Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Locker Room Interviews

Sometimes I leave a locker room pretty happy with what was said about the team or the upcoming opponent. Sometimes the comments are so cliché ridden it’s amusing. That’s why some athletes are known as media “go-to guys” and others aren’t seen or quoted in the media so often. Just like in any group of people, some are smarter than others, some speak more eloquently than others, some welcome the spotlight, while others shun it.

You can always tell when a team has been “coached” by the staff on what to say to the media. Anytime you ask four or five players a similar question and they come up with the same phrase like, “they’ll try to control the line of scrimmage” you know the coaching staff has used that phrase over and over in their meetings. Some coaches put a muzzle on their players. Jim Fassel of the Giants hasn’t let his team speak in anything but generalities since the middle of November.

Some players close themselves out from the media completely. I’ve always thought that was irresponsible. Aaron Beasley decided early in his career he didn’t like being criticized in print. He stopped talking to the media for a while, but since has relented and is a very good and thoughtful interview.

Part of being a professional athlete is dealing with the public, including the media. If you think a writer has been unfair, close him out. Steve Spurrier did that with Larry Guest of the Orlando Sentinel for years. And he was probably right. Guest wrote what Spurrier thought were unfair and untrue things about the program, so he stopped answering his questions, just ignoring him like he was invisible. One time he even said, “you know I don’t answer your questions,” looked up and said, “anybody else?” I don’t have a problem with that. If you ask a fair and honest question, you usually get the same kind of answer.


Some players and coaches don’t mind lying to the media and others are using it for their own personal gain. Some even turn it into a game. John Jurkovic used to “hold court” near his locker, spewing all kinds of sayings and platitudes, turning the interview into a show. That’s okay. John was friendly and honest and was thinking ahead a little bit to a possible career after football.

Some players have an interview schedule. Did you know Mark Brunell only talks to the media on Wednesday? Clyde Simmons had the same rule. That’s fine too. Everybody knows what the rule is and abides by it. Whatever reasons the player has for it don’t have to be justified by anybody. You’re talking Wednesday? Good, I’ll be there.

Jimmy Smith admitted he ran from the media after the AFC Championship game last year. He was gone by the time the locker room was open. “I just couldn’t face it,” said the Pro Bowl wide receiver. He wasn’t alone. The post-game locker room was nearly empty by the time it was opened to the media. I think that’s fairly lame. Reporters who cover the team regularly know the players as people too and are generally wise about how to ask a question after a loss. The national media is a little more savage, but a cold look in the eye to an unknown reporter after a stupid question usually sets the ground rules.

When Kevin Carter was at Florida, he was a great “go to guy” in the Gator locker room. (the Gators locker room is now closed and they bring the players out to be interviewed. I also think this is lame. There’s no uniqueness to sticking a microphone in front of a guy’s face as part of a mob scene) Auburn beat Florida in Gainesville, and I approached Carter in the post-game locker room for a comment. He kept his back to me and mumbled into his locker, “I’m not talkin’.” “What,” I exclaimed. “I’m not talkin’,” he repeated. “Oh, I guess you only talk when you win,” I snidely replied. (remember, this was during my young and stupid phase) Carter turned and stared a hole through me, but I didn’t budge. Actually I thought he might hit me. He relented and answered a couple of questions. I went about the rest of the locker room, gathering information, and eventually, alone, made my way back to Carter’s locker. I told him how much I appreciated his talking with us, and how as he moved on to a professional career, he didn’t want to get a reputation as a guy who only talked when things were good. Nobody respects that. He nodded a couple of times, and I left. Maybe it sunk in, maybe not.

My Hall of Fame of interviewees is probably just like anybody else’s. Joe Namath, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Richard Petty and Arnold Palmer. All knew the media had a job to do, some were more entertaining than others, but all understood how to portray or promote themselves through the media. Jordan was the greatest post-game locker room interview ever. You had to wait until he was dressed (impeccably) then he would answer any and all questions without exception. When the questions stopped, he would ask, “everybody got what they need?” look around the room, then slip out the back door. Namath was always honest, Petty and Palmer patient and polite without fail.

Gary Player adopted the habit of knowing a reporter’s name, and using it during the interview. That usually makes for good press.

The day of the outburst, the bulletin board material is probably gone with a few exceptions. Coaches warn players about the “evils” of the media. Players see their comments on the cable highlight shows. With the exception of Andre Rison, nobody’s been really outrageous in the Jaguars locker room.

No Richard Todd stuffing a reporter in a locker.

No Ryan Leaf having a temper tantrum.

Tom Coughlin has yelled at me a couple of times, outside of the press conference. He didn’t like a couple of my questions.

