Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tiger vs. The World

Much has been made about the inevitability of Tiger Woods win at the PGA championship. It was a pretty sure bet that he’d win after tying the course record on Saturday and moving to the top of the leaderboard. He’s unbeaten going into the final round of a major either as the leader or tied for the lead.

Inevitable, probably, but not only because of Woods’ greatness.

There are plenty of reasons to sprinkle around, and the timidity of his opponents should be somewhere near the top of the list. When is somebody going to put some real heat on Tiger in the final round? I thought Luke Donald might be the perfect foil on Sunday. A Chicago resident and a former student at Northwestern, he had a comfort factor none of the other competitors shared. He has plenty of game, as evidenced by his play in the first three rounds.

And he’s considered to be on the verge of greatness.

Nothing could solidify that more than staring down Tiger in the final round of a major in the same pairing. But instead of a challenge, Donald faded off the leaderboard as if he really didn’t want to be there. Tied with Tiger on the first tee, he was a whopping seven shots back when they got to the tenth. Seven shots! Between Tigers 40 foot bombs for birdies and Donald’s shaky play (and a couple of bad breaks); Woods only had to keep breathing on the back to take his 12th major title.

So who is Tiger’s competition?

Clearly nobody currently on Tour can handle him. He competes with history, and currently history rates Jack Nicklaus as the best ever. Nicklaus finished with 18 professional majors, and the universal acclaim as the best player ever. I saw Hogan and Snead play at the end of their careers, so I can’t say how Nicklaus’ career matched up to theirs. But I saw Jack in his prime and he controlled the game, much like Tiger does now. Nicklaus supposedly had a weak wedge game, but much like Woods is given credit for now, he dominated every phase of the game. He was the best driver, the best putter, and best long iron player and managed his game better than anybody.

I agree that the fields are deeper now than they were in Jack’s heyday. He had to beat maybe 10 guys in the field on a regular basis. Tiger has a deeper field, but doesn’t have the legendary foes that Nicklaus had to face. Jack had to beat Arnold, Watson, Player, Trevino and other Hall of Famers in order to collect his major championships. Tiger has the occasional Bob May to slay, but knows going in, it’s him versus the field.

Perhaps Woods has elevated his game to another plane that nobody can get to. I’ve often noted that he’s the best athlete out there and he’s the vanguard of what I think will be a whole generation of great athletes who choose golf, thanks to Tiger. There’s plenty of money in it, it’s glamorous and has a long career span. Really, if you were going to have a pick up basketball game and your talent pool to pick from was the PGA Tour, who’d be your first pick?

How about a touch football game? A 100-yard dash? Whatever, you’d take Tiger.

Add that athletic ability to the obvious mental capacity, the dedication to practice, the personal discipline of his fitness routine and a little bit of magic, and you have the best player out there.

By far.

I’ve admired Nicklaus’ ability to balance his life and his career. By the time he was 30, Jack and his wife Barbara had four children. But Nicklaus kept winning. Tiger has chosen to focus on his career, and solely his career for now. Nicklaus was the first player to take some weeks off, during the golf season but for most of his career, it was Jack vs. the other best players in the world every week there was a tournament. Tiger only faces other guys in the top five at the Majors and a couple of other tournaments during the year.

You can’t compare scorecards because of the equipment changes and advancements in agronomy, but it would be interesting to see the great players of the last 100 years face each other on a level playing field. You’d see a similar dedication and desire to win among them all. Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, Bobby Jones, Snead, Nelson, Hogan and the rest didn’t worry about what else was going on, they worried about getting the ball in the hole.

I did hear somebody say that those players, including Nicklaus didn’t have to deal with the media attention Tiger faces today. I laughed at that, recalling what the final holes of championships used to look like with the crowd on the frog hair of the greens and the press right in their face. There was no media management in that era. The press was king and did what they wanted. I’d call that a wash.

Want to compare travel? Hogan played in the British Open once because it took a long boat ride to cross the Atlantic and it was plenty expensive. Nicklaus drove or flew commercial for most of his career. Arnold became a pilot and flew his own plane from tournament to tournament (and still does.) Tiger faces none of those challenges.

So while I think he’s a great player and among the greats of the game, a little perspective should come into the discussion before anointing anybody the “Greatest of All-time.” When Tiger gets to 18 major wins, and I believe he will, that’s when the real scrutiny and debate should begin.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Exhibitions Don’t Count

We’re now three weeks into training camp, four weeks for a couple of teams and we’ve now got at least one “preseason” game behind us. Hard to believe that it’ll be three more weeks of games and practices before anything happens that really counts in the standings.

