Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Saga Continues

It is just amazing how the Super Bowl venue is getting nearly as much press as the game itself! One of the reasons is fear of the unknown, the other is that it is a totally new concept for the big game. If you haven’t been to a bunch of Super Bowls, you don’t know that the pre-game festivities are spread all over the host city and the surrounding area. In Miami you travel from Palm Beach to the Keys to cover the game. In Houston, the only time you went to the stadium was for the game. Everything else was 30 miles away. Atlanta had a concentration of events in the downtown area, but you had to head out to Buckhead and points north for any entertainment. Tampa created an entertainment zone, but you had to get there. And in San Diego, the pre-game events were spread all over Southern California.

Jacksonville’s Super Bowl is packed into a two-mile radius around the Stadium. The cruise ships, the main hotels and the entertainment zone are all rolled into one. Once visitors get to their rooms, they won’t have to get in a car again. Food, drinks, concerts and other entertainment will all be right along the river, mainly on Bay St. which will be closed to vehicular traffic beginning on Thursday. The NFL experience is a water taxi ride away across the river. If it works, the NFL will begin to ask other cities to move everything closer so that it’s a real three day celebration of the league.

Former Times-Union writer and current cbs.sportsline columnist weighs in on Jacksonville as a host Super Bowl city.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Super Update

I really didn’t think I was that tough on Tony Kornheiser. After his scathing column ripping Jacksonville as a host city for the Super Bowl, we called him up and asked if he’d like to explain himself on the six o’clock news. At first he declined, and then agreed to appear via telephone. We read a couple of quotes from the column, introduced him, and asked him a pretty simple question:

“When was the last time you were in Jacksonville?” Little did I know that question would set off a firestorm of commentary and controversy locally and in some case, across the country. Come to find out, Tony’s never actually been to Jacksonville. He’s been through it and “I usually stop for the free orange juice,” was the full extent of his experience.

(By the way, where’s that? I’ve never seen a free orange juice stand on 95, but maybe I’ve just missed it.)

I’m not sure why, but the whole thing started to go downhill from there, with Kornheiser making fun of my Maryland roots and calling on his “we kid because we love” get out of jail free line. I actually was just looking for his motivation for writing the column. Does he do this every year the week before the Super Bowl? Did he rip Houston, Miami, Tampa, Atlanta, San Diego and others just to get a rise out of the population? I never really got an answer and I’m still trying to figure it out. On his radio show the next day in D.C. he called me a “pompous, blowhard, gasbag,” not exactly addressing the question. I did find out that not only has he never been here, he’s not coming for the game either!

Maybe there’s something about Jacksonville that just grates on people. They went nuts in Charlotte in ’93 when the NFL awarded a franchise to Jacksonville alongside “the Queen city.” “Don’t worry Charlotte, you’re not Jacksonville,” one columnist opined in the morning paper (of course he’s still right, they have a long way to go.)

Jacksonville has talked a big game for the last twenty years, and then backed it up with action. A rebuilt downtown sports complex now has an NFL Franchise, a Dodgers affiliate and the NCAA Tournament as tenants. The ACC football and baseball championships will be played in town. And, of course, the Super Bowl rolls through on February 6th. The Players Championship and the Bausch and Lomb tennis championships have been in town since the ‘70’s.

The sports credentials are easy to find. In fact, the culture of the city is woven through the sports calendar. Around the golf, tennis, boating, cycling and other 12-month outdoor sports people participate in, they find time to support the things that come to town. And for some reason that really gets under some people’s skin. Jacksonville has never claimed to be Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Atlanta, D.C. or any other city it’s not.

In fact, Jacksonville has never wanted to be any of those.

The people here are comfortable with who they are and where they’re going, and maybe that’s the thing that bothers so many people. It’s not the greatest place for clubs, restaurants, nightlife and shopping. But as far as lifestyle, the people who live here like it.

The “dis” fest will continue, except for Mike Bianchi from the Orlando Sentinel. A former Jacksonville columnist, his take is below:

Super tally: Orlando dallies; Jacksonville does
  Published January 28, 2005

This is a very bad time to be a sports columnist in Orlando.

I feel like I’m standing outside the big columnist party, nose pressed against the glass, watching the other scribes laughing and joking and having a blast at Jacksonville’s expense.

