Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Weaver’s Moves

You can’t really go by whatever anybody says in professional sports anymore. Everybody’s got an agenda. They’re saying one thing to influence another, playing both sides against the middle. That goes for players, coaches scouts and owners. Even though they constantly criticize the media as negative and meddling, they’re all trying to use the media to get their particular point across.

That’s why I wouldn’t put too much stock in what Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver says, or has said about the lease with the city and the prospect of moving the team.

His actions have always lead to the truth about what’s going on with the team, not necessarily his words. Which is fine. He’s got a business to run, and he’s going to do it the way he sees fit. Weaver’s letter to the city was very specific in outlining how the team had lost money in two of the last three years. All along Weaver knew that the math was tough for a town the size of Jacksonville. The population base is small compared to most other NFL markets, making ticket sales an issue.

When the team is winning, it’s not as much of a problem, and of course, the team really hasn’t won in four years. The language he used in the letter to the city relates directly to the lease specifications that might, and I emphasize might, allow the Jaguars to break the lease with the city and move out of town. The letter itself is under dispute, neither side agreeing on who even asked to have a letter in the first place.

It’s not surprising that Weaver wants a better deal than the city is offering. The biggest mistake anybody can make is to forget that Weaver is first and foremost, a businessman. He’s tough, and some have even called him ruthless. He is pleasant, and is a nice guy, but when there’s money at stake, he’s all business, right out of “The Art of War.” So capturing the high ground is important to him, allowing him to maximize his profits. And he’s entitled to that, so long as he’s putting the best team on the field that he possibly can.

I don’t consider Weaver’s letter a threat, but merely another step in the negotiating process. But don’t think the team will ever leave either. Even though the lease between the Jaguars and the city is pretty airtight, a buyout of $100 million or so doesn’t seem so bad for a product that’s valued over a half –billion dollars. That would seem like a small price to pay for a city like Los Angeles to get an NFL team back to Southern California.

One thing Weaver has failed to do is create a community feel for his team. Their business dealings in the first six or seven years of the franchise turned a lot of local business leaders off. They’re negotiating style was “We’re the Jaguars and ‘you’re not,” leaving even the winners of the negotiations to become partners with the team leaving the bargaining table feeling like they had blood on their hands. Same thing with their relationship with fans over the first six or seven years. Long term contracts, high priced tickets and overpriced concessions had fans leaving the stadium feeling like they’d had been to a business venture rather than a football game.

Things have gotten better, but three things need to happen: First, they need to win. The team was competitive last year, but fell apart in a couple of crucial situations, leaving them short of the playoffs. Second, they need to stop the public talk about the lease and get serious in the negotiations. Stop using the media trying to sway public opinion one way or another. I agree with Weaver when he says he’s not going to get into the “What if?” game. And third, Weaver himself needs to be part of the team’s promotional package. The fans like him and can put a face on the team that Byron Leftwich, Fred Taylor and Jack Del Rio can’t.

And finally consider this. Weaver paid about $120 million cash for the team. He didn’t share in the television revenue as a full partner for the first three years so you could say his price was higher, but the cash outlay for Weaver and his investment group was around $120 million. The Jaguars are now valued at over $550 million, with a line of purchasers standing at the gate with their checkbooks ready. That’s a pretty good return on your investment in just 12 years, if you’re a businessman.

And don’t forget, Wayne’s all about business.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jack’s Farewell

To us, it’s the British Open. To the rest of the world, it’s just known as The Open Championship. The golf championship of the world as put on by the Royal and Ancient Golf club, commonly known as “the R&A.” I had a chance to attend the Open this year both as a reporter and as a guest of the R&A.

This 134th renewal of The Open had special significance on several fronts. First, it was back at St. Andrews, the home of the R&A and on The Old Course, known as the birthplace of golf. It also marked the final appearance as a professional player by Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus is a three-time Open champion, having won twice on the Old Course, in 1970 and again in 1978.

