The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 11 – This is the Game the Players Want

Lonnnie’s coaching football this week so Sam and Tom look ahead to Sunday’s Tennessee game. The Patriots win was good but It’s the Titans the players really don’t like.

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/7075745/height/100/width//thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”100%” scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

Recovery is the Latest in the NFL

There’s a scene in Godfather II where Vito Corleone is in his dimly lit apartment worried about his son Fredo.  Fredo has pneumonia and is being tended to by his mother and a nursemaid using a glass tumbler with a flame underneath. The thought was it would suck the illness out of his tiny body.  It’s a centuries old routine done by the Chinese, the Greeks and the Italians among others.  I saw my grandmother use that process calling it, “ta koopia” in her island/mountain Greek/English.

Who’d have believed that a modern-day version of that is considered “cutting edge” in the world of sports recovery?

“If after our evaluation you need cupping, we can do that for you,” said Ashley Isleborn who operates the Sports Recovery Annex in San Marco. “Cupping creates a vacuum effect that brings nutrient rich blood into the area.  It promotes healing and increases range of motion in the muscles.”

Watching the Olympics you probably saw local swimmer Caleb Dressel with round bruise marks on his back and shoulder in a pattern.  That’s from cupping.

The Sports Recovery Annex is one of about a half-dozen recovery businesses that have opened in town in the past two years.  They all emulate the tools and services training rooms for professional sports teams have to keep their players in the game.  Blue 32 is run by former Jaguars DB Drayton Florence. Current Jaguars DL Malik Jackson has part ownership in Recovery Zone in Riverside.  Professional golfer Russell Knox helped start Cryotherapy Jax on the Southside.

“We saw a need for a community type athletic training room,” Iselborn added. “We wanted to make the equipment and medical professionals that are available to professional athletes available to the general public.”

Cupping is just one of numerous new-wave tools athletes, from professionals to weekend warriors, are using to recover, recuperate and perhaps extend their careers.

“I do it all,” Jaguars Defensive Lineman Calais Campbell told me after the Patriots game. “Massage, cryotherapy, Normatech, GameReady, dry needling, acupuncture, you name it.  What ever I can do to get ready to play.”

Recent research has shown that active recovery is the next step in getting your body ready to perform again.  You might not recognize any of those product names, but they’re everyday happenings for current NFL players. Teams even have a hyperbaric chamber (the thing Michael Jackson used to sleep in) to promote healing.

Former Jaguar John Jurkovic once said that playing on the defensive line in the NFL is like “being in 42 car wrecks in the same day.” And anybody who’s played football knows the difference of being “in shape” or being “In football shape.”  You know that soreness that comes a few days into practice.  They even have a clinical name for it now, “DOMS.” Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.”

Cryotherapy is a three-minute process, getting into a gas-filled chamber up to your neck that cools down to minus 200 degrees.  Normatech is a full body compression system designed to flush the lactic acid out of your limbs.  GameReady combines compression and cold and can reduce swelling.  Acupuncture has been around for 5,000 years and is part of every NFL team’s recovery regimen.  And dry needling is just what it sounds like.  They insert these small needles into a problem area, hook them up to some electric stimulation and it helps “release” that muscle.

Teams all over professional sports have come a long way in a short time.

Former NFL running back Pete Banaszak laughs about guys smoking in the locker room at halftime in the ‘60’s and “70’s. “Biletnikoff was always walking around looking for a light,” he said.

“You’d do the hot tub/cold tub treatment but basically you were just sore all the time,” he added.

Twenty years later, Jaguars Linebacker Tom McManus was among the early adopters of an active recovery regimen.

“I’d get two massages a week,” he recalled.  “The first a deep tissue that really hurt, and one later to help me get loose. I’d see a chiropractor once a week during the season.  I’d get in a cold tub almost every day. Up to my neck.  That cold down to my bones I liked.”

I was walking into the Jaguars locker room in Stevens Point, Wisconsin during their first training camp when McManus’ teammate, running back Randy Jordan literally climbed into a trashcan full of ice and water.

“Nothing, I hate the cold,” Linebacker Telvin Smith said when I asked him what he does for recovery.  “A couple of massages, that’s about it.”

Quarterback Blake Bortles says he does some but he probably hasn’t given enough of the new tech a chance. He sticks to a routine.  “Massages, hot tub, cold tub, the regular stuff,” he said standing in front of his locker with a few cupping marks on his back.

“I was old school,” Guard A.J. Cann said of his thought process coming out of college.  “I’d just work through it and get back out there.  But some of the guys said ‘you have to invest in this’ meaning your body.  So now I do all of it.  Dry needling? It hurts, but it works.”

In his seventh year in the league, Safety Tashaun Gipson says his age has already caught up with him.  He’s now working on active recovery in a lot of ways.

“I don’t know, since I turned 28 I’ve really started to do some things,” he said. “I used to not even stretch before games.  Guys in Cleveland would make fun of me.  Now, our massage therapist says I get more massages than anybody else. You have to take care of this body.”

Like a lot of players, he’s taking it to a new level.  Shunning old eating habits, getting the proper rest, using the active recovery tools, Gipson says it’s made him a better player.

“I used to have taco Tuesdays, had to have my Chick-fil-a on Wednesday.  I could eat French fries with every meal.  Not anymore.  I’ve hired a chef and they’re making it right.”

Drayton Florence started getting involved in recovery after six years in the NFL.  He started “Blue 32” after seeing enough “Weekend Warriors” trying to stay active. He’s invested in almost everything that’s in an NFL training room, plus a mobile unit.

“You have a lot of gyms popping up all over the place.  People are beating their bodies up,” he said.  “I wanted to give the average Joe a chance for recovery.  A guy like LeBron James spends over  $1.5 million on recovery every year.  There’s a reason he hasn’t missed a game. You can’t compete at a high level without taking care of your body.”

Florence gives free treatments to military veterans on the 22nd of each month, hoping to help with their transition into civilian life.

“We started as a training room for athletes. People thought we were crazy.” Maria Rivera the owner of Cryotherapy Jax said.  “But we’re more spa-like now. About 80% of our clients are people who want to stay active; another 10% are working on pain management.

“Our clients want to stay off medications and are looking for alternative therapies to stay active.”

Aren’t we all?

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 10 – The Jaguars Are The Team To Beat

Sam and Tom believe the Jaguars made a statement against the Patriots. Can they handle the success and the role of favorite?

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/7061857/height/100/width/880/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

Marrone Spreads The Credit Around

On the day after the win over the Patriots, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone was moving forward.  While some teams talk about the “24-hour rule” to bask or wallow in the previous day’s result, Marrone was already preparing for the Titans.  He’s doing so with a new starter on the offensive line with the loss of Cam Robinson to an ACL injury.

“One thing that I have talked to this coaching staff about and I have talked to the players about is I don’t want anyone on this roster or on this team that is a backup,” Marrone said referring to Josh Wells stepping into the left tackle spot.  “I want everyone to be treated and prepare just like they are a starter.”

It’s been the Jaguars philosophy under Marrone since the beginning.  As a back-up himself as a player, Marrone knows how it feels to be treated like a stop-gap measure.  He’s comfortable with the guys on the roster getting into games, no matter what the situation.

“What I wanted to do is make sure everyone understands that we’re not scouring and we need to go out there and find some answers. We have the answers here in the building.”

So they’re not going around looking for new players.  They’ll also make sure the offensive linemen on the roster are up to speed at just about every position.  Marrone said Brandon Linder, A.J. Cann and the rest are capable of stepping in just about anywhere if they have “a problem” in the future.

He also was quick to point out, in a subtle way that it was Tashaun Gipson and not Jalen Ramsey who did the bulk of the work against Rob Gronkowski and kept the all-everything TE in check.

“I think we have two good guys back (at safety) there starting and I said it last year about T-Gip.  Gipson had a heck of a year last year for us and he is off to a really good start this year. I think a lot of things get overlooked. He was matched up about 17 or 18 times out there [on Gronkowski] and did an outstanding job.”

In a weird quirk, the Jaguars actually have higher offensive production when Leonard Fournette is out of the lineup compared with when he plays.  It’s a bit of a false stat since the game plan changes with Fournette in the game, more running game, more clock management, more grind it out.

Not sure if Fournette will play this week, Marrone didn’t want anybody to think the team can go long-term without him.  It’s just the other players getting it done.

“Let’s make sure we understand that Leonard is a very important player for us and a guy that can change games. To have the other players pick it up and do a good job is obviously important and I think that’s what the players have done.”

Make all the fun of Blake Bortles you want, Marrone is squarely in his corner and always has been.  VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin has said all along “we believe in the player.”  The head coach goes a lot further, acknowledging how tough Bortles has been, physically and mentally.

“The one thing I do admire though is his toughness through it.,” Marrone added. “It’s not like whether it’s this or that or percentage or a completion percentage or how he plays. At the end of the day, quarterbacks and players, coaches, everybody – we are just judged on winning and losing. We just want to win.”

And finally, the head coach leaned on his thoughts about being able to wear Jaguars gear and be proud of it.  He talked about it in the offseason, playing on a bad Syracuse team and not wanting to wear his football t-shirt in public.  The outpouring of support and the raucous nature of the fans at the game Sunday is just what Marrone likes.

“I know our fans fire us up. I hate to say that because you would think we are professionals and maybe I could do a better job of getting the team ready to go, but the fans are great. We’re trying to go out there every day and play the type of game and win games or have the opportunity to win games that the fans of Jacksonville can be proud of. They can be proud to wear that shirt on Monday. Sometimes when you don’t play well it’s tough. It’s tough to wear that shirt.  We talk about our support. We talk about the advantage that we have. The fans have been great. They have done their part. We’re hoping that they come out again and cheer this team on. When we win, they are a part of it.”

 

 

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 9 – A Statement Game vs. NE?

Lonnie Marta joins Sam and Tom in Historic Springfield to talk Jags and Patriots. The winner will establish themselves as the AFC favorite.

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/7041827/height/100/width/880/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

Football Gambler: A Day in the Life

As a boss “Dirty Carl” was nearly the ideal kind of guy to run a bar in DC.  Well dressed, older than the staff, he commanded a level of respect because of his age and he knew the business.  He’d sit at the end of the bar, stay out of your way and hand out sage life advice to the bartenders and waitresses.  He’d disappear into his office for hours at a time, but it didn’t seem weird at all.

Because we all knew Carl ran the bar, but he made his money as a bookmaker.

“I’m worried that the FBI is tapping the phones and Carl is walking around here with the Racing Forum hanging out of his back pocket,” the establishment’s owner once lamented well before the dawn of the digital age.

Right on Wisconsin Avenue, the “Pour House Pub” was a popular haunt for local TV reporters and anchors and professional athletes.  So when football season rolled around, “Dirty Carl” was always on the floor, talking to everybody, gathering information.

I remember two rules Carl had about betting football: 1) Only bet the underdog if you think they can win the game and 2) Don’t try and get “whole” by betting the Monday Night game.

For the last 40 years, my fall weekends have been locked down covering football games all over the country.  I loved it, watching the passion of fans, the competition and the excitement and pageantry of the events.  So when my friend Wooly invited me to Las Vegas for the opening weekend of the NFL, I said yes thinking, “This will be something different.”

Watching games through the eyes of a fan is very different than watching games through the eye of a reporter. And both are VERY different than watching the game as a gambler.

Fans paint their faces, wear team colors and yell themselves hoarse during the game.  Reporters are supposed to be dispassionate, watch what happens and ask the questions most fans are wondering about. There’s even a rule posted, “No cheering in the press box.”

Gamblers are looking at numbers. They like the “action.”  Looking for a field goal here, a turnover there, and maybe a bunch of scoring from both teams in the first half to guarantee the “over.”

“Why would you watch the game if you don’t have a bet on it,” my friend Keith has said often.

I found myself last weekend at a sports book in Las Vegas surrounded by guys who had “action” on the games. Most were screaming at the screens arrayed around the front of the room after what seemed to be the most random events.

“That throws the whole line off,” the guy behind me moaned after a missed extra point.  In the first quarter.

After bringing breakfast to my friends at 9:30AM, our version of a “tailgate,” I didn’t leave that room until 6:30 that evening. The cacophony of sound and the visual and mental stimulation was eventually overwhelming.

Looking for some quiet, we went to a nearby restaurant and sat at the bar for dinner.  Of course there was a television there and the Packers/Bears game was showing. We weren’t too interested because we had the Pack, giving seven points, Aaron Rodgers was out of the game and they were already down by 17.  My betting partner and I sat there and watched as Rodgers engineered the greatest comeback of his career, and one of the best in NFL history.  When Green Bay took a 24-23 lead, as a fan, I was very impressed.  As a reporter, I was trying to put it in a historical perspective.  But I forgot, as a gambler, I should have a whole different perspective.

“Good, there’s some time left,” my cohort said as Randall Cobb scored the Packers third TD of the half with just over two minutes left in the game.

“What, you’re a Bears fan now?” I asked sarcastically.

“No stupid,” he scoffed at me. “The Bears will have some plays where Trubisky could do something stupid and we could get a defensive touchdown and a “backdoor” cover,” he explained.

So after watching Rodgers perform one of the great athletic feats in recent memory, my mind switched to rooting for a dumb play by a second year quarterback to grab an extra 200 bucks.

I thought, “This is no way to watch a game!”

But that’s what is happening all around the world with sports betting.  You can get a bet down on just about anything in the UK.  Betting parlors are on every street corner.  Could that be part of the sporting world of the future in the United States?

As the US Supreme Court has ruled that gambling on sports is legal, it’ll be a state-by-state question put to voters and legislatures.  Right now, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have legalized sports betting.  In Florida, question three on the November ballot will ask if voters should decide whether gambling should be legalized or the decision should stay with the state lawmakers.

But that doesn’t mean anybody in the forty-seven other states isn’t already betting on games.  Whether it’s an app on your phone or a digital connection to a bookmaker, over $93 billion is estimated to have been bet on college football and the NFL last year, skirting the current laws.

Fantasy giant FanDuel said this week that betting on the NFL in the opening weekend exceeded their projections by 300%.

I enjoyed the weekend with my friends and yes; it was weird not to be at a game on either Saturday or Sunday for the first time in four decades.  But I also found out you have to “stay in the game.”  I liked the camaraderie and the laughs, but fretting whether the Panthers would do something stupid at the end of the game and might not cover or wishing the Vikings would get a late field goal to pad their lead takes some stamina. Not to say It wasn’t fun and I would do it again.

I’m probably not the right personality to be a serious gambler.  I don’t like putting my money on teams I don’t like and I don’t like betting against my favorites.  I guess that’s why every time I was in Las Vegas over the last ten years I put money on the Jaguars to win the Super Bowl.  Which usually brought a laugh from the guys selling me the ticket.

By the way, over the weekend we made thirteen different NFL wagers for a net result of -$14, including the “vig.” Seemed like a lot of work and emotional investment no mater what the total. And I think it’s the first time in my life I didn’t go outside for the entire day.

But the Jaguars made me money.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 8 – A Little Lucky But They’re 1-0

Sam and Tom look at the Jaguars win over the Giants with no excuses.

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/7038835/height/100/width/880/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars: Good Enough to Win

One of my favorite stories about the vagaries of the NFL comes from the 2010 season.  In their 13th game, the Jaguars secured their eighth victory of the year, beating Oakland at home to go 8-5 with three games left.  In the same week, the Green Bay Packers were also 8-5, losing to Detroit on the road. The Jaguars needed just one win in their final three games to qualify for the playoffs.  Instead they lost three straight, finished 8-8 and missed the postseason.  The Packers, on the other hand, won two of their final three, finished the regular season 10-6, clinched the Wild Card and continued winning through the playoffs, on the road and eventually becoming Super Bowl champions.

Just three weeks earlier there were high hopes in Jacksonville and lots of hand wringing and gnashing of teeth in Wisconsin.

In 1996, the Jaguars were in their second year of existence with no expectations to be among the league’s elite.  Their inaugural year, they mustered a 4-12 record and about the same was expected the following season.  They were 3-6 through their first nine games but won six of their last seven. They caught a break in their final game with Morten Anderson’s missed field goal to eek into the playoffs then famously got hot, upsetting Buffalo and Denver by identical 30-27 scores, only to fall in the AFC Championship game to the Patriots on a cold night in New England.

