Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Urban Meyer’s “Fix”

I was sitting on the set at the anchor desk watching the Urban Meyer press conference from New Orleans when a lot of answers flooded into my head. Not necessarily the right answers, but answers nonetheless.

I had read the Sports Illustrated article at the beginning of December that profiled the Florida coach in great detail. Stuff nobody’s ever heard of, never reported came out in the article. About his early childhood, his relationship with his father and his late mother. About his pro baseball days and his beginning years as an assistant football coach. The article also revealed a medical condition Meyer has not reported before. He has an arachnoid cyst on his brain that causes debilitating pain when stressed or agitated.

The access given to SI by Meyer was unprecedented. And it gave me a lot of insight into the coach who is close to his family and friends, his players and assistants, but keeps an arms length everywhere else. “The Imperial Urban” I’ve always called him. Removed, above the fray and very good at what he does.

As Meyer spoke from New Orleans a better picture of him formed in my head and it helped explain the events of the last 18 hours. Meyer revealed that he’s had “chest pains” for the last four years and they’ve gotten worse in the last two. After the SEC championship game he had an “episode” and two more after that, bringing him to the point where a decision had to me made: his health or his job.

Meyer has also preached that family and faith come first and he’s lived that as well, except when it comes to him. He encourages players and assistants to spend quality family time and to explore their faith. But he’s working all hours, going over every detail to get the job done. Apparently that drive has brought him to a place physically where his body can’t handle it anymore. He can’t be that end-all, be-all person as he says “full speed ahead.”

I believe Meyer resigned on Saturday at the behest of his wife, and his close circle of friends. He just couldn’t not be the guy on top of everything to get it done so he figured he’d be the guy on top of nothing. But at practice Sunday morning, Meyer realized it’s not the coaching that he’d miss but the relationships that he’d give up. A phone call to Jeremy Foley from the practice field alerted the Florida AD that there might be a change of plans and a “leave of absence” was arranged.

“This is going to take some time,” Foley said in New Orleans. “It’s about Urban’s health and he’ll be back when he’s ready to come back.” Foley seems to understand that it might be a while before Meyer sorts this out.

I asked Bobby Bowden about it at practice on Sunday morning noting that the profession can be very “seductive.” “That’s right,” Bobby said. “It can suck you in all the time. If you’re somebody who is motivated by the work, it’s always there. From the time you get up to the time you go to bed, you can be working on something: recruiting, film, scouting, booster clubs, your team. You can always find something to do and at the end of the day, you’re never finished. You can always pick it right back up the next day. So if you let it, it can control your life.”

Bowden’s no different that Meyer when it comes to his dedication to his job, his players and coaches. And he’s no different than a lot of us who are motivated by our job and enjoy the challenge it poses every day. Where Meyer is different, I believe, is that he’s never been able to find the “off” switch. He’s able to spend time with his family and friends but he’s never able to stop being a football coach.

When asked if it was “who he is or what he does” that caused this problem, Meyer responded, “Yes.”

That’s pretty telling.

He says he has to get it “fixed” but wouldn’t be specific regarding any particular physical ailment other than referring to it as “chest pains.” I think his problem is as much psychological as it is physical. One might have caused the other, but he’s going to have to work on that “off” switch and find a way to be dedicated to his craft without it overwhelming him.

And I think that’s going to take time.

There’s a culture in football that screams, “I can handle it” no matter what it is. But Meyer needs help. He has to trust the people around him to do the job as well as he could and delegate some of his “big ticket” jobs.

There are a lot of professions who deal with stress every day. Firefighters, law enforcement, soldiers and sailors, doctors and surgeons and all find a way to deal with that the best they can. Meyer’s no different and his job should bring him joy not pain.

He’s a football coach!

That’s a great job and he has the one most people in his profession only dream about. He should be able to do the best job he can and accept the outcome. If you read the article in SI you’ll see why that might be tough for him, but he’ll have to adjust.

I’m fond of saying that sports is what I do, not who I am. Bowden is that way. Spurrier and dozens of others as well. Being a football coach is what Meyer should do. It shouldn’t be who he is.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Changes at Florida

I got the text from Kevin: “Meyer quits UF.”

I don’t jump up very often but in the middle of a “Rock Band” session with my kids, I dropped the drumsticks and jumped up with the phone already to my ear. “It’s true and all over the place,” Kevin said as he answered the phone.

Hello was not necessary.

A couple of calls and some quick checks on the Internet and there was plenty of information already out there. Health issues, stepping down after the Sugar Bowl, discussion with his family, wants to stay in Gainesville, will continue with the University of Florida. His official statement said, “step aside” rather than resign so there has been all kinds of speculation as to what might happen.

Apparently on the flight to New Orleans, Meyer told the team that he was hoping to return to coaching that he was going to take a leave to work on his health and that Steve Addazzio was going to be the head coach in the interim. That makes sense if in fact Meyer has a curable condition. He has a documented arachnoid cyst on the brain that causes debilitating pain.

Who knows what the long-term prognosis of that is unless you get it fixed? It flares up when he gets agitated, or stressed. Kind of a difficult condition to have when you’re a college football coach at Florida.

There have been reports that Meyer suffered a heart attack during the season and it caused him a problem after the SEC Title game to the point that doctors said his life could be at risk if he continued to coach. You can have a heart attack and it not mean bypass surgery or some other major procedure. You can have a heart attack and not even recognize it. But apparently Meyer, if true, was able to keep working.

It does appear that Meyer will remain in the football program and the Gators aren’t going to be in the market for another coach.

Right now.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Red Zone Ready

With a rare Sunday off during the football season, I found myself watching, what else, football for most of the day. But it was a very different experience. I tuned in the NFL RedZone channel to see what all the fuss was about.

Phil Taylor wrote about it in Sports Illustrated last week in the Point After column.

My colleague Kevin Talley has been telling me about it all year long.

The concept is that every NFL game has exciting moments so why not skip all around the league and see what’s happening in every game that’s being played? They do a “look in” during regular broadcasts so why not have a “look in” channel? It starts at one o’clock and doesn’t stop until the last game is over. Seven hours non-stop, without commercials. That’s right, no commercials and constant action.

I will say it’s a little hard to follow at first until you get into the flow of what they’re doing. Because of the bad weather in the mid-Atlantic, there were six early games all going on at the same time. Back and forth, over and over, all over the country, big plays, first down throws, turnovers, missed field goals, interceptions, you have everything going on on the field, and cataloguing it in your head.

It does give you the feeling that everything you’re watching is the most exciting thing that’s happening. I found myself having a rooting interest in just about every game and got to see all the big plays. It’s fun and it’s pretty addicting. Every time you get up to go do something, you’re sucked back in to a new game.

Even though it’s called RedZone, you do see all kinds of plays all over the field. Maybe it’s in response to something they have on DirecTV or Dish Network but I don’t know who’s making money on it. Right now it’s pretty pure and if you’re not following one team, or if you’re really into fantasy (nerdy) you’re entertained the entire time.

And one more plus: blacked out games don’t count on the RedZone. Your game is blacked out, go to RedZone and see the game. As Taylor said in his column, it’s so much fun, I’m sure the NFL will get rid of it. Somehow.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bowden Memories

Writing about Bobby Bowden is easy. Not writing about Bobby Bowden is the hard part. He’s one of the most quotable people in the history of sports. He’s genuine. He’ll tell you what he thinks. He’s not going to hide his feelings and he’s not going to tell you what he thinks you want to hear.

There’s nothing about him I don’t like. He’s even a fraternity brother of mine (Pika). I’ve seen him at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. That that’s where I’ve learned from Bowden and respected him more than any coach I can remember.

When FSU lost those “Wide Rights” and “Wide left” and when they came close and didn’t quite get there, he never lost his temper. He never lost his ability to look past the final score and to some kind of higher plane that the game meant to him. Of course, he’s a man of great faith and that’s something he’s relied on through his professional life. He seemed to always just figure out that “it’s just a game.” And in that spectrum of wins and losses, road trips and home games, somewhere, Bowden became one of, if not the best college football coach in the history of the game.

I haven’t covered his whole career but from 1978 on, I’ve been to his games, to his office, ran into him in restaurants in Tallahassee, talked with him on the field and in press conferences. On the practice field and in the airport, I’ve seen him in all kinds of situations. As many people have written, he, like Arnold Palmer and few others, has the ability to make you feel like you’re the only person on the planet when he’s talking to you. He looks you right in the eye. He’s polite but not gratuitous.

People seem to have forgotten how innovative Bowden was early in his career at FSU. Whether it was playing the “Octoberfest” of games on the road against the top teams in the country (honest, look it up) or coming up with the “fumblerooski” against Clemson, Bowden always had something up his sleeve.

I asked him about the “Riverboat Gambler” reputation once and he gave me the most thoughtful answer. “Used to be that way ’cause I had to,” Bobby reminisced. “We didn’t have the players to line up and play you so we had to come up with something! Now it’s different (about 10 years ago). We have the players so I don’t have to do anything crazy. But I will if I have to!”

And opposing coaches knew it.

Once I asked Bobby in his office overlooking the stadium if they couldn’t throw the fade in the Red Zone a little better. “We teach them to put that much air under it. Why?” I explained that the quarterback at the time (I think it was Danny Kannell) just wasn’t executing it the way he could. Looking back on that conversation, I was probably way out of bounds but Bowden made me feel so comfortable talking football that it never occurred to me that I was giving advice to one of the best offensive minds ever. But he didn’t blow me off. He didn’t scoff. He stood up and marched across the room pretending he was a wide receiver and asked me to show him what I was talking about. I laugh out loud when I think about that now, but here’s Bowden, arms flailing, looking over his shoulder saying, “You were a quarterback, show me what you mean!”

Who knows if he really took it to heart but every time they threw the fade and scored since then, I did crack a little smile.

Opposing coaches liked Bowden. That’s because they knew him. Steve Spurrier thought he could debunk the “Smilin’ Bobby” mystique, but he just came off as a bit petulant when talking about Bowden. “We don’t like losing to FSU,” Steve once told me after a loss in Gainesville, the words F, S, U coming out slowly and with disdain.

Nobody was ever surprised when the Seminoles threw a reverse in at the most unexpected time. Bowden kept everybody on their toes. He brought in the best players and had a staff second to none. The ‘Noles won two national championships and save for a couple of missed field goals, they’d have three or four more. But that’s not what anybody will remember about Bowden. They’ll remember the way he could relate to everybody on some level. How he could talk about their Mamma’s and their Daddy’s and how he knew everybody’s name, their parents’ name, their grandparents’ name, their high school coach’s name and their hometown.

Players who were on Bowden’s teams all say the same thing: “He taught me more about life than football.” That’s about as big a compliment you can get as a person let alone as a coach.

Bobby paid me one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received after we had played a round of golf together on a perfect afternoon. We were shaking hands standing next to the golf cart about to depart when he asked, “How come I didn’t recruit you?” and then he added, “You could have played for me.” He said it with that smile and that look that we’ve seen in post-games where he answers a question with another question that he really doesn’t know the answer to.

Maybe it’s my own vanity but I’m going to hang on to that memory.
I could have played for him.
And would have loved to.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tiger’s Accident

A quick phone call as I was walking out the door started about an hour of frenzied investigation, clothes changes and u-turns. All for a car accident, all for a guy who hits a golf ball for a living.

All for Tiger Woods.

When I first heard that Tiger had been in a car accident the normal “reporter” questions flashed through my head. Where? When? Why? Which lead to other questions like: What was he doing driving out of his house at 2:25 am? He hit a what? A fire hydrant? And a tree? None of it made sense of course, and the idea that Tiger was in “serious” condition in a local hospital had me driving straight to work to do more investigating and get the story on the early news and keep it simple.

Of course the story changed about five times in the next 20 minutes. Tiger’s bleeding, Tiger’s in serious condition. Tiger’s still in the hospital. Tiger’s disfigured, blah, blah, blah. But sifting through that kind of information is what I’m supposed to do, and I was making phone calls, confirming some stuff and getting a laugh out of some others.

That Tiger was in a car accident is definitely news. That he was hurt is bigger news, and his condition is what everybody would want to know. The rest isn’t important. No alcohol, no drugs, no speeding and his wife had to use a golf club to knock out the back window of his 2009 Escalade in order to help Tiger out of the car.

The rest is speculation and none of our business.

There’s a report in one of the well-known tabloid magazines that Tiger has been carrying on with a woman, not his wife, at various stops around the world. So was Tiger in a fight with his wife about this report and stormed out of the house? It’s none of our business. What ever it is, there’s nothing in Tiger’s private life that shouldn’t stay private. We’re not entitled to any more information than what’s contained in the police report. Despite the insatiable desire to get any sort of salacious information, it’s none of our business.

Stay out of it. If Tiger’s got a family issue, it’s just that, a family issue.

Maybe it’s something as simple as the gas pedal got stuck on the floor. Maybe it’s something as complicated as family problems. Whatever it is, what we should be interested in is if he returns to the Tour. If his health is OK. If he’s still motivated to be the greatest player in the world.

