Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

For A Year, It’s Ga/Fla

When Knowshown Moreno scored the Bulldogs first touchdown, his teammates flooded the end zone as directed by Head Coach Mark Richt. “Classless,” is how one Florida Gator described it. In a game that’s about showmanship and one-upmanship, it was right along with just about everything that’s gone on in the Florida/Georgia rivalry.

No Gator fans seemed to be hanging their heads when Steve Spurrier decided to “hang half a hundred on ‘em,” in Athens when reminded that nobody had ever scored fifty points as the opponent between the hedges. That time out at the end of the game and the flea-flicker pitch back evokes giggles from the Gator faithful every time it’s brought up.

So Georgia had a chance of it’s own to spit in the Gators eyes, and they took it. Then they backed it up. Although The Gators tied the game quickly and the game was competitive from the get-go, Florida was a bit surprised that the Bulldogs could hang with them.

The Gators are so used to running the score up and blowing people out that close games are foreign to their makeup. They beat Kentucky in a quasi-close game, downing an emotionally spent Wildcat team still trying to catch their breath after beating LSU the week before.

Florida should have known that the Georgia was gunning for them all along. They thought they could have easily won the game last year but made too many silly mistakes. The ‘Dogs had the week off leading up to the game, something that can’t be discounted. Usually it’s Florida with the bye week before coming to Jacksonville but this time the roles were reversed, with the outcome different as well.

For all of the emotion in the game, Georgia played the way they’re capable of while they exposed Florida’s defense as young and out of sync.

I’ve got a lot of respect for what Urban Meyer has accomplished in his time as a head coach and his disciplinary program at Florida is close to what I’d expect as an alumni. (I’d have suspended Tony Joiner.) But to watch him on the sidelines interacting with his players is a bit much to take. When a player is called for a penalty, Meyer dresses them down right there.

Keestan Moore’s mishandling of the ball brought Meyer’s full wrath down on him. I’ll be surprised if he plays again this year he’s so far under the doghouse. But what’s Urban supposed to expect when he rarely gives Moore carries in favor of Tim Tebow? Moore’s first fumble was just the result of a perfect hit.

Tebow’s shoulder injury is a direct result of overuse when it comes to the quarterback in the SEC. You can have all of the Bowling Green and Utah opponents pile on the QB you want. When you get to the SEC, it’s a whole different story. They pound on you with big, fast guys and eventually it takes it toll. Meyer doesn’t have to look any farther than the mirror when he wants to find out who’s responsible for the Gators current quandary.

“It’s OK, we’ll pound them the next couple of years,” a couple of Gators fans said leaving the game. Oh really? Yes, Florida is young and is expected to be better but don’t forget, the opponents are getting older and better as well. Matthew Stafford will be a junior with two years of starting behind him. He’s very talented and picked his spots against the Florida defense to gouge them for long gains and touchdowns.

That’s why this game is so great anyway. The unexpected happens and there’s a lot of grumbling for an entire year. Florida’s recent dominance has skewed the game a bit, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the game went back to a more even result over each ten-year period.

Spurrier changed the college game completely with his passing game and made beating Georgia his big priority each year, taking evil pleasure in beating the Bulldogs.

People close to Richt say he’s just sick and tired of losing to Florida and now has a good grasp on the magnitude of the rivalry. Meyer is getting a taste of that this year.

How can it be a rivalry anyway when one team dominates?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Teams, Clint And The Rockies

One of the attractive things about sports for me has always been what it reveals about people. Whether it’s a team sport like football or an individual effort like golf, playing it, and observing others playing has always been as much of a mind game for me than a physical challenge.

I still enjoy going to the gym, running, riding my bike and other forms of exercise but the real fun is in the playing, and competing when it comes to sports. I’ve encouraged my kids to get involved with sports, not from a “crazed sports-dad” perspective (although some who have observed me at my kids games over the years could accuse me of that) but rather to keep them active and occupied and learn some of the things about life that sports can supply.

“Sports doesn’t build character, it reveals it,” is a slogan that rings very true, especially when your “playing” days are over.

“I can tell the people who never played a team sport,” one of my children said to me when talking one night about a real life experience. “They have a different outlook on problem solving and how to get from the start to the end of a project.” They said this without malice or judgment, but rather as an observation of how different people manage their lives, personally and professionally.

I’ve had great success and pitiful failure on athletic fields. I’ve been exalted and embarrassed for things I’ve done in sports. But I’ve tried to take something positive from all of it each time.

For a few years in a row, my friends Lex and Terry and I attended several baseball fantasy camps. It’s called a fantasy camp because usually it’s the players’ fantasy to mingle with their childhood heroes. I doubled off Mickey Lolich the first time I faced him on the mound.

Hanging around the batting cage with Hall of Famers Al Kaline talking about the science of hitting could be considered a fantasy come true. But there is the playing of the games that’s also a part of the experience. Some guys are very serious, other couldn’t care less. They’re either there to make up for some deficit they perceive from their younger days or just looking for an escape to green grass and the chance to wear a uniform again.

I always enjoyed being on the team. The banter in the clubhouse, the observations in the dugout (not always about baseball) and the winning and losing as a group. I played for Darrell Evans one year at Tigers camp. He could have cared less about the baseball but was very engaging when it came to off the field activities.

Tom Pacoirek was always fun to play for. He knew what we were looking for and provided the right blend of fun and inside baseball knowledge that you can’t get in a five-minute conversation. Ralph Garr watched me backhand a ground ball behind third base and throw a guy out by five steps while telling me, “You’re not that good anymore!”) And then pulling me aside to tell me what a great play it was.