So does game one this week against the Giants mean anything for this year’s Jaguars?  Somewhat, but it’s not any great indicator of what they might be for the next seventeen weeks. First of all, early in the season, like any team, they need to avoid any kind of weird injury.  Although the Jaguars have had tough camps, hitting at game speed takes some getting used to so getting through the first couple of weeks healthy is always key.

What gives a team a chance late in the year when they seem to have been just noodling around for most of the season?  Health is a major factor.  Getting the right players on the field at the right time is a common thread among all contending teams in the NFL.  Last year, the Jaguars had only two missed games (Telvin Smith’s concussion) on defense.

They also have to be built for the long haul, which means a solid running game and a stout defense.  The 2010 Packers had that, as well as an emerging Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.  The ’96 Jaguars rode the legs of Natrone Means on offense and the stellar play of Clyde Simmons on defense all the way to the AFC title game.

Are the 2018 Jaguars built like that?  Absolutely. But better.

If you look at the components of how the Jaguars were put together, start on the offensive line where size does matter.  Four of the five starters up front are 6’6” and 320 or bigger. And they have serious attitude.  Three running backs are solid between the tackles, have the speed to get outside and can all catch the ball out of the backfield. Quarterback Blake Bortles showed last year he can win any kind of game you want to play.  If it’s 10-3 against Buffalo, his legs can do the work, or if it’s 45-42 against Pittsburgh, he can light it up through the air.  On defense, the Jaguars have a rotation up front that should carry them through four quarters and pressure quarterbacks pretty effectively.  Their linebackers are fast and willing to stand in the hole to stop the run.  The back four are talented, cocky and have a level of experience that can be a game changer.

In week one of every season hope springs eternal in all 32 NFL cities.  Every fan base, every team thinks with a couple of lucky bounces and if they stay healthy they can go far.  The difference this year for the Jaguars is they know they can win.  Last year was no fluke.  They have the talent and the right mind-set to win games.  Unlike Jaguars teams of the last decade, this one knows that their best is good enough.  If they go out there and just be who they are, they’ll win games.  It won’t take a superhuman effort or as Tom Coughlin often says, “playing above the x’s and o’s.”

They’re good, they’re talented and they’re deeper and faster than any Jaguars team since 1999. Now it’s just a question of going out and doing it.  What could hold them back?  Hall of Fame finalist Gil Brandt said the Jaguars and the Eagles are the two best rosters in the league so it won’t be talent.  Only some self-inflicted problems can stop this Jaguars team.  Locker-room division, back luck or an air of entitlement are the only things that can create issues for the 2018 Jaguars. I don’t think guys like Calais Campbell, Barry Church and newly minted captain Leonard Fournette will let that happen.  Which is why no matter what happens in New Jersey in week one, they’re still my pick to go to the Super Bowl.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 7 – Would a Loss Help?

Sam and Tom disagree about what would work best for the Jaguars Sunday. Would a loss actually help?

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/7018140/height/100/width/880/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 6 – Nike, Kneeling and Kaepernick

Nike’s decision to feature Colin Kaepernick in their latest ad campaign sparked a spirited discussion between Sam and Tom.

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/7009045/height/100/width/880/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 5 – Cut Time in the NFL is Tough

Sam and Tom discuss the NFL process with Tom recounting his experience. Never easy, always emotional either way

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/7001450/height/100/width/880/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

Jaguars and Skynyrd a Natural Fit

Whoever thought of playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” to kick off the fourth quarter at Jaguars’ home games was a genius.  Whoever thought it was a good idea to stop that was something less than a genius.  Maybe it didn’t seem “sophisticated” enough to somebody new to town.  Or they wanted to be more “modern” and timely.  And that’s all good.  But Skynyrd is a part of who we are, and that’s not going to change.  I’ve been to plenty of stadiums where the home team has some kind of “tradition” that makes no sense to the visitors.

Because it’s not suppose to.

Playing Skynyrd at a Jaguars game is our own version of that.  With all of the losing going on at the stadium in the past decade, it’s about the only fun fans were having at the game at all.  That guitar lick by Ed King and Gary Rossington to start the music brought a cheer and a smile to anybody who was left at the game.  Now that the team’s winning, playing Skynyrd should be part of the celebration.

I’m not even sure if the Jaguars are going to play “Sweet Home Alabama” at home games in 2018 but there’s no question that they should.  The honoring of the military and the ringing of the bell between the third and fourth quarters is a noble endeavor. It’s the right thing to do. It absolutely has a place at every Jaguars game and if the right time is prior to the final quarter, that’s great.

Skynyrd also has a place at home games, wherever and whenever they want to play it.  First quarter, start of the second half, it doesn’t matter.  Somewhere during a Jaguars home game, some Skynyrd music should be playing.

Nothing has defined Jacksonville more in the last 40 years (with all due respect to Fred Durst and Limp Biscuit) more than Skynyrd and the Jaguars.  Cleaning up the air and getting rid of tolls are in the discussion but “the boys” from the Westside, both in the original band and the reunion version have always proudly told everybody they’re from Jacksonville. Waaaay before anybody anywhere thought the Jaguars in Jacksonville were a possibility.  (Except possibly former Mayor Jake Godbold.)  So you could say it was a natural to include some “local” music as part of the “game day experience.”

Any tailgate party at a Jaguars game has some Skynyrd music playing.  One of their songs on any pregame playlist would be considered a local anthem of sorts.

Today’s (Sunday’s) concert as part of the band’s “Farewell Tour” should forever solidify the link between Skynyrd and the team.  The Jaguars were part of the impetus to rename a street downtown after the band and to put up a mural depicting the legendary, and local rockers.

Johnny Van Zant and Rickey Medlocke were a big part of the announcement of the show here back in April.  Both professed to be huge Jaguars fans and recently went on a tour or the stadium with the team’s long-snapper Carson Tinker.

While he was rehabbing his knee last season, Tinker worked on his guitar licks and was invited by Johnny and Rickey to play along on an acoustic version of “Sweet Home Alabama” right there in the stands at the stadium. (Although I sang with the band in the late ‘80’s at their first “reunion” at the Morocco Temple, I was still VERY jealous.)  Carson held his own but told me, “I was hoping to get some of the lead in there but Rickey can REALLY play!” When he tweeted it out, Tinker called it his “dream.” Medlocke even had his bothersome thumb looked at by the Jaguars training staff during the tour.  His thumb has bothered him for some while from holding a guitar pick in that hand forever.

Skynyrd’s connection to sports goes back a long way.  Like any kids, they were involved early, with Ronnie being a pretty good baseball player.  But he was also a poet, so songwriting and leading the band won out.  Brother Donnie had a nice racquetball game in the ‘90’s when not on the road with .38 Special.

While the band has never performed at halftime of the Super Bowl (hmmm, there’s an idea) there is a connection between the band and the NFL that goes back a while.  Skynyrd has been a part of the Super Bowl Saturday Night Special in the past.  Eighteen years ago Skynyrd was part of a big blowout concert in Tampa Bay before the game and as usual, they brought the house down.

So it would be strange after all of the hype and the Jaguars involvement in Skynyrd’s final concert to not have them part of games.  They’re fun, they bring some extra excitement, and perhaps most importantly, they’re ours.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 4 – Injuries Bite in the Preseason

Former NFL QB Matt Robinson sits in on “The Hammer” Podcast after week 3 of the preseason. Matt says exhibition games are just “scary.”

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/6970140/height/100/width/880/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

Doug Marrone

Marrone: Right Guy, Right Time

Even though there’s a bunch of rah-rah and it seems glamorous, a football team is much like any work environment. There’s a boss, some lieutenants and workers. The boss, in this case, the head coach, sets the tone, the policies and the overall structure of what happens.

In the Jaguars 23 years they’ve had different leadership styles, some successful, some, not so much, and some with mixed reviews.

With the imperious bearing of Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars had a CEO who was simultaneously distant, and always into the details. That wears on the workers and eventually the salary cap, injuries and Coughlin’s own demeanor led to his demise. Owner Wayne Weaver said his biggest mistake was getting rid of Coughlin. But that’s revisionist history. At the end, nobody was going to buy a ticket to a Tom Coughlin-coached team. We’ve all worked for a Jack Del Rio type boss, they guy who always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. That leads to short term success but it’s a recipe for flaming out. The workers, in this case, the players, eventually resent everything the boss stands for.

Mel Tucker brought a whole new premise to the role of the boss. He introduced the “servant leader” idea. Tucker is a fabulous coach and a really good guy as well. I’m surprised he isn’t a head coach somewhere. Mike Mularkey didn’t have much to work with and wasn’t given much of a chance. He was just trying to build something, anything actually, and then he was gone. Gus Bradley brought a whole new approach from a new generation, trying to empower the players for their own discipline and accountability. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. He’s also a very good football coach but his team was too young to grasp the power he was trying to give them.

Doug Marrone was at the top of a short list to be the next head coach of the Jaguars. Already on the Jaguars staff and well known to Coughlin, both of them played and coached at Syracuse.

Turns out, Marrone is the right coach in the right place with the right team at the right time.

While Marrone and Coughlin see the path to victory and success through the same lens, they’re very different people and personalities. Doug is able to impart that to the players in a very matter of fact, “here’s what we have to do” way. No screaming or yelling, no folksy, fake back slapping. He takes a serious approach to getting the job done. Like the offensive lineman he was as a player.

“We have a lot of work to do,” is one of his favorite expressions.

Marrone has no problem giving the players credit, just as long as they put the work in that’s necessary. He’s conducted two of the toughest training camps in recent memory. It’s no coincidence that he has said “We have to earn the right to win.” Which is also the title of Coughlin’s book.

“He’ll be more miserable when they win,” my friend from Buffalo said with a laugh when I was doing some early research about Marrone.. “Miserable” might not be the right word, but Marrone’s demeanor oftentimes seems so downtrodden that it’s easy to understand that his nickname at a few stops in his coaching career was “Eeyore.”

“I never have fun,” Marrone deadpanned last year during the Jaguars post-season run. “I like winning. I am not a fun person. That is my problem. I think when I look back I will say that it is fun.”

With all due respect to the media contingent in Buffalo, everybody who knew Marrone as the head coach there and has seen him with the Jaguars says he’s changed. But his core values on how to win have stayed the same. He’s able to break it down simply: You can either get the job done or you can’t.

“If we think the guy can play, let’s put him out there and see if he can do it. If we think, ‘You know what, I’m really not sure if this guy can.’ Well, put him out there and let’s see it.”

But he also admitted that he’s been able to separate the things that matter from the things that don’t when you’re in charge.

“You start to learn more of what, okay, this is important,” he explained. “Maybe this is not as important. Then, you create maybe more of a comfort in that. I don’t know. I just know that I feel more comfortable.”

Marrone is a good guy, somebody who wants to do well and do it right. He’s the guy who would be the designated driver on a night out if you asked him. And he’d be the guy who stepped in front of some jerk in a bar giving you a hard time.

Mostly he says he’s happy for the people around him as well as the fans and the organization. As a player at Syracuse, the Orange were 2-9 his freshman year and he didn’t want to wear his “Syracuse Football” gear anywhere. He knew the ridicule he’d be subjected to. He’s glad to help change that for Jaguars fans that have been in that situation for a decade.

“I grew up in a sports town, and I know what it’s like when your team’s not doing well and all the crap you take. For me I get a lot of joy when I see people that are proud of their team.”

He’s working. And although he says he’s not really a happy person, he’s happy in different ways.

“One thing in this profession, at least for me, it’s very hard to enjoy those things, but I do find a lot of joy for myself when I see other people happy with the success.”

Hard to not like that. He might be Eeyore, but he’s our Eeyore. Right guy in the right place at the right time.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 3 – Change The Rules?

It’s the latest “The Hammer” Podcast. Sam and Tom discuss the Jaguars week 2 exhibition game against the Vikings and what guys “on the bubble” are thinking this week.  Plus some talk about the new rules.

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/6953058/height/100/width/880/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

Teams, Players, Reporters and the Truth

I was walking through the Jacksonville Bulls locker room in 1985 when running back Mike Rozier started a NSFW tirade toward me about something I had said on TV the night before.  In the course of his screaming he threatened to kill me, have me killed, “mess me up” and a variety of other unprintable things.

At the time, the Bulls had a defensive back named Don Bessillieu who was vocally unhappy with his contract and had threatened to “drop interceptions on purpose” until the Bulls gave him a new deal.  I thought that was so silly I said, on the air “That’d be like Mike Rozier saying he was going to fumble on purpose until he got a new deal.”  Rozier was the workhorse of the Bulls, carrying the ball 320 times for over 1,300 yards and catching another 50 balls out of the backfield. So he was their star and whatever he was screaming at me, he didn’t like me using “Rozier” and “fumble” in the same sentence.

Maybe he was sticking up for his teammate, maybe he was actually mad at me, but I saw it as just doing my job, a blend of information, commentary and entertainment on TV every night. It wasn’t the first, nor the last time I’d been threatened by somebody I’d been reporting on. I didn’t think I needed to report that and without any social media, Rozier and I worked it out in a “very clos” face-to-face” with a liberal exchange of ideas.  Remember, Mike and I are about the same age.

It was a very different time in media.  “Reporters” were just that, people who considered their job to “report” what was going on, not render constant opinions or take sides.  We were the public’s access to the closed worlds of sports, politics, entertainment and other cloistered societies.

I’ve had numerous veterans of every sport say to me, “I’m glad camera phones weren’t around when I played.”  Some say it with a laugh referring to their off the field excursions, others are glad practices were only watched by coaches and not recorded by teams and reporters attending, documenting their every move.

Last week there was a bit of a firestorm when the beat writer for the TU posted a camera phone video of the post-practice altercation between Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue.  The reporter was working inside the restrictions placed on him by the team, wasn’t breaking any rules, and was simply doing his job.  Posting the video was an editorial decision that followed the guidelines of what they think constitutes “news.”

The Jaguars, just like every other team, have very specific rules about reporters attendance at practice, where we can stand, when we can or can’t obtain video and when social media posts are acceptable.  They send us a written outline at the beginning of the year.  The players are aware that these training camp practices are open to the media.  That changes when camp ends and reporters are only allowed at practice for the first ten minutes or so.

All reporters, me included, have been privy to information, visuals, pictures, video, conversations and a million other things that we haven’t reported.  If the information isn’t about somebody breaking the law or endangering somebody else, it’s a news judgment about the public’s “right to know.”

I’ve said often that most organizations would like to manage information about their product and “break” news themselves on their social media accounts and on their own web sites.  That would mean excluding independent reporters from practices, locker rooms and player/coach access. Most leagues have rules against that so it’s not happening. Over the last ten-years most college locker rooms have been closed with the players and coaches being delivered in rooms or hallways to reporters. Players in individual sports are trying to manage stories about them by only making announcements on their own media platforms.

Some of that is just the changing time.  But some of that goes against what the job of reporters is supposed to be.  Developing sources, culling through the truth, the self-promotion and outright lies is what’s supposed to be part of our jobs.

Even the word “media” doesn’t mean the same that it did as little as 15 years ago.  While “the media” used to be considered independent reporting organizations, it’s now a blanket description for just about anybody with a microphone, a camera or a computer.  Much of what is called “the media” these days is actually somebody who’s just covering the coverage. Talking to coaches and players, seeing what happens in practice and talking to players gives the actual “reporters” a sense of the nuance of what’s actually happening.

As much as many of those people are friends of mine, some of the media now is considered people who actually work the for organizations they’re covering.  A writer or broadcaster who works for a team’s digital media outlets operates under a different set of rules than those who are from “the outside.”

Having said that, when I’ve gotten a paycheck from sports organizations for doing their play-by-play (including the Jaguars) or something else. I’ve never been told what to say or how to say it.  Bulls Head Coach Lindy Infante didn’t like it when I was hosting his show and asked him a question about his future when the team was 6 games under .500 and told the show’s producer. But we re-set the ground rules and he understood that was part of my job.

And that’s a question often asked by players or coaches who don’t like the critical nature of some commentary. Are reporters supposed to be fans?  Are they only there to spread sunshine about a team or an organization? Reporters have to make that judgment almost every day, what is actual news, good or bad.

I had a former Mayor call me one night and tell me I needed to “get on board” with his agenda. “That’s your job,” he said.  “We need to talk to my boss,” I responded.  “Because they think it’s something totally different.”

So viewers and readers have to make up their own minds about what’s reporting, what’s promotion and what’s just somebody else’s opinion. While it’s more work than it used to be for the news consumer, you can find the truth in there somewhere.  There’s a lot of information available for smart, honest people.  The truth is out there. Find it.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 2 – Jaguars Camp Drags On

Lonnie Marts joins Sam and Tom to talk about the jaguars skirmish in camp, the media coverage, the PGA Championship, how golfers have changed and more.

