Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jacksonville Vs. Jaguars

Thinking back to the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s when the NFL was talking about expansion and Jacksonville was doing everything it could to be noticed, a stadium lease and an agreement between the city and any NFL team was an afterthought. That idea went right to the forefront though when the people trying to get a team, Touchdown Jacksonville, and the city administration, led by Mayor Ed Austin called the whole effort off when they couldn’t agree on a lease.

There was a segment of the local population that was happy about the whole deal falling apart. They were the power brokers in town and didn’t want to see “their” town change. Finally, the city and TD Jax came to their senses and the deal got done. It allowed for a united front when it came time to present the city of Jacksonville as a potential NFL town to the league. The league saw the value in Jacksonville and awarded the city a franchise in 1993.

Corporate leaders were standing in line to help out. My employer, Channel Four and the Washington Post were front and center, offering just about anything they could to help get things going. It was an exciting time.

Fast forward to the present.

The team has been in action for 11 years and ticket sales have been average for about half of that time. The team has been average for about the same amount of time over those 11 years. And, admittedly, some of the luster has worn off. The honeymoon is over and it’s a business, albeit a big, glamorous business, but still a business. And they’re having a very public fight about parts of the lease agreement between the city and the Jaguars.

That’s part of the problem.

The fight shouldn’t be public, but both sides are acting like they need to win a PR campaign in order to justify their side of the story. It’s a business deal! It’s not some kind of charity, or social gathering, it’s a business. What are both sides doing talking to the media about it? Forget that part. The city is too immature to deal with the Jaguars directly. They know the Jaguars would eat their lunch if they had to make a deal with them without some outside help. I don’t have any problem with that.

They hired Dean Bonham as their representative, which is fine, but he doesn’t have a vested interest either way. He’s a hired gun for the city. He should be trying to get the city the best deal he can, and then get out of the way. He shouldn’t be going around telling people there’s a buyer for the team to move it to L.A. for $1 billion dollars. The Jaguars, on the other hand, have a bad reputation in the business community throughout the city. They’re considered tough and a bit ruthless as they’ve big-footed their way through various businesses in town leaving blood in their wake. Some people consider them a bit hotheaded as well.

So that’s not a good combination: immature vs. hotheaded.

The city needs to realize there’s a cost of doing business in the high stakes world of big time entertainment, in this case the NFL. The Jaguars should negotiate as hard as they can, and accept what the city can offer. The whole thing with the ribbon signage in the stadium seems simple: The Jaguars bought it and built it so they should own the rights to it.

I listened to a Jaguars radio show on Wednesday night with Bill Prescott, the Jaguars CFO as he outlined the Jaguars position. He makes sense, but I had to laugh at Brian Sexton and Jeff Lageman as they “interviewed” Prescott. The Jaguars pay them so it should have been billed as an hour of “The Jaguars side of the story.” Vic Ketchman, the other host of that show is also technically employed by the Jaguars and has always been disappointed in the fans turnout and the city’s administrations apathy.

One thing Wayne Weaver should be scratching his head about is the lack of corporate support and outcry defending his position and telling the city to get their act together. John Peyton should be worried about looking stupid (right after the Cecil Field fiasco) and some potential opponent promising that he’d do anything it takes to keep the Jaguars in town.

Either way, I wish they’d both go underground and get the job done.


Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Rashean Mathis, Star

When Jacksonville was awarded a franchise in the NFL I was as excited as anybody as a sports fan. As a journalist, the field was open and the possibilities were endless. A lot of that didn’t work out, and a lot of it did, the one constant being our Monday night show, “The End Zone.” Through the show, I’ve gotten to know the players on an individual basis, especially the five who have acted as the host of the show.

We asked Jeff Lageman to be the original host, literally when we ran into him in the mall. Lageman was determined to improve and be better on the air and worked at it. He had an agenda and followed it. Next was Keenan McCardell who, if Jimmy Smith is considered “smooth” Keenan was “cool.” Keenan protected his teammates, and followed what you might consider a stereotypical NFL player’s lifestyle, at least on the outside. He was immaculately dressed, always with the latest cell phone in his ear (first guy I ever saw with an earpiece), nice enough but kept his business to himself.

When Keenan moved on, we hired Donovin Darius who seemed like a natural choice. Interested in the technical side of broadcasting, Darius also had a great story to tell, raising his brother and sister while he was still in college. He’s a real paradox, as genuine as can be when it comes to his commitment to his team, his game and his family and the biggest phony you’ve ever met in so many other areas.

We moved on to Kyle Brady who was perfect. Out of that professional relationship, Kyle and I have become friends. We share many of the same interests and grew up in towns not far from each other (Kyle in southern PA, me in Baltimore). He and his wife have a young family and he didn’t want to give up his Monday nights, so he opted out. You won’t meet a nicer, better guy.

