What Happened to Racquetball

It was my second trip to Jacksonville, and my first in a non-work capacity. I had been here for the 1978 Clemson/Ohio State Gator Bowl game, famous for Woody Hayes punching Charlie Bauman after an interception that led to the Tigers’ 17-15 victory. But save for the ‘drive-thru’ during my high school senior trip on our way to Daytona, I didn’t know much about the ‘Bold New City of the South.’

Living in Charleston, my doubles partner, Kenny Rhea and I, had won a small state racquetball doubles championship in South Carolina in 1979 and headed to Jacksonville to play in the regionals.

I had played racquetball for a while, usually the outdoor, single-wall variety as a bartender in Washington D.C., but I was introduced to the indoor. four-wall (five if you count the ceiling) when I worked in Charleston.

“We’re in trouble,” I said to Kenny as we walked into RacquetPower in Mandarin. The first thing we saw was two guys playing an exhibition on the glass enclosed show court in the middle of the club.

Watching the two players go at it in front of more than a hundred fans, they were hitting shots we only dreamed about. Both of us knew we had stepped into a whole different world. Little did we know that the two players, Mitt Layton and Curtis Winter, were world class, national championship caliber players.

“We had a lot of good players in town,” Susan Pfahler, a thirty-time national champion and a member of the Racquetball Hall of Fame told me this week. It was a bit of an understatement. Susan was one of the top players in the country during racquetball’s heyday and only retired from the game about four years ago.

“My body couldn’t handle it any longer. All those years of pounding and hitting the floor,” she said.

“It breaks my heart that I can’t teach my grandchildren the game I love,” Susan’s doubles partner, Mary Lyons, also a Hall of Fame member told me this week.

Jacksonville was a hot bed for racquetball in the ‘70’s, ‘80s’ and into the ‘90’s. There were more than forty courts from the Beaches to Orange Park. Leagues, tournaments and recreational play were all part of the sports fabric of North Florida.

“We had courts at the Beaches, in Orange Park, in Arlington at the Jacksonville Athletic Club and in Mandarin at RacquetPower,” Mary recalled. “We had lots of tournaments, great players. I was the state president and we had thousands of people playing tournaments. But now it’s going the way of handball.”

How can a sport so prevalent and prominent fall from grace so quickly?

“A lot of clubs closed down,” nineteen-time national champion and North Florida resident Mitt Layton explained. “There were a lot of clubs, but they kept closing. It got to the point in the late 90’s that we’d have to go to apartment complexes to play. We’d have to have keys to get in and I don’t know that the apartment complexes knew we were playing there.”

Layton, also a member of the Racquetball Hall of Fame, last won a national championship in 2005. But he knows what happened to the sport on the recreational and local level.

“You have to get kids back interested again” he said. “I was a coach for the US Junior Olympic team for two years. The junior team had won the world championships a couple of years in a row, but Mexico started to beat us because they developed their kids. They’d do their homework and then they’d go drill at the courts. They worked at it; they were hungry. They didn’t have a lot of other interests. They lived it, they boomed. That’s why they’re still the best.”

As of now, racquetball in the US has no developmental structure, no junior leagues, no way for young people to get involved in the game.

“The game is dying, I only play occasionally,” Lyons, a winner of more than twenty national titles added. ”LA Fitness is our only choice for courts, but they don’t allow children. So, we can’t grow the game. That’s what the game needs.”

A long-time mixed doubles partner for Lyons, Curtis Winter agrees.

“The governing bodies were so interested in getting into the Olympics that they forgot to grow the sport,” Winter, a multiple state champion and national contender explained.

“I used to go hit balls on the court when my dad was playing at the Downtown Y as a kid,” he continued. “But they won’t allow young kids on the court so the kids can’t learn the game. That’s how I learned.”

Winter and Layton still play occasionally as does Lyons. She and Curtis teamed up for the US Open Doubles competition in 2019. But Winter has shifted his focus to the outdoor, three-wall game.

“There are very few new people in the indoor game,” he explained. “We play outdoor, and we get eight or twelve players, and we watch and comment on how the game is being played. That’s what it’s about, being involved with the people in the game. That’s why I’ve also started playing pickleball. Because there’s people there!”

“It’s like a reunion every time I go to play,” Layton explained. “I might play once a week, and it’s the same guys I used to play with. I don’t recognize a lot of the guys because they’re looks have changed. I remember at RacquetPower I’d take some young players under my wing and just play with them. That’s what made the game better.”

Layton said bringing other player along and making them better was an important part of the game.

“I remember talking with my doctor, Jim Baldock at an appointment in his office and we started talking about his game,” Layton recalled. “Here we were, in a clinical setting and I was talking about his backhand. I helped him with that, and he won the club championship.” (I asked Jim, a friend of mine, about that, who confirmed Layton tutored him along but said, “I’m sure I only won my division.”)

Nonetheless, it was the comraderie that kept the sport alive. Traveling and playing in tournaments, seeing the same competitors several times a year, that’s the fun part of the sport everybody remembers.

“I enjoyed doubles best, the camaraderie,” said Lyons, the Florida State Racquetball Association President for eight years in the ‘80’s. “The game is the game, but the people are the most important part. It’s the experience. The experience isn’t there anymore. I teach some of my friends and I’d do more of that. But we need an encouraging, educational system to develop the game. There’s not junior tournaments, and not any development of the game.”