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/6926046/height/100/width/880/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

Koepka looks like golf’s future 2018

You might have heard Jim Nantz at the end of the CBS telecast of the PGA Championship mention Gary Player’s prediction that “athletes will eventually choose golf and we’ll have players hitting it 400 yards.  It’ll be a different game.”  Player has said that for a while, but it was especially poignant this week as Brooks Koepka won at Bellerive, the same place Player captured the US Open in 1965.  His 72-hole score was two-over.  Koepka won at sixteen under.

After his victory, Koepka revealed his secret.

“I try to eat pretty clean,” he told reporters.  “We had salmon last night, the chef from The Floridian works for me.  Plus I lift six or seven days a week.”

Wait. What?  “I lift six or seven days a week?” As a golfer? That was heresy as little as 10 years ago.

Remember when everybody blamed Johnny Miller’s fall from the top of the game on his working on his farm out West?  Lifting weights was strictly taboo for golfers. Player, Greg Norman and then Tiger Woods changed all that.  Plus the advances in athletic training brought golfers to a new level of fitness, flexibility and strength.  It’s not just doing bicep curls or bench press.  Golf specific exercises, increasing swing speed, “smash factor” and ball velocity have changed the game as Player predicted.

There’s lots of talk about 300+ yard drives.  But what about the nine-irons from 181?  And four-iron from 248?  I mean those are astounding numbers. They can bend the clubs all they want, but when you’re hitting pitching wedge from 150, that’s a different game.

I met Brooks Koepka at his club near his home in West Palm Beach in January of 2015.

“This kid can really play,” our host said as Brooks and I shook hands.

Sitting in the grillroom we had a few laughs and the subject of the Super Bowl came up.

“I’ll be at Phoenix that week,” Brooks told me about his plan to play the PGA TOUR event called the Waste Management Open at the TPC of Scottsdale. “Look me up, I’m going out there by myself.”

So when I got to Phoenix a little early to fulfill my duties as the Hall of Fame voter for Jacksonville, I did head out to the TPC at Scottsdale. It’s known for the massive crowds that attend every year and that week was no different.  Except it rained for most of the tournament.  I went to the pressroom to look for Brooks during one of the delays but the PGA Tour rep (Doug Milne from Jacksonville) said he had just left.

“Tell him I came by to say hi,” I said, a bit disappointed.  I knew I’d be working for most of the weekend and probably wouldn’t have a chance to catch up with Koepka.

Of course he went on to win the tournament.

Koepka has now won three majors and is only the fifth player ever to win the US Open and the PGA in the same year.  His wrist injury earlier this season kept him out of the Masters, but he’ll be among the favorites in April in Augusta.

Although he’s shown to be cool under pressure and dominant with his game, Koepka has been overshadowed each time he’s won a major.  First by the golf course at Erin Hills, then by it seemed everybody else at Shinnecock Hills and by Tiger’s resurgence at the PGA.  Brooks will use that as continued motivation going forward.  He’s that kind of competitor.

So beware.  If Tiger was the tip of the spear of great athletes changing golf, Koepka is the harbinger of what the game will look like from now on.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 1 – Jaguars/Saints

Sam and Tom talk about the Jaguars 1st preseason game against the Saints. Did they get accomplished what they set out to do? Here’s an update.

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/6911980/height/100/width/880/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

I don’t think Tiger will win again

Oh, he might take a trophy home from a PGA Tour event where say, 12 of the top 30 players in the world are in the field.  But even he won’t count that as a win.  He’ll say it feels good, and add it puts him on the right path to his goals.

And that’s winning a Major.  Which won’t happen.

My friend and colleague Tim Rosaforte recently quoted a playing partner on the Golf Channel saying of Tiger after watching him at The Open, “He can get there from here.”

Watching Tiger on Sunday at Carnoustie did give you that feeling. A bit of nostalgia and hope after taking the lead that we were seeing the biggest comeback in golf since Ben Hogan. A couple of missteps on the inward nine kept everybody else in the game, and Francesco Molinari became the Champion Golfer of the Year.

It’s not that Tiger’s not capable of winning again. You might remember he finished one shot behind Paul Casey at the Valspar Championships in March. His presence in the field and his name on the leaderboard put four times the number of fans on the golf course in Tampa. The next week at Bay Hill anticipation was soaring.

I asked him in Orlando if when he saw his name on the leaderboard the previous week if the feeling was the same as before.  “Yes” he said directly with that grin we’ve come to know as a sign of supreme self-confidence.

Even hitting it OB on 16 and a bogey-bogey-par finish for a tie for 5th left everybody expecting a Tiger-esque run and a win soon.  Rory McIlroy won that week instead with a Tiger-esque finish, a birdie on his final hole.

Just looking at those three tournaments where Tiger has played well and been in contention there’s a common thread as to why he didn’t win:  He just got beat.  And it’s his own fault.  Not that he didn’t play well, it’s just somebody played better.  There’s no defense in golf.

Name any of the top players in the world right now and they’ll say Tiger was their inspiration to become a golfer and play at the highest level.  And there are too many of those who can go low in the final round, come out of nowhere, and win.

The modern players work on their games for sure, and use Trackman and other devices to optimize their equipment, but fitness, specific to golf, has jumped the game to another level. There was a par 4 at the US Open that was 505 yards long.  Both Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson hit irons off the tee. Both of those guys look like they could have played any sport professionally, but they chose golf

Fitness in golf might have started with Gary Player and was refined through the years by players like Greg Norman, but Tiger was the start of great athletes choosing golf as their main sport.  Look at players all over the world and they all look about the same.  At the top everybody’s between 5-10 and 6-2 and weighs somewhere between 160 and 185 lbs. There are no more George Archer’s or Rod Curl’s in the game.  No self-taught swings, no Lee Trevino’s coming from some obscure place in West Texas to become a Hall of Famer.

And Tiger started all that.

He helped put enough money in the game where it was a viable alternative.  Winnings at every TOUR event jumped 40%.  Payouts for TV rights went through the roof.  And great athletes started choosing the game.

Which is why he’ll contend and play well enough to win but won’t.  Just because there are so many players in today’s game that can, and will.  They have the game, they’ve played top-flight amateur and college golf, and they’re not afraid.

I’ve followed the arc of many athletic careers from start to finish. Even the biggest sports celebrities’ start somewhere, so knowing Tim Tebow, as a high school sophomore is how I remember him best. But only two athletes in my career though have exceeded the hype: LeBron James and Tiger Woods.

Starting with his appearance at the LA Open in 1992, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods was a name that every sports journalist who covered golf knew. “Tiger” was a unique enough name; the story of how he got it was enough to make any profile pretty colorful.

I first met Tiger in 1994 when he played in the US Amateur at the TPC Stadium course as a skinny kid with a big hat and a bigger game. “These one-on-one interviews,” was his answer when I asked the 18-year-old if there was anything he didn’t like about how his life was going. As his fame grew, he stopped doing those “one-on-one” interviews and eventually only made news on his own web site.

There was an incident where Tiger told an off-color joke to a magazine reporter in New York who broke the “off the record” code, printed it, and Tiger felt betrayed. He really clammed up after that.

I’ve been critical of Woods’ demeanor throughout his career, His nickname early in his career on tour was “Erkel” after the sitcom character that had few social skills and was generally nerdy. Tiger approached being the most famous person on the planet, something few people know about. But his actions didn’t come close to Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer or others in that same situation.

Changing his body and the violence of his swing took a toll on his body and he eventually broke down. His off course issue was well documented and publicized. And his bout with prescription drugs seemed to be the bottom.

I ran into him in early 2017 at a retirement party at his club in Jupiter. I was asked to kind of “save” him from being pestered by everybody there since he knew me a little bit and might be comfortable talking with me. We spent some time together and for the first time I felt sorry for the guy. He was as awkward as I’d ever seen him. Could barely hold a conversation. Small talk was a chore. Ok, maybe it was me, but I really felt bad for him.

Fast-forward about six months; Tiger’s gone through a rehab after being pulled over for DUI. His body is healing and his golf game is returning. I ran into him at the same club as I was hitting some putts on the practice green.

“Hey Sam, you know Tiger,” my host said as I walked to put away my putter with Woods pulling up in his cart. “Of course,” I said as we shook hands.

Tiger said, “Jacksonville, right?” as he sat back in his cart. I smiled and said, “Yep” anticipating a quick exit as usual.

Instead, the three of us sat there for about 15 minutes talking about everything guys talk about, sharing laughs and jabs, just like it’s supposed to happen. He mentioned that he really liked The Players returning to March.

When he left, I turned to my host and said, “What happened to him? He’s like a different person.”

And that’s the same person we’ve seen in his return to the limelight. He tells jokes and smiles. Remember Tiger saying that “second was the first loser” early in his career?  He talked about that a couple of weeks ago with a whole different perspective after his finish at Carnoustie with his children in attendance.

“They saw their dad get into contention and end up leading the tournament. End up losing the tournament. But I tried until the very end,” Tiger said the week before teeing it up at the WGC in Akron.

“They saw how much I was grinding. They said, ‘Well, you weren’t going to win.’ I said, ‘I know I wasn’t going to win, but that doesn’t stop me from grinding.’ That is a teachable moment because they were there in present, in person. Sometimes you can’t always see that on TV.”

So whatever you attribute it to, being humbled, being a parent, being injured, whatever, I’m hoping Tiger keeps using that same personality.

There’s a steely determination necessary to win in sports at the highest level. Tiger has shown over and over that he has that. I suppose keeping it there, inside the ropes, will take an adjustment. But it’ll be worth it.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Hammer

Sports Talk with Sam Kouvaris & Tom McManus

[iframe style=”border:none” src=”//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/6907322/height/100/width/480/thumbnail/yes/render-playlist/no/theme/custom/tdest_id/770553/custom-color/14679e” height=”100″ width=”880″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen]

Adding London games is fine for Jaguars, as a road team

We haven’t heard much about “the Jaguars are moving” story in the past couple of years. Los Angeles has two teams and a multi-billion dollar stadium being built. But there’s a new, albeit faint drumbeat about more games in London and fewer games in Jacksonville. By now you’ve probably heard what NBC’s Peter King said a couple weeks ago regarding the Jaguars potentially playing four games in London beginning in 2022.

It would be pretty easy for the Jaguars to play more games overseas. But I don’t think fans will accept giving up any more home games here at home.

So that’s not going to happen.

Next year, I think the Jaguars will be playing two games in London, one as the home team and one as the visitor either the week before or the week after.

I’ve said all along the Jaguars would play more than one game overseas. And not all in London. Shad Khan has said he would like to have a game in Germany or in Spain at some point and I think it’s possible by 2022 the Jaguars would have already played in one of those places.

And they’ll play at Wembley whenever they play in England even though the league has a deal to play two games at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium at White Hart Lane. Shad is buying the national stadium outside of London and his team will always play there. Which means home or away, it’s a moneymaker for the local owner.

If the NFL really wants the Jaguars to have more of a presence in London how about one game as the home team, and a few more as the visitor all played over a three or four-week stay? While that means four games in London, it wouldn’t mean fewer games in Jacksonville.

I’ve been to every game the Jaguars have played in London and you wouldn’t know who was there as the home team or the away team. As the Jaguars have settled in on a schedule and gotten more comfortable with the routine, they’ve taken advantage of being the “home” team for the past few years.

Khan wants to have a base in North America to entertain clients and have meetings outside of a work setting. The Jaguars certainly provide that, both at home and when they play on the road in the States. Shad revamped the owners box here in Jacksonville, expanding it and making it pretty special to help showcase his team.

He’s building a new Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage in London, renovating the hospitality area to bring it up to a standard so he can entertain clients from Europe and beyond at Premier League games.

So from his perspective of using the NFL and the EPL as an adjunct to enhance his businesses, the Jaguars in Jacksonville and Fulham in London perfectly fit the bill.

“The fact we are playing one game a year at Wembley now, that we have other commercial interests in London and throughout the UK, has really made us stronger here in Jacksonville,” Jaguars president Mark Lamping recently told The Guardian newspaper in London. “I think most of our fans understand the role London plays,”

When the league wanted to expand the number of games in London, at first they couldn’t find enough owners willing to go. Now there aren’t enough games to accommodate the owners that want to play there.

Shad was way ahead of the curve, as usual, on this one and he’s gotten the other owners excited about taking their team to the UK.

Talk about the Jaguars playing in London, Germany or Spain doesn’t diminish the name “Jacksonville” in front of “Jaguars.” Au contraire, as the French would say, looking at it from the other side of the equation, it makes us the cool kids on the block.

Improvements around the stadium, the continued planning for a “Lot J” entertainment complex, the development of the Shipyards and a high end, world class hotel on the St. Johns river are pretty good indicators that Khan likes it here.

There’s even an idea floated about putting a giant sunshade over the stadium, like an arch a couple of hundred feet wide stretching over the structure from North to South.
“London strategically is really important to us and it’s really important to Jacksonville that the Jaguars don’t lose our position in London,” Lamping said. “Whenever you can include Jacksonville and London in the same sentence, it’s a good thing.”
“London is the NFL’s international primary focus. It’s a market they believe with appropriate amount of development over time could potentially be a city to host a full-time franchise,” he added. “Whether that ultimately accrues to the Jaguars or another team relocating there.”
That’s the first time I’ve heard anybody associated with the organization ever use “Jaguars” and “relocating” in the same sentence.

Of course, that’s exactly what the rest of the league, media and fans think.

Always kind of a mystery, Jacksonville didn’t have a sports identity outside of the city limits before the Jaguars were awarded. The only thing people knew was that it’s where the tolls were on 95 and it smelled badly. Getting rid of the tolls, cleaning up the air and the arrival of the Jaguars changed all that.

But outside of town we’re still the underdog city that’s always losing it’s team to somewhere, and is a complete afterthought among the league’s media.

If all you did in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or even New York was go from the airport to the Hyatt, to the stadium and back to the airport, you wouldn’t know much about any city.

And that’s all they do.

They don’t see the beach, or Mandarin, Ortega or explore the St. Johns. Time constraints and just plain laziness are both to blame. I’ve offered to give tours to the guys I know, but have gotten no takers.

All I ever heard was, “You’re not getting a team!” when I’d show up at the owner’s meetings with the Jacksonville contingent. But we partnered with Wayne Weaver, did everything right, and were awarded the 30th NFL franchise.

Thanks to Weaver, who was popular among the ownership as a prospective fraternity brother (and that’s what the owners group is) and Roger Goodell, who was the city’s biggest patron inside the league office, the city that couldn’t, did.

And that didn’t sit well with anybody else. Baltimore, Memphis and St. Louis, where Weaver had a history, couldn’t believe it. And Charlotte did their usual look down their nose at us.

“Don’t worry Charlotte, you’re not Jacksonville” said one columnist in the self-proclaimed “Queen City” the day after we got the team. Charlotte was awarded the 29th franchise a month earlier and couldn’t imagine being put in the same category as swampy tackle box Jacksonville.

Of course Charlotte is so snotty they can’t even call their downtown “Downtown.” They have to call it “Uptown.” And they’re right, they’re not Jacksonville. No beach, hot as blazes in the summer and cold as you-know-what in the winter.

And the fact that we like it here just plain makes people from elsewhere angry. I was raised in Baltimore and my parents always say the attitude in Jacksonville reminds them of “Charm City.”

In Baltimore they don’t want to be D.C. or Philly or certainly not New York. In Jacksonville we don’t want to be Atlanta, or Miami or Tampa and certainly not Orlando.

We’re perfectly comfortable in our own skin. Winning season or losing season, we’re pretty happy with our team, who we are, our friends and the lifestyle.

Everybody can come visit and we’ll even show them around. And they can even move here. Just don’t tell us how fabulous everywhere else is now.

We’re not listening.

Coughlin culture still permeates Jaguars

As the Jaguars gathered this week in Year 2 of the Coughlin/Marrone era, expectations are high. While quick turnarounds are common in the NFL, the Jaguars’ “worst to first” in 2017 seemed to come out of nowhere.

Can a management and coaching change make that much difference? There are a lot of moving parts that should get credit for where the Jaguars got last year, but no question the tone set from the “Win Lunch!” introduction of Tom Coughlin as vice president of football operations had a lot to do with it.