Our most recent host, Rashean Mathis was a gamble at the beginning. A young player, we didn’t know where his career was going but had a hunch he was going to be a star. Plus, I liked him.

I met Rashean in his second day of training camp. He walked into the interview room with his long dreads, wearing his hat on backwards, sunglasses, long shorts and oversized t-shirt. Right or wrong, that image gives you certain expectations based on your experience with other players in the same situation. But Rashean’s handshake was firm as he looked me in the eye and said, “Good morning, I understand you’ve asked to talk with me, I’m Rashean Mathis.”

“Thanks for taking the time to talk with us,” I replied.

“My pleasure,” Rashean said.


It was the first time I’ve ever had that exchange with a professional athlete.

When we were done, I was talking to our sports photographer, Kevin Talley and said, “That’s the next host of the End Zone.” “No kidding, pretty impressive,” Kevin replied.

Little did we know that Rashean would work hard at becoming the best football player he could be and would be considered a linchpin in the Jaguars success on defense. He can cover. He can, and will tackle, and he wants to win. He’s a great athlete who now says he’s ready to play cornerback. “I was a safety in college so when I came into the league I was just an athlete playing corner. Now I’m a corner back,” Rashean told us this week after his big game against Pittsburgh.

“There are little things, techniques to playing corner that I’ve learned from my teammates and coaches that let me use my athletic ability to make key plays.” That might sound like boasting coming from some other players, but there’s an earnest quality to Rashean that makes it sound like fact. Because it is. But more than his ability on the field and his accomplishments as a player, I’ve been impressed by Rashean’s off-field demeanor. He’s a star, no doubt, with a new, big extended contract. Still his outlook seems the same.

He uses his Mom’s last name as his own, honoring her for raising him as a single parent. He’s close to his mother, his brother and the rest of his family. His pastor comes to the show on Monday nights. He’s friendly with the fans at the show, signing autographs and taking pictures until everybody’s happy. I told him we were going to have to hire a security guard for him if he keeps it up. He just laughed.

There might be hundreds of stories just like Rashean in professional sports that we don’t hear about. Eventually, his story will be a national sensation. Hometown, high school star, ignored by the big schools now making it big as a pro in his own back yard.

Everybody will be proud of him.

I know I already am.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Urban Challenge

After they beat Kentucky, I went on the air and talked about how the Gators were now Urban Meyer’s team. Not the remnants of the Steve Spurrier era, not a bunch of Ron Zook’s recruits but rather actually Urban Meyer’s team. The offense had the looks of confidence needed to run that spread option and the defense had a swagger that’s needed to win big games against SEC opponents.

Against Alabama, that all changed.


Perhaps they’re still Urban Meyer’s team but now the question is, “Is that a good thing?” If there’s been a little voice crawling around a lot of Gators’ fans heads, it’s been asking if the “spread option” is right for the SEC and the quality of player involved. As an assistant, Meyer developed this offense that took advantage of defenses that didn’t have speed on the edge and forced defenders to make decisions and exploited them.

It also was developed in a time before speed became the dominant factor on offense, before coaches figured out that you could throw the ball effectively with a good quarterback and a couple of receivers who could run and catch. It also was very effective at Bowling Green with the players plugged in to make it work and at Utah where even Meyer said he was lucky to have a “special player” like Alex Smith to run the offense.

Salt Lake isn’t Gainesville and Utah isn’t Florida and Wyoming isn’t Alabama. Or Auburn. Or Georgia. Or Tennessee. Or FSU.

If there’s another voice running around in Gators fans heads it’s asking if the offense suits the players on hand. One of the most impressive things about Don Shula’s career as a head coach is his ability to adapt to the personnel on the roster. When the Dolphins won in the early ‘70’s Bob Griese would throw the ball less than 15 times a game. Why should he? They had Csonka, Kiick and Morris to get the job done on the ground.

In the ‘90’s Dan Marino would throw the ball 15 times in the first quarter because the players on the field suited that kind of game and the game itself changed. So Shula changed with it, fitting his offense to the players available.

Not the other way around.

You can see how Meyer’s offense is supposed to work when Josh Portis steps in at quarterback and runs the ball. But he can’t throw it like Chris Leak, so he’s pretty predictable when he’s in the game. It’s a dilemma Meyer will have to solve, and soon. How is it that you’re Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback might not be the best QB on the team in the offense you want to run?

One loss isn’t a time to panic, but the Crimson Tide did expose a lot of Florida’s weaknesses in a short period of time. Don’t think everybody else isn’t paying attention.

Like Georgia. Like Auburn. Like LSU. Like FSU.