“How did Jacksonville get the Super Bowl?” lampooned Tony Kornheiser, a columnist for the Washington Post and co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, earlier this week. “What, Tuscaloosa was booked? . . . Who in Jacksonville has a photo of Paul Tagliabue with a goat?”

Kornheiser claims Jacksonville does not have the sophistication to host a Super Bowl, which seems sort of odd coming from a guy who wears a turban on TV and yells a lot.

But, hey, Kornheiser can ridicule Jacksonville with impunity for one very good reason: He doesn’t write in Orlando.

In Orlando, we don’t put down Jacksonville; we look up to Jacksonville. We don’t disparage our northern neighbors; we envy them. We don’t call Jacksonville names; we just call Jacksonville, “Daddy.”

Here’s all you need to know: As Jacksonville gets ready for its Super Bowl next weekend, guess what big sports happening will be in Orlando this weekend? It’s called “The Super Bowl of Motorsports,” but actually it’s just a glorified name for a tractor pull. Jacksonville gets the real Super Bowl; we get the Monster Truck Super Bowl.

Wooo-Weee, Merle, did you see that ol’ boy flip his F-250 with the posi-traction rear end? He’s so dumb he couldn’t find his behind with both hands and a coon dog.

“The Monster Trucks are extremely popular here,” confirmed Allen Johnson, director of the Orlando Centroplex. “We’re expecting about 60,000 at the Citrus Bowl.”

Need we say more?

This is why the rip-Jacksonville reindeer games will proceed without any notable input from this Orlando columnist. Let the writers from New York and Boston take shots at Jacksonville if they must, but not me. I used to live in Jacksonville; I know how hard that city worked and how much money it spent to become a sports town.

Would Orlando be a better spot for the Super Bowl? Of course, it would. We have a zillion hotels, an internationally renowned airport and infinitely more entertainment options. But Jacksonville has something more important: Vision.

Ignore the insults, Jacksonville. Be proud of where you came from and what you’ve become. Stand tall. You are a Super city, no matter what the knuckleheads say or write.

Jacksonville shouldn’t be laughed at by the nation’s media, it should be lauded. Jacksonville is what all sports writers say they love: The ultimate underdog story. It’s the Rocky and Rudy of sports cities. It is the little town that could. And did.

Orlando dreams; Jacksonville does.

Orlando wanted an NFL team at one time; Jacksonville went out and got one.

Orlando wants a new downtown arena; Jacksonville just built one.

Orlando wants a minor-league baseball park downtown; you should see the one Jacksonville just built.

Orlando put in a half-hearted bid to get the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship; Jacksonville put in a serious bid and got the game.

“Jacksonville makes Tampa look like Paris!” Kornheiser wrote.

Unfortunately, as a sports town, Jacksonville makes Orlando look like Peoria.

Heck, we can’t even make fun of Jacksonville’s reputed love affair with Waffle House and Hooters. According to the Waffle House customer service hotline, Orlando and Jacksonville each has seven Waffle Houses. And are you ready for this? According to the Hooters Web site, Jacksonville has just four Hooters locations; Orlando has six.

So now you know why I’m going to leave the roasting of Jacksonville to other columnists. I have more important things to write about. Now if you’ll excuse me.

Hey, Merle, did you see that wheelie?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Rippin’ Jacksonville

Last year I was at the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame selection meeting the Saturday before the Super Bowl when ESPN.com’s Len Pasquarelli offered “I might skip next year’s Super Bowl. I hate Jacksonville.” Furman Bisher, the long time Atlanta writer waved him off, saying he was way off base. But Pasquarelli persisted and I finally told him that I agreed with him, he shouldn’t come to the game because “that means one less uninformed hack meandering in the city.”

I’ve said all along they’d be ripping us, mainly because they don’t know what they’re talking about, but add Tony Kornheiser to the list of “uninformed hacks” about to make their way to town. Here’s his column of Wednesday the 26th.

Sam’s response to this article is below it.

What’s That Smell? Jacksonville
  By Tony Kornheiser
Wednesday, January 26, 2005; Page D01

Right after Chad Lewis caught that touchdown pass with about four minutes to go, the touchdown that cemented the victory and ensured the Philadelphia Eagles would be in the Super Bowl, some guy in the stands joyfully held up a sign that said, “We’re Going To Jacksonville.”