“Do you think you’ll hire somebody established or make your own star?” I asked my source in the Jaguars organization late in 1993. The team had quickly begun their search for their first head coach shortly after being named the 30th franchise in the NFL.

“I think we’ll make our own star,” was his quick response.

“Then you should hire Tom Coughlin,” I said.

Authentic Duval shines as golf analyst

I’ve always liked David Duval. I know people have said he’s aloof and distant. He’s described himself as “quiet and reserved.” That might have been his personality as a golfer and it worked for him.

Not anymore.

Working for the Golf Channel, Duval is the best analyst on television. Not just the best golf analyst, the best analyst, period. John Smoltz is good on baseball. Eddie Olczyk is good on hockey. Troy Aikman is good on football. Duval is really good on golf.

Much like his heyday as a player, being No. 1 in the world and the only player who Tiger Woods admitted got his attention on the leaderboard, Duval is fearless as a broadcaster.

And that’s not easy to do.

As a player you can insulate yourself inside the ropes. You can be distant with fans and the media. You can wear Oakley wraparounds to help keep everybody out. And you can lose yourself in the game. (BTW, those glasses originally were used to cut down the pollen in his eyes when he wore hard contacts in college.)

If you want to be any good at television though, you have to be authentic, actually yourself, not acting like yourself.

We see it every day when we watch television. Some people have it, others don’t. Duval is fearless on TV in a way that’s rare: He’s prepared, has an opinion, and if you disagree with him, it’s OK. You’re not going to change his mind.

If you’re authentic on television, when you walk into a room full of people, only you know that all of those people in the room know the real you. And all of those people watching on TV know the real you. And without a certain level of confidence and preparedness, that can be terrifying. Duval never revealed that as a player. Now, he does it every time he appears on television.

While he still thinks of himself as a golfer and a player who can compete, Duval is a television analyst of the best kind.

“I think it’s the rare person who is 40 to 55 years old who doesn’t think of themselves as a golfer still. That’s how I view it,″ he said. “That’s how I go about it when I analyze something.”

Unlike with golf, he was good almost immediately on television. It took him two years to win his first tournament in college. It took him a while to get used to the week-to-week grind of professional golf. But once he did, he was dominant. We texted a few times when he started on the Golf Channel, exchanging some ideas and a few tips I had picked up over the years in front of the camera. But it was easy to see he was going to succeed.

“There is a difference in being critical and being mean. Critical is fine. Mean is not,” Duval told the Global Golf Post about being on television.

One thing Duval always seemed to have is perspective. Even at a young age he looked at things differently. Some of that came from the loss of his older brother Brent. That tragedy for the Duval family has been well-documented. But David has always seen things from a different angle.

As comfortable with Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as he would be with a beer and a sports magazine in his playing days, Duval’s smarts go beyond golf. And that’s essential to be able to sit there and talk without a script (ad-lib is the TV term). A view from 30,000 feet as well as an intimate knowledge of the subject allows Duval to speak with authority. Not act like an authority, but be an authority.

“He’s good because he has good knowledge,” Nick Faldo a six-time major champion and now the lead analyst on CBS, has said about Duval. “Players who have really felt it, not just played it or walked the walk, the players who have really felt it – and he’s felt both the big climb to get to No. 1 and that story and that phenomenal run of wins and gets a major and then for whatever reason went on a different walk of life – he can add an awful lot of golf life experience to it.”

I first met David before he got to high school. His dad Bob was the pro at Plantation and invited me out to play with the two of them. Needless to say, even that young, David was an impressive player. Long, straight, great touch, it was clear he was going to be special.

He got to the top of the game and instead of enjoying it, he found it isolating.

“Some guy asked me about Bosnia,” he once said to me after a press conference. “Just because I’m ranked No. 1. They didn’t care what I thought when I was No. 2,” he said shaking his head.

Now 46 years old, he played in The Open Championship this week at Carnoustie as a past Champion Golfer of the Year. Once you win The Open, you can play there each year until you’re 60. He shot 80 in the first round on Thursday and withdrew.

I will admit David gave me the sporting thrill of a lifetime 10 years ago at the Masters.

“Who’s caddying for you in the Par 3 at Augusta,” I said to David one day at his house when he was near the top of his game.

“You are,” he answered with a laugh. And sure enough that year I was on the bag Wednesday of Masters week. (There’s a full accounting of that day on samsportsline.com)

We had two memorable exchanges that day; one was on the first tee.

“Two rules,” David said as he pulled a club from his bag. “Keep up and don’t lean on the putter.”

On the 8th tee David grabbed 9-iron out of the bag. “It’s wedge,” I said. “I don’t think so, the pin is all the way back,” he quickly responded. And promptly hit the ball in the water behind the green.

“I guess it was wedge,” he said with an easy laugh and a bow to the crowd. That gave everybody a glimpse of the David Duval we now see on golf broadcasts.

At some point Duval is going to move off the Golf Channel and into Johnny Miller’s chair as the lead analyst on NBC’s coverage of golf.

I’ve seen Duval first-hand play golf as the best player in the world. Now we all get to see him as the best analyst on television.

David Duval, Best Analyst On TV

I’ve always liked David Duval. I know people have said he’s aloof and distant. He’s described himself as “quiet and reserved.” That might have been his personality as a golfer and it worked for him.

Not anymore.

Working for the Golf Channel, Duval is the best analyst on television. Not just the best golf analyst, the best analyst, period. John Smoltz is good on baseball. Eddie Olczyk is good on hockey. Troy Aikman is good on football. Duval is really good on golf.

Much like his heyday as a player, being #1 in the world and the only player who Tiger Woods admitted got his attention on the leaderboard, David is fearless as a broadcaster.

And that’s not easy to do.

As a player you can insulate yourself inside the ropes. You can be distant with fans and the media. You can wear Oakley wraparounds to help keep everybody out. And you can lose yourself in the game. (BTW those glasses originally were used to cut down the pollen in his eyes when he wore hard contacts in college.)

If you want to be any good at television though you have to be willing to expose yourself. Unless you’re authentic, actually yourself, not acting like yourself, you look like an actor or a phony on TV.

We see it every day when we watch television. Some people have it, others don’t. Duval is fearless on TV in a way that’s rare: He’s prepared, he has an opinion, and if you disagree with him, it’s OK. You’re not going to change his mind.

If you’re authentic on television, when you walk into a room full of people, only you know that all of those people in the room know the real you. And all of those people watching on TV know the real you. And without a certain level of confidence and preparedness, that can be terrifying. Duval never revealed that as a player. Now, he does it every time he appears on television.

While he still thinks of himself as a golfer and a player who can compete, Duval is a television analyst of the best kind.

“I think it’s the rare person who is 40 to 55 years old who doesn’t think of themselves as a golfer still. That’s how I view it. That’s how I go about it when I analyze something.”

Unlike with golf, he was good almost immediately on television. It took him two years to win his first tournament in college, but then he was dominant. It took him a while to get used to the week-to-week grind of professional golf. But once he did, he was dominant. We texted a few times when he started on the Golf Channel, just exchanging some ideas and a few tips I had picked up over the years in front of the camera. But it was easy to see he was going to be great.

“There is a difference in being critical and being mean. Critical is fine. Mean is not,” Duval told Global Golf Post about being on television

One thing Duval has always seemed to have is perspective. Even at a young age he looked at things differently. Some of that came from the loss of his older brother Brett. That tragedy for the Duval family has been well documented. But David has always seen things from a different angle.

As comfortable with Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as he would be with a beer and a sports magazine in his playing days, Duval’s smarts go beyond just golf. And that’s essential to be able to sit there and talk without a script (ad-lib is the term in TV). A view from 30,000 feet as well as an intimate knowledge of the subject allows David to speak with authority. Not act like an authority, but be an authority.

“He’s good because he has good knowledge,” Nick Faldo a six-time major champion and now the lead analyst on CBS has said about Duval. “Players who have really felt it, not just played it or walked the walk, the players who have really felt it – and he’s felt both the big climb to get to No. 1 and that story and that phenomenal run of wins and gets a major and then for whatever reason went on a different walk of life – he can add an awful lot of golf life experience to it.”

I first met David before he got to high school. His dad Bob was the pro at Plantation and invited me out to play with the two of them. Needless to say, even that young, David was an impressive player. Long, straight, great touch, it was clear he was going to be something special

He got to the top of the game and instead of enjoying it, he found it isolating.

“Some guy asked me about Bosnia,” he once said to me after a press conference. “Just because I’m ranked #1. They didn’t care what I thought when I was #2,” he said shaking his head.

Now 46-years old, he played in The Open Championship this week at Carnoustie as a past Champion Golfer of the Year. Once you win The Open, you can play there each year until you’re sixty.

I will admit David gave me the sporting thrill of a lifetime ten years ago at the Masters.

“Who’s caddying for you in the Par 3 at Augusta,” I said to David one day at his house when he was near the top of his game.

“You are,” he answered with a laugh. And sure enough that year I was on the bag Wednesday of Masters week.

(There’s a full accounting of that day on samsportsline.com)

We had two memorable exchanges that day; one was on the first tee.

“Two rules,” David said as he pulled a club from his bag. “Keep up and don’t lean on the putter.”

On the 8th tee David grabbed 9-iron out of the bag. “It’s wedge,” I said. “I don’t think so, the pin is all the way back,” he quickly responded. And promptly hit the ball in the water behind the green.

“I guess it was wedge,” he said with an easy laugh and a bow to the crowd. That gave everybody a glimpse of the David Duval we now see on golf broadcasts.

When he left Episcopal for Georgia Tech, it was a surprise move to play college golf where nobody expected him to go. “Where’d you want me to play?” he asked me when I wondered why he was going to Atlanta. He was a four-time All-American for the Yellow Jackets.

He made a splash as an amateur, leading the BellSouth Classic by a couple of shots at the 54-hole mark in 1992. But it took him a while to figure out how to be a pro. “You have to get used to it,” he said of the traveling circus the tour can be, week after week. “The travel, eating, sleeping, playing, you need to figure it out.”

And once he did, Duval fulfilled his awesome potential, ascending to number one in the world. He won 11 of 34 tournaments he played in just over a one-year period. He shot 59 in the last round at the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, making an eagle on the final hole for a come from behind win.

He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated behind his Oakley sunglasses. He contended in the Masters and the US Open, and he won The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2001. He was the #1 golfer in the world. He won in Japan later that year.

At some point Duval is going to move off the Golf Channel and into Johnny Miller’s chair as the lead analyst on NBC’s coverage of golf.

I’ve seen Duval first-hand play golf as the best player in the world. Now we all get to see David as the best analyst on television.

Only Joke In The Hall Is TO

I didn’t want to write this article about Terrell Owens snubbing the Pro Football Hall of Fame because it only feeds his problematic (maybe clinical) need for attention. But not going to the HOF induction is unprecedented, and fans, the Hall and even Owen’s supporters deserve better.

Upon being notified by Owens last month, the Hall took the high road.

“We are disappointed but will respect Terrell’s decision not to participate in the Enshrinement,” Hall-of-Fame president and CEO David Baker said.

This week the Hall said they’d basically ignore Owens during the Enshrinement weekend. HOF executive director Joe Horrigan said, “The focus is on the guys who are here.”

You hear that from coaches all the time about players who are holding out. The Hall is following the same procedure. They’ll mail his gold jacket on Saturday morning after the rest of the class gets their coats at the Gold Jacket Dinner Friday night. He won’t be mentioned that night or during the ceremony. But any time the class is announced as a group, he’ll be included.

And that all sounds about right.

Owens gave no real reason as to why he’s not going to his own induction. He didn’t show up with the rest of the Class of 2018 at the Super Bowl this year, so you figured something was up. He was vocal about the process of selection, calling it “a joke” when he wasn’t selected in his first or second year of eligibility.

For some context, you know the names, John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Carl Eller, Jack Youngblood, Jerry Kramer and Kevin Greene? All are Hall of Famers, all waited at least 12 years before they were selected and inducted into the Hall.

From a statistical standpoint, Owens is number two in almost every receiving category and made enough great plays to merit consideration and eventually selection to the Hall. But as I’ve said many times, if we call football “the ultimate team game” doesn’t what kind of teammate you are count?

As selectors we’re given very specific instructions on what to consider when discussing a Hall of Fame candidate. “On the field” is generally the guideline, but does that only mean between the lines on Sunday? What about practice and the locker room? Those count as well. If it’s just about the numbers, it would just easy to add them up and make a list every year.

But it’s not.

In that model Gale Sayers and Lynn Swann would have never sniffed induction. They don’t have the numbers. But they pass the “eye” test. When you watched them play, you knew there was something special about them, something that made them the best of the best. Former Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli falls into that category in my opinion. He doesn’t have the numbers but watching him play you knew you were seeing something extraordinary.

So getting “into the room” is a process that distills a large pool of eligible players, coaches and contributors down to just 15 to be discussed by the committee at our annual meeting. As the Jacksonville representative on the committee, there are confidentiality requirements regarding what I can reveal about the meeting but suffice to say, the opinions are spirited, pointed, well researched and sometimes contentious but they’re honest and authentic. Nothing phony gets into the discussion. Too many smart people in the room.

But here’s the thing: Owens in the Hall.

His enshrinement is no longer in question. Owens received the required number of votes on that Saturday in Minnesota and he’s going to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I don’t care what the reason was he didn’t get in during his first two years of eligibility nor do I can how he got enough votes this year.

He’s in.

He won’t have a special section, or a different place for his bust. He’ll be lined up with the rest of the 318 who have gained immortality in Canton. No mention of any of the negatives that have followed in his career, no asterisk saying he was selected in his 3rd year of eligibility, just a place among the select few who are considered the greatest in pro football history.

Once that announcement is made on the Saturday night before the Super Bowl, the selection process is over. As selectors, we don’t find out who gets into the Hall in each class until everybody else does. We vote at the end of the meeting and we leave. When the announcement is made, that’s when we find out.

There’s a big push these days for players to be “first ballot” selectees. That might be a thing in baseball with many more ballots and a very different process. Nobody ever asks guys in the Hall of Fame if you were a “first-ballot” or second or third or whatever.

You’re a Hall of Famer. Period.

And once that year’s class is named, I can tell you as a member of the Selection Committee, it’s over. The Committee moves on. The process is very serious and very difficult.

One thing it is not is “a joke.”

So I’m not sure what Terrell Owens is trying to accomplish by not attending the ceremony in Canton. If he thinks it’s a snub that will somehow “show up’ the Hall and the selectors for not honoring him sooner he’s sorely mistaken.

We don’t care. It’s over.

Hopefully my friends who have been Owens apologists over the years will stop telling me what a great guy he is.

He’s not. It’s that simple. Not anybody I want to be associated with anyway.

He says he’ll have his own celebration at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, on Saturday, August 4th a few hours before the ceremony starts in Canton. Not on a different weekend, not on a different day, just another attention grabbing stunt by a guy who has no concept of team.

Good.

Don’t invite me.

Trabert’s Career Had A Little Of It All

This year’s Wimbledon champion will receive a winners check for about $3 million. When Tony Trabert won the trophy there in 1955 they gave him a 10-pound note.

“Redeemable at Lilly White’s department store in London,” Trabert recalled last week. “But only in the sports section and only on tennis things.”

Working the TPC for CBS Sports in 1982, Trabert met his future wife Vicki and has lived in Ponte Vedra ever since.

“We met on March 20th, 1982, easy to remember. It’s our zip code, 32082.”

I used to reference Tony Trabert in my television career all the time. “No Americans are left at the French Open,” I would say year after year. “Tony Trabert is the last American to win the French in 1955.” That went on until 1989 when Michael Chang ended the 34-year drought. Jim Courier and Andre Agassi are the only other Americans on the list of winners at Roland Garros in the last 63 years.

Of the four Grand Slam tournaments, Trabert won everything. Only the singles in Australia and the doubles at Wimbledon eluded him. He made eleven appearances in Grand Slam finals with ten wins.

Trabert’s post-playing career included 31-years with CBS Sports, more than two decades as an analyst with Channel 9 in Australia and an 12-year stint as the President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, where he’s also a member. He was number one in the world and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But it’s his Wimbledon victory in 1955 that stands as one of his fondest memories. “There’s such tradition involved, the whole thing wreaks with class. Everything is done beautifully. They’re great with the players, They do everything they possibly can.”

“If you ask any tennis player if you could win any of the grand slams, they’d say Wimbledon,” Trabert said last week. “I first played there in 1950, I was so nervous I could hardly breathe.”

