Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

My Kingdom for a Quarterback

Say the word “Quarterback” and what image comes up in your mind? Is he tall? Quick? A leader? Does he have a big arm? Is he even a he?

There is so much more to being a quarterback than just the nuts and bolts of the position in football. A quarterback has to be a Quarterback. A leader on the field and off. Fearless. Strong. Courageous. There are athletes with many of these qualities, so why are there so few real Quarterbacks?

Michael Jordan was a quarterback, so was Magic Johnson. Cal Ripken’s a Quarterback, so is Mia Hamm. None of them play football, but all have the Quarterback’s sensibilities. Awareness. Instinct and a sense for the dramatic.

The quarterback is usually the best athlete on the field. Especially in recreational and high school play, a coach takes the best athlete and says “you’re the quarterback.” Then the coach proceeds to coach the rest of the team, working on plays, getting the kids who can’t catch to at least try and trying to bring the kids who can’t play to a level where they might be able to do something. And the quarterback stands there. He’s still the fastest, throws it great and loves to play, but it’s all natural.

Too many coaches spend so much time with their deficient players trying to get them to contribute that they forget to coach their good ones. When a quarterback gets to college, most times he’s still a good athlete but ill prepared to do the rudimentary things necessary to be a Quarterback. Footwork, arm angle, defensive reads, for most, they’re foreign languages. Coaches’ sons are the exception, getting that little extra help off the field, preparing them for the next step. When a player arrives in college with most of the fundamentals, the quarterback coach (if there is one) can spend his time on the nuances of the position. If not, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Even in the NFL, quarterback coaches work on the basics every day. Chris Palmer as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars designed specific drills for the quarterbacks in practice, working on fundamental things that carry over into a game.

Add up what it takes to be a Quarterback. Make a list and you’ll find only a handful currently playing who measures up.

It’s the most important position in sports. Sam Huff said about the 1958 and ’59 NFL Championship games, “They had Unitas, we didn’t.” How can one guy determine the outcome of the game, just by walking on the field? He can if he’s a Quarterback.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


Everything about sports has evolved into something bigger in the past 20 years. Bigger games, bigger coverage, even the players are bigger. There’s also bigger hatred among fans. Part of that is because the stakes are higher. More money, more glory, more hype. It’s no longer sufficient to win. Fans, taking their cue from players, want their opponent to lose, and lose big. The “thrill of victory” is only a real thrill now when augmented by some trash-talking, debasing of the other team.

Part of that comes from street culture infusing itself into the mainstream. T-Shirts that spout egomaniacal saying abound. “Second is the first loser” is the rallying cry for all who see an event as only about me, me and me.

The barbs that fly during the course of competition were usually left on the field. They were part of the competition itself, not based in reality, but rather part of the ”fantasy world” athletes can create in their mind to help perform at a high level. Some need it, some don’t. The ones who need it have taken it off the field, and made it a part of the pre- and post-game ritual. Its not enough to score a touchdown, I now need some kind of signature “dance” so I’ll get more time on Sportscenter.

The media has brought it to the public, making it an acceptable part of sports and sports coverage. Fans have picked up on this, trash-talking their rivals, even when they’re not your opponents. Many fans now take as much pleasure in seeing their rivals lose as they do in their own team winning.

That makes no sense.

Who cares what your rival is doing? Why are you paying attention to them anyway, unless they have something you don’t?

Why is “you lose” more important than “I win?”

I never considered my opponents during a competition. They were just an obstacle to be vanquished, somebody in the way of victory. Who cares what they thought before or afterwards? The feeling of victory was enough. If we didn’t win, we walked away with the resolved to play better next time. But it’s not enough just to win anymore. You have to beat on your opponent. Humiliate them.

How quaint you might be thinking. Sam wants us to go back to that “old college try.” Shake hands, get ‘em next time.

I understand team loyalty. Living and dying with every play, every pitch, every missed shot. People who revel in somebody else’s misery don’t belong in sports.

Politics might be a better place for them.

