Sports Art from a Local Artist

It wasn’t until Heather Blanton had what she jokingly calls a “midlife crisis” that she became a painter.
She was about to turn 40.

The recession had hit. And her medium for more than 10 years — Polaroid manipulation photography — was on its way out.

“I needed to find something,” she said, standing in front of some of her work at the Plum Gallery in St. Augustine.

Although she played softball in middle and high school, sports was never really her focus. She watched football and baseball with her father, but she was never much of a spectator.

Still, the St. Augustine resident found her artist’s inspiration in an unexpected outlet: through those on fields of play.

“I have a twin sister who is an artist,” Blanton said. “She encouraged me a lot. She said, ‘I know you can paint. You just have to let go of your fear, and magical things will start happening.’ And they did.”
About five years ago, Blanton put brush to canvas for a commission from a cyclist who wanted original artwork around his sport. And that’s how it started.
Sitting in front of a blank canvas, the Sandalwood High graduate started creating cyclists as she saw them in her memory.

“I lived in Vilano Beach, and I would take A1A on Sundays to see my family,” she said. “I would get behind about 45 cyclists. So rather than be upset about being stuck in traffic, I tried to be grateful for all the colors that were in front of me.”

Blanton was less interested in the art being abstract or realistic, but more about conveying the energy she saw on the road onto the canvas.

“I try to not do too much planning because I’ve found that it’s better to allow the energy of the painting to move through me rather than a preconceived idea,” she said of her process. “I ask for some divine intervention to come and help me with a piece.”

There’s an organized randomness to her paintings. It’s not haphazard by any means, but there is a sense of what’s going on in that moment.

All of that inspiration, despite having no experience running, skiing, playing golf or cycling.

“I’ve never been on anything but a beach cruiser, usually with a drink holder on the front,” she said with a laugh.
From cycling, Blanton branched out to other sports, such as painting marathoners.

“There was just a calling to me about the mass numbers of runners. The marathon can be consistently chaotic,” she said. “I got a lot of feedback from people. ‘You don’t have the energy. Marathons are about chaos.’ So I tried to have more chaos in the feel.”

Most of her paintings come in one sitting, and if there’s a theme in any of Blanton’s work, a triangle makes its way into a lot of her paintings.

It can be seen in the form of golfers taking swings or snowboarders going for rides.

“It’s gone to some kind of geometrical form for me. I’m not sure why, but there’s something interesting about the lines for me,” she said. “It doesn’t have any real meaning besides that’s how I see it. I try to paint stuff I like and hope other people do. If you try to paint towards what other people want, I think you make yourself crazy.”

Others have found enjoyment in her work.

From a commercial standpoint, the Gaylord Marriott in Denver took her sixth painting of skiers and used it in 159 public spaces and common areas in the hotel. She is in numerous galleries all over the U.S., as well as overseas.

Blanton has met with the PGA Tour about doing some work when they open their new global headquarters in Ponte Vedra.

She and her twin sister, Holly, have collaborated on about 10 sports paintings and have sold them at the Saatchi Gallery in London. They’ve talked with Porsche about murals in their worldwide headquarters and would like to talk to the Jaguars about some of the collaborative work they’ve done that depicts football.

One shows a line of football players over an abstract background. “My sister did the background, and I came back over on top of it,” Heather said.

There are numerous colors and uniforms represented and plenty more than 11 players depicted.
“That’s not a line,” she said of the line of players across the center of the painting, “that’s more abstract. It’s not realism. Art is open to interpretation. It’s not about following rules. I’ve never been much on following rules.”

Said Holly: “Heather has the potential to be famous. There’s not a lot of images that come to mind when you think of sports fine art. There’s nobody else doing what she’s doing.”
Heather refers to her process as an “experience beyond words,” which gets her started and carries her through a project.
It can be a daunting feeling in front of a blank canvas, but she believes she’s as much of a “channeler” as a creator.

“The paintings I love the most take me the least amount of time,” she said. “When you are in that zone, when you go back to paintings, they don’t have that same magic. I try to do them all in one sitting. I almost feel a singing inside of me. It’s almost a harmonic.”
Often, even she is amazed when a work is complete.
“I don’t feel responsible for the finished product,” she said. “Sometimes, I stand back and just go, ‘Wow,’ I never would have come up with that.”