“That was the year Bill Talbert took me to Europe. I was nineteen. We won every tournament we played in. Italian, French. Talbert said he owed it to Gardner Malloy, his regular doubles partner to play with him at Wimbledon. I partnered with Budge Patty. Budge won the singles and we lost in the semi’s in the doubles. One set was 31-29 in the quarterfinals. They wouldn’t let us replace the balls. We got to 20 all and I said to the umpire, “Any chance to replace the balls?” He said, ‘It’s against the rules.’ I asked if we could use the balls we used in the first set. He said no. So I said, “What if I hit these out of the stadium? They got the referee and we used the balls in the first set.

“We only played one match that day instead of two. That was a Thursday. They used to play the men’s singles Friday and the women’s on Saturday.”

“I thought our doubles match killed Patty but he won the singles over Frank Sedgeman in the finals. We played the doubles semi’s after that and he was cooked.

Just five years later, he was a Wimbledon champion. Of course, 1955 was a pretty magical year for Trabert. He won three legs of the Grand Slam, still only one of a handful of players who have done that. It started in late 1954 with a trip to Australia to play in the finals of the Davis Cup.

Getting there was a chore in itself at the time. Trabert and his playing partner Vic Sexias spent fifty hours of flying time just to get Down Under.

“Five, 10-hour legs with a six-hour stop over in Hawaii,” he recalled. “We knew the pro at the Royal Hawaiian, George Peebles so he set up an exhibition there during our stop. Vic and I played, jumped in the ocean, showered and ran back to the airport for the next leg. I think we got $500 each. Of course that was against the rules.”

“The Davis Cup was as big as any of the majors,” Trabert said “They sold 25,500 tickets and told us later they could have sold 50,000.” It was the largest crowd to ever see a tennis match at the time. “Taxi drivers wouldn’t charge us, they just said, Give me a autograph for my daughter. And I hope our guys beat you blokes.”

“The traffic was so bad our captain Bill Talbert got out of the car and told the policeman at the corner we needed to get to the venue. He jumped on his motorcycle and escorted us down the wrong side of the street to get there.”

Winning the Davis Cup was a VERY big deal, but the Australian Championships were just three weeks away in Adelaide. Trabert had been Down Under for several months and said Ken Rosewall just plain beat him in the semi-finals on his way to the title.

The rest of the year belonged to Trabert.

He was the defending champion at the French where he beat Sven Davidson in four sets to claim the title in back to back years. “He beat me 6-2 in the first set so on the changeover I figured I better start doing something different,” he explained.

From there, Wimbledon was just two weeks away.

Sometimes you wonder if the great players remember how they played in the big moments or if it was just a reaction. Trabert, who will be 88 next month, remembers it all in vivid detail.

“My first match on Centre Court was against Tony Mottram, Britain’s #1 player in 1950,” he remembered. “I lost in straight sets. The net looked higher than a backstop. When I got home to Cincinnati my dad asked me ‘What’d you do after match point?’ I said I shook his hand. Then he showed me the paper (The Cincinnati Enquirer) with a picture of me sprawled out on the grass. I didn’t remember that!”

He does remember every moment of match point against Kurt Neilson on the grass at Centre Court Wimbledon, 63 years ago.

“I served and it went in, like we always did then on grass, volleyed to his forehand. He threw up a high defensive lob, I was hoping it would go out but it landed right on the baseline so I hit a forehand to his forehand that he chipped to my backhand. He came charging in and I hit an offensive backhanded lob over his head. He jumped and realized he couldn’t get to it and he walked to the net to shake hands.”

Doing a little research, I went to the Internet to see if there was any video of that. Sure enough, YouTube had match point and it was EXACTLY as he described 63 years later.

Kurt Neilson got to the final in 1953 and lost to Sexias. In ’55 he beat Rosewall to get to the finals.

Trabert explained his midset after winning the semi-finals at Wimbledon in ’55 and expecting to play Rosewall in the finals. The upset changed his preparation.

“I thought ‘I can’t come out cocky,'” he said. “I thought I was the better player. I was mentally preparing for Rosewall. But Neilson beat him and I had to get emotionally ready to play him. I won without losing a set.

“Neilson said later he thought that year he lost to a better player.”

In Singapore more than 40 years later, Tony and Vicki were buying a rug during a round the world trip. When the stepped out of the store the sidewalk “Was packed and was wide like 5th Avenue,” Tony said. “We’re deciding which way to go and Vicki says, ‘Here’s comes a guy you know from tennis!” I look up and here comes Kurt Neilson. One minute earlier or later and we miss them.”

On his way to the All-England title in ’55, Trabert didn’t drop a set. The same happened at Forest Hills for the U.S. Championships later that year.

“When I was at my best years, the draws were so weak, if I just paid attention I’d make it to the quarterfinals. Now you better be ready on Monday, there’s so much depth.”

“A player like Lew Hoad had more ability than I did,” Trabert explained. “But if he had ups and downs, I could get by him. I played at a high level then and maintained that for two weeks.”

He beat Rosewall in the finals for his third Grand Slam of the year.

It didn’t take long for Trabert, also a starter on the University of Cincinnati basketball team, to adjust to playing on the international stage. He played throughout Europe in 1950 with Talbert, a fellow Cincinnatian, as his doubles partner. Trabert was 19-years old. They won every tournament they played, the Italian and the French Opens included.

A following two-year stint in the Navy limited his playing time but didn’t stop him completely from competition. Assigned to the bridge for “Air Defense” on board the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea in the Mediterranean, Trabert got liberty to go play in the French in 1952. “I lost in straight sets to Felicisimo Ampon from the Philippines. He got everything back. I hadn’t played enough.” Trabert was back in the US in ’53. He won the French in in 54 and 55.

He signed a professional contract with Jack Kramer in January of 1956, ending his eligibility to play in the Grand Slam tournaments. Before the open era of tennis in 1968, only “amateurs” were eligible for the big four.

Add to a successful playing and broadcasting career a five-year stint as Davis Cup captain that included two wins and an encounter with an apartheid protester on center court. He’s met six Presidents and had a famous life in LA where he counted Frank Sinatra, Charlton Heston and John Wayne as his friends. Still, Wimbledon still remains a highlight.

“It’s the world’s stage; it’s a thrill and a half. Such tradition with the ivy on the walls, and everything’s done so precisely. In those days they picked us up in Bentley’s and drove us on the property. They don’t do that anymore,” he said with a laugh.

So does he remember what happened at the end of the match in ’55?

“I went right by the umpire’s stand and accepted the trophy from the Duchess of Kent,” he recalled. Then we walked off.”

Once he turned pro, Trabert played in a barnstorming tour with Pancho Gonzalez, facing each other 101 times. Gonzalez won 74 with Trabert saying Gonzalez’s serve was the big difference.

“We traveled with a canvas court and put it down with block and tackle. We started at Madison Square Garden but we played on ice rinks, high school gyms, you name it. We drove from town to town in two station wagons.”

“In1960 Jack asked me to go to Paris. and promote pro tennis in Europe, Africa and Asia,” Trabert said of his move overseas. “Philippe Chatrerie turned out to be my best friend. He helped set me up in an apartment right next to the Arch. We were there for three years.”

I told Tony I was headed to Paris a couple of summers ago. I’d be stopping over in the “City of Lights” for just a couple of days.

“There’s a restaurant I want you to try,” he said as he walked to the other room to grab some papers. He came back with a calling card and a map to “Le Relaise de Venise.”

“Go to the Arc (de Triomphe) and walk down the Grand Armee on the other side. It’s on a side street. There will be a line, you can’t miss it.”

As usual, Tony was exactly right, so my wife Linda and I found ourselves waiting in line outside the restaurant the first night we were there with people from all over the world. Since there are no choices on the menu, the line goes pretty quickly no matter how long it is. A well-dressed, French matron of the house who clearly had been in charge there a long time seated us.

Taking a chance, I told our waitress that Tony had sent me there and perhaps the hostess knew him during his time in Paris.

Excitedly, our waitress brought the hostess to our table and said, yes, Madame knows Monsieur Trabert. “His was a beautiful victory,” our waitress translated as Madame talked at tableside. “We must have a photo when you’re finished,” she said as she went back to work.

And sure enough, when Linda and I finished, she came outside and we took some pictures together. In a few she was blowing kisses to Tony in dramatic fashion.

Trabert is the one who signed Rod Laver to a pro contract in 1963. He had just won all four Grand Slam tournaments in ’62.

“It was a coup to have Laver after he won the Grand Slam in 1962,” Tony remembers. “But then he couldn’t play in any of the majors for five years. That’s 20 grand slams. He won 11 Grand Slam tournaments and they stopped him in his prime. He missed twenty of those. Who knows where he’d have put the record.”

There’s a lot of talk about trainers and fitness and coaches and different techniques in tennis these days. Trabert admits the game is different, but not so different that he couldn’t have competed at the top level.

“The top 5 players in any era could have competed in any other era,” he said. “Those top players are good enough to adjust. We worked on fitness, sleep, what we ate. All the majors were best of five, with no tiebreaks. And we played singles and doubles. It wasn’t that demanding to win singles and doubles because of the depth of the fields.”

“The difference today?” he added. “Depth, way more good players playing the game today. The equipment, like golf, has changed how they play the game. And the money has changed dramatically.”

“I don’t particularly like how the game is played now. Just stand at the base line and crush it. We had to set a point up.”

Best player ever? Trabert believes the discussion comes down to two guys.

“Hard to say (Rod) Laver’s not the best ever since nobody’s ever done what he did. (Win the Grand Slam). But it’s also hard to say Federer isn’t the best player ever based on what he’s done against very deep fields for a long time.”

Federer and Rafael Nadal remain at the top of the game and Trabert thinks the world of both of them as players and as people.

They’re fantastic for the sport. Great human beings. They represent their countries; their sport and themselves as well as you can do it. They have so many difficult people to beat in any tournament.”

As the Davis Cup Captain, Trabert got to see a generation of tennis players who didn’t match up with his ideas of grace and sportsmanship.

At the time John McEnroe was the “Bad Boy” of tennis but was also the best player in the world. He loved playing Davis Cup, representing his country and teamed with Peter Fleming to form the #1 doubles team in the world.

Everybody says when you play for your country, it’s different. As the team captain, Trabert imparted that to his players in a small speech. Fleming said, “It’s tennis.”

“So we were playing in Mexico and we’re staying right across the street from the venue. The referee sticks his head in our cubicle and says, ‘You ready?’ And Peter says to me ‘I forgot my rackets.’ I said, ‘Welcome to Davis Cup.’ Vitas (Gerualitis) ran across a six-lane highway. I told him ‘Bring every racket you find.'”

“John acted badly enough,” Trabert recalled of his time with McEnroe. “But John was very coachable, He came for the team meetings, always on time. But I couldn’t control him on the court.”

“Part way through the doubles match vs. Mexico. We had won the first two sets 6-4, 6-4,” he explained. ‘Middle of the third set they broke Fleming and McEnroe blew a service game. So I said on the crossover ‘You gonna be pros or you going to mess around. Fleming said, ‘I’m not going to play for a captain like that.’ So I told them I’d default right there. John did enough things on the court that the spectators knew what was happening. We won the doubles and they were raining down seat cushions. We went to the locker room and the officials said you should sit in here for a while, there are some angry people out there. Congoleum, the flooring company was our big sponsor. We flew on their plane. Their president rolled up his American flag and stuck it in his pocket and said to me, ‘I don’t’ sponsor things I’m not proud of.’ And he didn’t.”

“It’s an international sporting event,” Trabert said of the Davis Cup. “You do the right things, you go to the embassy, you represent the country. John asked me later if he was the cause of the problem and I told him, ‘Yes.'”

McEnroe eventually apologized to his captain years later. Trabert’s tenure as the captain lasted for 5 years from 1976-80. The US won it twice in that span.

He’s also the only Davis Cup captain to ever carry his own racket on the court. In 1977 the US was facing South Africa in Newport Beach, California. There were plenty of apartheid protest going on and law enforcement warned Trabert and the team that it was going to spill over onto the match (in Davis Cup they actually call it a ‘tie’).

“They told us to let them do whatever they were going to do but to defend ourselves if necessary,” he recalled. “I took my racket out on the court just in case and sat it next to my chair. We had a policeman on our floor. They checked everybody’s bags.”

As expected, several protesters disrupted the match.

“A guy had oil in a milk carton and threw it on the court. He bounced right up in front of me. He had something in his hand, and was coming right at me. I popped him three times in the ribs before the cops grabbed him.”

I was watching the French Open finals in 1984 when John McEnroe won the first two sets against Ivan Lendl. It looked like he was on his way to victory and end the American’s drought when he missed an overhead and Trabert said in his role as a TV analyst, “I don’t like what I saw there.” Sure enough, McEnroe faltered and Lendl prevailed in five sets.

I asked Tony last week “Are you the oldest living Wimbledon winner?” “Oh no, I’m like 4th or 5th,” Trabert said quickly. “There’s Vic (Seixas), (Bob) Falkenberg, Dick Savitt, and (Frank) Sedgman.” Sharp as ever. And right.

No story about Trabert fails to mention what a gentleman he is. And that’s very true. He’s a sportsman, true to the definition of the word.

“If a guy beats you, shake his hand and wish him luck,” he’s told me time and again. “And don’t get in a smelling contest with a skunk,” is one of his favorite pieces of advice I’ve heeded.”

Career Transition Happens Fast, And Every Day

Maybe you’ve heard I had a dramatic change in my employment status recently. It can be quite a shock if you’re not prepared, but you make of it what you want. No matter what career you have, you’re always looking forward to the next thing, the next accomplishment. When you’re suddenly not in it any longer, it changes your routine, tightens your social circle and, despite it being a cliche, you learn who your real friends are very quickly.

So it got me thinking about how quickly a professional athlete goes from celebrity stardom, fame and in some cases fortune, to displaced back into “civilian” life. It can be a harsh reality for those guys who have played sports their entire career. If you made it to the professional level, regardless of the sport, your athletic talent made you something special starting in elementary school. You’ve been celebrated and in some cases coddled to maximize your performance most of your life.

Then all of the sudden, it’s gone.

Whether they had it taken from them or they gave it up on their own, the reaction has been the same: They didn’t want it to end.

So what happens when somebody comes by your locker, (in the NFL he’s called “The Turk”) and says, “Coach wants to see you. And bring your playbook.”

“It’s a combination of shock, disbelief and fear,” former Georgia, NFL and USFL quarterback Matt Robinson said. “What does my future hold? Why does he think I’m not good enough for this job? What have I done differently than when I made teams?”

Broncos Head Coach Red Miller made a blockbuster trade with the Jets to acquire Robinson giving up a first and second round pick and another quarterback, Craig Penrose to get Matt as his starter. A year and a half later, a new Head Coach, Dan Reeves called Matt in the office and said, “I’ve never seen a guy so good one day and so bad the next. So I’m going in a different direction.”

Robinson laughed telling me that story saying, “Although it’s the truth it doesn’t make it any less painful this many years later.”

“Sometimes it’s a personality conflict with a coach or a teammate who has more value to the organization. It’s not always about how good you are. Sometimes it’s about money. I was anxious to get into the business world so the transition wasn’t traumatic for me. I had a longer career than I expected.”

Robinson is active in the NFL Players Association; helping recently “retired” players with their move out of the game. The NFLPA and the NFL through their Legends community recognized the need for a real transition plan for most players.

“I don’t think anybody believes it the first time they’re cut,” Robinson added. “It takes three or four times early in a career to come to that reality. Veterans around eight or nine years in the league start to look for “The Turk,” knowing their day is coming soon.”

It’s coming, no matter what. It’s just a matter of time. If he’s smart with his money, a player could be set for life. The reality is a Sports Illustrated study showed 78% of all players in the NFL are bankrupt or in financial distress within two years of leaving the league. NFL Legends is trying to change that statistic, creating programs for continuing education, preparing players for jobs and life after football. Players have been part of a community in the locker room their whole lives, and suddenly they’re out of it.

“This ends,” I told former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell in the late ’90’s once in the locker room when he was a player here. I thought he “big timed” me and blew me off during an interview early in his career. He kind of rolled his eyes and walked off. Years later when his playing career ended, we ended up working together on several projects and laughed about that conversation.

“You’re right. It does end. And quickly,” he said with a chuckle.

Brunell played 19 years in the NFL but still wasn’t ready for it to be over. He kept himself in shape, ran, threw and did whatever that summer, waiting for the call for his 20th year.