And I thought: What on earth is second prize? You have to build there?

How did Jacksonville get the Super Bowl? What, Tuscaloosa was booked?

If going to Jacksonville for a week is the reward New England and Philadelphia get for being the best teams in the NFL this year, Peyton Manning ought to be happy he didn’t get there. Imagine how Manning would have felt, having to play all year in Indianapolis, and then landing in Jacksonville? Which gods would he have offended to get that killer quinella?

The NFL must see itself as handing out some sort of charity when it awards the Super Bowl to any place other than New Orleans, Miami and Southern California. Because, believe me, nobody wants the game to be anywhere but there. So when the NFL insists on putting it in outposts like Detroit, Houston or Minneapolis, people ask, “Are you guys nuts?” But when you pick Jacksonville, people are agape and say, “Who in Jacksonville has a photo of Tagliabue with a goat?”

At least these other places are big cities, with some history and a longtime affiliation with the NFL, as opposed to Jacksonville, which has now been in the league for about 15 minutes. Detroit is where American cars are made, and where Motown music originated. Minneapolis-St. Paul is the home of 3M and General Mills. Houston is the home of NASA, and, thanks to Enron, the gold standard in white-collar corporate crime. Jacksonville is what? (I’m just taking a shot here, Tony, a dump? No. Cut that out. It’s a ‘Ville! The only good ‘Ville is a Coupe de Ville.)

Have you ever been to Tampa? It’s heaven, if you like Waffle Houses.

Jacksonville makes Tampa look like Paris!

Jacksonville has this one great thing, the TPC course with the island green on No. 17. (Which is actually in Ponte Vedra.) And the rest of it can be described with this phrase, “Welcome to Hooters.”

People in Jacksonville will be very upset with this piece. They will say it’s a cheap shot by an effete Northerner who didn’t want to be the 28th person on his own paper to write about how great and smart and handsome Tom Brady is. (Which is true, but come on, we kid because we love.) They will yell and scream that their city is hardly a backwater — it’s the 14th largest city by population in the country! Yes, and that’s because it’s the largest city by area by far. It’s an octopus. It’s 840 square miles! It takes in almost all of northeast Florida. If Jacksonville annexes all of southern Georgia, it could maybe crack the population top 10.

The NFL will tell you Jacksonville is a warm-weather site because it’s in Florida. But Jacksonville is barely in Florida. It gets cold in Jacksonville. Yesterday morning, the low was 31 degrees. That’s below freezing, boys and girls. That’s cold enough that you need to keep the space heater turned on in the double-wide. And Jacksonville is 20 miles from the beach. Jacksonville is one of the smallest and most remote stops in the NFL. Green Bay is smaller and more remote. But Green Bay has Lombardi, Starr, Favre and the frozen tundra. Jacksonville has a Dairy Queen.

Jacksonville may be in Florida technically. But this isn’t South Beach, gang. It isn’t the home of Gloria Estefan, Enrique Iglesias and Luther Campbell. Jacksonville is where Pat Boone was born (sometime around the Martin Van Buren presidency), and where the Southern hair band .38 Special got together. Somehow it doesn’t sound like hip-hop. It’s more like I-Hop.

My friend Tony Reali, “Stat Boy” on the “PTI” show, flew to Jacksonville a few months ago to emcee some dopey trivia contest. And when he walked off the plane, he got a whiff of something that almost brought him to his knees — it was Jacksonville — and he made the not uncommon observation, “This place smells.”

“I am from Staten Island, and I have lived in New Jersey,” Reali explained. “I know bad smells. This was right below Secaucus.”

Not as bad as Staten Island?

“Nothing approaches Staten Island,” Reali said with conviction.

The next day, while appearing on a national radio show with Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald, Reali announced, “Jacksonville stinks,” and asked Le Batard if it smelled that bad in Miami.

My friend Mike Freeman, who used to work here at The Post and now writes a column in Jacksonville, heard the show and went wild. He called Reali “Stat Jerk” and “Stat Punk,” and chided him for slandering fair Jacksonville (named for Andrew Jackson, who, by the way, never actually set foot in it — he was probably waiting on the beach). In his column Freeman said Reali’s salvo was probably the first of many that would be fired at Jacksonville now that it was getting ready to host the Super Bowl.

