Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


I’ve been thinking about the similarities between the Americans who brought home two of the biggest sporting prizes from Europe in the last two weeks. David Duval captured the Claret Jug as the “Champion Golfer of 2001” as they say in the presentation ceremony at The Open Championship, and Lance Armstrong’s wore the yellow jersey for the third year in a row as the Tour de France winner.

A Texan and a Floridian, Armstrong and Duval would seem as different as, well, cycling and golf. One’s a former cancer patient left for dead, the other spent time helping his brother, the cancer patient, who did die.

One is in a sport known as grueling and exhausting, the other’s sport is considered gentlemanly and a good walk. Yet, Armstrong and Duval share the most basic characteristics of championship athletes, desire, self-confidence and a willingness to work.

Sitting in lazy-boy undergoing chemotherapy treatment, Armstrong dreamt of nothing but getting back to cycling. Of winning the Tour de France. Following his treatments, weak and sick, he would jump on his bike for 40 miles or so. His recovery is nearly unprecedented. Testicular cancer had spread to his lungs and brain, and doctors gave him virtually no chance to recover. Armstrong gave himself a chance though, believing he would not only recover, but also compete again.

Duval had been left for dead, figuratively, several times. After a stellar college career, he didn’t make it in his first attempt on the PGA Tour and was written off. Once there, he didn’t win immediately, and was again considered a failure. His near misses at the Masters left him among the public’s list of those who couldn’t cut it when it counted. But Duval never wavered in one thing, his belief in himself. Like Armstrong, he ignored the naysayers, the critics, and the fans that said it couldn’t be done. Both men retreated within themselves, finding their own path, counting on their own resolve, keeping a small circle of friends and advisors while they continued to work.

I heard a famous actor say the other day that he doesn’t read any reviews of his work. “You just want them to say good things, and when they don’t, you’re mad. So what’s the point?” Media coverage of Armstrong and Duval’s every move included some sort of assessment of their personalities, their training techniques and their futures. And you know what? They didn’t read or watch them. Or if they did, they laughed and ignored them.

In a culture of celebrity celebration, two achievers shunned the spotlight and went about their work. Not looking for adulation, or acceptance, but rather looking for success, and finding it within themselves. Armstrong said after his victory that he thinks of current chemotherapy patients when riding and it inspires him. Duval said during the final round of the Open he couldn’t get it out of his head that it’s just “a silly game.”

It’s as if both have reached some higher state of awareness about themselves, their abilities and what they are. I know the next time I’m looking for inspiration; I won’t have to look far.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Fix

The fix is not in.

The talk about Dale Jr.’s win and Cal’s home run being pre-planned is silly. I guess next you’re going to tell me that the rest of the guys in the Tour de France are laying back so Lance Armstrong can win. Soon, people are going to go through past sports feats and figure out what looks fishy. Are you thinking about Jackie Smith’s dropped pass as some part of a great plot to keep the Steelers winning? Bill Buckner’s miss a conspiracy to keep the Red Sox from winning the World Series?

Come on.

The sports world is full of cynics, people who aren’t going to believe that great feats can be performed. That sacrifices will be made for the team, and that good things can happen through hard work. Why won’t they believe that? Because they’re not willing to do those things themselves. They’re afraid, afraid of failure and “what people might say.”

That’s when cowards become cynics.

As Teddy Roosevelt said, “they are among those who neither enjoy much, nor suffer much, for they live in that gray twilight that knows not victory, nor defeat.” They’ve never been in the arena.

How many owners and sponsors in NASCAR do you think would approve of a race being fixed for one car?

Exactly zero.

Take the drivers out of it, the crew chiefs, and the fact that NASCAR has a shady reputation about the outcome of some races. There’s too much money at stake these days. What would Miller think about letting the Bud car win?

I don’t think there was any great conspiracy to let Lil’ E win. I do think he had the best car, and drivers weren’t willing to gang up on him or go through any great blocking scheme to keep him from going to the front. Somebody could have put him into the wall, but they didn’t at 180 mph.

The idea that Chan Ho Park grooved a pitch for Cal Ripken at the All Star game is really silly. The night before, they were throwing nice little meatballs over the plate, trying to let players hit home runs in the Home Run Derby. Some went 25 pitches without hitting one over the fence. And if Park was grooving one, why did he throw it at 92 mph?