It never came.

“It takes a while to realize that it’s over,” he told me. Brunell has stayed close to the game through his work with NFL Legends, and as the Head Coach at Episcopal. “I’ve been benched, traded and cut,” he said. “I’ll be alright.”

Other guys don’t adapt as well. Michelle McManamon is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Jacksonville based “Operation New Uniform.” They mostly work with veterans transitioning out of military service into the civilian world. Recently though they’ve included athletes whose careers have ended and are looking to reconnect with reality.

“Whether it’s voluntary or involuntary, when transitioning out of the military, professional sport, or a business, our roles sometimes get confused with our identity. McManamon explained. “The quicker we understand that our roles don’t identify who we are and that it is our identity; self-image, self-esteem, self-concept, and self-worth that make up our being, the smoother the transition will be.”

Athletes are accustomed to an interview being somewhere on the field, usually starting with a 40-yard dash. Stepping into the real world requires some adjustment and new skills.

“We teach our clients the importance of asking high impact questions in interviews,” McManamon added. “This gives the interviewee the ability to maintain control and gain confidence throughout the interview process.”

“You spend every minute during the week trying to make yourself better on Friday for high school, Saturday for college or Sunday for the pros,” former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts explained. “Then you don’t have that, and you’re thinking ‘OK, I’ll get back involved with my friends and family.’ Only to find out they also have lives of their own. You just didn’t notice.”

Martz has stayed close to the game as the Athletic Director and Head Coach at Harvest Community School. “Hey you need a job,” Lonnie quoted his wife saying with a laugh.

“I knew it was over when my agent called and said, “Nobody’s interested after your last workouts. It might be time to hang ’em up.”

“It’s kind of a fixed process,” Martz believes. “They want to slide the older guys out regardless of their talent. They tell you, “We don’t want you, and it’d be better if you went without a fight.”

It’s rare to see a Paul Posluzsny or Rashean Mathis walk away from their career as an athlete with some juice left.

“In my mind I was prepared mentally to stop playing,” Rashean told me. “I always told myself I was OK if I had to stop playing because of injury or whatever. I know that sounds counterproductive and not very positive but by saying that I was a little better in getting out.”

And even though he felt like he left on his own terms, the reaction of his mind and body somewhat surprised Rashean.

“Even when I stepped out, and I knew I was doing it, I was at a crossroads thinking, “What do I do next? What is my career move? Do I jump into something right away? Turn down coaching? A lot of stuff comes at you quickly and it takes time to sort it out. Your mind and your body has to figure it out at the same time.”

“I couldn’t look Telvin (Smith) or Myles (Jack) in the eye if I was a step slow and didn’t make a play,” Paul Posluzsny said at his farewell press conference. Paul knew he could still play, but he wanted something different.

“I don’t’ know,” he added when pressed. “Graduate school, something in aviation (he’s a pilot). When asked if coaching could be in his future he paused and said, “It’s something I wouldn’t not rule out.”

Former Major League Catcher Rick Wilkens said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “It happened more often than I’d like to remember,” about being told he wasn’t in a team’s plans. “It bothers you a little less the older you get. I’m an old fashioned guy, being an organizational player. So when it first happened with the Cubs it was a shock. I had invested a lot in the community and the people there.”

Wilkens spent time with eight different teams during an 11-year Major League career. As a left-handed hitting catcher, he was a pretty valuable commodity. At one point Rick was one of only six catchers in MLB history to hit .300 and 30 home runs in the same season. He did that with the Cubs early in his career so being traded from Chicago had his head spinning.

“Nobody wants to hear ‘We’ve traded you to the Houston Astros'” Wilkens said. “Nothing against the Astros but you go through the whole spectrum of emotions. I got pulled off the field during a game and the manger Jim Riggleman said, “Rick, I don’t know what’s going on but I’ve been told to take you off the field. Go in the clubhouse.”

“I was surprised, shocked, in denial and then you get mad. I was trying to play hurt, so I was pretty agitated. But it’s part of the game. As you get older you get a little smarter and your understanding gets a little deeper.”

And despite the wisdom that veteran status gives players, and his deeper understanding of the game, Wilkens wasn’t ready to end his career when he stopped playing.

“My last full season (w/ San Diego) I felt like I still had a lot to offer the game. I was brought up that if you put up good numbers and caught and played the game how you’re supposed to play it you’d be able to stay in the game. I played independent league ball thinking I might get picked up but it didn’t happen and I saw the writing on the wall.” The evolution of the game kind of forced me out.”

Even success on the field didn’t soften the blow for Brett Myers. While they didn’t yank him off the field, after the 2009 World Series with the Phillies, they called Myers into the clubhouse office while he was cleaning out his locker to tell him they weren’t brining him back next year.

“I felt like I was slapped in the face,” Myers recalled. “I busted my butt since I was 18 years old for you, so 12 years’ later you just said ‘beat it?’ You’d think they’d have some loyalty, but it is a business. I told them when I left, ‘You’ll never win a World Series without me.’ I was more bitter than thinking it through, but they haven’t. I wanted to finish my career in Philly. These days a lot of front office execs are basically running fantasy baseball with guys careers.”

A 12-year career with four teams ended in Cleveland for Myers. The Indians signed him and kept Corey Kluber in the minors. When Myers got hurt mid-year, they brought Kluber up and he flourished. Brett talked with him at the end of the season in Cleveland (they both lived in Jacksonville in the off-season) and explained to him how good he was. Kluber won the Cy Young the next year.

“That’s part of your job late in your career, to help the young kids come up. Take them under your wing. I don’t want any credit but I just hope some of them said ‘He gave me some good advice.'”

So is Myers happy at this point how his career played out?

“Over the year’s I’m more satisfied, but I also realize when you can’t help a team anymore and you should just pack up and go home. I’m still frustrated how my career was jockeyed around and how it might have been different. I took the ball even when I was hurt. I just told them ‘Give me the ball.'”

“I was always musically inclined so I’ve always dabbled in music a bit,” he said of his post-baseball life. “That’s really helped. The adrenaline of getting on stage is like playing. And staying here was important to me. This is my home.”

So if “The Turk” shows up at your cubicle one day just know that all of these guys picked North Florida as their home after their athletic careers ended, voluntary or otherwise. And they’re all doing well.

(Author’s note: I just wanted to say thanks to everybody who wrote, emailed, texted, called and stopped me on the street to offer their support in my own “transition.” You’ve been very kind and I appreciate it.)

Bandon Dunes: A “Must Play” Golf Experience

Images Provided by Golfible.com

So I topped two off the first tee.

After weeks of anticipation and preparation for a trip to Bandon Dunes, that’s right, I topped two off the first tee in our first day of play at Bandon Trails.

That’s something I haven’t done in probably 30 years. And I hit them so bad I’m surprised they didn’t hit my left foot. I trundled down into the high grass and heather with our caddie, Cowboy, in tow in search of one or both. In the first 15 yards or so I found a half dozen balls and Jim, my playing partner said, “Just drop one out here by me.”

I walked over to where he had put his drive in the fairway and threw a ball down. Jim was 160 out and hit a nice shot to an elevated green to about ten feet. I stood over mine just trying to make contact and move it toward the green.

And I hit 7-iron in the hole.

Little did I know that 10-minute sequence would be a microcosm of my experience at Bandon Dunes. While I didn’t top two off of any other tees, Bandon Dunes can be humbling, hard, spectacular, beautiful, awe-inspiring and nearly perfect in any 10-minute stretch.

Traveling all the way to southwest Oregon, I didn’t expect to see anybody I knew. But on the massive range at the practice area, the guy taking swings just one spot away from me was a golf writer friend I’ve known for more than 35 years.

“Probably the best golf resort in the world,” he said when I said hi and he learned it was my first trip there.

And he’s probably right.

It’s a full day of travel from the east coast. We looked into flying to North Bend Airport but United only goes twice a week from Denver and San Francisco and if the flight doesn’t go, you’re stuck for a few days if you can’t make other arrangements. So we flew to Portland and rented a car for the 4-½ drive. Being from Florida, the approach to Portland featured a fly-by of Mt. Hood, something you don’t see every day, and the drive showcases some of the most spectacular scenery toward southwest Oregon.

We stopped in Eugene to take a look at the University of Oregon campus and have lunch, then drove straight to Bandon Dunes. It’s pretty remote, and it’s the only thing there. So if you like golf and want to get away, it’s the perfect spot. We drove the property to get a “lay of the land” then walked across the street for a nice snack at The Inn.

While the resort is remote, it doesn’t lack anything you’d want on a golf trip. Great courses, several nice restaurants, a spot for a cocktail and cigar to watch the sunset, a massage center and a whirlpool (co-ed) for sore (walking) muscles.

We played the four golf courses from south to north, in order, starting with Bandon Trails, a Coor/Crenshaw design cut into the hillside.

Spectacular holes seemed stacked one after another. Each more beautiful than the next. It’s not contrived at all, rather it looks like they cleared a few trees where the golf holes were already laid out. Soaring pines with rugged, rough edges that frame each hole.

Jim called it “a mature adult” adding Bandon Trails just says “Here I am, let’s see how you do.” Like every other course at the resort, “The Trails” shares some similar characteristics with the other three courses.

The holes change with the weather. Whichever way the wind is blowing, that effects how the hole plays. “No two steps are the same,” is how one guest described walking 72 holes along the Pacific Coast. Save for a couple of forced carries, you can play most along the ground. “It’s as good for a 22 handicap as it is for a two,” a friend explained.

“OK, get ready” Cowboy said as we walked off the 14th green. What we didn’t know was turning back toward the clubhouse, 15, 16, 17 and 18 played directly into about a 25 mph wind. Sixteen is a par 5, straight up a hill, a tough hole in any conditions. I hit driver, 5 iron, rescue, gap wedge and made a 15 footer downhill, downwind, left to right I had no business making for one of the best bogey sixes ever. During that stretch I had two putts blown off line. If you’ve never experienced that I had to lean into the wind and it absolutely changes your golf swing. As hard as it was, it was equally interesting. Apparently the wind blows there for most of the summer but starts to lay down in September. It wasn’t like that for the rest of our trip, although wind did play a factor on every shot, on every course, on every day.

Bring your walking shoes to Bandon Dunes and I’d suggest walking three or four miles a day before you get there.Trails is the toughest walk of the four, meandering up the mountain and then over it at 14. You go back down into it the valley and then straight back up and into the wind.

I’m wondering if as the golfing population gets older if carts won’t be a part of the experience at some point.

We played Bandon Dunes, the original course on our second day. The wind was still up but not quite as fierce. This course feels big and has some of the most beautiful vistas anywhere. The 4th hole goes out to the Pacific and is considered one of the most beautiful golf holes in the world.

Because it is.

As you play the holes along the ocean they are so spectacular, it’s hard to remember to concentrate and play golf. Wind is always a factor and the design and set up try to match that.

Our third day we made our way to Pacific Dunes. It’s big and beautiful and every hole has it’s own character. As the wind comes off the Pacific there are some natural edges that frame the course. But good shots are rewarded at Pacific Dunes. If you’re hitting it straight, you’ve got no problem. It features several holes along the ocean, some north/south, some south/north so depending on the season the wind will be either in your face or at your back.

I haven’t played everywhere but I have been a few places and it’s not hard to say eleven at Pacific Dunes is one of the most beautiful holes in the world. The back nine starts with two par three’s at and on the Pacific. Like the other courses at the resort, 17 and 18 are two very tough finishing holes.

On our last day we played the newest course, the links called Old Macdonald

Standing on the first tee it feels like you’re in Scotland. Absolutely authentic. That was the intent when Tom Doak designed the course, paying homage to features used by C.B. Macdonald in the past. Several holes have design features that look like they were transported to the Oregon coast from Scotland. You need to play the ball on the ground more often than you think. I probably hit five different shots that could be described as “bump and run” and I probably should have played a couple more. This would be a good course to play first if you’re planning a trip to get adjusted to the elements, tight lies, and green speeds. Like every other course at Bandon Dunes, it has some beautiful vistas.

And again, 18 is a tough finishing hole.

Going to Bandon Dunes to play all four courses should be planned as a “big” golf trip. Take your time getting there and getting home. Enjoy the scenery and make the travel part of the adventure. You don’t have to leave the resort, but if you must, a little six mile drive down the coast to Bandon-by-the-Sea is a nice diversion. We had dinner at Edgewaters and the food was great. Much like everywhere we went, the staff was very friendly. It’s also in a pretty interesting building that has a great history behind it. And has one of the best sunsets you’ll ever see if the clouds have lifted. Even the locals stop to take a picture.

Accommodations are set up generally for two players to share a room. Two nice queen beds, big rooms, two vanities, good size shower. My room looked like it needed some sprucing up, and perhaps it’s on the list for renovation. Nonetheless, a deer and fawn walked by the sliding glass door one morning, apparently just taking a stroll.

All of the things I’d heard about Bandon Dunes were true. If you’re interested in golf, it’s a “must play.”

No TO, We Don’t Care

It’s rare to sit down and write an article you don’t want to write. I didn’t want to write this article about Terrell Owens snubbing the Pro Football Hall of Fame because it only feeds his problematic (maybe clinical) need for attention. But not going to the HOF induction is unprecedented, and fans, the Hall and even Owen’s supporters deserve better.

Upon being notified by Owens, the Hall took the high road.

“We are disappointed but will respect Terrell’s decision not to participate in the Enshrinement,” Hall-of-Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a prepared statement. “While unprecedented, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the nearly 5,000 volunteers and the entire community are committed to celebrating the excellence of the Class of 2018 that will kick off the NFL’s 100th season.”

No real reason was given by Owens as to why he’s not going to his own induction. He didn’t show up with the rest of the Class of 2018 at the Super Bowl this year, so you figured something was up. He was vocal about the process of selection, calling it “a joke” when he wasn’t selected in his first or second year of eligibility.

For some context, you know the names, John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Carl Eller, Jack Youngblood, Jerry Kramer and Kevin Greene? All are Hall of Famers, all waited at least 12 years before they were selected and inducted into the Hall.

From a statistical standpoint, Owens is number two in almost every receiving category and made enough great plays to merit consideration and eventually selection to the Hall. But as I’ve said many times, if we call football “the ultimate team game” doesn’t what kind of teammate you are count?

But here’s the thing: He’s in the Hall.

Once that announcement is made on the Saturday night before the Super Bowl, that process is over. As selectors, we don’t find out who gets in the Hall in each class until everybody else does. When the announcement is made, that’s when we find out.

There’s a big push these days for players to be “first ballot” selectees. That might be a thing in baseball with many more ballots and a very different process. Nobody ever asks guys in the Hall of Fame if you were a “first-ballot” or second or third or whatever.

You’re a Hall of Famer. Period.

And once that year’s class is named, I can tell you as a member of the Selection Committee, it’s over. The Committee moves on. The process is very serious and very difficult. One thing it is not is “a joke.”

So I’m not sure what Terrell Owens is trying to accomplish by not attending the ceremony in Canton. If he thinks it’s a snub that will somehow “show up’ the Hall and the selectors for not honoring him sooner he’s sorely mistaken.

We don’t care.

Hopefully my friends who have been Owens apologists over the years will stop telling me what a great guy he is.

He’s not. It’s that simple. Not anybody I want to be associated with anyway.

He says he’ll have his own celebration somewhere else at a different time.

Good.

Don’t invite me.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Marrone’s Jaguars Year 2 Motivation

As the Jaguars enter their final week of OTA’s (scheduled Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) we’ve seen that they’re noticeably faster, they’re quarterback play is better than expected and they have high expectations of themselves.

“We achieved a lot but didn’t check all of the boxes of our goals. How great do we want to be?” Telvin Smith explained of the Jaguars motivation this year.

You don’t learn much in terms of actual football talent when it comes to OTA’s. “Everybody’s All-Airport” now retired NFL writer Vic Ketchman used to say. “Everybody looks like they’re going to the Pro Bowl when they’re walking through the airport.”

It doesn’t turn anybody’s eye when good things happen in “pajamas” as Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone calls the shorts and t-shirts practices.

“You can really get down on a guy in these situations,” Marrone explained. “You know, gee, he doesn’t run as well as I thought. And then when you put the pads on and start hitting you’re like, ‘Oh wait, he’s making all the plays.”

So as usual, you can’t make the tam in May or June, but you can get cut.

“We keep challenging the players with the discipline of mental errors at this time of year,” Marrone said. “One of the things that is important at this time of the year is making sure you have a true understanding.”