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 48 – Daytona Talk and the Jaguars Last Chance

Lonnie and Tom debate the “are race car drivers athletes” discussion and its almost decision time for the Jaguars.

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Lagasse Continues Speed Tradition

There’s always been a connection between North Florida and NASCAR.

LeeRoy Yarbrough called Jacksonville home and won 14 times on the top -rated NASCAR Grand National Circuit.
Speedway Park, also know as Jacksonville Speedway, was a half-mile dirt track at Lenox Avenue and Plymouth Street in what was then called “Southwest” Jacksonville.

The track hosted seven NASCAR Grand National races, won by racing legends like Lee Petty and David Pearson. Wendell Scott won the race there in 1963, and was the first and remains the only only African-American driver to win on NASCAR’s top circuit. Jacksonville Speedway closed in 1973 and a housing development now occupies that spot.

From his shop in St. Augustine, Scott Lagasse, Jr. continues that North Florida speed tradition.

His father, Scott Lagasse, Sr. had been a racecar driver for all of Scott Jr.’s life. He faintly recalled his dad’s success in the Sports Car Club of America Corvette Challenge Series in St. Petersburg in October of 1989.

“I can barely remember that,” Scott says, “But his original Corvette Challenge car was from Jack Wilson Chevrolet. He got wrecked early but came back and won.”

Lagasse Sr. raced 39 times across the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck series after winning back-to-back SCCA National Championships in the ‘80’s.

“A couple out of Wisconsin bought that Challenge Series Corvette sometime in the ‘90’s,” he explained. “They restored it and got all the ratings. They called us last year and said, ‘It’s time for it to go back to its home’ and sent it to the shop. It sits there now. It’s really cool.”

Scott Jr. knew early on he wanted to race.

“I remember my first motor cross bike for sure. I wasn’t good on two wheels, I was better on four,” he said this week as he prepared to drive the #4 Camaro for JD Motorsports Saturday in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series.

“I got in a car my dad was using to transition from the road track to the oval world. It was a fast car at St. Augustine Speedway. I ran my first race and won. I just had to lean on 30 years of stuff that was going in my ear,” Lagasse said with a laugh of his quick learning curve.

The Lagasse’s are operating out of a huge race shop right on San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine. Just less than 20,000 square feet and sharing that space with “Art’nMotion,” they also have a fabrication shop next door, “Where we do our real gritty, nasty work,” according to Scott.

A competitive nature has always been a part of Lagasse’s personality. A multi-faceted athlete, Scott says driving a racecar feeds that perfectly.

“It’s just a form of competition. The sport has competitive people. There’s the thrill of having to be perfect. It’s a high-speed chess game out there. A tenth of a second matters and all of that happens at 180 miles a hour.”

And it was that competitive part of his personality that ultimately led to a self-diagnosis of a serious medical condition.

“I was on the bike doing two-a-days, working on going to Charlotte to see Jimmy Johnson for his triathlon,” Scott said. “I texted my doctor and I just didn’t feel right. I was having to take days off because of a ‘tightness’ I felt after workouts.”

Lagasse went to see a gastro-intestinal specialist who found cancerous polyps in his colon. He had surgery and was back racing in six weeks. “It was the competitive side of me that forced me to the doctor.”

That’s one of the reason’s he’s is excited about his #4 Camaro this weekend sponsored by locals Micah Linton and Wally Devlin of the Rimrock-Devlin Group.

“There was open (sponsorship) space on the car and they put the Jay Fund on it. That has a really personal connection for me having gone through it.” The Jay Fund is Tom Coughlin’s charity that helps families’ battle childhood cancer.

Throughout his career, Scott has had success on several racing levels, and has had offers to drive full-time on NASCAR’s top circuits. None were fully-funded, top competitive teams, so he chose to race where he thought he had a chance to win.

“Could it have been different,” the 39-year old asked rhetorically. “Probably, but I’m really committed to the road race program we have going on.”

Lagasse has thirteen races on the schedule for his Camaro in the National Trans Am Series this year. Last September, Lagasse won his first Trans Am race and was surprised by his ability to adapt. “I’ve been pretty good on superspeedways but our team is really committed to our road race program.”

