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.