Outside of that.

None of our business.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators in Gainesville

It’s an orchestrated effort outside of the Gators’ practice field every night. Practice usually ends around six o’clock with the players filing out and walking from the field to the stadium, along side the O’Connell Center. Maybe about a quarter mile walk. Along the first half of that quarter mile, there are numerous autograph and picture seeking fans, all waiting to get a glimpse of the Gators and of Tim Tebow.

It’s a little bit confusing when you first walk up because there are all these people standing around, but they’re about 50 yards away from the gate of the practice field. I walked over there to find a female student athletic department assistant named Amy armed with a radio holding the fans at bay.

“You have to stay behind this pole,” she said as people were trying to surge forward.

Remember when the University issued a plea to students to stop asking Tim Tebow for his autograph on campus? Amy was there to keep these folks in line until practice got out. They were holding jerseys, footballs, sheets of paper, orange and blue posters, whatever, looking for an autograph. Matt Kingston, my photographer and I were given strict instructions to stay behind the pole. “You can take video,” she confirmed with somebody inside the practice field, “but you have to stay back here. And no interviews. That’s by Gate 1.”

“There are a lot of rules here,” I joked with Matt just as the players came pouring out of the gate.

Ryan Stamper and Brandon James both stopped to say hi, recognizing a familiar face from Jacksonville. Both have had big roles in the Gators success in the past two years. Tebow stayed on the practice field for at least an extra 20 minutes working on throws of different trajectory and velocity as well as distance.

Having covered an NFL team along with major college football concurrently for the last 15 years, the contrast in the media covering the two is dramatic. The NFL media is older, more cynical, wisecracking and judgmental. The college media is much younger, much more a bunch of fans and much much more deferential to the people they’re talking to.

Especially the coach.

The dozen or so media outlets covering Florida football during the week follow Urban Meyer around like lap dogs. The questions are all softballs, technical stuff that can’t go into a story but rather would qualify as “insider” info that they can use to impress their friends on campus. Half of them are asking questions trying to impress Meyer with their knowledge of his team. It’s a lay-up for Meyer every day. I guess that’s why when I asked him a question about motivating his team this week he was a bit startled.

First it was an unfamiliar voice and I’m pretty sure I asked him an actual question something like, “Is it a challenge to motivate this team in this stretch with them knowing they’re going to that game in December and who their opponent is going to be?” He literally did a double take and then very directly answered, “not this week. Not with who we’re playing.”

It was a mild reference to Steve Spurrier but without much emotion.

“Is it because of this particular team, the leadership this year, the guys on this team?” I followed up with. “We have good leadership on this team,” Meyer said without adding anything.

By the way, I’m sure Tim stopped to sign some autographs. In fact, my friends Joe and Liz were able to get Tim to stop for a photo for their Christmas card:

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators/Dogs: End of an Era?

Georgia looked cool in the black pants and black helmets. “I saw that in warm-ups,” Tim Tebow said after the game, “and I said, ‘who cares.'” The Bulldogs have tried to change their luck in a variety of ways, but it looks like the only thing that will work is the eligibility of Tebow to run out.

Florida’s 41-17 win is their 17th in the last 20 years and completes a two-decade run of domination started when Steve Spurrier became the head coach of the Gators. Through three coaches at both schools, Ray Goff, Jim Donnan and Mark Richt at Georgia, Spurrier, Ron Zook and Urban Meyer at Florida, the outcome has been the same: Florida has been the favorite and it’s been an upset if Georgia wins.

While I believe that’s over, it does bear inspection.

Spurrier disliked Georgia from his days as a player and focused on that game more than any other. “It’s played in the Gator Bowl, it’s in Florida and we drive and they fly,” he said about the Florida/Georgia game at his introductory press conference in 1990. While he changed the way college football is played, he especially enjoyed running the score up on the Bulldogs. The time out/flea-flicker in Athens is one of the most despicable, un-sportsmanlike things I’ve ever seen.

“Aw Sammy, they’ll get over it,” Spurrier told me after that game.

Zook was given the boot, but beat Georgia when he wasn’t supposed to. Urban Meyer has taken this game seriously, and of course, he has Tim Tebow. Tebow is the perfect quarterback for Meyer’s spread offense, but more importantly, he puts so much pressure on the defense as a guy who can run that he opens things up for everybody else.

“I love winning this game,” Tim said afterwards. “It’s been a great experience to win on that field.”

With eighteen carries for 85 yards, Tebow kept an already reeling Georgia defense off balance. Combine that with his two early touchdown passes and he’s a one man wrecking crew.

Save for about 2 minutes after they scored a touchdown to make it 14-10, I never got the feeling that Georgia thought they could win the game. As long as 15 was in the game in Orange and Blue, the Bulldogs knew he’d do something to beat them. But that’s now over. Tim’s not coming back and defenses are starting to figure out the spread offense. Gator fans are going to need to get used to competitive games again against teams like Tennessee, LSU and yes, Georgia.

Georgia needs to get their act together and be competitive in this game again. And being competitive in this game also means contending for the SEC East title. They have a big time player in AJ Green but need a consistent quarterback and somebody to be a big play guy on defense. There’s a lot of rumbling in the ‘Dog Nation about Richt being loyal to a fault, so look for some staff changes in the off-season.

Florida’s win combined with South Carolina’s loss to Tennessee puts them in the SEC Title game in Atlanta. But they still have four games left in the regular season, all of which they’ll be a favorite in. Here’s where the challenge is: if the goal is always to “get to Atlanta” as Meyer says, once that’s accomplished can you shift focus to actually thinking about the National Championship?

It’ll be an interesting coaching challenge for all of those guys in Gainesville.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Florida/Georgia Celebration!

I first heard of the Florida/Georgia game when covering the Gator Bowl. I asked a vendor in 1978, “Is this the only game played in this stadium?” “Oh no,” she replied, “Florida/Georgia.”

Simple as that.

She looked at me like I was crazy for not knowing about “Florida/Georgia.” Growing up in Baltimore and going to school in Washington, Florida/Georgia didn’t have any meaning to me. Little did I know that it would become the signature sporting event defining my career to most of my friends and family who aren’t, as the saying goes, “from around here.”

My friend Keith wanted to experience the game in it’s fullest one year. Instead of staying with me he wanted to be a part of it. I asked if he was sure, perhaps he wanted to stay with me in Mandarin, again. But he said no, “I want to be in the thick of it.”

So be it.

I got him rooms at the Hyatt and left him to his own devices until Saturday morning. “How’d it go,” I asked around 10. “If I hear ‘how ’bout them dogs’ or ‘Go Gators’ one more time, I’m going to get into a fight.” I laughed and said, “How late did it go?” “I finally fell asleep at 4:30 when the guy in the next room stopped playing the recording of ‘Go Georgia Bulldogs!’

The game has a long tradition and it’s tied to Jacksonville. The wins and the losses on both sides are part of the lore of college football nationwide. Whether it’s Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott or a Don Gaffney led Gator drive for the winning score, everybody remembers something about this game and it belongs to them.

“I was there,” is a popular refrain when talking about this match up.

And generally that’s true. Most people are inside the stadium. It’s famous for it’s size and everybody knows that the size of the stadium now housing an NFL franchise was mandated to accommodate this one game of the year. More than 80,000 seats and still not enough. That’s why the game was under attack, or perhaps more specifically, Jacksonville’s hosting the game was under attack. The tentative agreement to extend the contract here was important to Gators and Bulldogs alike.

The game belongs here.

Atlanta can create it’s own traditions.

The history of the contest is as much about the trip here, the fans participation, the uniqueness of the 50-50 seating split and the tailgating as it is about the happenings on the field. If there are more than 80,000 inside the stadium, there might be 40,000 more who are around the stadium, knowing they won’t be getting tickets but wanting to be part of the festivities.

We know the late Bill Kastelz dubbed it “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” in a time of less political correctness. It remains that to this day, whether we call it that or not. And there’s a debate about which is more celebrated, the game on the field or the one off it.

I had a news director once tell me on Friday prior to the game he needed four press credentials for Saturday. “Good luck,” I said. “Why,” he asked perplexed. “It’s like looking for credentials the night before the finale of one of the big political conventions,” I responded. Indignant he snorted, “That’s ridiculous, it’s just a blanking football game. I don’t understand.” “You’re right,” I said, “you don’t understand.”

As the host of the game, Those of us here in Jacksonville should celebrate the culture of the game that has a place in college football history. Not just among Georgians or Floridians and not just among southern football or SEC fans. But a place in history among the great sporting events in this country.

It’s a “must see” among sports fans who want to experience college football, in all it’s glory. And as the host who invites people to their home for a party, we have a responsibility to our guests each year.

A responsibility of safety is paramount. The game has it’s share of tragedies that need never to be repeated. We have a responsibility of courtesy. Inviting people to our town for the weekend means friendliness, even among tough circumstances.

Last year’s parking crunch provided it’s share of challenges, but watching the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office operate in a tough situation was just what many of us hoped for. When I arrived a couple hours before game time only to be told that my parking lot was already full, the JSO officer just looked at me and said, “Park it right here, I’ll take care of it.”

So I did. And so he did.

Leaving it on a street corner, only to come back after the game with the officer still on duty, and cones around my car and 15 others lined up behind it in a makeshift lot. Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

And we have a responsibility of entertainment, as any good host does, a responsibility to see that our guests have a good time.

Nobody condones over-indulgence when it comes to this game but the weekend, and for some already in RV city last Tuesday, is truly a celebration of college football and our connection as a city to the game. This Florida/Georgia Hall of fame is housed in our arena for people coming to concerts, basketball game, car shows or whatever to see just how much a part of the fiber of our culture it is.

And we should celebrate it.

Our current efforts with safety zones, pedestrian walking areas, free concerts and events throughout the city are a step in the right direction. Why not create a festival, one that doesn’t impede traffic to the game, and celebrate what we have, what we enjoy as part of not just college football tradition but as part of who we are.

Congratulations to this year’s honoree’s and inductees into the Hall. It’s a high honor because you will forever be remembered as part of the lore of one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Of Family and Friends

I usually don’t write much personal stuff in this space but my Uncle Angelo died on Sunday and I just wanted to give you a sense of him and family in general.

Barely five feet tall, my Uncle Angelo is 18-months older than my Dad and perhaps two brothers couldn’t have been more different. My father is strong (still is at 76) and athletic with a solid handshake formed from many years of pulling wrenches under the hood of a car. His brother Ange, as he calls him, was a true artist, twice over.

As a kid, we moved in right across the street from my uncle, his wife Gloria and their two children, Paul and Lisa. “My Uncle is an artist for the Sun papers,” I proudly told everybody in my new neighborhood. I was very impressed with that kind of ability. Freehand, he could draw anything. Portraits, landscapes, even a simple 3-D rendition of a coffee table for the ‘for sale” ads, his talent was natural and looked like magic to a 10-year old.

But when not using his hands to create, he used his voice to amaze.

In eulogizing his father, Ange’s son Paul said, “It was funny growing up with my Dad. He wasn’t an athletic Dad. And when I was on the baseball field, he’d be in the car, with the windows open doing what he called ‘vocalizing. The other kids on the field didn’t know what that was.” Everybody got a chuckle out of that, but as I told my cousin afterwards I had to stifle a hearty laugh when he said that.

My Uncle Angelo was a Tenor. That’s with a capital “T'” in the truest sense of the word. When asked if he had any special talents, he would say, “I can sing a little.” Which was usually met with a dismissive nod. But when this diminutive man let loose with his booming voice, men sat up and took notice. Women sat in awe. It was as if he was possessed by a higher power when he decided to sing. He sang selections from the great operas with ease. And even slipped in a few “contemporary” songs as well. His voice had the sweetness of Pavarotti’s and the power of Domingo’s. He sang “Ave Maria” at my sister’s wedding as if the Pope was in attendance.

I can remember as a kid hearing him “vocalize” from across the street and after while think nothing of it. I like to sing a bit, and he encouraged that saying, “You have to vocalize everyday Sammy.” So it was nothing to be playing curb ball in the front street and hear this booming “AAA, EE, III, OO, UU,” coming out of my Uncle’s house. To hear him sing “scales” seemed to be a normal part of every day and one of the vivid memories of my childhood.

They called him “the little man with a big voice” at his church. After services, people would wait for him to get out of his choir robe and lineup in front of the church to say hello and thank you.

It was difficult to see my father in such pain at his brother’s funeral. They had a bond that perhaps only they understood. My Dad told me that once his father had said, “You might be younger but you’ll always be the strong one, you have to take care of Angelo.” It’s something my Dad took to heart and he watched over him from that day on.

It’s hard to say that anything good comes out of somebody dying, but I did get to reconnect with my cousins and see a lot of people from “the old neighborhood” in Baltimore where I grew up. I also spent time with my parents and my brother and sisters with no spouses or kids around for the first time in I don’t know when.