Get used to it, brothers and sisters, Freeman wrote, this is what they’re all going to do.

Brady, table for five. Brady, table for five. Welcome to Applebee’s. Eatin’ good. In the neighborhood.


What we’ve been trying to to is confirm Kornheiser’s last visit to Jacksonville, because it’s pretty obvious, he’s never been here. I’ve never seen him any way. What do you expect from a guy who takes cues, willingly, from a guy called “stat boy?” He and other’s like him who are taking their shots are so full of self importance it’s actually amusing. Or maybe just sad. Because they’re afraid, afraid of what we are becoming. A force and a player on the national scene, leaving them behind.

Call it “sunshine envy.” I know, I lived in DC and this time of year sunshine is as rare as a sellout at a Wizards game. Picking is easy. Kornheiser went for every hackneyed stereotype ever thought up about the South, Jacksonville and anything else this side of the mason dixon line.

My Mom always told me you can find nice places in every city, and we know that about our town. You have to let it reveal itself to you, you can’t just shoehorn yourself in here. So perhaps he’ll be right at home here because he’ll be miserable, something he’s obviously familiar with.

Look, we don’t have to apologize or defend ourselves. We know who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. So come to town, do your job and go home. Back to your beltway traffic back to your bickering politicians and back to as you called them your “effete northerner” friends.

Or better yet.

Stay home.

That’ll be one less uninformed hack wandering around our town. And besides Tony, how can you write an entire column about Jacksonville and not once mention Skynyrd?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Super Preps

Just drive around town, and it’s evident, something’s coming to Jacksonville. You could imagine a big convention is in town. Or it’s some kind of massive city spruce up project, lines on the streets, potholes fixed and shrubs planted. But the world is coming to visit for a week and the place has to look good.

And it does.

The Super Bowl has an impact on a city in many ways, some obvious and some subtle. Sure, a couple of hundred thousand people will be in town for three or four days, spending money and rendering opinions about everything from the river to the weather to who’s actually going to win the game. It’s a complete NFL run production. They have the town dialed in: from parties to the participating teams’ hotels, the league has a handle on just about every detail you can think of.

They’ve got an entire entertainment area set up downtown for the locals and the visitors to mingle. They’re transforming burnt out warehouses into bars and gathering areas. The Commissioner’s party is at Cecil Commerce Center. The Media party is at the 17th hole at TPC. Playboy is at River City Brewing and Maxim is having the party everybody wants to go to.

And it’s all happening in our back yard.

People keep asking me “Are we ready?” The answer is yes, and if anything isn’t ready, fear not. The NFL will fix it. They have unlimited resourses and they’ll paint it or rebuild it or pave it or put some sod over it in order to make it right.

The Super Bowl Host Committee has been way ahead of the game, gathering money and people to make the game feel at home in a new venue. It’s a new concept for the NFL. The Super Bowl is a big celebration that envelopes an entire region. This year, the league is hosting the whole thing within a two mile area. They usually don’t do that. In Miami it’s spread out over three counties. In New Orleans, people are all over the place. In Jacksonville, once you get to town, you won’t need a car. Everything will be within walking distance or a shuttle will take you there.

The logistics of the Super Bowl are amazing. The league has teams of people just in charge of making sure people are transported around the host city without a hitch. Lanes are blocked off just to accommodate the shuttle buses. So prepare to be enveloped by the game and the things that surround it.

And prepare to embrace it.

It could be the only time it’s ever here.

So we can think it’s either a big pain or a big party. It won’t take twice as long to get around, it’ll probably take four times as long.

Media from around the world will be here, and many of they writers and broadcasters will rip us. Rip us as people, as hosts and as a city. But that’s OK. Last year the Los Angeles Times NFL beat writer filed a story from Houston with the dateline “Yahooville.” I laughed when I read that thinking that Houston is the 4th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and he thinks it’s Yahooville? What’s he going to think about Jacksonville?

So I’m going to put on my most hospitable face and enjoy the week.

I’m still going to live here when they all leave, and I already know what a great place this is. If they want to discover that, great. If not, that’s fine too.