Honesty is one of the hallmarks of Marrone’s coaching philosophy. You can either do it or you can’t in his mind. And he’s developed his own way of evaluating players through mistakes he’s made.

As the Head Coach in Buffalo, Marrone admitted to making some mistakes in how he looked at who could play and who couldn’t. In his first year, he had a very simple way of seeing what was happening.

“It just went by what you saw on the film and how they did on the field,” he explained. “It was a very competitive environment. People rise to the occasion and thrive in that type of environment.”

But after he got to know the players, he started hedging on guys who he thought could play.

“I started to say he didn’t have a great day, but he has done this before. Putting those marbles in the bank based off of performance. I said to myself he will be fine. All last year he did this well. He will get this. He just had a bad day. The next day he had two bad days. Then all of a sudden you start coaching a little bit differently because of that experience you have had with that player.”

And he’s trying to avoid repeating that as the Jaguars head coach in year two.

“That experience has been in the past. You have to look what is going on right now and focus on the moment right now. That is why every day, myself included, if I just did everything exactly the same that I did last year then I am not helping this football team. I have to prove every day when I come in here that I am doing everything I can for us to win.”

It’s an old saying because it’s true in the NFL. You’re never staying the same. You’re either getting better or getting worse. Over the first two week’s of OTA’s the Jaguars are reminded of that every day.

AJ Bouye Returns, Sets Jaguars Tone

Back at the OTA’s Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye explained why he missed the first week.

“Stuff that happened towards the end of last year kind of motivated me, so I just needed extra time with myself and my family just to work on that,” he said on Tuesday. “I had specific trainers I was working with position-wise.”

He also said he was staying in touch with Jalen Ramsey and other defensive backs to be sure, “Everybody was still working.” We hadn’t heard that in a while.

“You can tell that we are a little bit more comfortable in the scheme. Everybody is gelling together and clicking. Everyone was happy that I was back, and it felt like towards the end of the season last year. We were still on the same page – having fun and flying around.”

There’s a story from when I was a kid in Baltimore about the Colts players and how close they were. Gino Marchetti’s wife Joan said they were getting ready to put a new floor in the kitchen. Nobody made any money back then so it was a “DIY” job. The materials were delivered and they were getting started when a knock came at the front door. “I went to answer it,” said Joan. “And there’s John Unitas standing there with a cup of coffee. He came over to help. John Unitas, really.” Of course both Marchetti and Unitas are in the Hall of Fame.

Players’ living out of town from where they played was unheard of then, but it’s more the norm now. Still, the Jaguars have a new closeness in the locker room that’s been missing.

Plus players co-mingle with the “opposition” more frequently in the modern game. Some of it’s because of the money made, ease of travel and just more opportunity. Bouye explained some of the things he’s been working on in the offseason he picked up from his best opponent.

“I talked to A.B. [Antonio Brown] at the Pro Bowl, and he saw how I kind of played him in the first game and he adjusted and I didn’t,” he explained. “He was showing me some of the stuff he was doing, and he was doing it in the walkthrough [at the Pro Bowl]. I was just like, ‘Alright. I am going to start playing that [style] and work on certain things with my body just to stay stronger at the top of the route.”

That might all be semi-new, but more importantly it gives some insight to how Bouye is still working. When you talk with him, you can tell he has a chip on his shoulder but more importantly, he wants to be great. And believe it or not, not all players have that mind-set.

So he’s learning from a player who’s an opponent but is generally considered the best receiver in the game.

“Yes. We both have a lot of respect for each other’s game. I was just picking apart a lot of other DB’s. After this, I am going probably going to work with [Richard] Sherman and all of them. I am going to start learning stuff from them, too.”

Is Ramsey coming to the OTA’s? Probably not, and it’s no big deal. But Bouye assured us his running mate is still working.

“I was going to go and work with him and his dad in Nashville.” But he came to work in Jacksonville instead.

Jaguars Start 2018 “Not Dwelling On The Past”

“To be honest, I told the team it’s always good to learn from the past, but please do not dwell on the past.”

And with that, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone set the theme and the tone for the 2018 workouts for last year’s AFC runner-up.”

There’s an excitement in the air, no doubt, when it comes to the Jaguars prospects this year. With a first-place schedule but three home games in the first month of the season, everybody: fans, “experts” and media are picking the Jaguars to repeat their success of 2017. But nothing is a given in the NFL and while the Jaguars appear better on paper than they were last year, that’s no predictor of success once they take the field.

“I think when people come from the outside, they are going to try to get our team to talk about last year and these things of last year,” Marrone added before the Jaguars took the field for the first time as a team in 2018. “They are going to talk about how maybe failing at the end and how that is going to motivate you.”

But Marrone and the players are counting on recreating what happened last year. Not just on the field, but in the locker room as well.

“That’s the one thing – team chemistry, leadership – I believe that is something I can’t manifest,” Marrone said. ” In other words, I can’t just say ‘Hey, come on.’ It has to happen. I can put them in situations where people can take advantage of it, but you cannot manipulate or do things like that because the team has to feel that.”

Last year it was about Blake Bortles level of play and whether he could take the Jaguars to the elite level among teams in the NFL. He showed he could do that, but the Jaguars defense was the bell cow when it came to their identity. That is the case again this year, but the Jaguars have that identity before the season starts, meaning Bortles know his job is to protect the ball.

“I knew that if I did not turn the ball over, we were going to have a chance to win every game,” Blake said on Tuesday. “That should be and it is my mindset every single game we play, but I think it was just something in the playoffs that I made sure I wasn’t the reason we lost a game.”

With a second year under Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Bortles admits he’s more comfortable starting the season since the playbook is very familiar.

“I should know the offense better than anyone in the building, including him,” Blake said of Hackett’s offense. “I think that it is constant work towards that and being able to do and say and see everything that he can do as an offensive coordinator and being that coach on the field.”

And what does Blake think of going into this year versus last year’s success?

“I think playing with the same focus and the same intensity that we finished last season with is big,” he explained. “Being able to replicate that day after day will really help not only being better practice players and going through the week better, but making so that Sunday is just another day.”

Getting Bortles ahead of the curve is what the Jaguars need to start fast out of the gate. It might be the most critical position in sports, and the Jaguars believe Blake is on his way.

“I have always believed that when your quarterback is ahead of everyone and the rest of the offense has to catch up, that is a pretty good thing,” Marrone said of Bortles off-season work. “You don’t want the quarterback trying to catch up to the rest of the offensive players. I think that Blake is in a good spot from there as far as what he knows of the offense, what we want to do.”

So what are they looking for when it comes to the OTA’s, the mini-camp and even into training camp?

“You are going to have setbacks,” Marrone explained. “But if you looked at a graph. You may go up a little bit, down a little, up a little, down a little, But if you steadily drew a line, you want to see that line increase.”

Best “Feel Good” Win At THE PLAYERS

There’s nothing like a feel good story in sports. And in American sports, the comeback, feel good story is always the best.

We’ve had all kinds of winners at THE Players Championship. Household names like Jack and Tiger, hometown champions in Mark McCumber and David Duval, and unlikely names on the trophy like Stephen (Ames) and Tim (Clark).

But never a real “feel good” story like Webb Simpson. Nuts and bolts, he won at 18-under par, despite making double-bogey on the 72nd hole. He tied the course record of 63 looked in control the whole time. He’s now one of seven players to have held both The Players crystal and the US Open trophy in their career. He also completes an American sweep of the Majors and the Players, Not done since Tiger Woods held all five.

All from a guy who was about a half a step from quitting golf completely. Simpson had success in his professional career, winning on the PGA Tour and US Open. He found a way to get the ball in the hole and win, despite not being exceptionally long and using a “belly” putter. When that style form of putting was outlawed, his golfing fortunes began to sink.

“You know, I think I had been a pro for eight years, seven years, and you get used to playing at a level that you know you’re capable of, and then for — you go a year or two years playing below that capability, and it starts to get at you,” Simpson said Sunday. “And I actually think it’s easier to work hard when you’re playing well. So it made working hard and staying positive and present that much harder.”

Noting the support he had from his “team” Webb admitted there were nights at the dinner table with his wife that he’d be in tears, ready to give up golf completely. But her encouragement, as well as his relationship with his caddy Paul Tesori kepts him going. Ironically, it was a disagreement with Tesori on the course that convinced him what he needed to do to get better.

Yeah, the lowest point ended up being the turning point. It was 2016 at Barclays at Bethpage Black,” he explained. “I thought I missed the cut by one. I ended up making the cut. But Paul and I got in an argument on the golf course, and it was just frustration pent up in both of us. We go sit in my car for about an hour. I’m so frustrated, I’m over it, and he is, too, and he kind of encouraged me to really do something about it. So call certain guys who maybe have struggled, try out different putters. I was pretty stubborn. I wanted to go conventional as conventional can get, so I just started trying different things and became a lot more open minded.”

Talks with a numerous players about their putting styles and how they came to use them were instrumental in Simpson finding something that worked for him. That “open minded” attitude allowed him to take a lesson from Tim Clark a year ago at the 2017 Players and switch to the “claw grip” with a Matt Kuchar style putter-up-the-arm stroke.

He couldn’t go back to belly putting because it was illegal, and he couldn’t go back to that putter either since he broke it in half to stave off temptation.

“My wife is in the driveway pulling out with the kids,” as he tells the story. “And I tell her this, and I see my bag in the garage, and I see the belly putter, and for whatever reason I had an urge to just break it. And so I go over there and snap it over my knee, and I’m on the way to throw it in the trash can, and she tells me I’d better hang on to it, it’s been pretty good to me. So I put it in my trophy case, both pieces.”

Admitting he putted better in THE Players than he ever had, even Johnny Miller noted a “Tom Watson” like decision make and execution process on the greens. After talking it over with Tesori, looking it over, studying and stepping away, Simpson takes a practice stroke and hits it. No standing over it forever.

At this point, Simpson’s relationship with Tesori is well documented. Paul’s history in his hometown, his family’s story, his steadfast faith and faith in Simpson all are part of this feel good story. Webb even calls Tesori “The Mayor.”

“Paul has been just a great friend through all this, a great coworker,” Simpson said in the post match press conference. “(He) is such a great caddie with such a great resume that I never thought once that he would quit and go work for somebody else.

“But through that, I expected him to be frustrated at times, and he never was. He never got frustrated. He stayed positive on my worst days. He would try to give me a pep talk. I think to go through that, you need someone more than a caddie, you need a friend, and he definitely was that for me.”

Add to all that with final Players win on Mother’s Day, just six months after Simpson lost his father. Webb’s dad is the person who introduced him to the game, to a rare disease.

“I thought about him all day,” Simpson said when asked about his dad. “I think it’s been an emotional week for my mom and sisters and my brother. We miss him like crazy, but I really wanted to do this for my mom. She’s been praying for me a lot.”

Hard to get a better “feel good” story than that.

Simpson (with Tesori) In Command At THE PLAYERS

It’s a weird thing to talk to athletes about their top accomplishments. People who are motivated, ambitious and energetic have an easier time remembering their failures than whatever success they had. There’s a specific kind of memory that sits close to the surface, protecting them from ever making the same mistake twice.

On the other hand, there’s also a kind of memory that allows those same athletes to recall every single detail immediately after performing at the highest level. For golfers, it not just the club they hit and the yardage, it’s the blade of grass in front of the ball, the bee that was on the green, the puff of wind they felt in mid-swing and even the smell of, well, whatever they were smelling walking 18 holes.

That was Webb Simpson after the second round of this year’s PLAYERS Championship. And eagle on two and three other birdies on the front had him make the turn in thirty-one. A simple par on 10 seemed unremarkable, but then everything started to go on the hole.

“Obviously when you’re out there competing in a big tournament, you’re as focused as can be,” Simpson said after tying the course record with a 63 on Friday. “But then at a certain point, maybe on 13 today, you start just — like a kid, just kind of laughing. Everything is going in. You feel like no matter what, you’re going to make it,”

Anybody who plays golf knows it comes and goes, even at the highest level. Ben Hogan famously said, “If you think you’ve found it, don’t go to sleep.” One day everything is easy, the next, not so much. For Simpson, the challenge is to stay in the moment.

“I mean, yeah.,” he explained. “That’s the challenge is you’re hitting all your shots exactly where you’re looking, and so the temptation is to start aiming more at the flag. But I didn’t do that. I mean, every — you’ve got to isolate every shot and every putt and just ask yourself, what’s the objective here. Although I’m hitting it great, on 13, I aimed 30 feet right of the hole. 14, I have 9-iron in my hand, I’m aiming 15 feet right of the hole.”

There’s a lot of talk in golf these days by the players about, “us” and “we.” The entire team is part of the success of any player and the caddie is a big, big part of that. Simpson’s caddie is St. Augustine product Paul Tesori. Paul was an accomplished player himself, played at the University of Florida and qualified to play on the PGA Tour. But after not finding enough success as a player, he found a career carrying the bag and consulting with other players. Somehow he worked with Vijay Singh for a while and also caddied for Jerry Kelly and Sean O’Hair. But his success has come with his good friend Webb Simpson. Both men of tremendous faith, their bond goes way beyond player/caddie.

“I think it’s massive,” Webb said Friday. “:You know, to work with somebody every day for eight hours, nine hours a day, and you really like them, and you have a friendship outside of golf, I think it’s pretty special.”

Playing on the PGA Tour is an adjustment for anybody. It’s not just about the golf. The travel, the schedule, the grind, the food, all of it plays a part in a player’s success or lack thereof.

“You know, there’s a lot out here,” Simpson noted. “I get lonely because my family is at home, and there’s ups and downs of the year for performance, and so he knows — as a friend he knows me better than just a coworker, so he knows how to handle me if I’m in those bad places. So he’s been a huge, huge piece in my career.”

“Outside of the majors, this is his favorite tournament,” Webb said of Tesori, normal since he’s from here. “It doesn’t put pressure on me, but it’s always a place you think, like Charlotte for me, it’s a nice place to play well. He’s got so much support out there, more support than I do. It’s been fun the last couple days seeing all the people coming out for Paul.”

If not handled right, it could put a strain on their relationship. In reality, Simpson is the player, Paul is the “guy on the bag.” But in this case, Simpson rolls with it.

“Oh, yeah, I call him the mayor. He can’t get from the putting green to the range without getting stopped a few times. Everybody loves him.”

Easy? Hard? Round 1 Of The Players Was Both

As a two-time champion at The Players, Tiger Woods understands the role the Stadium Course plays as part of the championship.

“When you’re playing well, it seems easy,” Tiger said after playing last week in Charlotte and again after the first round of this year’s Players. “But if you’re a little off, there’s trouble on every shot. You never get comfortable.”

That was evident in the first round of this year’s Players as six players are tied for the lead at six under. Eighty-five players shot even par or better. Yet Phil Mickelson posted a 7 over 79. Jordan Spieth shot 77. That’s how unpredictable things can be at the Players and despite the star power put together by the pairings, the golf course came out as the celebrity.

“If it stays calm in the morning, you’ll see a bunch of guys go low,” Tiger said after an even par 72 in the opening round. “I think tomorrow’s supposed to be the hottest day of the week, and if that’s the case, again, the golf ball is going to be going forever. So this golf course won’t be playing very long.”

With more players tied for the lead than any other year The Players has been contested at the Stadium Course, there were birdies to be made. Webb Simpson made plenty of them and is one of the players on top of the leaderboard.

“Yeah, it’s perfect,” he said of the golf course. “Fairways are perfect, greens are perfect, and if we read these greens right, the ball should go in the hole. It’s fun to play golf courses that are this well-kept.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Dustin Johnson’s finish at six under. Johnson is the top ranked player in the world yet has never had a top ten finish at The Players. Going into the week, Johnson was aware of his lack of success on the Stadium Course but said he had a plan that would work if he stuck to it. “Yeah, I’m definitely surprised, but I think a lot of it has to do with putting,” he explained. “I don’t think I putted very well around here as a whole. I’ve had definitely rounds where I putted well, but for the most part I haven’t, that’s one thing I’ve struggled around here with and obviously today I rolled it nicely.”

There are plenty of up and down swings on the leaderboard with former champions Si Woo Kim, Matt Kuchar and Sergio Garcia all getting to seven under par at one point. All three fell back, with Sergio’s double-bogey, bogey finish the most dramatic drop. He hit a ball in the water on 17 on his way to a five, and missed an eight-footer on 18 to finish at four under.

