Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jordan Abducted!

Whatever alien power that has stolen Michael Jordan should return him. Now. Anytime I’ve ever talked to Jordan, he’s been the model of what an athlete should be. A Jordan post-game press gathering was more conversation than interview. Jordan was gracious and patient, his answers in complete sentences (a rare commodity these days) well thought out and smart.

That’s why aliens must have kidnapped the real Jordan.

The real Jordan is too smart to consider a comeback in the NBA.

The real Jordan is perhaps still stretched out just beyond the free throw line, hitting the winning shot against Utah in the NBA Finals. Arm extended, wrist turned down, the follow through saying “that’s good.” I can see it in my mind. Whoever this Jordan impersonator is obviously doesn’t remember that. It was one of the great moments in any kind of championship history.

The real Jordan wouldn’t tarnish that by saying at 38-years-old he might return to the NBA because of the “challenge.”


To do what?

The real Jordan already has six championships, the respect of the entire sporting world, an Olympic Gold Medal, the mantle as the best basketball player ever, and was named Athlete of the Century.

What kind of challenge would the real Jordan want?

He’d want to be a front office wiz. Somebody who put together a team, molded them and found a coach who could teach them the things he knows. And win a championship. Trying doing that with the Washington Wizards. Now that’s a challenge!

The real Jordan knows that at 38, he’ll still be a dominant basketball player, but players like Iverson, Carter and Kobe are dominant players too. He knows that he’d be more susceptible to injury. He’d see Mario Lemieux come back after 3 ½ years off the ice and know that Mario’s team was already good and just got better. Championship caliber better. Not NBA every-body-gets-into-the-playoffs-better, but rather Stanley Cup contenders better.

The real Jordan sees the tough defensive play he used to display in his mind and smiles. He recalls the warrior mentality he brought to the game. He knows that if he were to say he might come back, it would cast a shadow over the NBA Playoffs. The league is just emerging from the real Jordan’s very long shadow, and he knows he would diminish the league as it is with talk of a comeback. He understands how one player cannot carry the entire league forever, that something else about the game has to be attractive or it will just go away.

The real Jordan knows it’s time for him to compete in business and on the golf course, not on the hard court.

That’s why aliens must have taken him somewhere.

They have the real Barkley too.

They can keep Charles.

Just send the real Michael back.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Guatemala Fantasy

I grew up a city kid. Concrete sidewalks, asphalt streets, a few ball fields around, but mostly houses, apartments, cars and buses. We did have a big field next to the house where they eventually built apartments. I made a lot of mischief there, all kid stuff.

There was a stream running through my neighborhood. Or maybe you’d call it a brook, or a trickle, because that’s what it did. Tadpoles were the staple of the trickle.

I never saw a fish.

Some kids grow up with a cane pole and a cork in their hands. My hands were full of baseball bats, my afternoon newspaper route and Nancy Alvarez’s phone number (who lived five houses away and occupied my mind until I was 13).

My parents grew up city kids as well. My dad took me fishing a couple of times. We lived in Florida for a year and went to the Indian River. Once on vacation at my Aunt Linda’s in Houston, my Uncle Tony took us on a charter boat in the Gulf. (Actually my Uncle Tony went to the second deck of the boat, climbed under a bench and fell asleep while the deck was pitching three feet. Something about his Greek heritage.) We caught a bunch of fish off the oil rigs, I remember.

Fishing was not part of my life. I’ve tried to make up for that over the years. I love to bass fish, flounder fish, fish in the intracoastal. fish off –shore, it’s all appealing to me. Occasionally I’ll take what sounds like an exotic trip, just to fish. Sometimes out of state, sometimes, out of the country. Which brings me to the last five days in Guatemala.

My long time friend Denny, who is the best fisherman I know, invited me on this trip last fall. It certainly sounded exotic, and a little scary.


Yes, Guatemala, where perhaps the best big game fishing in the world is now located. A two hour flight from Miami to Guatemala City and an hour and half van ride to the Pacific Coast put us at the Fins ‘n Feathers fishing lodge. If you’re wondering what Guatemala is like, my friend Chester said as we turned down another dirt road in the dark, “if I hadn’t been here before, this is when I’d start to get scared.”