You get older, but the dynamic in that situation never really changes.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bobby Bowden Stays

I’ve been around Bobby Bowden since 1978. I’ve seen him skinny and not-so-skinny. Happy and sad, after wins and losses. I’ve been with him after “Wide Right” (I and II) and “Wide Left.” Big wins, and big losses. “Echo of the whistle” and all the rest. He’s consistent, kind, thoughtful and honest. He’s everything you’d want in a friend, a coach, a confidant and a leader.

And I’ve seen him backed into a corner. And while he’s not mean, there’s no question that look in his eye changes. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and if you’re on the attack, he’s willing to defend.


Last year I was in Tallahassee on the day Bowden found out his team had let him down. Cheated on an on-line exam and a lot of the guys were going to be ineligible. He walked by me, got in his golf cart after practice and barely acknowledged me. But the next time I saw him, he came right up to me and apologized for walking past me in Tallahassee saying, “I had just found out about that thing,” while grabbing me by the back of the neck and pulling me close.

I know that sounds hokey, but I like that. I like genuine affection and people who aren’t afraid to show it. So yes, I like Bobby Bowden. A lot. So my advice to those who think he should quite, the game has passed him by, and ask him to step down: Get off his back.

I’ve said for a while that I don’t think Bowden has the energy to discipline a large group of young men, especially those with the personalities necessary to be a successful college football team. And while he’s loyal to his staff, he might be loyal to a fault. That’s where part of his problem is in Tallahassee this year.

The rift on his staff between Jimbo Fischer and Chuck Amato also apparently includes Mickey Andrews, Rick Trickett and Lawrence Dawsey. Fischer might be the “coach in waiting” but apparently Bowden wasn’t consulted about that at all. He was way in when it came to hiring Fisher as the offensive coordinator but apparently nobody asked Bowden about naming Fisher the “coach in waiting.” The whole $5 million guarantee before 2011 was the administration’s idea without Bowden’s input.

So it’s no wonder that there’s a rift on the staff.

Apparently there will be a deal for Fisher to be the Head Coach with all of the authority without the title. That might happen as early as the end of this season with Fisher running recruiting, practice schedules and the coaching staff. Bowden would remain the Head Coach. That doesn’t sound like it would work, unless of course, Bowden bought into the idea.

He said on Tuesday that he’d like to go out on top and that “I’ve been hearing it since I turned 65.” After hearing that, it’s pretty clear that Bowden wants to get the Seminoles on the right track before he steps down. And at 2-4, they’re not going in the right direction right now. So expect Bobby to be in charge for another couple of years.

And yes, I do think he’s in charge.

There’s a rumor that Bowden tells friends that he doesn’t want to retire because he’s afraid he’ll die. That is what happened to Bear Bryant, but it’s hard to compare the two men in any way except football wins. Their lifestyles have been very different.

Bowden, all by himself, makes FSU relevant, even at 2-4. And he’ll stay that way until he quits.

When he’s ready.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Arnold Palmer… More Than a Name

There are certain invitations you don’t turn down. A chance to have lunch and spend a good part of the day with Arnold Palmer is one of those.

Palmer’s Bay Hill golf course went through a major renovation this summer. As is customary, the Palmer Course Design Company invited some media from around the country to preview the course and to talk to Arnold about the changes in Orlando last Tuesday.

I’ve known Arnold Palmer for a long time and I’m sure he makes everybody feel like they’re actually his friend. I’m asked often about whether my job is any good and my stock answer is, “I’ve had beers with Arnold Palmer and I’ve flown with the Blue Angels. How much better can it be?”

I have had beers with Arnold; I’ve had “guy” conversations with him. I’ve been with him at lunch in Ed Seay’s office. He encouraged me to get my pilot’s license and since I have, we talk about aviation and flying now each time we meet. I’ve learned a lot from Arnold.

In fact, my playing partner, David Couch of APCD at Bay Hill confirmed what I’ve thought for a long time: A lot of us have learned a lot from Arnold and in turn, from Ed Seay.

Being on television in one town for nearly 30 years doesn’t make you a celebrity but it does make you recognizable. So people want to talk to me often, and I’ve always tried to take the lessons I’ve learned from watching Arnold deal with everybody he meets. He’s warm and gives you his full attention.

I learned a lot of how manage in a professional setting by watching Ed Seay, Arnold’s partner. And often, Ed would explain that he got a lot of that from Palmer himself. Friendly, firm and forward thinking, Arnold Palmer probably doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to run a business and keep people around him motivated and productive.

It’s obvious that Arnold was involved in the process of sprucing up Bay Hill. They brought in over 200 trees; they re-shaped and even moved some of the bunkers. They changed the fairways and put new grass on the greens. The most dramatic change is the “beach bunker” in front of the 17th green. It’s still a tough hole, but like the rest of the changes it’s perfect.

It’s just what Palmer likes: tough, pleasing to the eye.

A hole that takes a real golf shot to get it close and make birdie.

“It’s not about length,” Palmer told me standing behind the 8th green. “We can stretch it to 74-hundred yards but I want it to be risk/reward. I want it to be a challenge but not impossible.”

They’ve made changes strategically, moving bunkers out of the range for regular play and right in the spot Tour players are trying to hit it to. Suffice to say, I liked everything about it even though I didn’t play very well. It’s playable but with a big, championship course feel.

Palmer hosted a get together afterwards and talked about how he got involved with Bay Hill (“I tried to buy it after playing in an exhibition in 1965. We closed in 1974”), his first birdie on the new course (“number two”) How Bay Hill had changed (“I love Disney but if I had my druthers, it never would have come”) and his trip to Washington the following day to accept the Congressional Gold Medal (“I think I’ll go.”)

Politics aside, Palmer said one of the great joys of his life has been his relationship with President Eisenhower and that he was never more honored than when he was asked to present Ike at the World Golf Hall of Fame induction in November.

He hears better than he used to, and is gracious as ever.

I asked him about his birthday celebration two weeks ago and he said, “I’m gad it’s over. I wish it was a few birthdays ago! Eighty’s not bad, it feels pretty good right now.”

“Eighty’s the new fifty,” I joked with “The King.”

“Let’s just say it is,” he responded with a sly smile.

I’m still learning from him.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Florida/Georgia Ideas

I couldn’t be happier that the Florida/Georgia game has been renewed through 2016. I really thought it might be going away after nearly 80 years in Jacksonville.

The drumbeat from the Georgia fans and boosters was loud as they talked about moving the game. Where? There were several options. With big stadiums in both Athens and Gainesville, talk of a home and home, like 93 and 94 when the Gator Bowl was being renovated, was rampant. There was talk that the Georgia Dome was interested in having the game on a rotating basis. Perhaps Jacksonville and Atlanta could host. Or even all four cities on a rotating basis. There was even talk of a home and home series being augmented by the game in Jacksonville every third year.

But instead, it’s just staying here. And that’s good news.

Clearly boosters in South Georgia, including UGA’s second biggest contributor, Sea Island’s Bill Jones, were interested in the game staying in Jacksonville. It’s good for their business. And although they haven’t taken advantage of it in recent years, it’s good for Georgia’s recruiting. Sure, they’ve been getting beat down by the Gators in recent years, but they owned the series in the ’70’s and ’80’s under Vince Dooley.

Moving the game to accommodate ‘Dog fans in middle and north Georgia (particularly Atlanta) was a bad idea. A six-year extension is longer than what the contract has been lately and I hope it doesn’t make the city complacent when it comes to “owning” the game. We don’t “own” the game, but we should.

It should be a much bigger deal than it is.

I’ve talked with Mayor John Peyton about creating a more festival like atmosphere surrounding the game, especially near the stadium. If the stadium holds 84,000 for Fla/Ga, more than 100,000 people show up for the weekend, many without tickets. With that kind of built in audience, why not close Bay Street like they did during the Super Bowl and bring in some vendors, some free concerts and invite people downtown?

It’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

RV City is open all week and it’s a fun place to go but unless you’re staying there, you’re out of place. Extend that feeling all through downtown. The Landing is out of control that week so why not incorporate it into what fans might want to experience? While I’m no condoning any kind of public drunkenness, relaxing the open container law and getting control over what’s going downtown in a somewhat organized fashion is a better idea than just letting it expand all over the place without a plan.

I even talked with Bill Longenecker on the radio the other day and we hatched a beaches “Flag Football” tournament to include the beaches in Fla/Ga. The ideas are easy. Getting the city to execute some of them seems to be the hard part.

We should be celebrating our heritage as a college football destination instead of making apologies for hosting the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

And by the way, why not do the same thing in the spring around the Gate River Run?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Change Afoot?

Right now, it’s bad.

I’ve been around this team since their first day of practice in 1995 and it’s bad. Maybe worse than their first expansion team.

As much as I liked what I saw last week, this week was a step backwards. As in back in time. They were listless and unfocused. They couldn’t execute. Penalties caused stopped the smallest of drives. Fumbles gave the Cardinals the ball. They’re not disciplined. Each time it looked like something might be happening, the Jaguars created their own problems.

And, oh by the way, Arizona went to the Super Bowl last year and played like the defending NFC Champions. Kurt Warner threw on time and with accuracy. (24-26 223) Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin caught everything thrown in their direction. (In fact Warner tied a club record for consecutive completions at the beginning of the game.)

I knew they’d take their lumps this year. Starting four rookies including two rookie tackles on offense was supposed to be the start of a rebuilding process. But this was not good. Arizona looked like a professional football team contending for a division title and perhaps a championship.

The Jaguars looked lost.

There are lots of reasons this stuff can happen but it starts at the top, especially with the head coach. Wayne Weaver is a competitive guy and a good owner when it comes to trying to win. But I think it’s time to really take a hard look at what Jack Del Rio is doing as the head coach of this club.

The penalties the Jaguars incurred in the first half were the product of sloppy play, undisciplined actions and a lack of focus. As John Madden used to say, “Discipline isn’t wearing ties on the plane, it’s not jumping off sides when it’s third and 4.”

Del Rio has adopted this “cool” personality and it’s rubbed off on his team.

This week Torry Holt said when asked how to get going in the right direction that this team needed to figure out what they wanted. “Do you just want to say you’re in the NFL, that you play for the Jaguars or the Cardinals? Or do you want to try and be great? It’s an all the time thing. You can’t just turn it on and off. It has to start when you wake up in the morning.”

I was pretty concerned when heard those comments. While he didn’t call anybody out individually, he left the impression that this team was fairly “cool” toward their objective. If that’s the case, something drastic has to change.

With the game in reach and the breaks going their way, the Jaguars did just about everything they could to back away from success.

I’m also concerned about Garrard. He’s a big trigger shy, a little late on just about every throw. He should be made to watch Warner operate his offense, looking like he knows where the ball’s going before the ball is snapped. Garrard isn’t anything like that. And what’s disappointing is how he’s ‘regressed from the player he was in 2007.

So they have multiple problems, with none looking like they’re going to be solved in the next couple of weeks in the division at Houston and at home against Tennessee.

0-4 doesn’t look like any fun.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

A Plan Comes Together

Sometimes in radio and TV things get crazy. You know, the best laid plans and all that. And sometimes, rarely, it all comes together. Yesterday on the radio show was one of those “all comes together” days.

I had asked my friend, tennis legend Tony Trabert to come on the show to talk about the U.S. Open. He’s a fantastic guest, as you might expect after over 30 years in broadcasting. He also happens to be a great guy and I’m lucky to count him among my friends. Anyway, I did a little research and found a cover story on Trabert from August 29, 1955.

He had already won two legs of the Grand Slam and was prepping for the US Open and the Davis Cup. Tony laughed and said “25 cents Sam,” in reference to the price on the cover. (It also says $7.50 a year.) I read him a quote that ended something like, “I work and train hard and I don’t want to lose a match because some linesman isn’t paying attention.” When I asked Tony if he could ID the person behind that quote he said, “I don’t know, McEnroe?”

Of course it was Trabert himself, quoted in Sports Illustrated.

It was only funny because Trabert has always been known as the ultimate sportsman and McEnroe’s behavior on the Davis Cup team while Tony was captain was so boorish that it eventually lead to Trabert’s retirement. Tony went on to explain that during that era in big time tennis, they got the linesmen out of the stands.

“Sure, they’d get club members, but there weren’t any professionals or people trained to do that.”

“Yeah, but what Aussie was going to make a call against John Newcombe?” I asked.

“You’re right about that!” Tony agreed.

The rest of the interview was much more like a conversation about tennis rather than an interrogation. Like I said, sometimes it comes together.

Following Trabert, legendary NFL scout Gil Brandt came on the air and told some stories I’d never heard. “Bob Hayes was so strong we figured he’d be able to handle the NFL,” Brandt threw in when talking about drafting early.

“How you determine he’d be able to play in the NFL though?” I asked.

“It’s funny how we got Hayes,” Brandt continued. “We had the draft right after the last regular season game because of the AFL and about 1 o’clock in the morning we had gone through just about everybody and he said ‘Who’s the fastest guy up there?’ ‘Bob Hayes,’ I answered. So we took him. “

” Two rounds later after there were a bunch of chicken bones and coffee cups strewn around it was our turn and Tex said ‘Who’s the best football player?’ ‘Roger Staubach,’ I said. So we took two Hall of Famers in the middle of the night, kind of on a hunch.”