Nicklaus often said a “real” Open champion is one that wins at St. Andrews, something Bobby Jones once told him. So when Jack said he wasn’t going to play any more competitive golf, Peter Dawson, who runs the R&A, asked him if he’d return to Scotland to play in the Open one more time if they played the Championship at St. Andrews. Nicklaus said yes, and the plans were put in motion.

They switched years between St. Andrews and Hoylake, putting the Championship on the Old Course in 2005, the final year Nicklaus would be eligible to play as a former champion at 65 years old. The R&A says the pairings are done in a blind draw, but it looked a bit fishy when Jack was paired with his long-time rival and 5-time Open champ Tom Watson, as well as young Luke Donald.

Donald and Nicklaus both have a promotional deal with the Royal Bank of Scotland. Mmmm. The Royal Bank even issued two million five-pound notes with Nicklaus’ picture on the back. He’s the only living person besides the Queen and the Queen Mother to ever have his picture on Scottish currency. So to the Scots, Britons and golf fans everywhere, this was a big deal.

Nicklaus is the best player of all time. His record is unmatched, and no matter what anybody does after him, including Tiger, his impact on the game, on and off the course can’t be matched. He played like nobody before him, displaying power and touch. He won all over the world, but managed to stay close to his family. Money never seemed to matter; it was the titles that Nicklaus was after. History was his only competition.

But while he’s the best player ever, he’s not the best loved. His methodical, business-like style throughout his career turned some fans to other players. His battles with Palmer, Trevino and Watson were titanic in proportion, but many people had trouble warming to Jack. His biggest shortcoming when it came to the crowds was that he wasn’t Arnold.

He didn’t emote, either on or off the course, which, of course, was part of his greatness. That’s changed a bit as he’s gotten older, but he was always steely eyed and seemed to have ice water in his veins when it came to hitting a big shot at the right time.

None of that meant anything this week as his every step at St. Andrews was recorded and reviewed by spectators and television viewers. Tiger lead after the first and second rounds playing nearly flawless golf, but it was every shot and step of Nicklaus’ rounds that were the centerpiece of the BBC’s coverage. BBC announcer Peter Aliss always refers to Nicklaus a “the great man.” There was no question this week that he was just that.

An opening 75, three over par was serviceable, but Jack wasn’t happy. While it seemed everybody wanted to be in place Friday afternoon to see Nicklaus’ final stroll down 18 at The Old Course, Jack didn’t see it that way. He’s often joked that he’s now a ceremonial player, but it was pretty evident that he wasn’t going to make it a trip down memory lane this week.

To him, it was a competition, and as such, he was going to try and win. Sixty-five or not, Nicklaus saw it as a chance to compete, and he did just that. His Friday tee time gave him a chance to pretty much know what the cut number was going to be after 36 holes. Something under par in round two, and he’d probably be around for the weekend. So when he birdied number one after a driver and 7-iron to 6 feet, the crowd went nuts. He hung around even par in his second round coming to 17, the famous “Road Hole” at St. Andrews. He was still three over, with the cut looking to be around even, or one over, so everybody figured this would be it, a memorable walk through the final two holes, including the huge amphitheatre that makes up the first and 18th holes at the Old Course.

Everybody except Jack of course.

“I figured if I made a couple of birdies coming in, I’d have a chance (to play on the weekend), Nicklaus said in his post-round interview. But alas, a bogey at 17 sealed this as his final round as a competitor at the Open Championship, so even he accepted the ceremonial walk down at to the cheers of the thousands assembled.

His stop on the Swilcan Bridge was classic Nicklaus.

He climbed to the top and put his leg up on the wall of the bridge in very deliberate fashion. As with just about everything, there’s a plan with Jack, but he didn’t linger alone, quickly inviting his son Steve as well as Watson, Donald and their caddies on the bridge for a photo. A final shot with just he and his son, and he was off.