That’s okay. He’s doing his job.

I’m doing mine.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

BCS Blunder

If there’s one thing I don’t like about the BCS, it’s the self-serving attitude of the inventors.

“Oh, it’s just what college football fans want,” they say.
“A true national championship game,” they gush.
“They’re full of it,” I answer.

The BCS is not what college football fans want. They want to see fairness, they want to see competition, and they want to see a playoff. Why is it every other NCAA sport is decided by a playoff, but the biggest one of them all comes down to a . . . vote?

“It really keeps people talking about college football,” they opine. Sure, if you want people talking about how stupid the system is.

This year, hopefully, the BCS will raise enough of the ire of fans that when the contracts run out in 2006, hopefully it will go away.

Computer rankings have Oklahoma #1 followed by Florida State, Miami, Washington and the rest. How do they get those computer rankings? Actually, parts of it are kept a secret, (you know, the intrigue keeps people talking about college football, that’s brilliant) and they throw in record, strength of schedule, eye of newt and love potion #9, plus a compilation of the voters polls.

Hmmm, the voters have a say. Interesting.

Coaches who either let their Sports Information Directors do the voting or vote their opponents higher than they should be in order to make themselves look better if they happen to beat that higher ranked team. The coaches poll has always been known as the poll of deceit. The writers poll is equally flawed, known affectionately as the poll of ignorance. Writers don’t see more than two or three teams in the poll in a season, and these days are influenced by whatever some editor of the nightly cable highlight show decides to air that evening. They can vote, but not about college football.

There are ways to determine a national champion on the field, include the bowls and make money. The problem is, for some conference commissioners, not enough money. The NCAA oversees the college basketball tournament, paying out money to each member team, and additional money to the teams in the tournament. The farther they go in the tournament, the more money the school makes. Sounds like a good plan. Except when you look at the big conferences in college football and their relationship with the bowls.

The money paid out by the bowl games goes to the conferences, and on to the individual schools. A conference without a bowl team (Patriot), gets nothing. A conference with six bowl teams (SEC), gets plenty. Need your 6th place team in a bowl? Fine, invent the Music City Bowl. Split the money up, reward the teams actually in the bowls with a little extra, and move on. Keep those other schools down for fear they might actually be competitive some day.

A playoff with 8 or 16 teams would be easy. Some schools might get left out of the season-ending tournament, but that happens every year in basketball. Let the conference champions in automatically, making the regular season important. Figure out a wild card formula, play it over four weekends and you’re finished by the second week of January, at the latest.

Just think, at this rate, Florida State will be off for 6 weeks before playing for the national championship. Will they be “game sharp?” Of course not. Whoever their opponent is will have a month off as well.

By the time the BCS bowls roll around, just about everybody’s forgotten who’s playing where, except in the game to decide the national championship. It has made the other bowls meaningless, and actually demeans their regular season effort.

“Oh, you’re playing in the Fiesta Bowl, great, is that before or after the Orange Bowl?”

It doesn’t matter to me whether Oklahoma, Florida State, Miami, or Washington get to play in the big game. They all should be playing in a big game at the end of the year. A game that means something to them. A game their fans will be excited about. A game where there’s something on the line.

Like a playoff game.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


Boy, to I have a lot to be thankful for.

A wife who has tolerated me for more than 20 years, three beautiful children who are wonderful people, parents whose counsel I still seek, friends I can count on, and a career that is more fulfilling each day.

Thanksgiving is usually a work day for me. It’s a preview Thursday for a big college football game, something’s going on with the NFL, it’s part of the television rating period and it just seemed natural to be “on the air” that day.

Today I’m at home for the first time in 23 years. I’ll watch some football, have some friends over, eat a traditional meal, and spend time with my family. And there will be a little part of me wondering what’s going on at work. And I’m thankful for that.

Thankful that after 23 years of sports reporting I am still glad to go to work everyday. Glad that I am inspired by the very act of doing my job. Everyday, no matter whether I’m anchoring the sportscast, hosting a show, or reporting from the field, I report on people who are striving to be the best they can be. They’re measuring themselves against a standard of excellence that they know is out there, but can’t quantify. Kids, college players, professional athletes, Olympians, all have a common thread. They’re putting themselves on the line, testing themselves, and it inspires me to do the same. Stretch my capabilities, look for a way to be better in every situation.

Sometimes Thanksgiving is just another day for sports fans to sit in front of the TV and watch football. It is the perfect situation for that, but we should also reflect on the things that we are thankful for, even in a superficial way. The competition we watch. The school and teams we root for, even the opponents. Would it really be any fun for Florida or Florida State fans if one team was horrible, always?