In sports, it’s about winning. Not losing.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

John Steadman: Gentle man, Writer

It was pretty heady stuff being a sports fan in Baltimore in the late ’50’s through the ‘60’s and early 70’s. The arrival of major league franchises in football, baseball and basketball gave a port town built on immigration and industry a new identity. The Orioles, Colts and Bullets were part of the fabric of daily life.

Teams’ association with their cities was very tight. No one thought of the owners as anybody but great guys in town, part of the community, all pulling in the same direction. Television wasn’t much of a factoring sports coverage, still blossoming itself with three channels and no remote. The newspaper was a sports fan’s lifeblood. The game summaries, the standings, the agate type statistics all brought far away contests to life. The sports columnist explained it all, knew your heroes first hand, hung out with them, ate with them, drank with them, shared their pain and their triumphs and let you know how it felt to be there.

John Steadman was the Baltimore sportswriter in those times. Actually John Steadman was the Baltimore sports writer for all times. Steadman died in Baltimore on January 1st after a long battle with a rare form of cancer. He was 73.

I bring this up now because he was in my thoughts most of the day during the championship games between New York and Minnesota and Baltimore and Oakland. How fitting, I thought, if it’s another New York/Baltimore Super Bowl. John Steadman would have liked that. He wrote the history of the Colts/Giants championship game in ’58. “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” it’s called.

He never missed a game where a professional football team from Baltimore was playing. Never. Really. Since the Colts became the Colts in the ‘50’s, Steadman saw every football game the Colts, and now the Ravens ever played. In person, home and away. He never kept a running tally, never referred to it as “The Streak” or anything like that (719 in a row by the way). Exhibition, regular season, post-season, championship games, Super Bowls, John Steadman was there.

Growing up in a working class neighborhood in Baltimore, John Steadman’s brother, Thom, lived three houses away from us. That made us some kind of celebrities. I mean, his brother lived around the corner, and that meant John Steadman had to visit sometime, right? His nephew was a boyhood playmate of mine. I might see him, right? All of this fuss over a sportswriter you ask?

Being a sportswriter then meant something very different than it does now. A local sportswriter was just that, somebody who was local. They grew up in your town. They went to high school somewhere down the street. They had the same frame of reference as you. You’d see them in church, or at the store. They were part of your town, understanding the ups and downs. Not just a disembodied voice, but rather, somebody real.

There were two papers in Baltimore when I was growing up. The Sun, where my Uncle Angelo worked as a graphic artist, and the News-American, where John Steadman was the columnist. The News-American more closely reflected our lifestyle, but we took the Sun, probably out of deference to my Uncle. In fact, I even had a Sunpapers route. Delivering the paper from my bike in the afternoons and from the back of the family station wagon on Sunday mornings.

But I read John Steadman.


I was too young then, didn’t really know anything about anything, except I wanted to be either John Unitas or Brooks Robinson, but I knew, somehow about John Steadman, Baltimore’s conscience. Somebody who didn’t just write about the game, but rather about the people who played them and what they meant to us.

In journalism, there are a lot of hard-bitten people, cynical by nature, caustic and sometimes just generally mean spirited. Steadman was the exact opposite. Gracious, unfailingly polite and well dressed, call him a throwback if you will, Steadman had a passion for people. And that’s what separated his writing from all the others. Not his analysis of the x’s and o’s. Not his questioning of a manager’s pitching move, but rather his insight on why. He favored the underdog and was willing to take an unpopular stand.

I saw John Steadman a lot when covering events around the country. At our first meeting, I introduced myself, said I was from Baltimore and enjoyed his work. From then on, John Steadman called me by name and always introduced me as “a Baltimore boy” to whomever he was with. When Jacksonville was awarded an NFL franchise, Steadman gave me some insight about how Baltimoreans were taking it. “not very well,” according to a man who knew. I once saw him present long-time Baltimore sportscaster Vince Bagli to the authorities at Augusta National, saying Vince needed a credential. Nobody does that! Steadman did, it was the fair thing to do, according to the fairest writer in the land.

