Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

20 Years

You might have seen on Channel 4 this week that I’m celebrating my 20th year at WJXT. It also marks the 20th year Tom Wills, Deborah Gianoulis, George Winterling and I have been the anchors at Channel 4, the longest running four person anchor team in television history.

There are many people to thank starting with my family for the sacrifices they’ve made, the management at the station and Post-Newsweek for creating an environment where we can flourish, and Tom, Deborah, and George for their professionalism and friendship over the years.

They’ve been running a couple of highlight clips of my career over the past 20 years on the air, and when I see them, there’s no wonder I think I have the best job in the world. Covering all kinds of fantastic competitions, from the Super Bowl to the World Series, The Masters and seemingly every other major sporting event in America, what’s not to like?

There have been exciting times, like when the city was awarded the Jaguars and the Super Bowl, the national championship seasons of the Gators and Seminoles, the great basketball runs by both schools and many others. And there have been difficult times as well, bringing news about sports figures who have lost their way, or tragically, lost their lives either in or outside of competition.

I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve reported on and there is a common thread that runs through all of the successful people I’ve covered. They all have a desire to find out just how good they can be. They’re never really satisfied with their final effort, figuring out just how much better they could have been by tweaking this and refining that. They don’t compete against some rules in a book or against the other team, but rather against a standard of excellence they knows exists. They know what’s good and what’s not, and they don’t need somebody to tell them when they haven’t performed at their best.

And they’re passionate.

Passionate about what they do, about life, and about their own achievements. When you’re around people like that all the time, it inspires you. I know it inspires me every day to perform a little bit better, to try a little harder, to not come up with an excuse for why not, but rather to figure out a way to make things happen.

I’ve been honored to have breakfast with Muhammad Ali, lunch with Richard Petty, beers with Arnold Palmer and spend time with a whole myriad of other famous stars in and out of the sports world. I even had a chance to sing with Huey Lewis once at a post-concert party!

What has always impressed me isn’t their money, or fame, but when they’re nice. Without being schmaltzy, it’s true. And with most of the really successful, that’s the case. They’re talent is usually only outweighed by their kindness and understanding.

Outside of sports, easily the most exciting and interesting things I’ve done at Channel 4 are the stories on fighter pilots and other Navy aviators. To have the chance to fly with the Blue Angels, then go through enough training to be “back seat” rated in the FA-18, getting a trap and a launch off an aircraft carrier are things I can never match. Being a Navy town, Jacksonville has given me a chance to get to know the pilots, the surface warriors at Mayport and the submariners at King’s Bay. Any time I think I’m working hard, I only have to remember the things they’re asked to do, and it makes my job look like a snap. Commander Pat Rainey asking me to be the keynote speaker at his change of command ceremony remains one of the highlights of the last 20 years.

Most importantly, thanks to all of you. Doing this job in a vacuum would be no fun. Getting to share your joys and disappointments is a rare privilege, and I’m glad you’ve let me along for the ride.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

World Sport

I’ve been in London and Paris for the past week with my family, going through the regular tourist routine, seeing the sights. I spent every frequent flyer mile I’ve ever earned and if you have children, you know, as they get older the vacations better get exciting or they won’t want to go.

Anyway, the last time I was in Europe, I was surprised how little sports in the United States gets any play in the media. It’s still the same. The CNN Worldsport report is the best link to the sports world,and the occasionally available copy of USA Today or the International Herald Tribune (which devotes about a page and a half to sports) can keep you mildly updated about what’s going on at home.

If you think they’re wild about soccer in the rest of the world, you’re wrong. They’re absolutely bonkers about it. That’s what every newspaper (nine in London alone) trumpets in the headlines, that’s what every sportscast on television, regardless of the language, leads with.

A match between Bahrain and Bosnia? No problem, it’s the lead story, in Paris nonetheless. I like soccer; I like the rhythm of the game, and can see how they call it “The Beautiful Game”. But a steady diet of soccer is like rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner: eventually you’d like something else.

They do cover Formula One racing, cricket,(really) some tennis and golf, and even Cal Ripken’s retirement announcement got some play. But morning, noon and night, “football” is the “sport du jour”

The Europeans have an odd mix of thought regarding sports and sports celebrities. The tabloid papers will print anything and go to any extreme to get a suggestive picture, or some kind of dirt involving the sports stars. This seems to have numbed the sporting public into a “so what?” attitude. They’ll peruse the sports pages (usually beginning from the back page of the paper), chuckle at the foibles and move on.

There’s also a style of writing that has an assumption that you as the reader already know what’s going on and how it happened. You can’t find a recap of just about any game; they just jump into analysis, most screaming at the top of their lungs.

One of the problems is knowing what’s the truth and what people are making up. They’re not beyond that, so if you can’t cull out the truth, you’re behind the times.

I like to travel, to see how we fit in with the rest of the world, but give me some football.
Or baseball.
Or bass fishing.
Or something.
Soccer can wait.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


My Dad throws like a catcher. Kind of a short stroke, not much follow through. I have been on the receiving end of his throws many times. Mostly baseballs, but footballs too, the occasional Frisbee or nerf ball, all thrown with that short stroke.