An avid cyclist, the Flagler College grad is the spokesperson for the “Alert Today Florida’ a campaign which raises awareness about pedestrian and bicycle safety. On Thursday he organized and rode in the third annual “Champions Ride for Bicycle Safety” from Daytona International Speedway. Jimmy Johnson, Aric Amirola and other NASCAR drivers were among those riding. Professional cyclists George Hincapie and Christian Vandevelde along with former drivers Dario Franchitti and Tony Kannan have been part of the ride in the past.

Lagasse and his wife Kelley have two young children, so will the racing bloodline continue?

“I was watching a race the other night with our 4-year old daughter” Scott said. “And she said ‘This looks like a lot of fun.’ and I said. ‘No, no, no a piano is a lot more fun.’”

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 47 – The AAF Gets Some Buzz and How Players Think

Lonnie and Tom reveal how a player looks at the game and the new league. And they still want to hit somebody.

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Second Jacksonville Super Bowl? Not Soon

It was nineteen years between Super Bowls for Atlanta. They hosted Super Bowl XXVIII in 1994, Super Bowl XXXIV in 1999 six years later and then not again until 2019 For Super Bowl LIII. For a major metropolitan city with a diverse population, a solid corporate base and a vibrant social scene, that’s a long time between hosting the NFL’s biggest party. I’m not sure why it took so long for Atlanta to get the Super Bowl back and that question was asked to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at his annual “State of the League” press conference last week.

“As it related to when we are going to come back, as you know they’ve become more competitive for cities to host the Super Bowl, which we think that is great,” Goodell said. “I also believe is that not the city, which is an important city for us, the new stadium is one that everybody is going to marvel at on Sunday.”

For decades, the game was held in warm-weather sites like LA, New Orleans and Miami. But the league has used the game as a reward for owners and places with domed stadiums like Minneapolis and Detroit were included in the process.

A couple of the real reasons were very obvious why the game didn’t return to Atlanta for nearly two decades. It snowed there the week of Super Bowl XXXIV and it was known as the game where Ray Lewis was accused of killing two guys in Buckhead. But back with Super Bowl LIII, Atlanta was the ideal host. The Georgia Congress Center is big enough to land airplanes in let alone host the media center and the NFL Experience. The Omni hotel is attached and had plenty of lounge and meeting space for corporate get-together’s and after- (or during) hours socializing.

But the reason Atlanta got the Super Bowl back is because Arthur Blank, the Falcons owner, wanted it there and they had the new $1.6 billion Mercedes Benz Stadium to show off and host the big game.

And that’s how it works. If an owner wants their city to host the Super Bowl, they get behind the local effort to put together a plan and lobby the other owners to vote for their bid. Miami and Tampa will host the next two Super Bowls, followed by the new NFL stadium in Los Angeles. The NFL owners in the early 2000’s liked then-Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver and got behind Jacksonville’s bid for the game. Weaver controlled the temporary seats in the south end zone for the game, kind of a “thank you” from his fellow owners.

So will Jacksonville host another Super Bowl? The short answer is yes, but not for a while.

Current Jaguars owner Shad Khan doesn’t see the city hosting the game any time soon. He said in 2016 that hosting a Super Bowl would, “Set up Jacksonville for failure. The requirements now for hotel rooms and some of the other infrastructure amenities we don’t have here so let’s not kid ourselves.” In fact, Shad has more often talked about the league hosting a Super Bowl in London.
It’s a popular national narrative that Jacksonville was the worst Super Bowl host city ever and that we’ll never get another game. First of all, that’s not true on a lot of levels but it makes for a good story line when you can pick on a place you like to pick on anyway, which we all know the national media likes to do.

Remember, we’re an outpost to most of the national commentators. You have to make a trip here. You’re not stopping by Jacksonville on your way anywhere else and for that crowd, we don’t have enough late-night cocktails or strip clubs to suit their taste. None of them make it to the beach or even to the Southside for that matter.

Hall of Famer and Fox commentator Howie Long bashes Jacksonville as the worst Super Bowl city in corporate speeches complaining that we ran out of hot dogs at the game. I don’t know if Howie even eats hot dogs, but a little research would let him know that we had nothing to do with that. The NFL runs the game and makes those kind of decisions. Clearly the New England/Philadelphia crowd at our game liked hotdogs.