There are a lot of things wrong with the sports world, but there are a lot of things right about it, and I’m thankful for that. The good work Leon Searcy does over the holidays for the community, the hospital visits Mark Brunell makes, the quiet encouragement Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden give to those who need it. I know a lot of bad guys in sports, but I know an awful lot of good ones too.

They’ve made me a better person.

They should make you better too.

Boy, do I have a lot to be thankful for.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Globetrotter Magic


The Globetrotters lost?

While it sounds like big news, actually it’s part of a “regeneration” of the Globetrotters as a basketball team.

For years early in their formation, the Trotters were a barnstorming, take on all comers team full of talented players. Abe Saperstein, the Trotters founder, believed being a good basketball player was the essential thing he was looking for from perspective Harlem Globetrotters. He was also looking for a little personality.

The NBA was in its infancy, salaries were low, race was an issue and the Trotters were a place where the game was fun. Not a lot of teams would take on the Harlem Globetrotters for fear of embarrassment. They even signed Wilt Chamberlain out of Kansas before he embarked on his NBA career.

Through the 60’s and 70’s the Trotters evolved into mainly a comedy act with some basketball sprinkled in. “Meadowlark” Lemon, Curly Neal and “Sweet” Lou Dunbar, carried the torch for the most famous basketball team in the world. They played almost every night, beating the Washington Generals and now the New York Nationals, handily.

I used to go to the Globetrotters every year with my Dad at the Baltimore Civic Center. The Civic Center was small, and you were close to the court so you saw the jokes firsthand. Oh, how I wanted to sit I the front row once and have Meadowlark throw that bucket of confetti in my face!

I used to always wonder how good the Globetrotters really were. I asked my father what Meadowlark meant when he yelled “cover the white guy” during a game in the ’60’s. I hadn’t noticed the Trotters were all black. They were just funny, talented heroes who never lost.

Manny Jackson bought the Trotters in 1993 and embarked on taking part of their legacy and make it part of their future.

Real basketball.

It’s a great idea.

They beat Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Legendary All-stars 10 out of 11 times in 1995. That’s the last time they lost before Monday night’s against Michigan State.

When I read the story about the loss and the quotes from the players and coaches of the Trotters it surprised me a bit when they didn’t blow the loss off as part of the show.

It shouldn’t have.

As all athletes say, when there’s competition to be had, and they’re keeping score, winning is important. Jackson talked about “missed baskets in the paint” and “not getting to the free-throw line enough” as reasons for the loss.

He didn’t mention the football game that broke out, or the “weave” or somebody hiding the ball under his shirt while play was going on. Maybe the ref didn’t do his job after taking the ball with no air in it and slamming it to the floor!

They’re the most successful professional sports team ever. There are a few team names that conjure up instant images: the Yankees, the Canadiens, the Celtics and certainly the Harlem Globetrotters. When somebody whistles “Sweet Georgia Brown” do you think of anything else but the Trotters in the “Magic Circle?”

More than 20,000 wins to their credit. Winning streaks of nearly 9,000, 2,500 and most recently 1,270 games. They’re known as the greatest ambassadors in the world. American ambassadors, sports ambassadors, ambassadors of fun.

I had forgotten that.
I won’t again.
I’m checking their schedule.
I can’t wait to take my son to see the Trotters.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Wanted: Blonde Bombshell

I get to spend a lot of time on the sidelines at football games. High School, College and NFL games have their own special appeal. The NFL now limits the number of people on the field, keeping most reporters off the sidelines. They don’t like the clutter. They want a clean look. College sidelines are usually buzzing. Lots of action, lots of passion. Many of the people charged with the duty of covering the game and reporting on it have an allegiance to one school or another. Sidelines in High School always have people who have a vested interest in the outcome. Lots of yelling, not a lot of reporters.

When you stand on the sidelines, the view of the field is magnificent, yet very different. You hear the hitting, you can see pain and exhaustion. The perspective is unique. Bringing that perspective to the television audience isn’t new. In fact, when I was at the University of Maryland, ABC Sports interviewed a bunch of perspective sideline reporters, all college aged, trying to use a college reporter to talk about college students. I was excited about the interview, thought it went well, but Roone Arledge picked Jim Lampley, then a student at Stanford, and a Don somebody who went on to a local television career in Philadelphia. Neither of those guys could get a job with the network these days as a sideline reporter though.

On any given Saturday, Sunday or Monday, the sidelines are littered with sweaty guys doing different odd jobs, security guards, poorly dressed reporters, the chain-gang in ill-fitting uniforms, photographers with all kinds of equipment hanging around their necks or perched on their shoulders, and some fabulous babe carrying a microphone.