I’m lucky to have been on the receiving end of those throws.

After school and my paper route, I’d while away the time in the front yard, playing curb ball, throwing at the six short bushy pines that guarded the front of the house (Raymond Berry and Jimmy Orr were the two on the ends, John Mackey in the middle, Lenny Moore stood right next to the stairs, and other unidentifiable Colts filled out the rest).

Like a million other young boys, I was waiting for my Dad to come home from work. He’d drive up; the catcher’s mitt would already be laid out near where his car door would open.

I’d fire my best fastball and hear the occasional, “you’ve got to back up, you’re hurting my hand!” Which, of course, would make me throw all that much harder.

My Dad, in IBM issue white shirt and tie, dark pants and wingtips, caught my first curveball, saw my first failed attempt at a knuckler, and laughed at my imitations of Jim Palmer, Luis Tiant and Juan Marachal.

“Let me go see what you’re mother’s doing,” usually signaled the end of our session, but never before an encouraging “I think you’re going to win the Heisman,” or “you’ll take over when Brooks retires” was mentioned as he bounced up the front steps.

The youngest son of immigrant parents, my father and his brother were the only siblings born in the United States. My Grandfather stowed away numerous times on ships out of Greece before finding a suitable place to bring his family. Known as “Gleeka” (The Sweet One), he finally settled on Baltimore leaving behind a hard life in the Greek islands. By trade, he was a housepainter, a steeplejack, but actually, he spent his time making wine from wildflowers, growing figs and grapes in the small backyard of his row house in downtown Baltimore, playing double pinochle at the coffee house, and watching over the neighborhood, making sure other Greek immigrants had a place to stay and enough to eat while they got on their feet.

My father learned a lot of lessons from his dad early on. They didn’t speak English in the house, and everybody in the neighborhood was Greek. “Two eggs and a bacon,” was the extent of my grandfather’s English, although he never had any trouble communicating. When my father came home from school with a vocabulary test in the first grade, he had no idea what the words meant. “What should I do?” my grade school Dad asked. Rather than march to the school and demand he be taught in Greek or some other silly solution, my Grandfather (Popou in Greek) logically responded, “Learn English fast.” Understanding the power of an education, my father kept his nose to the grindstone (mostly) eventually graduating from Johns Hopkins using the GI bill.

I saw some of these things as a kid, but most I know from stories my Dad has told me. He’s the best storyteller I know. With a bent toward hyperbole, he takes poetic license, as all good storytellers do, but never deviates from the truth. Many times I’ve heard stories about my grandfather fighting the Turks and the Nazi’s. About the first time he met my mother (on an ice skating rink) and about the day I was born.

No matter how many times he tells me that one, it’s always with the same emotion, the same passion. How he and another guy were in the waiting room (long before they allowed husbands in delivery) and decided when their kids were born to go across the street to the “House of Welsh” to have a drink. But when the doctor called the other man to the corner of the room to say his son had died at birth, those plans faded away. And how he decided to name me after himself, (my mother’s idea) and not after his father (his dad’s idea.) And how it was one of the four best days of his life (I have two sisters and a brother.) I never really understood that story until I had children of my own, and now the passion and emotion he tells it with makes complete sense to me.

My father has never been rich, yet he says he’s the wealthiest man in the world. “I have four great children who have never given me a day’s trouble,” is his answer when asked how successful he’s been.

I had a friend who once said to me “you Greeks have the weirdest combination of machismo and sensitivity in the whole world.” That about describes my Dad perfectly. He’s ready to fight if necessary, but is much more interested in compromise. I’ve seen my Dad cry, but not often, and I’ve seen him pretty angry, but not often.

I’m lucky to have witnessed so much of this with my father. Some of my friends never knew their Dads; other’s lost them when they were young. I’ve had a relationship with my Dad as a kid, and as an adult. His business advice has been sage, his personal words wise. Like most men of his generation, he doesn’t like the modern-day ball player, and doesn’t see much on television that appeals to him, except on The History Channel. I told him the best invention ever for him was the remote. “Now if I don’t like it,” he beams, “I just change it.”

“As I got older, somehow my father got smarter,” my Dad used to tell me through a laugh.

You know what Dad?

I think you’re a genius.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Petty, Petty?

Eventually, we’ll know why Richard Petty decided this week to speak out regarding the Dale Earnhardt situation, but for now, it makes no sense at all. Petty chastised NASCAR fans for holding on to Earnhardt’s memory, saying it’s time to move on.

“He didn’t win that many races,” the man they call The King said, “and he wasn’t that dominant of a driver.” Petty won 200 races during his career as a driver, Earnhardt 76.

Dominant? Win or not, every person at a NASCAR race was aware of Earnhardt’s position. Half were happy when he went to the front, the other half booed. Dominant in terms of winning every week, perhaps not, but in terms of fan interest and his overall effect on a race, there was nobody like him in racing since, well, Richard Petty.