I listened to that story with my mouth open just amazed that a) I’d never heard it before and b) Brandt was telling it on our air. Brandt went on to tell a half-dozen stories like that with me being more amazed by each one. He did say they drafted 9 Hall of Famers in their first fifteen years. I couldn’t help compare that to the Jaguars track record since they became a franchise.

Just one of those days when it all comes together.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tiger Doesn’t Lose

Nearly flawless in the first round. Brilliant in the second. Solid in the third, Tiger Woods had a lead at the PGA at Hazeltine and just about everybody was handing him the Wannamaker Trophy for the 5th time.

Except Y.E. Yang.

The Korean was solid throughout the day and the chip in eagle at 14 gave him the lead. But Tiger didn’t go away. He made a six-footer for birdie there to stay within one. And he made every other 4 and 5 footer to keep the pressure on. I found myself rooting for Tiger. Not to just win, but to make some birdies coming in and beat the other guy. I didn’t want Yang to fall apart a la Padraig Harrington (again). You don’t expect a three time major winner to make an eight on a par three but that’s what knocked Harrington out of contention.

Tiger had his chances but unlike in the past, he:

  1. Didn’t make everything he looked at
  2. Didn’t have the kind of distance control he’s famous for.

Faldo is the last guy to be able to control his irons as well as Tiger usually does. It’s the old joke.
Hogan: (to his caddy) “How far is it?”
Caddy: “142, 143.”
Hogan: “Well, which one?”

Faldo won three Masters being able to control his irons down to the yard. Think about it: Every time Tiger takes a swing, you expect the ball to be close. On Sunday, that wasn’t the case. And he didn’t make everything. So Y.E. Yang played steady down the stretch, didn’t fall apart and hit a couple of shots that made the difference.

Like Tiger usually does.

The question is, does Tiger come back and destroy the next field he plays or is this the new version? He’s the best athlete out there, and the best golfer. He’s always been the best putter, as well as the most prepared. I don’t know which one of those could possibly go away, but it was obvious a couple of times on Sunday; it just wasn’t his turn to win.

One of his famous lines as a young player was “Second Sucks.” In this case, I don’t think so. He’ll work harder, figure out why he didn’t win, and he’ll be back to compete as hard as ever. But it does embolden the other players that it can be done. Tiger can be beaten. He has to cooperate, but he can be beaten.

The best thing about the competition is that it actually was a competition. Tiger made some clutch putts, kept it close but the guy he was playing didn’t fall apart, didn’t disappear in the face of the magnitude of the moment.

Yang’s win might grow the game in Asia as you heard the CBS announce crew talk about. But it’ll just make it all that more interesting in America the next time Tiger tees it up.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bob Hayes in the HOF…

I’ve written about Bob Hayes’ nomination, rejection and subsequent selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame a few times in this space. And as I’ve said, and written, many times, I always feel honored and privileged to be one of the selectors on the HOF committee.

When I first joined the committee in 1994 it was smaller but over time we’ve expanded it to now 44 selectors. While I’m the “Jacksonville” representative, the Times-Union’s Vito Stellino joined the committee two years ago as an “at-large” selector. Vito has a long history as a beat reporter in the NFL and was a natural selection when the committee size was increased.

It is interesting to be on the committee. From my perspective I’m looked at as a real outsider by most of the other members. There are only a couple, and I mean year in and year out, two non-beat writers on the committee. I’ve been characterized (and chastised) as “the TV guy” by certain members. Most recently, some of the better-known members tried to marginalize my opinions at the meetings referring to Jacksonville as “a mistake the league knows it made.”

As the “TV guy” I’ve watched the presentations for the last 15 years by various writers from around the league. Some of the members are hacks, others just bitter but don’t get me wrong, some are very professional, thoughtful people who are professional journalists. As credible as any news reporter, and usually a bit better.

I read with amusement Gene Frenette’s column on Saturday about Paul Zimmerman and the selection and induction of Bob Hayes this year. Zimmerman played a big part in Hayes being brought back to the full committee through the senior committee in 2002. But having been in the room, I can tell you there was a bit of rancor in the discussion when Hayes’ credentials were presented.

While I’m sworn to an oath of confidentiality, I’ll just say that one prominent journalist killed Hayes’ chances with his comments at the end of the presentation. It was as if the air was let out of the room.

Gene’s correct about Zimmerman’s reaction. He was furious and resigned from the Senior Committee.

When Hayes was re-introduced this year, the sentiment had obviously changed and Bob was elected. As the presenter “Goose” Gosselin from Dallas did an excellent job of outlining Hayes’ accomplishments.

There are a lot of things that go on in those meetings, confidentially, but suffice to say that when the announcement was made, Goose and I shook hands and I gave him hearty congratulations.

While some of the selectors might not have seen him play, the average age on the committee is 56 years old. So Hayes isn’t a mystery by any means to the men and women who vote. They decided in 2002 that his credentials weren’t good enough. Honestly, I thought about resigning from the committee after that vote. Bob had made it to the final cut that year but was voted down by a small number of “assassins” as Zimmerman would call them. (It can be a tough meeting.

When the late Will McDonough came to the meeting the year after the Lawrence Taylor vote was quoted chapter and verse in several publications, McDonough broke the parliamentary rules at the beginning of the meeting, stood up and looked around the room wagging his finger and said, “If I ever find out which one of you m—–er f—–ers did that, I’m going to kick your ass.”

I’ve always figured that if a player makes it to the final cut: Down from 90 to 25. Down from 25 to 15 and then to the final 6 (or seven depending on the year), then most of the people who I respect in the room think he deserves recognition in the Hall. That’s usually good enough for me. (I voted against Lawrence Taylor at the time for different reasons.) So I vote yes.

But some guys think they’re smarter than everybody else in the room. Or have a personal grudge against the player and vote him down no matter what. So I can see why Paul was furious. (He and I usually sat together over the last 10 years at the meetings, sometimes sharing our love of history.) I’m sure Zimmerman, who has been debilitated by a series of strokes, is pleased that Bob is finally in the Hall.

There are a lot of factors that kept him out over the years: racism, his off the field issues, animosity toward the Cowboys, the Ice Bowl and others. But I had a chance to smile today because he’s now where he belongs.

Among the greats.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Vick and Favre: Tale of Two QB’s

Who would have thought that Michael Vick might be playing football in 2009 in the NFL and Brett Favre might not? Both are sagas, albeit very different ones involving very talented players.

Vick’s journey has been well documented. From the highest paid player in the NFL to the subject of a federal investigation for dog fighting, Vick remained an exalted figure, nobody believing that he could be involved in what’s considered a heinous crime. When Vick was charged and convicted, his fall from grace was swift. He was vilified and put in jail. Not forgotten but only talked about in terms of “will he ever play again” or “how could he be involved with that.”

He’s an exciting player, no doubt. A tremendous athlete who could probably do just about anything on the football field that involves speed, agility and imagination. While he’s always been a quarterback, Vick could fit into a lot of offensive schemes as a flanker, a tailback, a wideout or just about any other skill position. What about defense? He’d be able to do something there while he was getting on the right page at quarterback.

The way it works in this country is when you commit a crime, get convicted, serve your time and get out; you should be able to resume a “normal” life. Vick will never have that because of his celebrity status, but being reinstated in the NFL and restarting his career, that’s should happen immediately. Somebody should sign him on potential alone.

And the Jaguars should be in that line.

“No” was Jack Del Rio’s response when asked if the team was considering Michael Vick. “He doesn’t fit what we’re trying to do, our model,” Del Rio told me on the radio show on Friday. I know they’re putting together a roster that’s heavy on character but if there’s one player who they could trumpet as a changed person and a player of character, it’s Vick. Plus he could help them in a lot of ways, not the least, ticket sales.

He’ll be on a roster at some point and he’ll help them win.

Favre will probably be on a roster, but later than Vick. For about the 5th year in a row, Brett was conflicted again about returning to the league. I thought it was strange when it first happened, but figured he was just being honest. But after a while, it got tiresome. Either come back or don’t. Having said that, it’s actually the media that created the story, following every phone call and text message even remotely associated with Favre.

This year I think he really wasn’t sure if his body could take it. But just like when they lost to the Giants in the NFC championship, Favre couldn’t stand to leave on a sour note. His performance for the Jets fell off dramatically at the end of the year, meaning the Jets fell off as well. Maybe after 18 years in the league he’s just not that good anymore? Flashes of brilliance for sure, but it’s been 10 years since the MVP-type Favre played a whole year at a high level. Even though he told the Vikings he’s not going to play for them he never said “retirement.” So he’ll stay in the loop and in the news as a potential replacement for any team that needs a QB.

How is it that Favre can play at 40 years old and still be somewhere in the middle of the talent pool of QB’s in the league? If he came back, he’d be OK. Not great, but not the worst player in the league either. So let him do whatever.

If Garrard gets hurt, Favre would be a good fit here but otherwise, he’s not the right guy at the right time for the Jaguars.

It’ll play out.

The saga continues.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Lance and Tom State Their Case…

In one day, the two guys who I was rooting for in the two events I love to watch both imploded. I’ve learned not to get to emotionally invested in what’s going on at a sporting event. I did that as a kid, and experienced both euphoria and despair following what my teams did.

In this job, I’m a “professional observer” and don’t really have any favorites. Too often guys I wanted to see do well turned out to be jerks when I went to talk with them. They could care less what you think. They’re not invested in you in the least. They’re invested in themselves.

Somehow though, I got involved with both Lance Armstrong and Tom Watson.

I’ve met both. Armstrong is a very focused, guarded guy who is smart and sharp. He has a reputation as a bad guy, but I haven’t seen it. Watson is friendly and glib, but always detached. He has people he’s close to but it’s always been obvious that while he’s a great player and a great champion, there’s a lot more to Tom Watson than just who he is as a golfer.

While Watson’s quest is over, Armstrong’s continues. Watson had a chance. In the middle of the 18th fairway on the final hole of the tournament with an 8 iron in his hand, a simple par makes him the oldest tournament winner in history. The fact that it was The Open championship made the story even bigger.

And it’s not as if Watson snuck up on anybody.

He shot an opening round 65 and was the leader at the end of each day. He openly said he thought he could win and wanted to. And he backed it up with solid play and some big putts. But with the Claret Jug sitting there, ready for his name for a 6th time, he couldn’t close the door.

I don’t have any problem with any shot he hit on 18. Except the last putt that could have won it. I know he’s Tom Watson and I know he’s won Majors in the past and might not need any advice. But his caddy needed to go over there and say something to him. Remind him that he is Tom Watson and go over there and make that putt. Give it a run, Knock it right in.

He could have used that, but it wasn’t to be found.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s a fantastic accomplishment and a story for the ages. Keep working, pick your spots, stay sharp and you can stay competitive, especially in a sport like golf. Watson shouldn’t feel anything but that he came up a bit short. He played 72 holes and was tied for the lead.

Yes he had a chance to win it and yes he really waved at that final putt. But that’s the only one EVERYBODY saw. He made and missed plenty others over 71 holes that one a few people saw.

Because he’s so competitive, Watson will beat himself up for a while. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be the great champion that he is. No matter the outcome, his legacy is secure. Paul Azinger said the win means more to Stewart Cink than it would to Watson. Maybe so but if he had won, the historical context would have been tough to gauge. The biggest accomplishment of the year? Of the decade? Of the last 40 years? It certainly would be part of that discussion. Certainly the biggest accomplishment in golf in recent memory.

Lance’s situation is a bit different.

Alberto Contador might have shown that he was the strongest climber in that stage. The Tour, over three weeks, usually identifies the strongest rider. And up to this point, it’s Contador, no question. That doesn’t mean it’s over for Lance. A fall, a mechanical problem, an indifferent climbing day and all of the sudden, Armstrong is part of the equation regarding the winner of “Le Tour.”

But it’s a fantastic accomplishment no matter what happens.

Armstrong, day after day, is legitimizing his seven Tour wins and is showing again, that age is just a number. He’s said he’ll probably be back for next year’s Tour but the fact that he’s competitive for this year is just amazing. He only decided to return a year ago. He’s at least 10 years older than just about every other competitor in the race. And yet he’s in second place.

His surge on Tuesday showed he’s still got some gas in the tank and could be a factor in the last couple of stages No matter. He again is showing that age is just a number.

Which make me want to go hit some balls.

And ride my bike

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Nearly Perfect Day Fishing

Any chance I have a chance to go fishing, I usually jump at it.

After about a five-year hiatus, the Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament resurrected the “media” fishing day leaving from Sister’s Creek Marina just off the St. Johns River. Luckily I drew my friend Randy Nader as the boat captain so with Matt Kingston from Channel 4 and my son Cole along, we hit the water at 7:30.

“This is great,” I hollered to Cole over the roar of the twin 250’s pounding us over the small swells. “Shame it has to happen at 7 in the morning,” I mused. It is something that you never know when the fish are going to hit, but it’s important to get out there at “first light.”