Already, things have happened that matter though. Clinton Portis has a separated shoulder and is out for the rest of the exhibition season and might miss the Redskins’ opener. Rookie linebacker Chad Greenway injured his knee in his first action ever in a Vikings uniform Monday night and won’t play again until next year.

Every team will have some kind of injury in these glorified practices that will impact their season, one way or another. Some players getting injured give other players a chance to play; other player’s injuries dash the hopes of an entire season.

True, LeCharles Bentley’s injury happened on the first day of training camp in a non-contact drill, so injuries are a part of training camp. But even the players will tell you, the intensity picks up a little bit when you’re playing against guys in different uniforms and bad things can happen when you don’t expect it, especially in an exhibition game. (The NFL wants to call them preseason in order to give some gravity to the games instead of calling them exhibition games or what they actually are, a glorified practice.)

There is talk each year of changing it to three or two games before the real ones start, but the problem is money. You might have heard John Madden say the other night that he coached in the era of twelve regular season games and six preseason games. “You’d be in camp for two months,” Madden noted.

That only came to an end with the rise of the Players Union.

You might not know that NFL players only get paid during the regular season. They get one/seventeenth of their salary spread out over 17 weeks of the regular season. Before that they get a stipend, not much, to carry them through camp. In camp, they’re housed and fed, but not paid.

So the question is, can you eliminate two preseason games outright? The answer is, of course, no.

The teams in the NFL include the preseason games in the season ticket package, charging full price, and it’s a big moneymaker. How about dropping the number of preseason games to two and just adding two regular season games? You could do that, but then you’d have to figure out how to increase the players’ salaries by 1/8th (the equivalent of adding two games that count.)

Would the owners be willing to do that? Probably not.

So until the Players Union and the league can work out something that makes money or doesn’t cost money for both sides, We’ll have 16 regular season games and 4 “preseason” games. All with the possibility that a team and a town’s hopes, could be finished before any snap that counts.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Saban Vision

It was just a quick little blurb when I first saw it. President Bush in South Florida, having dinner at Joe’s Stone Crabs with a bunch of well-known Floridians. Nick Saban, Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins declined the invitation because he was “too busy with training camp.” It struck me as amusing, but not weird, that’s how coaches act and I’ve been conditioned to expect it.

Since that “blurb” everybody’s had their shots at Saban and have run his decision into the ground. Of course it’s weird and wrong, but I’m sure Saban can’t figure out what the fuss is all about. In fact, anybody in the coaching profession is probably totally perplexed with the reaction. Coaches coach, that’s what they do. The ones that are “so-called” successful think that out-working the competition puts them a little ahead of the rest of the world.

Dick Vermeil and Joe Gibbs were the first over the top workers. Sure you can go back to Vince Lombardi and a few others, but Vermeil is the first celebrated self-proclaimed “burnout” while Gibbs stepped away from the game when he realized he was missing his whole life. He even tells a famous story about himself going home early one night to tuck his son into bed and realizing his son had a goatee and was 220 lbs! His wife used to record dinner table conversations among his family and send them to Redskins Park hoping Gibbs would get a chance to listen to them.

Vermeil was famous for sleeping at his office in order to not waste the time driving back and forth to his house. We’ve seen that first hand in Jacksonville with Tom Coughlin. He’s a famous over-worker and several coaches left or turned down jobs with the Jaguars because of Coughlin’s famous over-working habits.

Right after September 11, 2001, Paul Tagliabue declared a moratorium on working one day that week, mandating that the league be shut down. Coughlin ignored Tagliabue’s directive and came to work anyway, his car the only one in the stadium parking lot.

So that kind of bizarre behavior doesn’t seem strange to me. Anti-social, tunnel vision, call it anything you want. It’s weird, but acceptable in that profession, even lauded. If a guy doesn’t work enough (see Steve Spurrier) he’s criticized for letting things get away from him.

Gibbs does have three Super Bowl rings, and Vermeil finally got his, but not before he realized life was passing him by. Saban’s team won it’s last six games last year and is the trendy pick to be a contender this year. But it doesn’t matter. Even if the Dolphins win the Super Bowl this season, Saban will always be known as the coach who picked two hours of film over two hours with the President of the United States.

I hope when he’s 80 and nobody remembers he was a coach he can remember the plays he researched. I hope they work.