John Shoemaker worked on my balance in the field while a major league hitting coach whose name I can’t remember told me to drag the butt of the bat through the hitting area before rotating into the ball. (That really worked!)

In those camps, the one guy that really stuck out though was Clint Hurdle. Hurdle kicked around the majors for a while, after being tabbed as “The New Phenom” on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I remember the cover as a kid, and Clint broke it out on the first day of camp, giving himself some credibility while explaining that sometimes it doesn’t all work out that way.

Hurdle told me to quiet my body in the batters box, but also explained that I had to make the routine play in the field if we wanted a chance to win. He encouraged guys who looked like they never played the game as if they were major leaguers. He’d talk about the technical refinements of hitting or the stupid baseball blunders he’d witnessed in his time in baseball.

And the more you got to know him, the more you realized that he cared about the game, but he cared about you as well. He wanted your experience to be what you were looking for and created an atmosphere that you could succeed in.

He’d been a coach for a while when he started running the Braves camp but you always had that feeling that he’d soon be a major league manager. He understood the complex relationship between being intense and relaxed all at the same time that is necessary to be a baseball player. And it shows now on his Colorado Rockies team.

“Sometimes, I just try and stay out of the way,” Hurdle told some reporters the other day.

I’m glad I’m getting a chance to write this because I thought that the Rockies might get rid of Clint because he hadn’t won enough in his first few years in Denver. But they knew he didn’t have the talent he needed, but was creating an atmosphere of success. So they kept him around to continue the process.

The Rockies were out of it in mid-August, but their late season and now post-season run is unprecedented. I mean it’s never happened before in Major League history. And I think a lot of that is how Clint puts things in perspective.

After this run and the national publicity the Rockies and Hurdle will get, he should never have a problem getting a managing job in the majors again. Can you tell I’ll be rooting for the Rockies?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Off The Field (And The Media)

Sometimes I’m amused when somebody on the phone or calling into a radio show tells me that we’re not asking hard enough questions of our sports interview subjects. (I also get calls telling me to lay off.)

Covering professional and college sports means two completely different environments when dealing with players, coaches and the other media involved. College athletes are more eager, more honest and haven’t had the enthusiasm coached out of them when it comes to talking with the media. That means usually better answers but it might take some time getting that answer out of them.

The coaches are a little less wary of the media in college. Part of that comes from their tenure and from the knowledge that how they’re portrayed to the public can directly effect recruiting, fund raising and the whole perception of the program. The coaches in college are also less critical of their players, and rightly so.

There’s also a comfort level for college coaches among the media. You’d be amazed how many Florida grads/fans are in the media group covering the Gators. Same thing in Tallahassee for FSU. It’s usually a younger group and part of a pack mentality that exists among just about all media these days as well.

I’ve always thought that the key to getting good answers is asking good questions. Asking a coach or player to “talk about” anything is stupid. “Talk about your tight ends,” isn’t a question. “Are the tight ends fulfilling your expectations, blocking downfield and getting open regularly?” is a question. And that usually gets a decent answer.

Covering professional sports is a different animal. The players are coached to not give information to the media, the coaches are cynical and tight-lipped and the media horde is older, more cynical and skeptical (sometimes with good reason) and usually with an agenda.

Tuesday and Wednesday of this week were good examples in Gainesville and in Jacksonville. Tony Joiner’s arrest on a felony burglary charge was dealt with directly by Florida Coach Urban Meyer. Meyer said he was disappointed and admitted it was a distraction. “He won’t suit up as long as he has a felony charge against him,” Meyer said after practice.

There were some direct questions asked of the Gators head coach and he gave direct answers. Not a lot of beating around the bush or hemming and hawing. That’s not always the case, but in this instance, it seems like we’re getting the truth and the situation is being dealt with.

Wednesday in Jacksonville was a little different story. It was the first time the team met with the media since the Khalif Barnes incident came to light. Barnes had a well-publicized scrape with the law last year and last Wednesday left the scene of a one-car accident at 6:30 in the morning. Barnes said he was on his way to treatment at the stadium and fell asleep at the wheel. That could be a true story, or it could be false. And that’s the problem.

Jack Del Rio said he didn’t want to discuss it, that it had already been well reported and well documented. I asked him if it was customary for a player to be headed to treatment on a Saturday morning on the bye week and he said, “With Khalif’s injury he would have been required to report for treatment twice a day, every day, regardless of the day.” Then made it clear he wasn’t going to answer any more questions about it. Still, Cole Pepper asked, “In light of the recent moves by the commissioner’s office, would you suspect that Barnes might be suspended and unable to play this week?” Jack didn’t like that, but said, “I don’t think the commissioner’s office gets involved in citations but I also don’t think there is anything that would keep Khalif from being available to us this week. Now, does anybody want to talk about Kansas City?”

It’s a silly way to act, especially when it’s a developing story. Stop trying to manage the information. Just get it out there, no matter how good or bad it is and do the right thing. If he’s out of line, suspend him, fine him, or cut him. If Barnes has a problem, perhaps this is the situation that brings it to light and he can get some help before he hurts himself or someone else.

The public is getting very tired of misbehaving athletes and the slack they’ve been cut in the past. Barnes knows this, so does Del Rio and so do his teammates. Fred Taylor said it best, “If he’s gotten into trouble, he needs to use better judgment than that for himself and for his teammates. Bottom line.”