Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Athens Games

Isn’t it funny how interest in the Olympics ebbs and flows every four years? The Sydney Games, arguably the best games ever to attend in person were not a bit hit on television here in the United States. The Athens games, considered a potential disaster, have been very popular on television in America, up 8% from four years ago.

Maybe the hype over Michael Phelps and his quest for eight medals has helped raise the numbers in the first week. Maybe it was the gymnastics, or the fact that NBC has been showing the games all over the place. Bravo, USA Network, CNBC and their own NBC, so people can tune in almost 24 hours a day, raising interest in the prime time show every night. Or maybe the opening ceremonies were so good, that it’s inspired people to keep tuning in. Whatever it has been, the games are a big success on television.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Americans are all over the place when it comes to the competition. Besides Phelps, it seems that every event has an American in it with a chance to win, or at least medal. My friend Lex says the Olympics stopped being fun as soon as the Soviet Union broke up, since there was no more “us against them” mentality. That could be why the US is so competitive all over the place, since the other countries have a smaller pool of talent to draw from.

But still, the US has made a committment to being competitive in Olympic sports, creating the training center in Colorado and putting athletes in a position to succeed. Give George Steinbrenner some credit for that.


Steinbrenner was really upset in the ’80’s when it looked like we were going by the wayside when it came to the Olympics. So he prodded the USOC to do something about it, and in turn, the training center and success followed.

Still, it takes a special talent to be the best in the world, no matter what the competition. And to stand on that podium and hear the Star Spangled Banner must be a life altering experience. Nobody knows how that feels, unless you’ve been there, so that’s a pretty elite group.

NBC likes to show the medal ceremonies anytime an American wins gold, obviously their research shows that’s what viewers want. So we get to see these athletes stand on the podium in the prime of their careers, having shown they’re the best in the world while representing their country. I like it when they sing. Or even mouth the words. But how do they not cry!? Maybe they’re so caught up in the moment that it doesn’t occur to them to be emotional, but I’m sorry, I’d be crying like a baby standing there listening to the Anthem.

And the wreaths! They’re great! When the guys take them off and put them over their hearts when they’re playing the Anthem that’s enough to make any American spectators cry. The wreaths should be a permanent part of the Games, one little nod to Greece as the founding country.

So what if you don’t care about diving or fencing or track and field any other time every four years? Enjoy the games, you deserve it.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Hall Of Fame Mistake

This year’ Pro Football Hall of Fame class is strong with John Elway, Barry Sanders, Bob Brown and Carl Eller. Elway and Sanders made it into the Hall in their first year. The discussion was minimal about both during the selection process. Elway is one of the top five or so quarterbacks of all time in the league, capping his career with two Super Bowl Wins. Sanders retired early at age 31, but ten times he broke the 1,000 yard rushing mark in a season, and his impact on the game made it easy to vote for him.

Brown took a while to get into the Hall, and was brought to the full selection committee by the veterans committee. Eller got caught in a numbers game during his eligible time, but finally the dynamic of the committee changed enough to get him in. But this class is incomplete.

One of the finalists, the last six who are put in front of the committee for a yes or no vote was Bob Hayes. Past his eligibility as an active player, Hayes was also brought to the main committee by the Veterans committee. After being pulled out of the morass of players who have slipped through the cracks of the process, Hayes then survived three rounds of voting by the full 38 member committee to become a finalist. As the late Jack Buck once said before the final vote, “I’m here as a selector to put guys in the Hall, not keep them out.” I agree and was pretty irritated when Hayes didn’t make the final cut.

One of the selectors favorite sayings is, “It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of the Very Good,” and he, along with a couple of other selectors kept Hayes out of the Hall. It’s a shame, because those guys have a bias against Hayes that’s unreasonable. Whether it’s his performance in the “Ice Bowl” where he was no factor in the -13 degree weather in Green Bay, or his off field problems after he retired, those guys don’t think Hayes is a Hall of Famer. But if you use their own criteria, the criteria they used to get Lawrence Taylor in the Hall, Hayes is a slam dunk. His yards per catch, his touchdowns per catch and his overall impact on the game, similar to Barry Sanders warrant election into the Hall.