One of the things about my job that I never considered when I got into this business is the relationship with other journalists. Writers and broadcasters, veterans and rookies, all bringing a different perspective to the table. I also never considered the chance I might have to sit, side-by-side with legends, like John Steadman and talk with them, watch them work and learn something. And I never considered the chance I’d have to tell them publicly what a profound impact they had on my career, and in turn my life.

I had that chance last year at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee meeting. All I said was “it’s rare you have a chance to tell somebody, publicly, what they’ve done for you and they don’t even know it. I’m what I am today because of John Steadman. I grew up in Baltimore, reading John Steadman, and that’s one of the reasons I chose this profession. You made it seem fun, and important at the same time. So, thanks John.”

And I sat down.


Steadman was very sick at the time, but was excited about a new chance at treatment he was getting in the coming weeks. Excited and somewhat embarrassed because he was getting a chance to see some world famous doctor only because of his “celebrity.” Which he thought was silly. When the meeting ended, one-by-one, the selectors made their way to Steadman’s side of the room to shake hands, knowing it would probably, for many of them, be the last time. John knew it too. But he never wavered, listened intently as if it was the most important thing ever said to him. I shook his hand and tried to speak, but all I could get out was “I meant it.” He leaned over, nodded and smiled and patted me on the back.

So, thanks John.

To read more about John Steadman’s career in journalism go to www.baltimoresun.com/archive/ and type in “Steadman” in the search box. Tributes to Steadman and some of his writing can be found there.

Here is the info you need to make donations to
The John F. Steadman Scholarship scholarship fund:

Checks made payable to:
The Trustees of the Baltimore City College Scholarship Funds, Inc.

Forward to:
The John F. Steadman Scholarship
The Trustees of the Baltimore City College Scholarship Funds, Inc.
C/O William Dunbar, President of the Trustees
801 Quincy Road
Towson, MD 21286

Note on your check that the contribution is intended for “The John F. Steadman Scholarship.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bowl Delay

I saw three bowl games in three days this year. The Gator, Sugar, and Orange Bowls were on concecutive days with local interest, so we put together a plan to cover all three.

A couple things were obvious: Michael Vick and Santana Moss were the best players on their respective fields, and none of the 6 teams were playing anywhere near their peak performances during the regular season. Yes Virginia Tech was the better team, but Clemson didn’t play anywhere near what they’re capable of. Would Tommy Bowden have replaced Woodrow Dantzler at quarterback during a regular season game? I don’t think so. The bowl mentality, the finality of the last game of the year sneaks into every coach’s head and lets him make moves like that. The whole Clemson team seemed overwhelmed at first but they certainly a better team than what they showed.

Vick was totally in control while he was in the game. No wonder he’s now hedged on coming back to the Hokies. What is he going to accomplish? He’ll win the Heisman Trophy, but look at the lack of respect Virginia Tech got from the pollsters and the BCS. Can they win the national championship without some kind of publicity push? They finished 11-1, lost to Miami on the road without Vick in the lineup and

didn’t get much of a whiff from the BCS. Vick’s only concern a bout coming out early is what team would draft him. If he’s projected as the top pick, he said he’d more than likely make himself eligible for the NFL, but he’s told friends his main concern is not wanting to play for San Diego. If the Chargers would be willing to trade the pick to somebody Vick wants to play for, there’s a better possibility he’ll being playing for pay next year.

I was amazed at the lack of attention the Sugar Bowl got in its home town of New Orleans. Even the sports writers admitted they were glad the game was in town, hoped people spent a lot of money in the Crescent City, had a great time and left. They were interested in the Saints, the playoff run, Ricky Williams, and that’s it. The Sugar Bowl was a complete afterthought, and the attendance was proof. Nobody was there! The complete upper deck seemed empty. I know the Hurricanes are notorious for not traveling with their team, but this was silly. Miami was trying to lay claim to half of the national title, and none of their fans seemed to care. Or at least travel.