During the Florida-Georgia game, I spent the first quarter in the press box, until I went to get some water and at least fifteen guys stopped me to ask, “have you seen Jill Arrington.” So I went to the sidelines to see first-hand what the commotion was about. It didn’t take long to spot the person who didn’t seem to fit among the regular throng. Arrington is a sideline reporter for CBS who doesn’t look like anybody else on the sidelines. Tall, with long blonde hair, well dressed in very tight clothes, Arrington is part of a new breed of television sideline reporter that the networks seem to think is necessary these days. The broadcast team is made up of a serious play-by-play man, some former player, and a striking female reporter on the sidelines.

Arrington, Bonnie Bernstein, Melissa Stark, Pam Oliver and Jillian Barberie are all part of network broadcast teams. Are they good reporters? Who knows? Most guys haven’t heard a thing they’ve said and women are commenting on their hair and their clothes. Is this fair? All could be fantastic journalists, but will never get the chance to show it based on the cosmetic aspect of the television industry. Nobody’s yelling “Quiet, I want to hear what Melissa is saying,” during Monday Night Football. “Great turtleneck,” is what’s being shouted in the local sports bars. Lesley Visser is pretty well connected throughout the NFL, but her choice of headwear was what garnered most of the attention during her reports on MNF.

A couple of years ago, Bonnie Bernstein sent me a tape, looking for a job as our weekend sports anchor. She was working in Reno, Nevada at the time and her tape stood out among the other applicants. Not because she was a woman, but because she was a very good reporter. I’ve worked probably two dozen games where Melissa Stark was the sideline reporter, first for ESPN and now for ABC Sports. She worked pretty hard during her ESPN games and is doing the same on MNF. You’d be hard pressed to see any of that now with the role the networks are asking them to play. They don’t seem to be complaining, so I’m wondering what is the point here.

Are these women gladly posing on the sidelines, knowingly acting as a distraction? Are the viewers getting any information? Is there anything the matter with any of this? Have the sideline reporters slipped into the category of cheerleader eye candy?

Actually, this could be much ado about nothing. The women on the sidelines are the next generation of pioneers, and will have to endure the catcalls and doubting that comes with blazing any trail. Network executives should be careful about how they formulate their hiring practices. The viewing public’s trust is at stake. If they lose that, they’ll never get it back.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Super Selection

Putting themselves into play as a potential Super bowl site, North Florida and the city of Jacksonville were complete unknowns. In the early 80’s then-Mayor Jake Godbold courted the NFL, even hosting a “Colts Fever” rally at the old Gator Bowl in 1979. Fifty-thousand people showed up for a hot dog and a Coke to see Colts owner Robert Irsay fly onto the floor of the Gator Bowl to wave and say “I might .”

Unknown to most people was the conversation between Godbold and Irsay as they exited the World War II construction era stadium. “If I come here, you’ll have to tear this thing down,” said steel expert Irsay. Godbold was a little taken aback. After all, the stadium was Jacksonville’s primary resource in their effort to lure a team. Irsay did move, to Indianapolis, and Jacksonville did build a new stadium, for an expansion team instead of a relocation.

After an inferior Cincinnati Bengals team beat San Diego in the AFC Championship game at home in sub-zero weather, there was a movement a foot in the NFL to play the championship games at neutral sites. Although the idea never flew, Jacksonville was asked several times to make a preliminary Super Bowl bid, actually angling as a potential championship game site.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse was a huge proponent of Jacksonville. I ran into him at the Tampa airport one night and he engaged me in a conversation about the city’s potential. We talked for a half hour about what could be done based on the political and social landscape surrounding the city at the time. Culverhouse liked Jacksonville, had lived in North Florida, and was the city’s biggest ally. (Even though when awarded an NFL franchise, he put it in Tampa.)

Godbold was a visionary as the mayor, and fulfilled the requirement of also holding the unofficial office of “best friend of the city.” He was encumbered by a lack of resources, and a lack of full support of some movers and shakers in Jacksonville who wanted to remain a sleepy South Georgia stop-over. Jacksonville had barely over 200-thousand residents when Godbold began his NFL quest. His dalliance with the USFL was a year late because he heeded the warning of a local columnist to stay away from the rogue league for fear it would anger the imperial NFL.

To my surprise, Mayor Godbold pulled me into the NFL owners’ meeting room when Jacksonville was asked to make their Super Bowl bid presentation. (Obviously before they had rules about this stuff) Jake was persuasive, and the presentation was slick. The normal questions about hotel rooms were raised, and Culverhouse slowly stood and gave a testimonial about Godbold’s commitment, Jacksonville’s potential and how the city could be always counted on to be a ‘friend” to the league. It was pretty heady stuff, but nothing got done.