After all, there was more golf to be played.

His drive was just short of the “Valley of Sin” that guards the 18th green. His second shot, a putt actually, went about 10 feet past. And, allowed to be the final player in his group to finish, in typical Nicklaus fashion, he made the putt for birdie. I had a spot at Forgan House, just to the right of the 18th green, a chance to see history happen with the other thousands there just for that purpose. The applause was thunderous and long as Nicklaus made the putt and waved to the crowds. It wasn’t emotional until he grabbed Tom Watson and wouldn’t let him go. They walked off the 18th arm-in-arm, nearly all the way to the clubhouse. Then his whole family came down the steps for hugs and kisses and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Talented Skilled (And Spoiled)

I’ve always had a pet peeve about rude and spoiled people. It’s spilled over into my professional assessment of the people I cover, and usually colors my opinion about what they’re like. Not they’re accomplishments, or their talent or skill, but what they’re like, how they got where they are and what they’ll be like when their talent and skill erodes and the next big thing takes their place. That’s why the latest tantrums thrown by Tony Stewart and Kenny Rogers particularly frost me.

Stewart thought the woman in front of him coming through the tunnel at Daytona was going too slow, so he reportedly honked his horn at her and flashed his lights. When they emerged from the tunnel, Stewart reportedly swerved around her car, when, according to Stewart, the woman gave him the finger as he went by. Instead of acknowledging his part in this little dust up and moving on, Stewart stopped the car, jumped out and “went to find out what her problem was,” according to the driver of Joe Gibbs’ #20 on the NASCAR circuit.


Of course.


Absolutely, and either stupid or cowardly, depending on whose point of view you have. I can’t help but wonder what Stewart’s reaction would have been if it had been the typical male NASCAR fan driving that car in front of him. First, if Stewart had gotten out of the car, the guy driving would have been out and waiting on him. Second, there wouldn’t have been a lot of words exchanged. Stewart, who’s not a big guy to begin win, would have either been running or on the ground.


There had to be some talk in the infield at Daytona this week about what Stewart’s fate would have been had the situation been different. Stewart’s situation was recounted as a second-hand story. Kenny Rogers’ little tantrum was, as they say in the news business these days, “caught on tape.”

Rogers had missed a start for the Texas Rangers because of a tantrum he’d thrown the week before in the dugout. He smashed a few coolers in the dugout and broke a bone on his right (non-pitching) hand. So when he came out of the clubhouse for warm-ups the next time he was at the ballpark, naturally the cameras from all television stations in Dallas as well at the networks were trained on him. It’s their job. As in the producer told the photographer, “Get some pictures of Rogers when he comes out on the field and we’ll show them on the early news.”

No big deal.

Unless you’re rude, and spoiled, like Rogers.

I’m not sure if he was embarrassed, or there’s something truly wrong with him. But his attack on the photographers at the ballpark was unprovoked and way over the line. I’ve seen guys grab the lens of a camera, but never throw it on the ground, kick it and cuss the photographer. What’s the excuse or reason? Don’t give me this “he has anger issues” argument. What’s Rogers have to be angry about when he gets to the ballpark? And do you think he ever considered that those guys were just doing their job, much like he is when he comes to the ballpark every fifth day?

I couldn’t help but wonder, (again) what Rogers might have done if the photog was somewhere near his size. I can tell you there were more than a few discussions in the sports department about what Rogers’ fate might have been if it had been a couple of the guys I work with. All are hoping for that chance some day.

Bud Selig’s suspension of 20 games was not nearly enough, and the $50,000 fine isn’t much to a guy like Rogers who’s making $3.4 million this year. And it’s not like he’s a young rookie who doesn’t know any better. Rogers will be 41 this year and has had a long and relatively successful and lucrative career. And then they’ve allowed him to be selected to the all-star team? Is there any wonder that people don’t have any passion for the players or the teams any more?