We were lucky to draw Randy as our captain. I’ve fished with Randy before and not only does he always have the top equipment, but he’s an expert and can find the fish. And if they’re not around, he’ll call somebody and find some. And besides that, he’s about the nicest and best guy you’ve ever met.

As soon as we cleared the jetties, we shot right to the beach looking for bait. From 100 yards away I could see the “pogies” popping on the water so over the side the net went. I’ve looked for bait in the past for half the day and sometimes find a few, just enough to fish with. (BTW, a “pogie” is actually a menhaden fish. Small, swims in big schools and lives near the shore. It’s the right size to use for bait on bigger fish in deeper water.)

When the two mates, Malcolm and Kevin started to pull the net up, it was so heavy they couldn’t get it over the side. At first I thought it was stuck on something but when I went to help, I could tell it was just overflowing. I mean there were pogies everywhere. Never have I seen any one throw of the net grab so many baitfish. Over 1000. Honest.

So with bait onboard we went about 20 miles off shore to start. It was glassy so we were there in a flash. With lines in the water, two sharks were our first catch. Small, and just enough to make everybody on the boat want to head elsewhere. So we did! And fast! Randy punched in the coordinates and off we went. With the stereo blasting, easily the best on-board sound and DVD system I’ve ever seen, we were in a new spot with lines in the water almost immediately.

Right away, a king mackerel hit one of the lines. You could tell the difference in how it took out line. After about a 7 minute fight, our first 15-pounder was in the boat. Then it dried up again. No surprise, but we did boat a small king, cutting it off at the boat looking for, as the saying goes, “bigger fish to fry!” Off to another spot and with lines in the water, you could feel something about to happen.

One by one, the two outriggers and the flat line behind the boat took off, three strikes at once! We hooked all three up and fought them for about 10 minutes. What was interesting was as we were fighting those three, about four other kings where jumping (skyrocketing) around the boat. It was your typical “hair on fire moment” trying to maneuver the boat, catch the fish and stay on board!

We brought all three to the boat, cut two off because they were small and threw the third in the fish box. That’s when we got two more strikes on either side of the boat. I was fighting one fish while Matt had a pretty big one on the other side. As we were brining them in, the biggest barracuda I’ve ever seen started cruising around the boat. I got my fish close enough to see he was small and cut him off while Matt was fighting a big kind pretty hard.

That’s when the barracuda cruised around in a circle and “boom” hit the back of the kind and sheered its tail off. Another circle and “boom” the body of the fish was taken away. I know it sounds like a fish story, but that barracuda was more than 4 feet long! It looked like Wild Kingdom out there!

We fished for a while, and caught a few trash fish but the kings had turned off and there’s nothing you can do about it when they’re night biting. That’s why they call it fishing and not catching.

Lets see: on the water, with my son and good friends, having fun, fishing, listening to good music and funny videos, actually catching fish?

Nearly a perfect day!

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Armstrong’s Already a Winner

I don’t care if Lance Armstrong wins the Tour de France.


I’m happy with what he’s already done and if he falls apart and doesn’t finish, (which won’t happen by the way) I won’t care.

Armstrong’s performance, both on and off the bike in the first third of the tour has be nothing short of amazing. His 10th place finish in the opening individual time trial seemed to be an expected result. Wait a minute! The guy is 38 years old, he’s been off the bike, drinking beer and having fun for more than three years. He decideds to return, sheds about 20 pounds, trains like a maniac and goes back to the highest level of competition and finishes tenth?


I mean it was possible for him to finish 100th and it still be a great accomplishment. But 10th shows that he’s fully committed and in the right form. He hangs with his team through the first few stages then whips them through the team time trial, crushing everybody else. Remember, this guy is 8, 10 , 12, 15 years older than everybody else out there. Even he admitted that the 7th stage, the first mountain stage into the Pyrenees would be the first “real” stage of Le Tour. And as we’ve come to expect, Lance sat at the front with the leaders, crusing to the top.

It was some effort, but it’s not like he was cross-eyed when he crossed the line. Armstrong says “the team is not going to be the problem” which I interpreted as saying, “I’m going to have to beat one of these guys on my own team if I want to win the Tour.” And it’s possible that Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andres Kloden present the biggest hurdle to Lance taking the yellow jersey.

But I’m not sure that’s even what his goal is.

As competitive as he is, if he’s near the lead, he’ll try to win, but I really think he’s about the team and the cause.

Raising awareness for cancer research is what this comeback is all about. “It’s been tougher than I thought,” he said after stage 4, but if anybody can be focused on what needs to be done, Armstrong has shown he’s the guy. His updates on Twitter.com have given us insight regarding the day to day life of a professional cyclist, particulary the most famous one in the world.

“Doping control today,” Lance noted on Friday. “And that’s a good thing,” he added. Armstrong has been dogged by so many accusations of illegal doping throughout his career that submitting to some kind of testing is somewhat liberating for him.

I don’t care if he wins the Tour.
No matter where he finishes.
He’ll be in front.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

USA Soccer: Play American!

I read that some of the American players were crying when they accepted their silver medals at the Confederations Cup in South Africa on Sunday.

And they should have been.

Leading 2-0 at half, I don’t know what coach Bob Bradley said to the team, but it was completely backwards.

Now all of you soccer snobs out there just keep your panties on because I played the game for years, did the play by play for the Tea Men of the NASL and watched my kids go through all sorts of school and club teams over their careers.

Having said that, one of the problems Bradley or any other coach has at the national level is they don’t play to the strength of “Americans.” They’re always trying to play somebody else’s game either “English” or “South American” or whatever. Let’s play like “Americans.”

What does that mean?

It means not standing around and just packing it in the box when you have a lead and counter attacking.
Up 2-0, we want to make it 3-0.
That’s what we understand.
It’s in our DNA!

So keep moving forward, not with somebody else’s game but our own!

What, did we think the Brazilians were not going to score? We were going to shut out Brazil? Come on! They’re Brazil! They’re the best team in the world and we flat out played them for a half. Then decided we’d do something different.

What do you think the Brazilian coach said at halftime? He told those guys, “What’s the matter with you, you’re losing to the Americans! Any more of that and you might as well stay in Africa!” So what did they do? They came out and scored in the first minute and dominated play from the start. And what did we do, we sat on our heels and let them bang it at the goal for 45 minutes.

Soccer is such a political game in the US to begin with, we don’t even have the best players out there half the time and don’t’ develop the best players as teenagers with any gusto. If you go to the right camps, play for the right clubs and suck up to the right guys, you’ll move forward. Play another sport? Forget ever moving toward the national level.

Brazil is a country of a 100 million people and the best athletes are on their soccer team. Our best athletes of 300 million people are playing football, basketball or baseball, where the money is at this point. Beating Brazil at this point wouldn’t have changed the game here in America, but it sure would have given us some confidence going into the World Cup next year. Instead, we’ll be thinking how we couldn’t beat Brazil playing just one half spotting us two goals!

I remember when George Steinbrenner got fed up with how the Olympic team was competing on an international level and used his “bully pulpit” to push them in the right direction with a training center and forced them to get serious about competing as a country. I wish somebody like that, Mark Cuban, Jerry Jones, Hank Steinbrenner, somebody with a sports background and a bunch of money would do something about US Soccer.

Start by firing Bradley.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

US Open Proving Ground

I wasn’t sure who to root for, or against for that matter.

I like to get behind somebody in major golf championships. Sometimes it’s actually Tiger but othertimes it’s just somebody who looks like they need the win or they just got struck by lightning.

At this year’s US Open I was somewhere down in the field with Tiger, Phil and David Duval among the guys I wanted to see play well with Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover on the other end of the spectrum. Barnes did his job and disappeared easily enough. Duval just about drove me out of my mind with a triple on his first hole Sunday to all but disappear: until he made it back after the turn.

I wanted Tiger to make a run because I wanted to see which one of the guys up front would fold up just seeing him within striking distance.

Phil’s story was easy. Wife Amy wanted him to bring the silver trophy back to her for her hospital room during her recovery from surgery for breast cancer. So Phil definitely had my support, just like everybody else watching. Wasn’t every woman watching rooting for Phil? Of course! But I also wanted David to win. So I was a bit torn, except for hoping that Glover would remember who he was and go away.

And it looked good for a while.

Tiger was lurking (does everybody say “lurking” when talking about Tiger?) and Phil and David were hanging near the lead. Until Glover decided this was the one tournament he was going to hang in there and win. Admittedly, both Phil and David made mistakes coming in, costing them a chance at winning, but wasn’t Glover supposed to have some massive blowup hole somewhere along the back nine?

In the end Glover wins, but Phil and David win too. Right?

Mickelson was the runner-up for a record 5th time and said “Oh well” when asked about another second place finish, further endearing him to everybody watching. Duval said exactly what I expected him to say: “While very happy about how I played, I’m very disappointed as well. When I got up this morning, there was no question in my mind that I was going to win the golf tournament.”


That’s at least what I hope David was thinking because that’s exactly what he needs in order to start being relevant again in golf. What if he hadn’t made triple on that first par three on Sunday? Would he have done that somewhere else? I don’t know but I do want him to play again soon. It just seems to me that he’s been right all along.

“I’m playing better than my scores reflect,” he said before the US Open started. “I still consider myself one of the top ten players in the world.”

That comment drove a lot of the assembled media to distraction, or snide laughter. Of course that was before they all jumped on his bandwagon. I actually hope the tires go flat on that bandwagon soon.

Duval can still play. He has some other priorities in his life and perhaps has lost 10 years of his prime career time. But he’s figuring it out and if he stays healthy, he’ll continue to play well, and win. Soon.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

That Certain Something

The French have a phrase for it “je ne sai quoi” that certain something I can’t put my finger on. It’s one way you can describe all championship teams. There’s something about them that you can’t quite quantify. You can’t say they have more of something you can’t identify, but you know they have it.

I was at the NBA Finals in Orlando this week and while it was a better match up than most reporters wanted you to believe, the Lakers had whatever it is and the Magic did not. Los Angeles won their 14th NBA title in five games over the Magic, winning two at home and two of three in Orlando. Two of those wins came in overtime, another piece of evidence that the Lakers had that indiscernible thing while the Magic are still searching for it.

Maybe it comes down to the star player on each team. LA has Kobe while the Magic have Dwight Howard. Kobe has a certain will that carries his team. I can see where you could not like him and not like the Lakers. Bryant is a bit of a preener and does get the “superstar” treatment by the refs. But he’s tough and wow is he a great player.

He’s not Michael. He doesn’t go to the basket and will himself there the way Michael did but he has skills that are nearly unmatched.

And he has a dogged-ness about him that does translate through his team. He digs in and so do his teammates.

Howard on the other hand isn’t quite that much of a leader. He has some holes in his game, but he still has that youthfulness, that innocence that doesn’t carry his team through tough times. Maybe he’ll have to be a more complete player to get that done. Hit more foul shots, become more polished on offense and ask more of his teammates. But for now, when things start to go south for the Magic, Howard can’t put the brakes on and drag them back into contention.

That’s why after what happened at the end of game four in regulation, I didn’t think there was any way the Magic could win game five, even at home. They were so devastated by being up by three with ten seconds to play and WITH THE BALL but still lost. I figured they’d put up a fight for a while in game five but if things started not to go their way, they’d fold up.

And that’s what happened.

Los Angeles went on a 16-0 run in the second quarter and the Magic just backed up and seemed to accept a loss as inevitable. And I’m not just talking about Dwight Howard. Hedo, Lewis, Pietrus and the rest looked like they were just there for show most of the time in game five. Maybe they got there a year early. Maybe they hit a bunch of threes in crucial situations in the playoffs to propel them to the finals. And maybe they had just so much talent they couldn’t get out of the way of it if they wanted to. But they didn’t have that certain “something.”

They liked each other, they like to play the game and they like to win, but at the top level, in the Finals, you have to have a little more than what they were equipped with.

So congrats to Kobe for his fourth title and of course, his first without Shaq. But he did have Pau Gasol, perhaps the most under rated player in the league. That guy is not Euro-Soft as he appears. He’s tough, skilled and willing. Not a bad combination for a seven-footer.

Jacksonville’s Otis Smith as the Magic General Manager has pushed the right buttons and has signed the right guys to get them here. Now he’ll have to back it up with some more solid decision-making. Hedo has exercised his option and each team is different form the last. It’s not a lock they’ll be better next year but look for Dwight Howard, without an Olympic year commitment in the off-season, to develop more as an offensive player.

By the way, was I the only person who sensed a slight “tune out” factor between the players and Stan Van Gundy? I’d play for him; I think he’s a very good coach. But it seemed like his act wore a little thin on the players as the series and perhaps as the playoffs wore on.

And lastly, I still hate the 2-3-2 format. Go back to the 2-2-1-1-1 no matter what travel is involved.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tiger Weekend Rant

It’s not often that I sit around and watch sports on television on the weekend. I like to get out and do stuff, use the DVR, check in on the highlights, go to the Internet and see what’s going on. But rarely do I sit down for a few hours and just watch stuff.

Except this past weekend.

