Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Ali’s Return

In this month of TV ratings or “sweeps” with all of the choices on television, I was surfing the channels the other night and stopped on a PBS documentary about Muhammad Ali. Yet another contest that Ali wins hands down. The champ vs. any made-for-TV movie.

This documentary focused on Ali’s ring record and his part of social reform in the U.S. in the ‘60’s. Although his current struggle against Parkinson’s syndrome still keeps him in the limelight, Ali is part of America’s past. Our sporting past and what we are today.

I started wondering what current athlete might be able to approach the impact, out of his sport, that Ali had on American culture. I’m aware it was a different time, but regrettably, the answer is nobody. And worse, nobody seems to be even trying. Ali, and many athletes of his era knew the kind of impact they could have on society, what kind of role model they might be, and the influence they had on young people. Is any of that happening today?

In very few instances.

Most fans are disenfranchised from professional athletes. The money gap starts the division, but the lack of the common touch widens the gulf. I had breakfast with Ali once. Just the two of us and one other guy in a deserted restaurant in Charleston, S.C. At the time, he was arguably the most famous person on the planet, but you wouldn’t have known it by our conversation. In fact, you wouldn’t have even known he was a boxer or an athlete listening to him talk. Is there anybody out there now you can say that about? I’m still thinking about that.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

1000 Super Bowl Days

It’s now under a thousand days before the Super Bowl is played here in Jacksonville. There’s a little bit of anticipation about the game, but any real enthusiasm has been kept pretty well under wraps. I’ve covered the game since the early ‘80’s and have seen successful host cities, and not so successful host cities. In fact, San Diego, the site of this year’s game, qualifies in both categories.

When they first held the game there in ’88, it was a scary place to be. Dangerous downtown, terrible traffic, not much nightlife unless you were invited to one of the NFL or their clients premier parties. When the game returned ten years later, San Diego had completely changed. Great downtown hotels, a gaslight district with restaurants and nightlife, a light rail system and a vibrant feel about a city by the water.

Sound familiar?

In these next thousand days, the charge for Jacksonville’s Super Bowl organizers is to be San Diego the second time around. To transform our downtown from a scary place to be, to an inviting area where people will be entertained and feel safe. Forget comparisons to Miami and Tampa and New Orleans. They’ve got meeting space and convention centers and are destinations year-round. San Diego is where Jacksonville should look. They figured out their problems and fixed them before the game returned.

The promise of the organizing committee to the NFL was that the celebration would be centered on a 2-mile radius near the stadium. You might think that can’t be done. But I’ve seen it at other major events and it can happen here. Boarded up storefronts become temporary souvenir shops and casual beer drinking establishments. Giant tents can be erected, inviting all kinds of vendors to be a part of the Super Bowl experience. Public transportation should be the major focus for getting people from out of town, all over our town. The next Mayor of Jacksonville should try and keep politics out of the Super Bow decision-making and fulfill his role as “best friend of the city.” That’s the only way it’ll work.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Baseball Managers

I was doing my regular appearance on the Lex and Terry Morning show today when new Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle called in. Hurdle is a former Major League player who was once called the “Next Phenom” by Sports Illustrated magazine on their cover. He was a solid player who now talks mostly about his own limitations during his career.

When the Rockies fired Buddy Bell, they hired Hurdle who was on their staff as the hitting coach. Lex and Terry and I have gotten to know Hurdle over the last 5 years as the Commissioner of the Fantasy Camp we attend each February. Clint has been the “perfect manager in waiting” and now has gotten his shot.

If you look around the league, the successful managers these days are the ones who aren’t seeking the spotlight, but rather creating an atmosphere for success. Outside of Joe Torre, none were great players but all had careers where they saw the ups and downs of many seasons, and came to understand the rhythms of the game. That’s why Hurdle is the perfect manager, and an example of a guy many fans have never heard of who becomes successful leading a Major League baseball team.

Anybody can make pitching changes, and put pinch hitters in the game. A good manager has to accept failure nearly as often as success. If he wins six out of every ten games, they’ll hail him as a hero. A baseball manager doesn’t have to dress in flashy clothes, he wears a uniform every night. He doesn’t have to suffer for a week between losses, because they’ll play again tomorrow. And he doesn’t have to baby-sit much. By the time players make it to the majors, they’re grown men. Or at least they’re supposed to be.

Not many great players have made good managers. The theory is that they don’t understand how less-talented players can’t perform at a higher level. I don’t know if Clint Hurdle will be a great manager. I do know he’s the right pedigree. Part thoroughbred, part quarter horse, part workhorse.