A look at the facts of Super Bowl XXXIX here showed that the NFL Owners stayed at the Ritz-Carlton at Amelia and other beachfront resorts. And they made a lot of money. The Host Committee and the city of Jacksonville bent over backwards to make things easy for the league and being mostly a non-union town in a right to work state, the venues and the labor costs were minimal. The Super Bowl in Minneapolis last year pumped an estimated $350-$400 million into the local economy.

If you remember the weather that week, it was our typical Nor’easter, Sunday to Thursday with very “un-Florida” like temps and a decent breeze blowing on the St. Johns. On Thursday at noon, as predicted, the front moved off-shore and the average temperature for the rest of the weekend was 65. And sunny. But that doesn’t fit the narrative so the media, looking for something to talk about for the four days they were here at the beginning of the week, focused on what a terrible time they were having. According to the local host committee, 90% of the people coming to the game that year arrived after noon Thursday. So they had a great, Jacksonville, Florida experience. The weather was great, we closed Bay Street and put on a big party. (Something we should do for Georgia-Florida and the Gate River Run.)

The host committee even treated the visiting media to a try at the 17th green at TPC Sawgrass on Tuesday night followed by a concert by Hootie and the Blowfish in a huge hospitality tent. The whole island green, lake and tee area was lit and it was fun. Complaints about the free, luxury bus right out there from the Hyatt downtown ensued, but it was no different than the bus rides in other host cities like Miami and San Diego.

I even heard one commentator complain on Monday after the game about the bus from the Hyatt to the stadium. “There were people walking to the game holding the bus up,” he told a national radio audience. “I mean; they were holding up traffic!” Which got me thinking about him leaving his free hotel room for a free ride to a game where he had a been given free admittance.

Bringing in the cruise ships to house visitors for the game was a great idea. It worked at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and it worked here. Until the ships had to pull out at 8AM Monday after the game following a night of partying.

“You people in Jacksonville really know how to blow stuff up,” a friend from a national cable network said to me while the post-game fireworks were going off. From my broadcast position atop the parking garage near Berkman’s Place, I was able to see the fireworks every night off the Main Street Bridge and over the river and they were spectacular. My friend was right: we know how to do fireworks.

“You needed better transportation,” one scribe told me that week. I don’t disagree with that. More cabs, more limos, more shuttles would be on the list next time. Uber wasn’t a thing in Jacksonville in 2005.

And another luxury hotel is a must to hosting the game again. The downtown Hyatt, with more than 900 rooms is a great base of operations, but variety makes it better. Indianapolis was lauded for hosting Super Bowl XLI, mainly because everything was tucked into downtown with several large hotels within walking distance providing plenty of gathering spots.

Shad has a plan to build a Four Seasons hotel on the river near where Metropolitan Park is right now, so that’ll be the first step to hosting another Super Bowl. But he has a lot of things he wants to get done before backing another Super Bowl bid by Jacksonville. The Shipyards, the Lot J entertainment district and stadium improvements, including a possible sunshade are all on the list. The first league event Shad would like to bring here is the NFL Draft, with Daily’s Place acting as the hub. That’s more likely than anything else in the near future.

So when will the Super Bowl come back? When Shad decides it’s a good idea, we’ll host the game again. If it was 19 years between games in Atlanta, that puts us at 2024. Probably not by then, but it’ll happen.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 46 – Super Bowl LIII and Boselli Will Get In

Tom and Sam thought the Super Bowl was just fine. And Sam reveals what he can about what happened in the HOF “room.”

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Boselli Misses HOF Selection

No gold jacket for Tony Boselli again this year.

It’s the third year Tony has been among the final fifteen players up for selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For the second straight year, Boselli made the cut to the 10 finalists but not to the final five and was passed over for entrance to Canton.

The Class of 2019 included three first-time eligible players, safety Ed Reed, tight end Tony Gonzales and cornerback Champ Bailey along with cornerback Ty Law and center Kevin Mawae. All deserving of a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but a somewhat surprising class that includes two corners and a center.