It was just a feast of a bunch of stuff that I found compelling. From Tiger Woods in the Memorial to College Baseball to the French Open Tennis tournament on in the morning, I just found myself with clicker in hand flipping back and forth and keeping up with all that I could.

Did I mention the Magic/Lakers game on Sunday night? Or the NASCAR race from Pocono? Throw in a little Major League baseball and you literally could have not left the couch all weekend and not been bored for a minute.

Whenever Tiger is in the field at a golf tournament, the rating spike up about 40%. But Tiger was four back at the start of the final round, so he would be but a bit player in the final round.

Well, not exactly.

He starts making birdies on the front nine and put himself at least somewhere near the lead. As soon as that starts happening as if on cue, everybody else starts to fall apart. Three-putts, balls in the water, it’s as if the Persian army is coming to Thermopolie and instead of the Spartans defending, they sent the girl scouts to sell them cookies. Guys are falling all over themselves to not be involved when it really counts.

On the back nine, a few players move into contention and there’s a four-way tie for the lead as Tiger’s playing the 16th hole. “Wow,” I think, this is going to be fun. A playoff, some other top players. But no, Tiger turns into Tiger again and the rest of the players turn into pumpkins. Woods birdies both 17 and 18, hitting one of the best final-hole shots ever with a 7 iron to one foot for the clinching birdie.

Jack Nicklaus says it’s the best “driving round” he’s seen Tiger have in recent memory.

And, of course, Jack’s right.

Only six times in his career did Tiger hit all 14 fairways and Sunday was one of them. Jim Nantz said it was as good a final hole shot he had ever seen Woods hit. But he started back right? Well, he shoots 65 and everybody else shoots a million. Jim Furyk shot 69 with a birdie at the last to finish solo second but you never got the feeling he was going to win. You always got that with Tiger and he just went out and did it.

No question players on Tour play differently when Tiger’s in the field. Most of them forget how to play. I was hoping for some kind of Tiger, Furyk, and Davis Love playoff. But Davis finished bogey, triple bogey to go from tied for the lead to six shot off the pace. Not exactly the hallmark of a closer.

All I can think about is Tiger playing in a different era. What if he played against Lanny Wadkins, Ray Floyd and Tom Weiskopf every week? Not that they were world beaters, but all won major championships and all acted like they were going to get into a fistfight with one of their “fellow competitors” any second. They didn’t wilt. They fought. Throw in a field that might include Arnold and Jack, Player, Trevino, Watson, Billy Casper and you get the picture.

At least somebody would be standing when they got to 18.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

LeBron: Worth Twice the Price

By the time you read this, game 3 of the Eastern Conference championships will probably have been played. It might even be over. The Lakers might be the NBA champions. But this playoff season for the NBA will be known for one shot: The 3-pointer LeBron James hit in game 2 in Cleveland against the Magic.

One second on the clock, down by two, the Cavs get the ball at half court after a timeout. You know, I know, heck, everybody knows that LeBron will get the ball. Hedo Turkolu is guarding him, and not doing a bad job. LeBron gets the ball outside of the arc at the top of the key, and with one motion, lands on two feet, jumps and fires a three pointer that rattles in after the buzzer goes off.

That’s the stuff that legends are made of.

LeBron says it’s his best shot “ever.” In fact, he had a pretty good week shooting the ball. Underhanded from half court, from behind the basket, from a sitting position from the mid-court stripe from all over the place. Maybe we’re supposed to expect him to make this kind of stuff. It’s been called “Jordan-esque” but it was even better than that.

There was no push off, no controversy, nothing but solid basketball and a great play on top of it. You can say they didn’t deny LeBron the ball well enough. That the guy guarding the inbounds pass didn’t adjust. But it wouldn’t have mattered. Great players find a way to be where the ball is, regardless.

Shooting it was a natural act, making it might have involved a little luck, but it’s more like a supernatural skill level. How many guys in the NBA make that shot? Maybe a handful. How many get open to receive the pass? Maybe a handful. And how many can have the athletic ability to get to the ball and get the shot off. Fewer than that. So if you do the math, there are only two or three guys in the league, and these are the best players in the world, who can get open, get the shot off and make it. LeBron is obviously one of them, but this had a more surreal feel to it. Like it was predestined.

As I’ve said many times LeBron is one of the two things (people, whatever) that have exceeded the hype. The other is Tiger Woods.

I knew LeBron would be good coming out of High School. He was of course a man-child at that stage and I thought “once he gets with real men in the game he’ll have to really step it up. Maybe he did, or maybe he just was always that good but he is everything he was advertised to be and more. I’ve made the trip to Orlando a couple of dozen times in the last few years to see different players, including Dwight Howard. Howard is worth the price of admission himself but James is on a whole other level. He’s worth twice the price. I mean he really is otherworldly.

If you get a chance to see him in person, it’s pretty amazing. Not just as a player, but just standing there. He looks like he should be carved on the front of some pharaoh’s tomb. Anyway, legendary doesn’t begin to describe how big that shot was the other night. Like Charles Barkley said on Friday, I can’t wait for the rest of the series.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Players, Stenson & A Little Tiger

Just about anybody in the top 15 who shot 66 in the final round of The Players was going to walk away with the trophy and the $1.7 million that goes with the title. Alex Cejka seemed a likely candidate to not get the job done based on his past. Tiger Woods usually scares off the competition just by appearing in the final group wearing a red shirt.

Cejka lived up to his reputation as a good player but not a strong finisher.

In about 42 minutes his five-shot lead had evaporated, a double-bogey on the fourth hole sealing his fate as a non-winner. Tiger never got anything going, not even making birdie on the second hole to serve notice on the field. So with the tournament wide open, about a half-dozen players looked to be eventual winners: Retief Goosen, a two-time major champion, Ben Crane, John Mallinger, Ian Poulter and Henrick Stenson.

Of those, Crane’s notoriety came from his deliberate play, Goosen as icy-cold in tough conditions. Mallinger as an unknown, Poulter for his finish last year at The Open and his clothes, and Stenson for taking his clothes off at Doral earlier this year to hit a shot out of the water. Nobody seemed to notice that Stenson also happens to be the fifth ranked player in the world and at 33-years old has won 10 times around the world. He might not be a star in the US but as a true international player, he’s in the thick of things.

I had a chance to talk to Stenson after the round and asked if he was watching scoreboards to determine how he played. “Once I made the putt on 11 I felt like I could take control of the tournament. The putt on 13 gave me a lead and when Ian birdied 15 I topped that and figured if I kept walking I should win.”

He made it sound so simple but it was anything but. Stenson played a nearly flawless round, missing one fairway (14 and still made par) and posting six birdies enroute to a 66, the best round of the day.

“We know he has the talent,” Tiger said afterwards. “But in these conditions, impressive. Pretty incredible.”

And that’s from the best player in the world.

Talk all you want about Tiger’s lack of smiling, his big arms, his knee, whatever, but when he’s impressed by what somebody did on a golf course he just walked off of, you take notice.

Unlike Craig Perks, who I thought would validate his victory after the 2002 Players, I don’t think Stenson will disappear at all. It should move him to the forefront when it comes to the big tournaments and especially the major championships.

“This will give me confidence when it comes to the majors,” Stenson said afterward. “If I can play like this on this course against this field, I should be able to do it in the majors as well.”

I think he’s right about that.

He strikes me as a very even-tempered player (he is Swedish after all) with tons of game. It really comes down to the putter, like with most players out there, but Stenson will put himself in position to be successful in the future and his name will be heard on leader boards for a while.

Two other stories played out this week. Tiger’s just fine but perhaps still a little rusty. “First time I’ve played back-to-back weeks, something I was wondering about. The knee’s fine. I can practice.” That’s good news for Tiger, his fans and the Tour.

It’ll be interesting to see if that’s what’s going on with his game, just some rust, or if it’s fatherhood, distractions, age, whatever. He’s still incredible and looks like the light-heavyweight champion of the world. I know Johnny Miller said Tiger was too bulked up to play, and although I disagree, Miller should know. When he moved to his farm in the mid ’70s’ he bulked up enough that he stopped winning.

I do agree with Miller that Tiger doesn’t smile anymore. While that doesn’t matter it does appear he’s playing a joyless game. I don’t know if that goes with the territory as one of the most famous athletes in the world or he just is grinding all the time. Hindsight will give us an indication.

The other story is Jeff Klauk. Klauk finished a 3 under and represented himself very well. As the son of the superintendent for 20 years he estimates he played 1000 rounds at the Stadium course and knows it from mowing fairways and raking traps. He had a local contingent of fans giving him support and I’m sure he felt some pressure in his first appearance at The Players.

But he didn’t fold at all and at one point was tied for 7th.

A bad back nine on Friday cost him a shot at the first page of the leaders but he showed everybody, and perhaps most importantly himself, that he belonged out there with the best players in the world.

“My goal is to play in the Tour Championship,” Klauk revealed on Sunday. In order to do that, he’ll have to finish in the top 30 on the money list. Maybe not that far fetched if he keeps this kind of play up.

“If I can replicate what I did on several nines this week over 72 holes, I’ll be just fine.”

More than that Jeff.

You’ll be a winner.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Halfway at The Players

It looks more like a law firm than a PGA Tour leader board: Mallinger, Crane and Johnson sounds like somebody you’d hire rather than go to watch make birdies. But they’re among the players contenting for The Players title in 2009.

Does that mean Tiger, Phil and company are out of the picture? Not necessarily but it does show the depth of the field and the “on any given Sunday” aspect of the Tour.

But is that any good for the Tour? Probably not.

We know that television ratings go up 40% when Tiger is on television on Sunday. And they’re desperate for a Sunday pairing of Phil and Tiger in the final group of a significant tournament to jump-start the “rivalry.” When the two played together on Sunday at the Masters the focus was on that two some instead of the leaders. Because that’s where all the buzz was on the golf course.

Nobody cared about Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry until after it was apparent that neither Tiger nor Phil was going to win. But we followed their every shot until the final hole before the focus went back to who actually might win the tournament.

Sure, Jody Mudd won here in 1990 and Craig Perks in ’02 proving that anybody can win this thing if they get hot on Sunday. After he made birdie on his final hole of the day (#9) to finish at even par and potentially make the cut, I asked Phil Mickelson if the TPC Stadium course would allow him to get into contention even though he was 11 shots off the lead.

“Absolutely,” Phil said before I could even finish. “I’ve played late in the day on Sunday here and seen guys make birdies and march right up the leader board. If I make the weekend I’m planning on trying to shoot a low number tomorrow and move into the top 10 or so. If you’re there Sunday, you have a chance to win.”

Mickelson said he’s hitting the ball just like he wants to but isn’t making any putts. “I made three birdies today and all three were two putts,” Phil added.

There are two things that constantly go on at Players. First it’s the golf tournament that counts. It’s the best-run tournament and perhaps the best run sporting event in the world. Very positive, very efficient and as a professional tournament, it clearly identifies the best player of the week, all through his bag.

On the other hand, it’s a massive social event with the Tour and many other corporations using it to entertain clients and get their message across. And it’s part of the social fabric of North Florida. I’ll bet half of the people who are at the tournament, as “spectators” don’t see a single shot struck during the week. Well maybe they see Tiger take one swing but other than that it’s a huge outdoor cocktail party rivaling Florida/Georgia.

Which is perfectly fine.

No it’s not the Masters, nor the US or British Opens, but it’s something special all by itself. I hope it keeps up this weekend.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gene Smith’s Team

There’s a lot you can say about the Jaguars draft. You can complain they don’t know what they’re doing. You can say it’s not “sexy.” But you can’t say they didn’t follow exactly what they said they were going to do.

New General Manager Gene Smith told us all along that he was going to trust his research, trust his scouts and trust “the process” when it came time to make his picks, including his first one.

“We believe there will be value at the eight spot,” Smith said last Tuesday.

When it came time to make their selection, Smith and the Jaguars didn’t hesitate. “It was a no-brainer,” Smith admitted. Eugene Monroe was there at #8 and he was by far, the highest rated player on there board so they took him. “We’ll take the best player available,” Smith said all along and he was true to his word.

Monroe was expected to be gone in the top five but when he was there at eight , the Jaguars jumped on him. They passed on Michael Crabtree and a bunch of other flashy, skill players to take an offensive tackle. It’s pretty clear they weren’t making that pick to sell tickets and get people to buy jerseys. It’s about building the team for the long haul.

Again, you can disagree all you want but we really don’t know how this draft will work out until a few years go buy.

Tra Thomas and Tony Pashos? They’re just like any other player in the league, penciled in on the depth chart and trying to keep their jobs. Could Pashos be moved to guard? Is he a backup? Who knows? They now have at least seven offensive linemen who could be considered starters in the league, not a bad scenario to create.

Perhaps you consider drafting tackles not good enough when it comes to addressing need. The Jaguars are far enough away from being an elite contender that starting anywhere is a good spot. Wide Receiver? Unless you think there’s a star available, (and I don’t think Michael Crabtree will be a huge star) then there’s no difference between drafting a receiver in the 2nd round or the 5th.

