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.