“I don’t know that anybody’s overly comfortable here,” said Kuchar who was tied for the first round lead. “I think it’s such a good golf course, such a good test of golf, good shots are rewarded, bad shots are punished. You see a wide variety in scores out here. You see guys shoot 6-under and you see guys shoot 6-, 8-over. It’s just, it’s a great, great test of golf.”

As always, morning players on Thursday will tee of on Friday afternoon and afternoon players on Thursday play Friday morning. It was the morning players who seemed to have the best of the conditions on Thursday.

THE PLAYERS To March: A Good Move

I’ve always said that most of the locals who attend The Players think every PGA Tour event is like that. Of course the Players is like nothing else out there, taking the best from every PGA Tour stop all year and incorporating it into the Stadium Course. It’s not only the best run PGA Tour event, along with The Masters it might be the best run sporting event anywhere as well. It’s a sought after hospitality opportunity for corporations all over the world as well as businesses in Jacksonville and North Florida. It’s a nice blend of both.

Which brings us to current Commissioner Jay Monahan and the move back to March. Monahan said during last year’s Players that they were “considering all options” and they didn’t have any plans to move the tournament “at this time.” Jay doesn’t have a problem with the proximity to the Masters nor the concurrent time frame of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t need it’s own month on the calendar or separation from the majors to draw attention.

He sees the Players as a stand-alone sporting event and now, in 2017, he’s right. The tournament has it’s own following, it’s own stature and maybe most importantly, it’s a very big deal to the modern day PGA Tour player. Adam Scott was the first champion to say, “This is the tournament I’ve dreamed of winning.” And that was in 2004.

Gone are the days that “Deane’s tournament” was vying for significant status ahead of “Arnold’s tournament” or “Jack’s tournament” on the PGA Tour. Beman’s drive to put the Tour in the club and course building business rankled more than a few of his contemporaries, so they weren’t all fired up about supporting the TPC, as it was originally called. Raymond Floyd made his feelings well known at a famous Players meeting during the tournament in the ’80’s.

From a nuts and bolts standpoint, a move to March will bring the golf course condition and the wind direction back to where the Stadium Course was originally intended by designer Pete Dye. They can make the course as hard and fast as they want.

And it’ll put the Players back in the “Florida Swing” on the golf schedule where it belongs. While much of the country looks to the Masters as the start of spring and the beginning of the golf season, those of us in North Florida know, our games are already rounding into shape during some good weather days in February and March.

It’s the right call and a good fit. Nothing’s ever wrong with being 1st on the schedule.

Players Says “Adapt” To THE PLAYERS In March

Without the old burden of achieving status as the “Fifth Major” gone, you knew it was only a matter of time before The Players moved back to March. Earlier in the year, the PGA of America announced that the PGA Championship will be moving to May with the PGA Tour moving the Players back to it’s March timeframe. Moving the PGA Championship is not unprecedented and although there’s a concern that the early date on the golf calendar might eliminate some traditional northern courses as venues, May opens the door for courses in the Southeast, Florida, Texas and even Southern California.

Moving The Players has been a topic since the tournament was started in the ’70’s. It started in Atlanta on Labor Day in 1974, moved to Ft. Worth the next year in August and then to Ft. Lauderdale the following February. When it moved to Ponte Vedra and Sawgrass Country Club it was played in mid-March before settling on the last week of March in 1983.

Moving to March has gotten different reactions from the players involved. Former champ Phil Mickelson says the course was designed to play in March weather.

“There’s a lot of holes like that where we’ve got to fly it on and stop it,” Phil said on Tuesday. “I think the way it played in March, I kind of preferred over the firm, fast. I don’t think when it was designed, it was designed to be firm, fast the way it has played the last few years.”

Three factors worked against The Players in March in the Tour’s quest to make it the 5th Major. Weather could always be a factor, but as anybody who lives in North Florida knows, we’re as likely to have a week of perfect weather as anything else and much of the memories of the Players in March include perfect weather. There were a couple of Monday finishes, but for the most part, delays in the competition were minor. In it’s quest for a spot on the overall sports calendar as a significant sporting event, the tournament switched from CBS to NBC once CBS made a commitment to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Nobody’s going to forget about March Madness because the Players is happening, and at times that was a sticking point for the decision-makers at the Tour. And finally, the last week of March also happens to be two weeks before the first full week of April and that’s always The Masters.

When contested in March, there wasn’t a tournament that went by without many of the storylines focused on the contestants preparing for Augusta. The Players creator, then-Commissioner Deane Beman, didn’t like any talk about the Masters, wanting his tournament to gain “Major” status as a true “players championship.” Despite his protests, Beman had one eye on what they were doing at Augusta National as he developed The Players. His competitive nature would not allow otherwise.

“This is our championship,” he was fond of saying. Deane had a prickly nature about him when it came to competing with Augusta and the Masters and didn’t like it when the basketball tournament was on television in the hospitality suites, the clubhouse and the media center. When he could control what people were watching, he did. (We couldn’t watch the basketball in the media center more than once.)

A winner two years ago, Rickie Fowler says it’s about adapting.

“Luckily it’s still the same golf course, still the same look, but just make that adjustment as far as wind direction,” he explained. “I mean, I feel like we do that on a day-to-day basis when it comes to a place like the Open Championship overseas.

When he took over as the PGA Tour Commissioner in 1994, Tim Finchem had many of the same thoughts about The Players and even more about it’s relationship with Jacksonville. Under Finchem, the Tour tried to separate the tournament once known as the “GJO” from the city entirely, stressing to the assembled media, “the dateline is Ponte Vedra.” There was no reference to it being one of the beaches associated with Jacksonville in any of the promotional material regarding the tournament nor on the national telecast. The dis-association with the city was strongest when Finchem and the Tour decided that The Players should be an international destination for fans and that the local flavor and support of the tournament was holding it back from it’s rightful place in the pantheon of professional golf competition.

They came to their senses a few years ago when Matt Rapp took over as the Executive Director and they refocused on the local community, it’s support, fan base, and the tournament’s reputation as a “must attend” event (and party) in North Florida. Current Players boss Jared Rice seems to have the same charge from new Commissioner Jay Monahan.

Outside of the playing conditions, PGA Champion Justin Thomas said the Players deserves more respect and will probably get it in March.

“Yeah, it’ll be exciting. It’ll be cool just because I think all of us on the TOUR feel that this event can stand on its own,” he said. “It’s not like it’s another event, and it’s no disrespect to the other events, but this is our championship, this is THE PLAYERS Championship. This has a very major-like field, has a very major-like feel, air to it. The roars are very similar. So it’ll be cool to kind of have a major tournament, one a month there, starting in March”

A Bike Ride In The Tennessee Mountains

When my friend Alex sent me the info on George Hincapie’s first Gran Fondo in Chattanooga last January it looked like a great idea. Riding in a different city with different terrain and supporting some of the efforts George’s, charitable and otherwise I’m usually up for. From the one day 50-miler on Saturday, the trip expanded to four days when we hired Velo Girl Bike Tours to guide us around the area leading up to the weekend.

Riding out of town and even out of the country has given me a chance to meet many new people, an unexpected positive consequence to this thing I generally started for fun and fitness. In fact, that’s how I met Alex, a lawyer living on Long Island who’s become a good friend and riding partner. No matter the season or the trip or what kind of shape he’s in, he can ride, climb, drink a beer and provide plenty sparkling repartee. That was one of the things I found in common with Jennifer and David Billstrom, the owners/operators of Velo Girl. They’re in it for the right reasons.

Jennifer is a very sweet woman who is also a very solid rider. I take it she’s the “Girl” in Velo Girl. When I asked her how she got into this gig, she said, “I was in the corporate world behind a desk and knew I needed to get out. I like people. I wanted to meet new people.” And that’s just what she did.

While her husband David does a lot of the nuts and bolts work during the tour, Jennifer is the soul of the operation, tending to clients needs, riding when possible or necessary and providing a nice calming presence. Not to say she’s just there, hanging around either. She also designs all of the rides, scouts and picks the restaurants and hotels. Her pre-ride packet of what to expect was thorough and complete, easy to understand and lets you know about any surprises.

You can have plenty of ideas as a tour operator as to how you’d like things to go but executing them is another situation. That’s where David blends perfectly into the operation. Admitting he’s not a chef but “I’ve always liked to cook,” David prepares all of the on-road meals, a delicious mix of sweet and salty, clearly put together with the knowledge of what riders are looking for when they get off their bike. Past the normal PB&J, the Velo Girl “ride food” included local selections as well as a custom chicken salad David made that got my attention. He also provides bike support, helping me assemble my bike and providing mechanical support throughout the trip. If you needed it, drink, food, water, repairs, a pep talk, whatever, David was going to try to get it done.

Oftentimes tour operators are looking to ride their bike with you coming along and basically paying for their trip. That’s not the case with Velo Girl. There’s no question the client is the focus and the experience of the whole trip is important to them. Even their van/trailer set up is first class and organized, able to transport our entire group, including bikes, food, equipment, tools and whatever, wherever we were headed.

Our riding included climbs up Suck Creek (honest, that’s really the name), Signal, Lookout and Raccoon mountains. We rode all along the Chickamauga Reservoir (built by the TVA in 1940), climbing and descending from water level and even crossing the Tennessee River. One day we rode through the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the site of a pivotal battle in 1863 that eventually led to the Union troops taking control of the city. Beautiful landscapes, wonderful vistas and plenty of history to be found on this trip.

My trip didn’t start too well as American Airlines cancelled my original flight from JAX to CHA because of a mechanical issue with our original plane. Better to find that out on the ground than in the air but I was three hours late getting to Chattanooga.

A city of 350,000 or so residents including the surrounding counties, Chattanooga has always had a “second city” reputation to Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and even Atlanta, just under two hours to the south. The home of UT-Chattanooga, it still has a college town feel but there’s plenty of work there with VW employing over 2,000 workers at their nearby plant. What was impressive, and apparently new in the last few years, was the “vibe” in the city. A walking downtown with a flourishing restaurant scene, I was impressed with every meal we had. Part of that was Jennifer’s selections but the food, the atmosphere, the décor and design of every place we went, all independent operators was top-notch. From an expansive full-service place like “Stir” to the hole-in-the-wall “Bitter Alibi,” every meal was a real experience.

By the way, we stayed at the Chattanoogan Hotel, a good, convenient spot. Not fabulous but very nice, kind of like a Hyatt, the staff was very attentive. They took care of receiving and shipping my bike without a blink of an eye. Nice spa as well.

I don’t have anything bad to say about this trip. At 6’3″ and 240lbs, I’m not built for climbing and I know it. But I did navigate the 4000′ elevation when asked. George told me to get a new setup on my bike in the future to make it a little easier going uphill so I’m asking Phil at Champion Cycling and SRAM for some advice.

Here are my only suggestions for Velo Girl:

Maybe it’s just me but while I really like riding my bike, the history and happenings in a region I’m riding are a real reason I’m there. I know, some people just want to shut up and ride. When I’m traveling, I’m looking for a little more. While I’m not looking for a full treatise on what’s going on there, maybe a couple of paragraphs in my pre-ride packet on the significance and history of the reservoir and the same about the battlefield would have given me a chance to do some additional research if I chose. I’d like a little time built into a day like the one we rode through the national park to read some of the signs and monuments. Not a ton, just a little.

I saw the Velo Girl van a lot, which was great. Logistically, David (and Jen when she wasn’t riding) was right there when I was hoping he’d be. Again, I’m not much of a climber so I’m usually last up the mountain. I don’t have a problem with that but there were times I was climbing that I didn’t see a soul. Not a car or another rider for an hour or so. That’s one of the beauties of doing something like this but I got to thinking about a potential flat or mechanical problem and what I might do about that. With spotty cell service at best along some of the climbs, I’d have been stuck for a while, looking for help. When it’s just the two of them, maybe an e-bike or a scooter in the trailer to come and check on us stragglers would be a thought.

Our tour was small with some last minute cancellations and their friend Nancy; a local rider rehabbing an injury was also very helpful.

Riding your bike, meeting new people, and seeing something different. If that’s what you’re looking for, Jennifer has the same thought with Velo Girl.

Velogirlrides.com

Anatomy Of A Pick: Jaguars Take Bryan At 29

It wasn’t flashy or a big splash but rather described as a “value pick” as the Jaguars selected defensive lineman Taven Bryan with the twenty-ninth pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Bryan is listed at 6’5″ and 291 lbs and was projected to “become an instant starter” by the NFL scouts at the combine.

So how did the Jaguars get to Bryan?

They were a little surprised that three offensive linemen were picked so early in this draft. They knew G Quenton Nelson and OT Mike McGlinchy would be gone before their pick but going in the top 10 was a bit unexpected. That shifted their focus to other players, and once the Raiders took T Kolton Miller at 15, it shifted their focus to the next four players on their board.

“We felt like we solidified a lot of needs in free agency so we could take our highest rated guy. And we did,” General Manager Dave Caldwell said.

Of the nine picks before they were on the board, the Jaguars had four players rated about the same. Leighton Vander Esch, the linebacker who went to the Cowboys at 19 probably wasn’t in that group because the Jaguars, and much of the league, thought he’d be gone before then. Back to back centers were taken at 20 and 21, not on the Jaguars radar. They might have liked Rashaan Evans, the Alabama linebacker taken at 22 by the Titans but he was gone. Not a pressing need.

Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn, listed as an offensive tackle was a nice player but not rated that high by the Jaguars. Probably not big enough. Listed at 6’3.” He went to the Patriots.

The next three picks are probably players the Jaguars were considering if they fell to them at twenty-nine.

“We thought with about 10 picks to go, one of the players we liked would come to us,” Jaguars VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said.

It might not have been a top-heavy draft for receivers but D.J. Moore from Maryland was getting a lot of late attention. Even with third and fourth string quarterbacks he had plenty of production for the Terps. And he’s fast. Not unexpected the Panthers needed just that and took him at twenty-four.

Local product Hayden Hurst was a favorite in town and emerged as the top tight end prospect in the last several weeks. He would have filled a need, and at 25 years old, he’s got the maturity to step in and play. He spent two years in the Pirates organization as a pitcher before going to South Carolina to figure out a football career. Quite a story for a first round pick, the first ever out of Bolles. The Jaguars would have liked him, but the Ravens took him at twenty-five.

Was it possible Alabama’s Calvin Ridley would fall all the way to the Jaguars? Even though he dropped through the top twenty, there were still too many teams in front of the Jags to expect to get receiving help. In a surprise, the Falcons took him at 26, despite having Julio Jones, another Alabama receiver, and Mohamed Sanu as their starters. He was projected as an excellent slot receiver and could be that for Atlanta. Even if the Falcons hadn’t taken Ridley, he probably wouldn’t have gotten by the Seahawks or the Steelers, picking right before Jacksonville.

Coughlin said he took some calls from other teams but decided to stick in their spot. Bryan was the highest rated player remaining on the Jaguars board when they made their pick.

“Outstanding value,” Coughlin noted. Which means he thought Bryan would go higher.

‘He showed athleticism at the combine, that’s for sure,” Jaguars Coughlin said late on Thursday. “His 40, his vertical, his direction changes. He’s a solid young man.”

Running under 5 seconds in the 40-yard dash is impressive for a player his size, but it wasn’t just the “measureables” that convinced the Jaguars to take Bryan. Coughlin has always liked players who compete in the weight room as well as on the field and Bryan fits that bill.

“He’s a weight room guy,” Coughlin said with a big smile. “If I was a young guy like Bryan, I’d be getting Calais’ coffee to learn from a great pro like him.” Coughlin on Bryan’s personality.

“Is that what he said? Bryan said with a laugh on a conference call with local reporters. “I don’t know. I will have to see when I get there, I guess.”

With the success they had on defense last year, Bryan thought he might go to any team but the Jaguars. And he thought he’d go higher in the first round.

“Yes, honestly I was really surprised,” he noted. “I thought there was no way the Jags were going to pick us. You guys already have a bunch of Pro Bowlers and a bunch of great players. I was, ‘Well, they are definitely not picking me.’ Then you guys called me and it was awesome.”

Bryan said all of the right things you’d expect a rookie to say coming into a new situation in the NFL.

“It is a great opportunity. Those guys are Pro Bowlers. There is a mix of old and young guys. They are definitely good at what they do, seeing this past year. I’ll come in and try to learn everything I can from them and try to pick their brains as much as I can and try to do as much as a I can to help the team out.”