The King’s comments seem like sour grapes when put in the context of Petty, the driver, vs. Earnhardt, the driver. Petty was universally loved, but nobody was passionate about him or his racing. He was one of the boys, the one with the best equipment, the one with a chance to win every week. You knew Richard would be a factor, but you also knew he was just racing the Allisons, Yarborough, Pearson and Parsons. A few teams were capable of winning, the rest were just there to fill out the field. It wasn’t a free-for-all, big money proposition every time he took the track.

Dale, on the other hand, drove the passion for the sport to a higher level by the sheer force of his personality. People liked Richard because he won, because he was identifiable and because he was easy going. People liked Dale for the opposite of all that. He won, and did it with an aggressive style. He was identifiable, but only when he wanted to be. He was anything but easy going, creating a competitive tension in every situation.

Petty is trying to protect NASCAR in some way, deflecting the criticism the sport’s governing body is taking regarding their handling of the whole Earnhardt situation. It’s very weird though because it’s completely out of character for Richard. Every time I’ve talked to him, even in private, he’s never been anything but gracious and complimentary.

What happened? It almost seems as if somebody else wrote his comments. The words, the grammar, even the way the sentences are put together seem very un-Petty like.

They’re in a word, petty.

Richard hasn’t denied the comments, so I guess he stands by them.

There are pretty much four things you can walk into any bar in America, especially in the South and get a fight started by commenting on them. You don’t say bad things about a man’s mother, his religion, Elvis, or Dale Earnhardt. Maybe Richard was just looking for a fight.

For me, and awful lot of people I know, I’m holding onto Dale’s memory. I’m gauging other drivers against him. Their ability, their will to win, their kindness, their passion for being the best. Petty used to be the measuring stick, his 200 wins un-attainable in the regulated world of modern day NASCAR. Earnhardt is now the benchmark. Perhaps Petty and NASCAR don’t like that.

Sorry, they’ll just have to get used to it.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Charley Pell

I wanted to wait a few days before writing about Charley Pell. Sometimes when people die, everybody’s coming out of the woodwork to say something about that person, good or bad.

I first met Charley in 1978 in a back stairwell in Charleston, South Carolina. He was just getting his feet wet as the Head Coach at Clemson, I was a new reporter. I waited for him after a Tiger booster club speech. He had seen me before the meeting, and knew I’d been waiting.

“You’re a hell of a man,” Pell said as he slapped me on the shoulder. At the time it seemed to me like something he said a lot. But it wasn’t offensive. There was a certain appeal to Pell, he had charisma in a very “old school” way.

He was one of the original throwbacks. A man’s man. He even smoked like that, with a determination that he was going to get the best out of this cigarette, consequences be damned. He talked about his players as “that ‘ole boy” naming their “momma’s and daddy’s” and referred to their hometowns and their high school coaches like old friends. When he spoke, he always acted as if he was letting you in on a secret.

I don’t know if I broke the story or not, but I was one of the first to report Charley was headed to Florida. His friends confirmed it for me, saying Pell thought it was the quickest way back to Alabama. Not a lot is ever made about Pell’s similarity to Bear Bryant, but everything about him said “The Bear.”

He referred to himself in conversation as “we.” He had a self-depreciating style and created a very tight inner circle. He never thought of himself as smart, so he made up for it with dedication, hard work and loyalty. If you were inside, you were set, if you were outside, somehow you were always the enemy. Charley followed Bear’s rules, but they changed the rules along the way, and it got him, and the Gators into trouble.

I helped Charley in some of his early private business ventures, and we played golf a few times while he lived here in town. I went to see him in the hospital the night he tried to kill himself, only to be turned away because security recognized me as media, and not somebody who knew Charley and wanted to help.

As the years passed, I was saddened by the fact that nobody would let Pell do what he wanted to do: coach. Charley was really wrong in how he went about things at Florida, but in a way, he didn’t see it as wrong. It was just how things were done. He was just 20 years too late, because they changed the rules.

Pell’s accusers never saw it as wrong to effectively end his career, and in a way, his life as he wanted it. It was a feeding frenzy when the NCAA sanctions came out. Both in Gainesville and Birmingham, where the sanctions were announced, the media had its hands on a juicy story and wasn’t letting go. For many reporters, it was their first post-Watergate experience, and they were going to prove themselves worthy of it.

Charley’s legacy as a coach is one of success and shame, the person who laid the groundwork for the current Gator success, but branded them as a renegade program for years. He galvanized the alumni, raised money, got the football team out of debt and created an esprit de corps among Gator fans never seen before. He banished the old “wait ‘till next year” philosophy, trading it for winning now. If he seems like much more of a sympathetic figure now, he should be. He wasn’t defiant in the end, admitting wrong doing, but saying taking all of the blame was his biggest mistake.

When he was alive, there was never any public forgiveness, no public acknowledgement of the positive things he accomplished, the people’s lives he touched. Now that he’s gone, I don’t think it’s too late.