The Gators had every opportunity to win the Sugar Bowl, but when you can’t execute the offense, especially when the plays are there for the taking. Rex Grossman missed wide open receivers, didn’t see guys running free and just didn’t play well. It’s not that Miami did a lot of things that forced Florida into mistakes, it’s just the Gators didn’t play anywhere near their regular season/SEC Championship level.

Steve Spurrier was not happy. In fact, it was as mad as I’ve seen him in a while. Spurrier isn’t one to run around a yell after the game, he’s already thinking about changes. Don’t be surprised by anything he does.

In South Florida, the Orange Bowl was also taking a back seat to the NFL, and the Sugar Bowl. The regular haunts were crowded with people in for the “season” and the Oklahoma and Florida State visitors got swallowed up with the crowd.

In fact, the Orange Bowl was the third game in seven days to be played at Pro Player Stadium. The turf showed it too, coming up in clumps around midfield.

Oklahoma had the perfect game plan, offensively, defensively and special teams wise. They had just the right amount of “wrinkles” they hadn’t shown during the regular season, but they stuck with a ball control type of offense that chewed up the clock, keep FSU off the field, and produced a few points.

Good planning by Bob Stoops. It was obvious he out-coached Bobby Bowden. When I began to ask Bowden about that after the game, he stopped me, and agreed, “I was thinking about that on the sidelines,” the Head Seminole said. “They had a few wrinkles, and I didn’t have one to go to. If I had a chance to prepare for this game again, I’d do it differently.”

Bowden also admitted he would have treated the Mark Richt situation differently. “We thought we could just line up, play our own offense, run better routes that they couldn’t cover and we’d win. We were wrong, they were a lot better than we thought.”

Bowden’s comment about “maybe the wrong team was here,” was part of a more complete sentence that ended with, “but maybe it’s Oklahoma, maybe they’d have made Miami look like we did.” Most media outlets only reported the first half of the comment. Bowden was disappointed, but more with himself and how he failed to prepare the team for a game against Oklahoma with the National Title on the line.

Throughout the entire game, you thought the FSU offense was going to explode, but they never did, partially because the Sooners had a good scheme, and partially because FSU never did anything different. Same stuff, same “I” formation, nothing fancy, no “wrinkles.”

After the three games were over, I was disappointed as an “observer” of college football, because I thought the teams and the fans were cheated. Cheated out of seeing teams playing at their best. Outcomes notwithstanding, it’s a shame FSU and Oklahoma couldn’t have played sometime in early December. Same for Florida and Miami, and Clemson and Va. Tech. The games would have meant the same, they just would have been better played.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


I hope you’ve already made some meaningfull resolutions for 2001. Be a better parent, do more for charity, get your priorities straight, stuff like that. I read the other day that most people who accomplish goals over a defined period of time have their goals written down and in a consipicuous place where they can be remined of them daily. That’s a good idea. You don’t have to write down the usual, lose weight, keep my desk cleaner, stop snoring, etc.

Sportswise, I’d like to see just a couple of things in the coming year.

I wish people going to games would resolve to enjoy themselves a little more, don’t be so miserable if things don’t go your way, and stop the foul language in public. Screaming “You suck, because you suck” doesn’t make you cool or more attractive to the women in attendance. It just makes you look stupid. I really like it when people get into the game, but come with some ammunition, not just some profanity laced tirade aimed at nobody inparticular just because you had a bad day at work.

Go to the games to see what’s going to happen. Enjoy everything about being there. The atmosphere, your friends and family in attendance, the competition on the field. It’s a little disheartening to see people miserable at games where they paid over $100 to be there (beer included).

I also hope that people start to treat the self-serving displays on the field by many athletes with the disdain they deserve. The next time somebody dances around like a primitive for making a routine play, people should laugh. Literally. Just laugh out loud at the idiotic “me, me, me” mentality displayed. If we start laughing at these guys, maybe they’ll get the message.

Have a Happy New Year!