Armed guards opening the gates gave me a perplexing feeling: I think I’m glad they’re here, but why? Inside those gates was a self-contained oasis of fishing nirvana.

Two bedroom cottages (with great AC) surrounding a common open air eating area, bar, swimming pool, and recreation area, all 50 feet from the boats moored in the marina. Up at six, on the water by seven, and heading out into the Pacific looking for sailfish and marlin.

Last year on this trip, Denny and three friends set the world record for catch and release of sailfish , capturing 76 in one day! I know guys who have fished their whole lives and haven’t seen 76 sailfish.

There were sixteen guys on this trip, all friends of Denny’s, so the compatibility factor was high. Even guys you didn’t know, you figured if they were friends of Denny’s they knew the drill. (no jerks allowed) My roommate Rick and I laughed so hard so many times about things we didn’t know we had in common I can’t even begin to count them.

Drawing for teams, with a small wager involved each day made it a little more sporting, but just being there was a hoot. I probably ate too much, drank too much and was too loud more than once, which means I was probably enjoying myself.

Between the four boats and the sixteen “anglers” (using the term loosely) we brought in about 90 sailfish and untold numbers of Dorado (dolphin). The Dorado is one of the most beautiful fish in the ocean. Brilliant gold, blue and green, fast and aggressive, a Dorado flashing underwater, the sun glinting off its sides brings a gasp of “wow” from most fishermen. The sails were all released, no worse for wear, and a few of the Dorado ended up as lunch or dinner or snacks, or all three.

I kept saying in my mind, “what am I doing in Guatemala?” I found the answer when I hooked a 100+ lb. sailfish Monday morning. Straining to hold onto the rod, feeling the power on the other end and seeing the line out 50 yards or more with a fish dancing on the water isn’t something a city kid dreams about.

But he will now.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tiger’s Greatness

The guy is phenomenal. Tiger Woods’ performance at the Masters was thrilling, strong willed and gutsy. It didn’t have the magic of his other major championship victories, but it had grit and was a show to remember. Is it a Grand Slam? No. Call it the Major Slam or the Quad Slam, whatever you want, but call it magnificent.

Holding all four major championship trophies at the same time is a monumental feat. Something other players have thought about, most notably Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Neither was able to accomplish it, but both had it on their minds. Palmer in 1960, Nicklaus in 1971. The problem was, other players got in the way. Nobody has done that to Tiger Woods. Jerry Kelly couldn’t do it at the Players Championship. Bob May couldn’t do it at the PGA and neither David Duval nor Phil Mickelson could do it at this year’s Masters.

Duval and Mickelson haven’t won major championships. It could be just their bad fortune to be at the top of their games when Woods is in the prime of his. Duval is a special story. It’s not as if he hasn’t won. He’s not afraid to “go low” as evidenced by his 59 at the Hope two years ago. His fitness regimen is unparalleled. In fact, when you see a tournament in person, Duval and Tiger standout as athletes. Everybody else looks like a golfer. David seems to be carved from steel, Tiger looks more like A-Rod or Jeter than Hogan or Snead. Duval has played well enough to win four green jackets, but fate or misfortune, or a three-putt at 16 has gotten in the way.

Nobody is owed a Green Jacket. Nobody is owed a major championship. Just ask Greg Norman. Duval has prepared himself like nobody else, except Tiger. It would be unfair to characterize him as Ali’s Frazier or Affirmed’s Alydar. Only a look back at his career from the future could cast him in that role.

Mickelson’s problem could be very different. His inconsistency in decision-making and shot execution under pressure could be because he’s still a golfer, not an athlete. He doesn’t seem to approach it as a battle, a mano-a-mano competition. It seems to still be a country club game to Mickelson. A commitment to fitness might be part of the recipe for future major championship success.

While there’s no denying Woods’ genius, I would like to see a serious challenge mounted consistently by the competition. Woods is always the player who doesn’t make mistakes, who comes up with the special shot. Can’t anybody else pull a little magic out of their bag? Nicklaus bristles a bit when there’s a comparison made between his play and Tiger Wood’s current domination of the game. Nicklaus points out that during his prime, if he made a mistake, there was another player with major championship credentials ready to step in. He had to contend with Palmer and Player then Trevino and eventually Watson. He’s right about that. Woods’ accomplishments against the all-time records validate his greatness, but there’s nobody in today’s game who can put heat on him with credentials to back it up.