Again this year, I thought Boselli was sixth in the committee voting, and I was surprised by the selection of both Law and Mawae. Perhaps there was a bit of New York bias in the voting as can be the case. Hall of Famer John Randle mentioned that as an impediment to Boselli’s stature among the voters. “If Tony had played in New York or Philly, everybody would know who he is,” he said this week.

Just so the Selection Committee doesn’t have to consider positions in the same order each year, the Hall of Fame staff randomly selects where they’ll be discussed during the meeting. Regardless of when the position is discussed during the meeting, the players in each position are slotted in alphabetical order. Which means Tony Boselli is always the first offensive lineman presented and discussed. Although tackles, guards and centers play very different positions, they’re all considered offensive linemen so they’re thrown into the same pool. I don’t think that’s particularly fair and the Hall staff is considering a complete change to that process, discussing each player randomly. Once Tony’s case is presented and the discussion period ends, there’s no chance to defend his candidacy against the other linemen on the ballot. But nonetheless, it’s how they’re discussed right now. Is that a disadvantage for Tony? Hard to say.

The case I presented for Boselli compared the length of his career to the rest of the Hall, (including tackles) outlined his accomplishments, and highlighted the comments from his competitors. Based on the confidentiality agreement with the Hall of Fame, I can’t reveal the pros and cons of the discourse regarding Tony but the give and take among the Selectors was spirited and thorough. I can tell you that the discussion about Tony was nearly the longest of the day among the Modern Era players being considered, over 26 minutes. Only Ty Law’s Q&A period of 27 minutes was longer. (We did talk about Contributor candidate Gil Brandt for more than a half hour.)

There’s no dispute about Boselli’s greatness. The only question ever raised is about his length of service. Why that’s even in the discussion, I don’t know. Two years ago the Selection Committee chose Terrell Davis from the Modern Era eligible players (78 games) and Kenny Easley from the senior pool (89 games) for induction. Boselli played 97 games, 91 in the regular season plus six in the playoffs. About 12% of the players in the Hall played less than 100 games. Twenty-five percent of tackles in the Hall played 105 games or less. So Boselli checks the boxes when it comes to qualifying.

This year it felt like a competition among the four offensive linemen on this year’s ballot. It’s not supposed to be a competition because they’re all great players and all deserving of induction into the Hall. But it’s rare a bunch of players from one position are put into the Hall in the same year.

And with only five spots available, they all can’t get in the same year. The past two years have included six “first-ballot” Hall of Fame players taking up a majority of the available slots. Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss were elected in 2018, their first year of eligibility, leaving two slots. This year, Reed, Gonzalez and Bailey did the same. I don’t think “first-ballot” is a thing in football, but a lot of other people do, although it’s a recent phenomenon. Of the “first-ballot” selections to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, forty percent of them have been since the year 2000.

It shouldn’t be about slotting players in the queue or making guys “wait their turn.” It should be about where you see the players who get to the final 15 in the pantheon among the greats of the game. A recent survey among players and coaches chose Boselli as the first among the four linemen on the 2019 ballot but Kevin Mawae was selected, perhaps because he was the only center.

It’s fitting that this year’s annual Selection Committee meeting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame happened on Groundhog Day. For many of the fifteen finalists, it’s the same, year after year. The first Saturday of February they’re in the Super Bowl city, sitting in a hotel suite, waiting for the outcome of the Committee’s deliberations. Will they get the knock on the door and an invitation to football immortality? Or will they answer the phone and hear the message, “Maybe next year?”

I talked with Gary Zimmerman this week, a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2008 who said, “I feel sorry for those guys who sit there all day waiting for the ‘secret knock.’ My year, I told them no, I went skiing. I figured they’d find me.”

Next year, Troy Polamalu is eligible for the Hall for the first time. He’ll be touted as a lock, taking up one of the five spots available. That might mean 2020 is the right year for Tony. They might even add a class that year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NFL. In 2021, Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Calvin Johnson will be first year eligible players.

If a player has been a finalist, one of the final 15, twice, he has an 89.2% chance of eventually getting into the Hall. This was Tony’s third straight year as a finalist and I’m confident he’ll be on that list for a fourth year in 2020.

He’ll get in the Hall of Fame. When, based on all of those factors, is anybody’s guess.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 45 – Super Bowl Week from Atlanta

Tom and Sam have seen just about everybody associates with Pro Football this week in Atlanta.

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