It doesn’t matter. They all have the potential to be stars or busts.

It’s not about what guy on television said he thought about the picks. And it’s not about the stats at the combine. It’s about who will become “football players.” That’s what teams are looking for.

The Jaguars aren’t done dealing either. I’m sure they’re going to be looking during training camp to see who’s being released, particularly among defensive lineman, tackles to be specific. They’ll also keep their eye on receivers as well.

But when it comes to this draft, we’ll check again in 2011.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

It’s The Masters, Again

“History is made here every year.”

That’s how Phil Mickelson described Augusta National and the Masters and what makes it different from the other Majors. Mickelson knows the history of the game and showed it when he quoted years and players regarding the memories that are made at Augusta National.

“Gene Sarazen in ’35, Jack in ’86, what happened to Freddie at 12 in ’92. Those are things you remember from year to year. At US Open at Pebble Beach we remember what Tom Watson did at 17 in ’82 or what Tiger did to everybody in 2000 but those are years apart. Here it happens every year.”

It was about as succinct an answer ever given for the mystique of the Masters. It’s not the oldest Major, or the most difficult to win. Yet it’s the one that everybody yearns for.

This year was as dramatic as it was heartbreaking. Obviously when Tiger said “you have to plod around here now,” after last year’s final round 75 won it for Trevor Immelman, the members at Augusta decided to turn back the clock and listen for the roars that came from the “second” nine on Sunday. The days where a 30 in the final nine holes can propel you to the Green Jacket are back.

Based on tee position and pin placements, if you had control of your game, you could make a run, create some excitement, make the guys behind you hear the roars from 13 and 15 and post a number good enough to make the leaders pay attention.

That looked like just what was going to happen when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson shot up the leader board with birdies and eagles on the first nine, putting them into contention. “My number was 11,” Tiger said after the round. “I knew if I could get to 11, those guys in the front would have to beat it.”

Alas, Tiger never got there.

Whether it’s the rust from not playing or a seismic shift of how the world works, not every putt went in as it usually does and instead of keeping his foot on the gas, Woods bogeyed 17 and 18 to finish at 8 under without scaring the leaders. Mickelson really had it going on the first nine holes, turning at 10 under, but missed very makeable putts on 15 and 17 and dunked one in the water on 12 to make double.

“A terrible swing,” Phil said afterwards. On that swing, and the two putts, Mickelson admitted to not committing to what he believed and it cost him each time. He finished at nine under. Good, but not good enough.

Meanwhile, in the final group, Kenny Perry was cruising along with pars through 11 holes and Angel Cabrera was knocking it all over the place and still keeping pace. He was no factor at all for a long time. Between Tiger and Phil, Perry holding onto the lead and Chad Campbell making enough birdies to keep pace, Cabrera was an afterthought.

When Perry hit it to a foot for birdie on 16, he had a two shot lead over Campbell. And, oh by the way, Cabrera also made a 7 footer to stay two behind. Two up with two to play, Kenny Perry suddenly realized he could win the Masters with a par on either of the final two holes. Like Ed Sneed, Raymond Floyd and David Duval before him, Perry had one arm in the green jacket but couldn’t finish it.

Seventeen and eighteen are both difficult driving holes but pretty simple if you do hit a good drive and play it from the fairway. Perry’s drive ended up in the fairway after hitting it in the right trees. Even his second shot (six iron) was OK. But that’s when the wheels started to come off.

“I skulled that chip,” Perry explained of his third shot on 17. “And I hit a great drive on 18, right down the middle, but it found it’s way into the bunker.”

It was a little painful to watch.

After going 23 straight holes without a bogey, Perry was about to make back-to-back fives to fall into a three-way tie and a playoff. Chad Campbell had posted 12-under and Cabrera made a four-footer to get in as well.

“Augusta is the most precise course in the world,” 3-time Masters champion Nick Faldo has said many times. Add the pressure of a Major championship and a playoff and even the best players in the world start to do funny things.

Cabrera hit his drive on 18 straight in the trees while Campbell and Perry knocked it down the middle. Cabrera then hit a tree with his second and it luckily caromed back into the 18th fairway. With 7 and 8 irons in their hands, Perry and Campbell had the clear advantage, but it is the Masters and it is a playoff and neither hit the green.

Cabrera’s out of it right? He hit sand wedge to six feet and made it. Perry chipped up to a tap in and Campbell hit a nice bunker shot, only to miss a four-footer. Perry and Cabrera hit great drives on 10, only to see Perry pull his second shot left of the green. Almost a sure bogey. Cabrera’s 8 iron was below the hole, two putts from victory. His tap in par gave him a second Major.

Amazing that the guy who is behind always seems to have the upper hand at Augusta.

But that’s what makes it the Masters.


Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Fred’s Farewell

Nice sendoff for Fred Taylor sponsored by the Downtown Rotary on Monday.

Taylor was released by the Jaguars a couple of weeks ago but some of the members of Downtown Rotary didn’t think he was given a proper farewell. So the Monday lunch meeting was dedicated to celebrating Taylor’s career here in town. “I’m not bitter,” Fred said afterwards. “I really love Jacksonville, the fans, the city. I’ll retire a Jaguar.”

Taylor will be playing for the New England Patriots this season and said he’ll be keeping an eye on the Jaguars. “I’ll be rooting for Jacksonville every week, except when they come to New England this year.” The Jaguars will be on the road at Foxboro this season. The exact schedule hasn’t ‘been set yet.

I did think it was interesting that Taylor had some of his friends there, including former teammates Jimmy Smith and Rashean Mathis. Smith was moved to tears when Taylor choked up giving a few farewell remarks. It just made me think of Smith’s retirement announcement and how abrupt it was in comparison.

The Jaguars brass flew to South Florida to talk with Fred and make the decision. Smith’s retirement was announced in a last-minute press conference at the stadium. It fueled speculation that Smith was stepping aside instead of facing a drug suspension for a failed test.

But Fred’s situation was different. He is a beloved player here in town and as strange as it seems that he would get a sendoff, isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? When a guy spends his career in town, stays out of trouble, says the right things and is a part of the community, shouldn’t there be some kind of a celebration of his career?

Isn’t this what’s supposed to happen?

I think so and by Fred’s emotional reaction, he appreciated it.

Obviously, this doesn’t happen enough. Certainly the players and free agency play a part, but sometimes there’s so much business involved that teams forget the emotional connection that’s created between fans and players. The organization might reap the benefits but the fans have the connection, the memories, and the memorabilia and feel ownership.

I just thought it was nice.

Maybe the Jaguars were paying attention.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gator Hoops: Short of Ingredients

Watching the Florida/Penn State game the other night I finally figured out why the Gators can’t seem to get over the hump when it comes to a decent opponent who’s having a decent night: they’re just not that good. As much as you want to put a “program” label on Florida, Billy Donovan has come up short in the last two seasons, missing on some recruits and consequently missing the NCAA’s.

There are good players on the Florida team, but it seems inconceivable that the Gators could win back-to-back National Championships and not make the tournament the next two years. (That’s the first time that’s ever happened by the way.)

I do agree when the “’04’s” announced that they were coming back for one more year, it dampened a lot of recruits enthusiasm for Florida and it threw a wrench in “the plan” as far as building from year to year. But this team is just incomplete. In one half of the game, transition and the 3-pointer, they look completely skilled and very confident. But when it comes to the other half, rebounding and the half court game, they look lost.

People point to the loss of Maurice Speights as a big blow to the program. Perhaps, but I think Billy was glad to see him leave. Not getting Patrick Patterson to be a Gator had an impact on the building process, but the lack of a big man, anywhere on the court, has impeded Florida’s road to success.

Alex Tyus is a nice player but disappears for long stretches at a time. Chandler Parsons is inconsistent and a real post player backs him down every time. Ray Shipman and Kenny Kadji are both skinny guys who might be good but even Donovan says they can’t go up and down the floor more than a few times before he has to bring them back to the bench.

I keep hearing that they’re getting this guy and that guy and that this player or that player will develop for next season. Perhaps. Billy knows that getting the best players is important, and combining them in the right year is equally important. He learned a lesson on Kwame Brown and even Donnell Harvey.

Nick Calathes is a very good player on an average team but he can’t lift everybody. Erving Walker can shoot the three but has no idea how to go to the basket.

Maybe we were spoiled by the ’04’s. Looking back they were such a complete team, inside and out, offense and defense, half court and fast break. I suppose nearly any team pales in comparison to them. But Florida’s got enough going for it to capture big recruits and become a real “program.”

Billy is the right coach and the right recruiter.

If he’s going to be the right “chef” when it comes to cooking up wins. He needs to put the right ingredients in the pot.

Right now he’s a little short.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Matt Jones: His Fault Or Ours?

The Jaguars released Matt Jones on Monday, March 16 after 4 years with the team.

Jones was the 21st overall pick in the 2005 draft but never reached the potential the Jaguars had expected out of him catching 166 passes and 14 touchdowns in four seasons. Last year was his best with five TD catches and 65 receptions as David Garrard’s favorite receiver. Jones accounted for half of the Jaguars yardage from wide receiver for the year.

His release was about “character” according to both Owner Wayne Weaver and General Manager Gene Smith.

“I hope Matt gets his life in order,” Weaver said outside the stadium. “But we have standards and when you step over the line, you have to pay the price.”

Only three players, Troy Williamson, Dennis Northcutt and Mike Walker remain on the roster as wide receivers who have caught a pass in the NFL.

(Ed. Note: Original 3-11-09 posting)

“Why would he be so stupid?”

That’s what most people were saying when they heard Matt Jones had been put in jail for violating his probation.

The other prevailing comment was “Figures.”

Either is not good.

Giving up drinking might be hard for some people and impossible for others (I gave up drinking for Lent once but thought it was too easy. Or course I’m working most of the evening so my drinking isn’t all night long). But anyway, giving it up is one thing: not drinking because a judge told you not to is something completely different. And Jones falls into the latter category.

“I made a bad decision,” he pleaded to the judge in Arkansas after he failed a random drug test on February 27th. Jones admitted he drank some beers with friends while playing golf. No big deal right? Wrong. He knew it was a violation of his probation but did it anyway.


Where does that thinking come from?

I can only suppose that it’s how he’s always acted. In the locker room, Jones is aloof, at least with the media. He doesn’t have a “carefree” attitude; he has an “I don’t care” attitude.

Big difference.

Perhaps it’s because he’s never been held accountable for anything he’s done. His athletic talent has always carried him. Since he was in Junior High, Matt Jones was able to do whatever he pleased. Throw his clothes on the floor in the locker room? Sure, somebody would pick it up and clean it. Stay out late? No problem, just score some baskets tomorrow night and everything will be all right.

After while, you kind of get used to being treated special and think if you do it, it must be right. Why? Because I did it! Nothing matters but your athletic talent. Go to college on a scholarship. Get whatever you want in High School. Many times local law enforcement looks the other way at your transgressions.

Then all of the sudden you’re rich beyond your wildest dreams and an adult. And now without the safety net of high school, college and your hometown, people are starting to expect you to live up to that money, and the status you have wherever you’re plying your trade. “But wait, I can do anything I want,” is what you’re mind is screaming but all of the sudden, you’re an adult and the rules change.

Problem is, nobody told you.

So somewhere in this kind of twisted logic, Matt Jones’ problems are actually our problems and his parents. (Although everybody told me that back in Arkansas to serve his probation they were sure things would go well because Jones’ father would “beat his butt” if he got out of line.) The consequences of his actions just haven’t sunk in for the Jaguars wide receiver. He still thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Even the judge in Arkansas said she didn’t think he was a bad person and he’s probably not. But when it comes to personal responsibility, he has none.

And that’s where we come in.

Athletes are just that: Athletes. Guys with tremendous athletic gifts. Different from the rest of us when it comes to the things they can physically do. But it doesn’t make them different when it comes to the accountability of who they are. And only we can hold them accountable.

We shouldn’t accept bad or irresponsible behavior from our athletes, starting at a young age. If they’re out of line in junior high, they should be made to understand that as an elite athlete not only can they not step out of line, but also they’re actually held to a higher standard. Make them be a role model. Just don’t let other kids model themselves after them. Encourage them to explore who they are, to test their limits, to be the best they can be.

Perhaps if we had asked that of Matt Jones and others, he wouldn’t be sitting in jail today.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Arod’s Legacy Now In Question

One day you’re a hero, the next a goat. That describes a lot of professions but none more perfectly than professional sports.

Alex Rodriguez was generally considered the best among the best of all time. But he was revealed as a steroid user and admitted to it two days later, leaving his legacy and his place in the game in question.

The good thing from ARod’s perspective is that he has nearly a decade of a career in front of him. He claims he’s been clean since 2003 and that he used “performance enhancing substances” for the three years between ’01 and ’03.

“I don’t know what I was taking,” he told Peter Gammons in an exclusive interview. “I was stupid, naive and I was young,” is how ARod described his confession for using a banned substance. He says he got caught up in the “everybody’s doing it,” mentality of Major League Baseball at the time.

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what to make of his use or his confession.