Mickelson and Duval haven’t won a major. Ernie Els, Justin Leonard, Tom Lehman, and Davis Love, major winners all, seem to disappear at the wrong moment. But I’m not going to fret about whether Tiger’s dominance is good for the game. I’m going to revel in it. Witnessing history happens all the time. But in this case, we just know it’s happening.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Brunell Signs

“The days of free-spending free-agency are over. The salary cap is beginning to work.” With those words, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver echoed the sentiments of his fellow NFL owners; the lottery is over. Weaver and quarterback Mark Brunell agreed at the “11th hour and 57th minute” on a four year, $30 million deal with an $8 million signing bonus.

“It’s fair to both sides,” Brunell said by phone from a weekend camping trip in Clay County with his children. “We both achieved our goals. They kept their quarterback and I’m staying in Jacksonville. I wanted to remain a Jaguar.”

After presenting initial ideas ranging to over $100 million and $20 million in a signing bonus, Brunell and his agent Leigh Steinberg realized Weaver was not going to go for those numbers. Both Bret Favre and Drew Bledsoe received announced contracts for more than $100 million.

“Those are phony numbers,” according to Weaver. “They’ll never see that kind of money.”

Both sides had agreed early on that $30 million over 4 years was the fair market value for Brunell. Taking less than what his fellow quarterbacks announced they received is something Brunell had to get over, and eventually did, with the potential of a trade to Kansas City, Seattle or Detroit helping convince him.

“Jacksonville is my home and I wanted to stay here. My parents live here, my church is here, I wanted to stay,” Brunell added.

Weaver seemed genuinely surprised at the number of assembled media for the 4 pm announcement. “I don’t know why you’re all here. We’re doing what I said all along, we’ve signed Mark Brunell to a new contract,” is how the Jaguars owner opened the press conference.

Neither side is completely happy, and neither side thinks they lost. In other words, it’s exactly what is supposed to happen in a negotiation. Brunell doesn’t think this is his last contract either. “I hope to have the chance to go through this again,” he said.

Both Brunell and Weaver expect his teammates t understand the business nature of this deal, and the strain it put on the franchise during the early weeks of free agency. What is still in question is how the fans will react to Brunell when he takes the field this fall. Fan sentiment ran strongly against Brunell, with the perception being that his delay in signing a deal cost the team a chance to keep players like Leon Searcy and Mike Logan.

Brunell said, “in situations like this, some people understand, some don’t. You just have to move on.”

“I think the fans want Mark Brunell as their quarterback,” Weaver added. “If we get to the Super Bowl, Mark Brunell is the quarterback who will take us there.”

Putting a competitive team on the field right away is the first concern for the Jaguars administration. Weaver mentioned Jeff Smith and Todd Forham, both free agents, several times, and said the team will attempt to offer them deals so they’ll return. Both can be solid linemen, know the system, played together last year, and will be key to any success the Jaguars might have.

Although he wouldn’t say how much the Jaguars now had under the cap, Weaver did note, “it’ll be enough to sign the minimum of 51 players.” The team immediately moved on one player, signing Jamie Martin to a one-year deal to backup Brunell. Martin is an insurance policy in case Jonathan Quinn doesn’t perform well in NFL Europe.

Weaver is right when he says the salary cap is working. Over 100 veteran players were cut by the deadline last month, and only a few have signed deals near their previous market value. “Teams know they can’t sign these long-term, big-money deals and defer their problems. We’re the poster child for that,” the Jaguars owner added.

He also said he was against the idea of a “Larry Bird” exemption in the NFL where teams could keep some veteran players on the roster and have them not count against the cap. Weaver said, “I think that’s a bad rule. All teams are learning to deal with the salary cap the way it is.”

In the end, the Jaguars owner was able to keep the “$100 million” label away from any of his players, holding the line against that number with his biggest star. In that vein, he won in this round of negotiations. Only time will tell if signing Brunell, and not trading him translates into more actual on field wins in the future.