Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gerald R. Ford 38th President

I was watching the State funeral for President Gerald Ford and was surprised at how much his short presidency has influenced the US today. Ford was a dealmaker with his biggest aspiration being to one day be the Speaker of the House. Difficult to do for a Republican during a Democrat dominated era in congressional politics. Interestingly enough, his even-handedness made him the singular choice among Democrats and Republicans to replace Spiro Agnew as Vice-President.

His ascendancy to the Presidency seemed to be providential. The right man at the right time. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” is how the saying goes. It’s hard to explain to somebody how big of a deal all of this was but I remember all of what happened in American politics during that era.

Every day brought a new revelation regarding the Nixon administration and even though partisan politics played a role, there was enough going on to shake any American to the core.

Ford brought a steady hand and was an honorable, decent guy. He pardoned Nixon and set out some guidelines for those who refused to serve in Vietnam to return to the US without penalty. Both of those decisions were meant to be part of the “healing” process in America and they worked.

What they also did was cost Ford the Presidency in 1976.

Jimmy Carter defeated him with the thrust of the campaign being Ford’s pardon of Nixon and his statement during a debate that there was “no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” That was a clear reference to the thought process of the people living in those countries but it was portrayed by the media as a President who’s out of touch and not quick enough on his feet. Either way, Ford was denied another four years and Jimmy Carter served as a one-term President.

I was in college while Ford was in office and as a Radio, TV and Film major was invited on a private tour of the White House media wing with a couple of fellow students in 1975. At the last minute, the President left the White House for an appearance at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. His original schedule had him not attending, but he changed his mind. Anyway, our host at the White House felt bad for us because the media wing was completely empty with the White House Press Corp scurrying out the door to follow President Ford. So our host gave us a “back lot” tour of the West Wing, which was very cool.

We got to stick out head in the Cabinet Room and I noticed that each of the big winged back chairs (the ones you see when they let the media in there for the first five minutes) had brass plates on the back with each Cabinet member’s name engraved on them. There was a velvet rope in front of the Oval Office but we got to stand there for a couple of minutes and look inside.

The President’s chair was turned to the side with a pen left on a tablet on the desk as if he had just walked out. I was impressed that it was actually “oval” and it had a beautiful carpet that matched the engraving in the ceiling.

I had forgotten what an influence Ford had on me as a young college student. I was plenty against the war, pro-change and some might call radical but Ford’s decency, his willingness to find middle ground and his ability to put the big picture in front of any personal gain showed me what leadership is about.

In retrospect, even his harshest critics have admitted that the Nixon pardon was the right thing to do to allow the country to move forward. Sometimes it takes a generation to distill history into the proper context. History will always judge Ford as the right man at the right time.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Aloha Rashean

Looking at Rashean Mathis’ short NFL career, it seems that, as he has said, he was destined to be here. Being elected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2006, Mathis joins another Jacksonville area athlete, Champ Bailey, as the starting corners for the AFC in this year’s game in Hawaii.

Mathis is tied for the league lead in interceptions with 7, has 17 official passes defended and played well on the big stage of the two Monday Night games against both Pittsburgh and New York. But it might be his consistency and his continued improvement that impressed the voters and the fans.

“My teammates are responsible for this,” Rashean told me on the phone shortly after his election was revealed. “No cornerback makes the Pro Bowl on his own. The guys up front have to do their job, they have to pressure the quarterback, the safeties have to be in position and I just have to make some plays.”

I covered Rashean in High School, but he dropped off my radar in college when he attended Bethune Cookman. Even though he led the nation in interceptions as a 4-year starter in Daytona, he was considered a “lower class” player by most observers.

Except those who scout for the NFL.

They seemed to see the things in Rashean that have put him in the Pro Bowl when he was in college. That’s why the Jaguars made him their second round pick bringing a resounding “who?” from their fans. But he has speed, skill and desire. That’s why as he improved, the Jaguars gave him more and more responsibility. He kept improving and went from safety to corner.

“I was just an athlete playing corner that first year,” Mathis is fond of saying. “I’ve started to learn how to play this position now.”

Rashean knew early on he could compete at the highest level. “At the Senior Bowl, I looked around and noticed that I could play with those guys and I figure these were the guys going into the NFL and said ‘yeah, I can play with them.”

Rashean is an unassuming guy, close to his mother and grandmother and pleasant to be around. Florida State fans will lament that his scholarship offer during his senior year was rescinded because of a broken leg. “Come over to Tallahassee and we’ll see how your leg responds,” is how his recruiter put it.

“Oh no,” Rashean’s Mom told him. “You’re going somewhere where they’re going to take care of you.” That’s how he ended up at B-CC with Alvin Wyatt.

Rashean is an unassuming guy, close to his mother and grandmother and pleasant to be around. His demeanor convinced me that he would be the perfect host for our weekly “End Zone” show on Monday nights. He’s turned out to be as good a guy as he is a player.

Part of my job is to fine-tune the on-air performance of the players who have hosted the show and Rashean has come as far as anybody has. He works on his language skills. He’s accepting of criticism and advice. Like what the coaches saw at every level he’s played football, I’m seeing him improve and continue to try and get better.

And that’s all anybody can ask.

Work at it, play as hard as you can, and see how you’re doing when it’s over. That might just get you to the Pro Bowl.