‘till October, the Yankees were defeated by some dramatic feat. Even in curb ball (a Baltimore city game) the hated Yankees went down to defeat as the sun was setting and my mother called me for dinner.

Apparently Yankee hating isn’t limited to kids from Baltimore. It’s somewhat of a national obsession and represents all that is good, and sometimes bad about being a fan.

What is it about the Yankees that is so “hateable” anyway? They’re good, if fact they’re arguably the best pro sports franchise of the 20th century. I’m not jealous of them. If they win, they win. I don’t check their scores, unless they’re playing the Orioles.

I suppose when you’re on top, you’re an easy target and they have had their share of characters over the years, starting with Babe Ruth (who’s from Baltimore by the way). Ruth is the only larger than life figure in baseball history, and he was a Yankee! Traded from the Red Sox, Ruth built the stadium and started the Yankees on the most successful championship run in sports history.

People hated the Yankees in the 20’s and 30’s because they always won. They came up with the best players, sometimes coerced from smaller city teams for big money. The 40’s were dominated by the war, and in the 50’s the Yankees went back to dominating baseball. Between Ruth, Gerhig, DiMaggio and Mantle, the Yankees had four of the best players ever!

Maybe it’s their fans that people dislike. When things are good, they’re out in force. When things are bad, they’re in hiding, or explaining how they used to win, bringing up some old box score and acting like it’s only a matter of time before they ascend to the throne again. Yankee fans are passionate, that’s for sure. Nobody is a casual Yankee fan.

George Steinbrenner is easy to dislike from afar. He seems to act like a jerk more often than not, but the few times I’ve talked with him, he’s been as charming as anyone I’ve ever met. And he wants to win!

It is harder to dislike the Yankees with Joe Torre as their manager. Who wouldn’t want Joe Torre as their manager? He’s smart, honest, a real baseball guy and isn’t a glory hound.

How can you dislike Derek Jeter? Or Bernie Williams? They’re two of the best players in the game today, and they happen to be Yankees.

I admit, the Yankees are great. Maybe the greatest sports franchise ever.

I have a lot of respect for them.

But somewhere in my heart I hate them.

I must.

It’s a rule.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


I’ve been off for a couple days over the last two weeks. First to entertain friends in town and then to play in a golf tournament. I’ve also been out of town visiting for a day, so I’ve been outside of my normal route between work, home and the gym. Everywhere I went, I was asked the same question a couple of hundred times, “What’s wrong with the Jaguars?”

I’ve heard about Brunell’s problems, the offensive line, the defensive line, Fred Taylor, the crowd, Coughlin, just about everything.

After hearing most everything, I’ve settled on a theory of my own about what’s the matter with the Jaguars. It’s the same thing that can cause good teams to go south in every sport: fear. Not fear of hitting somebody or cowardice in anyway but fear defined by the classic Greek word phobos.

In Steven Pressfield’s book Gates of Fire, he describes the Spartan warriors as the ultimate fighting force. A full unit, confident in their comrades and their equipment, reverential of their leaders and trained to perfection. The phobos that infects their opponents doesn’t make them run away, but rather lose their discipline, react wildly and break down any semblance a coordinated defense or attack. That phobos has infected the Jaguars, making them afraid to react as football players, rather than mechanical robots carrying out an assignment. It infects baseball teams when they stop hitting. You’ve heard the expression “hitting is contagious,” and the opposite is true. An entire team can go in a collective slump, leaving the manager and the players bewildered at the cause. They’re all trying to win the game with one swing, instead of just going to the plate and hitting the ball hard, somewhere.

Rick Ankiel was a successful pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals during the regular season. In the post-season, Ankiel set records for wild pitches in an inning that might never be touched. Did he all of the sudden forget how to pitch? Kind of. Instead of a discipline of mechanics and athletic control, Ankiel was trying anything to throw a strike. It almost becomes a physical affliction.

