Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Boselli’s Retirement

A career that seemed destined to end at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton now ends in an auditorium in Houston. Tony Boselli will announce his retirement this week from football at age 31. Rest, rehabilitation nor three surgeries have given Boselli relief from the shoulder problems that originally put him out of the Jaguars lineup in October of 2001.

Drafted to be the “cornerstone of the franchise” by then-coach Tom Coughlin, Boselli was plagued by injuries throughout his career. Not big injuries generally, but ones that nicked him enough to miss a game here or there, forcing the Jaguars to alter their game plan on the offensive line. When healthy, Boselli could take his place among the best left tackles in the history of the game.

Over the 1995-2001 run, he started 90 games for Jacksonville, and was credited with allowing 15 1/2 sacks in their period. Knowing he might be damaged goods, Coughlin and the Jaguars made a deal with Houston, allowing the expansion franchise to take Boselli off their roster, along with Seth Payne and Gary Walker, giving the Jaguars a chance to get out of cap jail. It was a risk by the Texans, but a calculated one, knowing they’d get Payne and Walker in the deal. In fact, those two started every game for Houston last year on their defensive front four. Boselli was checked out by the Texan’s medical staff, and was declared sound enough to continue rehab. He said he’d play in 2002. But in October of last year, the Texans put him on injured reserve. He didn’t play a down. His retirement this week will bring his career to a close, but not his cap space on Houston’s roster. He’ll count against the cap this year and next before they stop paying for their first pick in the expansion draft.

In an ironic twist, it looks like Zach Weigert will be the player to replace him on the Texan’s offensive line at left tackle. Because it’s happening to a celebrated player in Jaguars’ history, Boselli’s retirement seems tragic, but it’s a story told a hundred times a year, from high school, to college to professional football. Staying healthy is as big a part of the game as playing itself.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Black and White

An NBA star is accused of some sort of sex crime, and the usual “he said, she said” begins, while there’s a collective yawn from the public. Unless the star is Kobe Bryant, and his hometown is Los Angeles. The instant Bryant was accused, the coverage has been nonstop. From the major networks to the cable channels and even the entertainment shows, Bryant’s tribulations have been the lead story.

The initial reaction an any NBA star getting in trouble is always “here we go again.” But with Bryant, it’s been just the opposite. The press and the public don’t want to believe that Kobe could be involved in this kind of situation. The Sheriff in Eagle County, Colorado even was dismayed by the attention given to Bryant instead of the alleged victim. But Kobe has built a reservoir of good will during his career in the public eye. He’s cooperative with the media, signs autographs for fans, and usually says the right things (in English or Italian, he’s fluent in both). He’s married. He and his wife have a child. He has a reputation for staying at home, or in his hotel room instead of sampling the nightlife in various NBA cities. His teammates say the crime he’s accused of is completely out of character for Bryant. So it’s a long stretch for a lot of people to think Bryant could be that far out of line.

The league is holding its collective breath, hoping the other shoe doesn’t drop on Kobe. He’s their image, their role model. A black man, who has tremendous skills, can converse at just about any level, plays for a high profile team and wins championships. Did you know Kobe was black? Or for some is he not black enough? There’s even a conspiracy theory that the whole thing is a sham, something to give Kobe some street credibility among black city kids so they’ll buy his shoe. As preposterous as that sounds, Allen Iverson’s street “image’ is given the credit as the primary factor for the popularity of his shoes. The whole marketing of the “thug life” is irresponsible to begin with, and the basketball shoe makers walk a fine line in trying to appeal to an urban audience yet staying on the right side of the law.

Bryant’s deal with a soda manufacturer was based on his clean image, easily appealing to mainstream audiences. Selling a basketball shoe is a whole other story. Who’s buying basketball shoes these days? Jr. High, High School and College age males. What demographic makes up this buying group? Young, black guys. And how do you reach this demographic group? By getting one of their heroes to endorse your shoe. One of their heroes who has the right blend of skills and street appeal. A shoe sale notwithstanding, Bryant has said he’s innocent, and when all of the evidence is revealed, he’ll be exonerated. I believe him, even though friends of the victim say it’s hard to believe she’d be involved in anything like this. Unless Kobe is about to disappoint all of us with some dark side he’s been hiding, this thing will just go away.