Rodriguez claims he didn’t know he was on the list of 104 players who tested positive until a reporter from Sports Illustrated told him a week before it was revealed to the public. He says the union said he “may or may not’ be on the list so he figured whatever he was taking in Texas was OK. I don’t know if that’s a lie or not, but it sounds plausible given baseball’s history of ignoring their problems off the field.

Drinking, Drug use, “greenies” and who knows what has been a part of baseball’s culture since the game was organized. They knew steroids were a part of the game for a while. They knew players were doing whatever they could to stay in the game, put up bigger numbers and make more money. But until there was a public outcry and a variety of media reports baseball accepted the inflated numbers and the corresponding jump in fan interest and attendance that went with it.

It wasn’t against the rules and barely illegal so players, insulated by the league and their teams, took pills, shot up and made concoctions of whatever they thought might make them hit better, run faster and last longer.

So if “everybody was doing it” where does that put the numbers? Mark McGwire was probably still going to lead the majors in home runs, but probably not 72 in a season. Sammy Sosa was probably going to finish second, but instead of hitting 66, he might have hit 50-some. ARod was probably still going to be the MVP in ’03 but might not have put up the gaudy numbers to go with it. So season-by-season, player-by-player comparisons in that era are probably fair.

But baseball is such a game of numbers and the custodians of the game consider themselves such purists that comparing Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs to Hank Aaron’s 755 is important to them. So Barry Bonds’ single season record for home runs is illegitimate to them. I’d say Bonds’ single season record is fine based on the competition he faced. It’s his overall production that should have an asterisk.

ARod’s immediate admission that he was involved is an attempt to put it behind him, to be as upfront as he can for one reason: to protect his legacy. Rodriguez might put the numbers out of sight in the next eight or nine years and wants those records for his own. He wants to be considered among the best of all-time. He doesn’t want to have a tainted career. He wants to go to the Hall of Fame.

This is one of those wait-and-see situations. He’ll be under unbelievable scrutiny as his career goes forward comparing his numbers to those in the years he admitted to using a banned substance.

I took creatine for a while to help in my workouts. While it’s not a steroid, it’s definitely performance enhancing. It didn’t make me hit a baseball farther, or run faster but it did allow me to workout harder and more often. My workouts were more productive. So much so that I was growing out of my clothes. Taking a performance enhancer doesn’t make you hit the ball more often, but it does turn about 10 warning-track fly-ball outs into home runs. It does allow a player to continue to play at a high level in August and September where he used to get worn out.

But the big factor might be that the public doesn’t care. Nobody’s worried about athletes, especially baseball players using a drug that makes them bigger and stronger to produce bigger numbers. A lot of people would just as soon see the players get as big as they want and see where the numbers go.

ARod’s legacy?

It’ll have to wait.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Michael Phelps: Out Of Chances

Did he every actually say he smoked marijuana?

I’m not sure Michael Phelps ever really did say he had committed a crime or did take a bong hit of weed. He did admit to irresponsible behavior and adolescent decision-making but I don’t think that’s illegal. Of course I’m not being stupid or naïve about what happened at the party at the University of South Carolina. Phelps was wrong.

It’s just the firestorm of publicity, all negative, has been a little much for a picture taken by an anonymous person and sold for a ton of money to a tabloid.

First of all, who does that? I know Phelps is famous and I know that everybody has a camera either in their pocket or on their phone but must every well known person have to hide in their house for fear that their picture will be taken? It’s just wrong and a shame but it doesn’t absolve Phelps from serious bad judgment.

At 23 years old he has a lot of life experience for somebody his age but he’s still young and is going to do stupid things. This qualifies as one of those stupid things, no question.

I do think USA Swimming made the right move, suspending Phelps for three months. It’s not that he failed a drug test or they’re keeping him out of any big time competition but they’re sending a strong message that they’re not going to let the little things go and they’re not putting up with any irresponsible behavior from anybody.

Phelps apology was one of those non-denials, denials but at least it was an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. He knows who he is and he knows he’ll have to be a better custodian of his lifestyle if he expects companies to rely on him as a spokesman. When he won the eight medals in China, his agents estimated that he’d be worth $100 million dollars. Maybe so and possibly he’ll win more gold in London, but his mistakes being forgiven are now over.

Kellogg’s has already dropped him and I’m sure his other sponsors are taking a long, serious look at what the public perception is of Phelps in the long-term.

A DUI when he was 19 and now this picture have expired his chances. People will forgive Phelps and if he’s contrite enough as we go forward, this will be a thing of the past. This is also the kind of thing that will motivate him to train harder and prove that he’s not some kind of dope head who is getting ready to fall into the abyss.

Phelps is a likeable guy who’s fabulously talented, highly motivated and out of chances.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Super Bowl XlIII: Ben’s Party

It had the elements of a ho-hum Super Bowl. Two very disparate teams, two different cultures, not a lot of buzz about the game. All of that was true, and people were talking about whether they would have a job the next day instead of who might win.

Then they played the game.

Even though the Steelers dominated the first quarter, Arizona didn’t lose heart. They couldn’t get any traction, didn’t have the ball and trailed by 10 at halftime.

Of course there were a couple of defining plays but none bigger than James Harrison’s 100-yard interception runback for a TD. It’s the longest play in Super Bowl history and even though it looked like it would be the play that defined the game, it actually was the one play that kept the Steelers in it.

The second half allowed the Cardinals to show why they won the NFC. Big plays by their big stars put Arizona in the driver’s seat. I agree with Tony Dungy’s assessment that it took the Cards too long to get Larry Fitzgerald involved. Even though the Steelers were trying to take him away, he’s a “playmaker” in the truest sense so you have to give him a shot. Nonetheless, Arizona played the kind of game they wanted in the second half, throwing the ball around and wearing out the Steelers defense.

Fitzgerald’s 67-yard TD gave the Cardinals lead and looked like the defining play in the game. Until Pittsburgh got the ball back.

Coming out of college, there were a lot of questions regarding Ben Roethlisberger and his ability to translate his size and strength to the pro game. Those questions seemed valid when he played poorly in Super Bowl XL, even though the Steelers still won the game. (This week Roethlisberger said he was so nervous in Detroit he couldn’t play!)

Against Arizona, with the game on the line, Big Ben couldn’t have been better suited for the task. He marched Pittsburgh right down the field and threw the winning TD pass to Santonio Holmes.

Roethlisberger is prototypical when it comes to building a quarterback. Tall, strong, just enough speed and a good leader. With two Super Bowl wins on his resume and leading a comeback on the biggest stage certainly elevates his stature. His ability to extend plays, to step out of the first tackler and his arm strength that allows him to throw it with guys hanging all over him make him a very formidable opponent. (Just ask the Jaguars).

I’d still take Brady and Manning but Roethlisberger is at least now in the discussion.

None of the Super Bowl commercials stuck out in my mind. NBC made $208 million selling the :30 spots for $3 million each.

Some complaints about the officiating but I didn’t think they effected the outcome of the game.

Steelers fans outnumbered the Cardinals fans 4-1.

Arizona and the over covered.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The New Super Bowl

This is the 26th year I’ve been going to the Super Bowl. On one front that seems like a lot of games, but on another it seems like a drop in the bucket. I’m on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Committee and some of the guys on that committee have been to every Super Bowl.

But I have seen change at the game and for the week.

The Super Bowl has always been a celebration of pro football, a gathering of the greats of the game and kind of a convention for everybody associated with pro football. That used to be a fairly small group involving, players, coaches, administrators, media and a few associated businesses.

It’s not that anymore.

The game played on Sunday between the two top teams in the league is the common ground that holds the week together but the “party” is what the “game” has become. Corporations, the NFL and the Players Association have numerous events to promote different things. The league marches from one day to the next with a very regimented, scripted agenda, promoting one thing or another whether it’s a charity, neighborhood improvement project or something the league has cooked up overseas.

The NFLPA is involved in promoting themselves as a separate entity, a place where current and retired players can celebrate their “fraternity.” They have their projects, but they’ve put together a brand that promotes partying at the highest level. Those are the tickets that are coveted during Super Bowl week, the tickets to the “Players Parties” where stars from all kinds of sports are around and you might get a glimpse of Michael or Tiger, or Shaq or somebody who gives that party some kind of legitimacy.

Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Maxim Magazine and other nationally known businesses and publications have always sponsored the big parties. But because of the economy Playboy and SI have cancelled their parties. Maxim is still on the schedule but I’ve never been impressed with that party anyway. Lots of hype, not a lot of substance but maybe I’m looking for something else.

“See and be seen” is the mantra of the Super Bowl. If you’ve played in the league, you pretty much can’t go anywhere without getting mobbed, either for an autograph, a picture or some kind of interview.

Radio Row is one of the big changes at the game. It used to be that a few radio stations were broadcasting from different locations in the Super Bowl city. Now, the Super Bowl headquarters hosts a huge room full of broadcast entitles. From the NFL Network to every syndicated and local radio station in the country, everybody’s set up in the same room.

Imagine what happens when somebody like Joe Namath walks through that room! It’s bedlam with everybody trying to get a minute with a legend on the air. Of course, the legend is selling something: a book, a product, an appearance somewhere. It’s a big show, and it can be very entertaining.

All kinds of announcements are made at the Super bowl as well. Never heard of any? Of course not. They’re just being made there so the corporation or whomever can say they put it together at the Super Bowl.

Practices are closed except to one reporter and one photographer. Press conferences are everyday, even after the celebrated “media day” with select players and coaches available. Media day is truly a circus. This year the key to getting an interview was to wear a dress. Especially if you’re a man. Women garner all of the attention at this testosterone convention so if you wear a dress, and you’re a guy, you’ll stand out. If that’s what you’re looking for.

They’ll get around to playing the game. Eventually. Outside of the press conferences the players are generally sequestered but they can find their way around the Super Bowl city. There’s trouble to be had if that’s what they’re looking for.

Wonder why Tampa is hosting the game again? Strip Clubs, Nightclubs and Casinos. That’s the key as a Super Bowl host.

Warm weather helps, but not necessary.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tim Tebow: Stay Or Go?

I think he’ll stay.

What he should do is up to him. Outside of his parents, everybody else should stay out of it. One thing I’m sure of: Tim Tebow will do the right thing.

Speculation as to whether Tim would spend four years at the University of Florida started the day he announced he was going to be a Gator. And the rumors have been rampant since then. “His Dad has a plan,” or “Tim promised he’d stay four years,” got going right away. Honestly, I don’t think the Tebow’s know at this point.

“We haven’t talked about it,” his father, Bob, told me on Thursday. “Right now we have a game to play (the BCS title game against Oklahoma) but we’ll sit down next week.”

I believe that.

The only time Tim talks about it is when the media asks, and then he doesn’t say much. “I can’t imagine going there (to the Florida campus) and telling them I’m not coming back,” Tebow admitted after the game on Thursday. “I love Florida, I love being a Gator.” All that aside, it’ll be a very thorough process, figuring out what will be best for Tim, not only in his career but in his life.

“I promise Tim will be very well informed,” Urban Meyer said in his press conference on Friday when asked about the decision making process when it comes to professional football. “I’ll put him on the phone with people I trust so he’ll know where he stands,” Meyer allowed.

He included Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio among those he’ll get an opinion from. “I have great respect for him and he’s opened up his program to us, so I’ll get Tim on the phone with him.”

Everybody who reports on the NFL has an opinion about Tebow’s ability or where he’ll be drafted. Better footwork, stronger arm, better decision making, whatever. All of those things have been said about Tim’s quarterbacking skills. Some parts of those might even be true. But historically, Tebow has accomplished everything asked of him.

If some team didn’t like his arm or footwork or whatever, all they’d have to do is ask, and he’d fix it, right away. Better footwork, stronger arm? No problem. Decision-making? He’ll spend hours in the film room. One thing that can’t be quantified is his leadership. He did it in high school and again in college, dragging his team, and the fans along with him to an emotional peak. Not everybody can do that.

So where will he be drafted?

Most list him as a late second, early third rounder. That would be the bargain of the century, and if that’s what the Tebow’s hear, he’s definitely coming back for his senior year. There’s only one reason Tim would come out early and that’s money. No doubt his salary will go to his father’s ministry but it’d be silly to come out as a third round pick with limited up front money available. If that’s the case, he’ll stick around and try to win another National Championship and another Heisman.


Florida loses nobody on defense and four starters on offense. “I’m not as worried as I was two years ago,” Meyer admitted when he was asked about guys turning pro. “We’re better and have built a program.” The only irreplaceable guy is Percy Harvin and of course, Tim Tebow.

When I talked with Bob Tebow in Thursday, we were semi-joking about Tim’s “star power” when it comes to selling tickets. If the Jaguars drafted him would they sell more tickets? Absolutely. Even not as the starter.

I was also talking the Suns owner Peter Bragan Jr. on Thursday and he wondered if Tim might want to play baseball for the summer. “He can wear a Suns uniform all season,” Pedro noted. “Hitting a baseball is Tim’s best athletic talent,” his Dad noted with a smile when I told him about the Suns offer.

Think that would sell tickets?