Those two events are the very reason we watch sports. The essence of what keeps our interest from season to season, from sport to sport. Good things can happen in sports.

Let the cynics howl.

Then tell them to get back on the couch.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Return to Daytona

“Seven, eleven and three-quarters,” a fan shouted to me through the rain few years ago before the infield was open at Daytona International Speedway.

“What?” was my bewildered response from the parking lot outside the tunnel entrance in turn four.

“Seven, eleven and three-quarters,” (which actually sounded like “sevem levem, tree quarters”), the fan repeated.

“Every time we come to the tunnel, the man says, ‘too high’ we just laugh and say ‘put a stick on it,’” the loyal fan continued.

The vintage ‘70’s Chevy pick up had an odd looking iron podium welded to the truck bed.

“Custom built this platform,” he added. “Looks too high, but before he put the stick on it, (measures it) we jump out, let the air out of the tires just enough, and it’s seven, eleven and three quarters.”

“Just need the right number of beer in the back, about twenty cases is right,” he said as he surveyed the truck bed.

“Want a cold one?” (I promise this is a true story)

One of my favorite sights, and one of the most amazing in all of sports, is the one as you emerge from the tunnel and into the infield at Daytona International Speedway. I’m always anticipating that moment, emerging from the dark, quiet of the tunnel into the sun-splashed infield, full of sights and sounds made by partiers and fans strewn inside the 2.5 mile track. I really like taking people there for the first time, and seeing their eyes wide open, mouths agape, speechless at the reverie enjoyed hours, and sometimes days before the race. Vehicles of every shape and size, most customized to fit through though the eight foot height limit imposed by the tunnel, are painted NASCAR colors with every number represented.

People of every shape and size are there as well. T-shirts, or no shirts are the standard infield uniform for guys, bikini tops for women. The excitement is high, fueled by anticipation and beer.

I spent most of the day at the track Saturday before the Pepsi 400 that night. Taking my nephew and my son to the infield for the first time on race day was particularly fun. But it was a bit more subdued than in the past. “The Man in Black,” was missing.

Sure, there were flags everywhere, most topped with the familiar “3” on a black background. Lots of “thumbs up,” or “three fingers” exchanged between Dale Earnhardt fans still wearing black hats. I know this because I wore my Dale hat to the race for the first time. It was a little strange but I learned a lot too. For the first time since Earnhardt died, fans returned to the track. Many were there to pay tribute to Dale, but all were there for the same reason: to see a race.

There were memorials to Earnhardt and reminders everywhere. Wearing my “3” hat when Dale was alive would have aligned me with 100% of NASCAR fans: those who rooted for Dale, and those who rooted against him. Now, it puts me among the “old school” of racing fans.

“We’re sold out of those, gone yesterday,” one concessionaire told me when I asked for a Dale Jr. hat for my nephew.

“Used to be that we couldn’t keep the 3’s in stock, but now the 8’s go flying out of here.”

“Lots of switching going on.”


Not yet.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Seattle All Star

When they play the All star game in Seattle next week, it will have a definite Mariner feel to it. Four Mariners were named to the starting lineup, selected by the fans through paper ballots and Internet voting. While fans in other cities are crying about ballot box stuffing, which player would you take out of the lineup?

Ichiro got more votes than anybody, the first rookie to lead the balloting, and rightfully so based on the year he’s having. Brett Boone is putting up numbers that, well, are all-star numbers. John Olerud is hitting .317 and Edgar Martinez is a lifetime .320 hitter.

Who gets in and who gets jerked around has become part of the All-Star ritual. The restrictions on the rosters ensure that somebody having a big year is going to stay home. And if you said the wrong thing to the wrong manager, the one running the show when you’ve had you’re big year, most likely you’re looking at a 3 day vacation instead of Home Run Derby.

Cal Ripken was elected to the game as a starter, while Tony Gwynn was not. Both have announced their retirement at the end of the year and deserve a big day in the sun on the national stage. The commissioner’s office should figure out how to give Gwynn a start in this game, even if they have to change the rules.