One thing that won’t go away unless we let it is the simmering resentment between blacks and whites in sports. Dusty Baker’s comments on how Blacks and Latinos are better prepared to deal with the heat showed that resentment bubbling to the surface once again. It also shows the double standard applied to comments made about race in sports. Baker didn’t pay any price, except revealing his ignorance, for his comments. Whites who have made similar comparisons in sports have been chastised and usually fired for such ill-informed utterances. What Baker said isn’t racist, it’s just stupid. It again points out how an expert in or on one field isn’t necessarily qualified to speak about another. Baker might know when to call for the hit and run, but how that qualifies him to comment on the heat exchange rates on different skin colors and metabolisms is a mystery. As the saying goes, better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you’re a fool than open it and remove all doubt.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Proud Americans

It’s a shame Venus was injured and couldn’t perform at the top of her game in the finals at Wimbledon, but in truth, the women’s finals wasn’t about who won and who lost. The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are far and away the best female players in the world. Yes Kim Clistjers and Justine Hennen-Hardenne occasionally give them a game, but it’s still not close.

Venus is taller, older and has tremendous speed, while Serena has worked herself into a fitness level perhaps not seen before in women’s tennis. Maybe Martina Navratilova approached it, but never got to the level Serena is at.

Serena won in three sets, taking her second Wimbledon crown and her fifth Grand Slam title in the last six events. But besides the tennis, the fact that two American women are dominating an international sport is impressive in itself.

American men are almost extinct on the international tennis scene. Agassi is aging and Sampras is retiring. Andy Roddick is 20 years old, and might be a force, but not yet. In a time when the question is “Why does everybody hate the Americans?” the Williams sisters are gaining, not retreating in popularity. The ten minutes after their match showed exactly why. Serena was the victor, and graciously acknowledged the crowd’s applause. Then she went and sat by her sister, and chatted her up about the match, and her injury. Like you’re supposed to act after a win! The on court interview conducted by both sisters wasn’t full of me this and me that. It was genial, cordial, thoughtful, and even a little funny.

Both sisters suffered early in their career from the boorish behavior of their father. His training of the two girls to be champions is undeniable. His actions once they reached the top were despicable. Without their father there and their mother present at Centre Court, neither of the sisters was embarrassed by a parent or their siblings, and neither were we. Maybe it’s just the holiday, but I was proud to say, “they’re Americans” after watching that.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


Now, there are eleven. Eleven being the operative word in that sentence. Eleven is a nice number, a good number for players on either side of a football. It’s about the right number on a soccer pitch for guys in the same color jersey, but it’s not the right number for teams in a conference. Especially a football conference. That’s why eleven teams in the ACC is a bogus number, a temporary number of teams until they figure out who is the best fit as the twelfth team. Twelve is the right number. It balances the schedule, it allows rivalries to develop and it enables the conference to have a championship football game at the end of the season. That’s millions and millions of dollars, and in this case, again, money talks.

So who is the twelfth team? Louisville, East Carolina, USF, UCF? If the league is just interested in adding numbers, any one of those schools will do. If they’re interested in keeping the travel budgets down, any of those will do as well. But if the ACC is trying preserve their reputation as the “Tiffany” conference, they might want a bigger name, a marquee school, stolen from another conference. Florida? Georgia? Kentucky? All of those upgrade the conference in just about every way. The ACC will have 12 teams, it’s just a matter of time.

Is there any intrigue involved in these conference switches? Not really. The driving force is money, and when it comes to conferences and money, bigger is better. The Big East was created as a basketball conference to begin with, an outgrowth of the old ECAC. Miami’s rise to prominence in football, and Virginia Tech’s commitment to upgrade their program made the conference a bigger football player, but those two couldn’t drag the Big East up among the elite. So the ‘Canes decided to listen to other offers, and needed somebody to come along. Boston College and Syracuse were their first choices, but they couldn’t work all of the details out. So Virginia Tech got the call, and happily, the Hokies went along. Miami was driving the bus on this deal though, working out a way to move from the Big East to the ACC. The ‘Canes thought, and rightfully so, they were losing some of their clout by staying in the Big East. Football’s their game, and the Big East wasn’t all of a sudden going to become this powerhouse football conference, without convincing Notre Dame to be a football member as well.

It’s a baby step toward what eventually will be a football “super conference” where teams will play by the same rules. There’s no reason Florida should be playing Vanderbilt or Florida State should be continually banging Wake Forest year after year. Schools interested in playing big time football should be playing each other, and Miami’s move is a precursor to that. It might be 15 years or so down the road but that’s where it’s headed. And eventually, they’ll all get into the same conference, and have a playoff at the end of the year to determine a national champion on the field. Instead of a vote.