Ever see somebody with the yips? Why wouldn’t somebody who’s able to smash a golf ball 300 yards off the tee barely be able to take the putter back and through with any kind of consistency? The fear, the phobos.

How can one basketball team go six minutes at the end of the game and not score a single point?

When the Raven’s kicker popped up the kickoff in the Sunday night game against the Jaguars, you could see the Jaguar players run to their positions on the field, doing their jobs as told. Some saw the football, others didn’t, but none reacted as football players, pouncing on the football and making a play. Instead they were bound up by the phobos that comes from playing tight, playing more afraid to make a mistake rather than just playing the game.

People have theories and I’ve heard dozens, some that make sense, others that came right out of Joe Theisman’s mouth. Theisman really harped on the Mark-Brunell-is-the-loneliest-guy-in-the-world theory during the Sunday night broadcast. Brunell and Coughlin don’t have the chummiest relationship, certainly not Walsh/Montana or Holmgren/Favre but Brunell does have people to go to. Bob Petrino is the quarterbacks coach and he’s on the sidelines during the game. Petrino also works on the offensive game plan during the week so he hears input from the players constantly. Do the Jaguars need an offensive coordinator? Actually they already have one in Petrino, but giving him the title might empower the players a bit and bring them out from under Coughlin’s thumb.

The Jaguars defense shed themselves of that fear last week, playing instinctively, and limiting the Ravens to just 193 total yards. Dom Capers deserves some of the credit for that, taking the cuffs off his defense and just letting them go play. The players lobbied for that move, and got it. The rest of the team needs to grab that feeling, starting with Coughlin, through Brunell and the wins will follow.

As I’ve said all along, four wins by the break after the Dallas game gives the Jaguars a chance at the playoffs. Less than that, and they’ll be making holiday plans off the field.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Bandwagon

Let’s see. The offensive line can’t play, the defensive line are bums, Mark Brunell is finished, Tom Coughlin forgot how to coach, Dom Capers isn’t using people right, Fred Taylor is soft, Jimmy Smith is playing for a contract and Keenan McCardell’s career is already over. Those are some of the things I heard this week from fans explaining why the Jaguars won’t win another game this year.

Earlier people were explaining how bad the Redskins were, Deion Sanders was finished, Bruce Smith should retire, Norv Turner was an idiot and should be run out of town, Michael Westbrook is a wuss, Steven Davis is fat and happy with his new contract and Daniel Snyder is just a short multimillionaire who doesn’t know what he’s doing with his new toy.

This week Turner is a genius, Sanders and Smith will have their numbers retired as Redskins, Davis is going to the Hall of Fame and Snyder made all the right moves in the off season.

It’s the bandwagon.

Even Deion referred to it after the game, “There’s room for y’all on our band wagon,” Sanders said after the Redskins won a riveting game against the Buccaneers.

This is one of the great things about sports. The bandwagon. What does it actually mean anyway? When was the last time you saw a band on a wagon?

Fans jump on and off all the time. That’s their job. Wailing at their team’s ineptitude, applauding their success. “The tires are going flat on that bandwagon so many people are jumping on,” is a favorite derisive remark by other teams’ fans.

The bandwagon is what fuels a team’s fan base. When they’re winning, everybody wants to jump on, everybody wants to buy their t-shirts, and some even want to take credit. Those are some of my favorites. The bandwagon jumpers who say “I knew it all the time.” They were also the first one’s off yelling, “We stink!”

Sports is just about the only thing you can feel passionately about, one way or another, within the span of a few days, hours or even minutes, express your feelings as loud as you want, and in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Whether your team wins or loses isn’t going to make you live longer, make you more money or all of the sudden become handsome. But we scream and holler, paint our faces one week and want to burn our season tickets the next.

Some people talk about “true” fans, and what they’re expected to act like. Baloney. Act anyway you want. Love your team or hate them. Tell them they’re the greatest, or the worst. Immerse yourself in it. Jump on that bandwagon, and enjoy the ride.