Actually the Michael Jackson tour deal did get done at those meetings. I was walking down the hall of the hotel in Washington, D.C. with Jake when we ran into Billy Sullivan, the owner of the New England Patriots. “How about holding a Jackson’s concert in Jacksonville,” Sullivan asked, half joking. Godbold asked me what I knew about Michael Jackson, then the hottest performer on the planet and he said, “wait right here.” Twenty-five minutes later, Godbold emerged from a room with Sullivan and whispered to me, “the deal’s done, we’re getting the Jackson’s at the Gator Bowl for three shows. Do you think that’s good?” I laughed out loud, told the Mayor he was a genius and immediately called the newsroom.

Larry Jaffe was the point man for Godbold and the city of Jacksonville in its bid to get in front of the NFL. Jaffe was at a preliminary meeting with league officials in San Francisco when he and his associates came up with the idea of cruise ships on the river to supplement the hotel rooms. During a meeting with Pete Roselle’s top assistant Don Weiss, and the Special projects coordinator, Jim Steeg, whose job it is to run the Super Bowl, Jaffe laid out his plan and received the appropriately polite response. As Weiss and Steeg got up to leave, Jaffe blurted out, “has anybody told you about the cruise ships?” Simultaneously, Weiss and Steeg sat back down and asked “what cruise ships?” Jaffe explained the idea to augment the city with hotel rooms provided by cruise ships, and the idea was born. It wasn’t universally accepted, and in fact it was ridiculed at the time both within and outside the NFL. The success of cruise ships as “floating hosts’ at the Barcelona and Sydney Olympics made them a viable option for Jacksonville’s Super Bowl bid. The city was making inroads, but neither a team nor the Super Bowl seemed on the horizon.

Still, some city leaders persevered.

Godbold called me during the inaugural USFL season to ask, “Did we miss something here?” “Yes,” I replied, “but you can fix it.”

Six weeks later, my phone rang again, it was the Mayor saying he had somebody he wanted me to talk with.
“Hi Sam, this is Fred Bullard,” said the voice on the other end.
“Mr. Bullard, are you going to try and put a USFL team here?” I asked.
“Not try,” he replied, “it’s going to happen.”
“Don’t jerk us around,” I snapped into the phone. (I’m pretty embarrassed by this now but I was young and stupid at the time. I’m just not young anymore)
“We’ve been jerked around enough, don’t lead us down some path that comes up empty because we’re really not going to like it.”
“Don’t worry,” Bullard allowed.
“Do you have this kind of money Mr. Bullard?” I demanded.
“It’s going to take something like $13 million to get this thing done” (Perhaps I should have had my head examined immediately afterwards)
“I think we can handle it,” was the coolly confident response.

Jacksonville had just gone through a protracted flirtation with John Mecom, the owner of the New Orleans Saints. Moving the Saints to Jacksonville was all but a done deal, but Mecom wanted out from under some of his losing buildings and other properties in Louisiana. In one meeting, a local businessman threw his checkbook on the table and said, “I’ll write a check for $50 million right now for the team, you can keep the rest.” Mecom was looking for about $75 million for the whole deal. He mulled it over and eventually rejected the partial sell off, selling the team to car dealer Tom Benson.

So Bullard brought an expansion USFL team to town, climbing on the roof of some television satellite production facility in Denver with me and Larry Csonka, his General Manager, to make the formal announcement. The USFL Bulls were snake bit on the field, but fans showed up, and the NFL noticed. From that wasteland that had the PGA TOUR headquarters and little else, an identity was emerging. Passionate about sports when the product was legitimate and willing to go the extra mile to get things done.

Getting an NFL franchise turned out to be a compilation of a lot of things, not the least of those the involvement of Wayne Weaver. Mayor Ed Austin and some of the heavyweights in town tried to kill the deal off, but it seemed to have a life of it’s own. The dream, the idea of moving to the top rung among cities wouldn’t go away. Even at the last minute, the NFL owners asked Weaver if he wouldn’t really rather be an owner in St. Louis. He declined, citing the contract and committment he made to Jacksonville. His popularity among the owners was the deciding factor to bring a team to Jacksonville.

Now, the NFL will bring it’s biggest showcase to town. All from the seeds of one man and one dream. Jake Godbold always believed, and wanted people to feel better about themselves and the place they lived. He knew about the quality of life and couldn’t figure out why people were so down on his town.

It’s a long way from the “City that stinks” to “Super Bowl XXXIX.”