Those guys who kept Hayes out, they know who they are, and perhaps they have that right. Perhaps they consider themselves guardians of the gates of immortality, and carry themselves, particularly during football season, as some kind of sages with no peer. They’re mistaken. Sometimes swimming against the tide to make a stand is important. But you’ve got to know when to pick your battles. This time they won the battle, but no matter how many battles they win in the future, they’ll never win the war. They don’t deserve it.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tour 2004 Team USA

There were a couple of dynamics working at the USA Basketball exhibition game against Puerto Rico Saturday. Team USA had been in town all week working out at UNF and staying at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club. The morning practices had been open to the media (at least the last half hour) and the team members for the most part, had been incredibly cooperative. The guys who cover players like Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson on a regular basis had been shaking their heads all week at how laid back and forthcoming the players have been. Maybe that’s part of the deal when you agree to play for Team USA. You’re not an NBA superstar anymore, so talk to the media, and be nice. At one practice, assistant coach Greg Popovich stopped play and yelled, “Hey, forget that NBA stuff, this is the Olympics.

It’s a new theory, instead of pass and stand around, its pass and MOVE!” It is pretty funny to watch the coaching staff, Popovich, Roy Williams and Head Coach Larry Brown deal with the NBA superstars like they were college freshmen. Anyway, it’d had been a great week, and the Exhibition game was supposed to be the cap. But because they were late for a meeting, Brown suspended Iverson, James and Amare Stoudemire and didn’t let them play at all. Nobody knew that until the team arrived at the arena and the PA Announcer told everybody that the three had been suspended. Brown shot a nasty look at the press table, incredulous that the announcement would be made.

What did he expect?

The place was sold out, and people were paying top dollar to see Iverson and James play. They’ll play hundreds, maybe thousands more basketball games. They’ll be rock stars in their home towns and treated like gods when they play in Europe this coming week. But this was the one, the one chance for people in Jacksonville to see them play. It was their only appearance on US soil before heading to the Olympics. I’m big on discipline and following the rules, but there were plenty other punishments Larry Brown could have handed out to three NBA superstars to get his point across. Make’em run. Pay a fine. Humiliate them in front of the media. Don’t let them play against Montenegro for goodness sake. But put them in the game here in Jacksonville.

The only people punished were the fans in the stands, the ones who paid the money. The team, on the other hand, handled Puerto Rico with only two guards. They’re good when they run. When they run a half court game, they’re not a shooting team that can win against the other elite games on the International Stage. But when they run, they can win the Gold, no question.

The other thing going on was how Jacksonville handled the game. Having the team here was a big coup. Where else can they stay at the beach in a five star hotel, have a nice facility to work out in close by, and not be bothered. People in Jacksonville are pretty non plussed about celebrity athletes. They can walk around, have dinner, go to clubs, and people, generally, don’t make a big deal about it. Dean Smith and David Stern were among the visitors to Jacksonville to see the team. It was a big deal.

And the game should have been conducted as such.

Fanfare, celebration, an introduction fit for the magnitude of the game. Sure, it was an exhibition for everybody else, but it was THE game for Jacksonville. Where was the National Anthem? For both countries. I know there’s a tendency to overdo things in the NBA, but a little flourish, a little pizzazz couldn’t have hurt. And besides that, the concession lines were entirely too long. The Arena needs to make sure it’s a fan friendly experience, not a fan frustrating experience.

“I’m worried about our city,” my friend Dan told me at halftime. “If we can get this right, what are we going to do with the Super Bowl?” I haven’t worried about the Super Bowl because the NFL won’t let that fail, but the city’s run up hasn’t been impressive. We can do better, and we know it.