Looking for an outlet now that her racquetball days are over, Pfahler has turned to Pickleball as many former racquetball players have.

“There’s some strategy like racquetball but nothing like the workout for racquetball,” she explained. There are angles, you can hit it easy or hard or a little bit of finesse, but nothing like the workout you’d get playing racquetball. You’d be drenched after playing and that was the good thing. And it was indoors. We probably saved our skin from the sun. It was in the air conditioning and it was a great workout.”

Recently, Pfahler ran the leagues at the local LA Fitness courts but didn’t see the game growing.

“I think it was hard to make money owning racquetball courts,” she said. “Even in our heyday they were taking courts away for aerobics rooms, more weight rooms.”

“It can be a hard game to play,” she added. “When I ran the leagues, I’d have all kinds of people say to me ‘I used to play racquetball.’ But they’d come out, get sore or get hurt and never come back. The “C” players helped the clubs stay in business but if they got hurt, they stopped coming.”

Lyons saw the demise of the sport coming and shifted her focus to golf. A member of the FSU Golf team in college, Lyons became a LPGA Class A professional in 1998 and currently teaches at Jax Beach Golf Club.

“There’s a lot of similarities to the mental part of both games,” she said. “You’re going to hit bad shots. Hit another shot that gets you back in the game.”

And while she has golf students from five to ninety years old, she doesn’t see racquetball coming back to the limelight.

“It’s a sad thing, it was such a popular game,” she explained. “So many other things came around and were free. Paddleboard, rollerblading, all of that. You had to be a member of a club to play racquetball and a lot of people chose to not spend that money.”

And despite the sport seemingly going the way of handball in the ‘50’s and 60’s, Lyons still loves to play the game.

“There might be three or four facilities that have courts in town” she explained. “I see the same people playing who I’ve seen for 35 years. I love it, the intensity, the adrenaline. It’s a ‘high’ I don’t get from anything else I do.”

Butch Buchholz

Butch Buchholz Makes Ponte Vedra Home

When I first met Butch Buccholz I wasn’t surprised at what a dynamic personality he has. I’d heard his name in sports circles for years and I’d been told many stories about him by our mutual friend, tennis legend Tony Trabert. Trabert had regaled me with tales of “Butchy’s” determination as a businessman, his ability as an executive and promoter of the game, and his style and tenacity as a player.

“Butchy beat me in the finals for his first pro win,” Trabert once told me.

When I got to know Butch, he finished the story.

“Tony was running the pro tennis tour in Europe for Jack Kramer and we were short one player in the twelve-man field in Zimbabwe because Lew Hoad had broken his foot,” Buchholz recalled. So even though Tony hadn’t been playing much, he was still young enough and good enough to come in and compete. Yes, I did beat him in the finals, but he didn’t tell you we had to play the semi’s and the finals AND the doubles finals on the same Sunday because it had rained. So, we were both worn out. I went back to the hotel where all of the players stayed, and we never locked our doors or anything. I was sitting in a bath trying to keep from cramping up when “Trabes” walked in with a couple of cocktails and said, ‘Nice job Rookie.’ I don’t think that would happen in today’s game.”

Add Buchholz’s name to the growing list of sports stars and business people who have chosen to live here in North Florida. Butch and his wife Marylin moved to Ponte Vedra from South Florida a few years ago.

“I had always kept a condo in Sawgrass because we did a lot of business here with the ATP in Ponte Vedra so when we were visiting Tony and his wife Vicki, I asked Vicki’s daughter, who’s in real estate, if she could take me by my old place,” he said this week.

“We did that, and she asked if we’d ever been in The Plantation. I said, ‘No, I always turn right out of Sawgrass.’ When we went into The Plantation, we really liked it. And after knowing the prices for real estate in Boca and Miami I thought there was some mistake on the price of the house. We have friends from the ATP and the PGA Tour and access to great medical care at the Mayo Clinic. We bought it right away and just love it here.”

As a tennis player, Butch was considered a young phenom. He played his first tournament at age six and won his first tournament a year later. He won all sorts of junior amateur titles and became the first player to win junior titles at the Australian Open (1959) and French Open (1958), Wimbledon (1958) and the U.S. Junior Championships (1958). Ranked fifth in the world in 1960, Buchholz turned pro.

“In retrospect, I would have done some things differently,” Buchholz, a 2005 inductee to the International Tennis Hall of Fame explained. “We thought ‘Open’ tennis was right around the corner, the votes were very close.”

Instead, professionals were shut out of the four Grand Slam tournaments by the International Tennis Federation and most countries’ tennis associations. That spawned the beginnings of a pro circuit.

A member of three U.S. Davis Cup teams from 1958-60, Butch won 28 professional tournament events and was one of Lamar Hunt’s famous “Handsome Eight” of World Championship Tennis (WCT).

“We got the WCT trophy out of Ken Rosewall’s garage,” Buchholz said with a laugh. “It had been the trophy for our ‘Kramer Cup.’”

With the top players in the world turning pro, it was Wimbledon that help usher in the Open era of tennis and Buchholz was in the middle of it.

“Wimbledon chairman Herman David offered to have eight pros in a tournament in August of ’67 if we could sell the place out,” Butch recalled. “We did, and when it was over, he came into the locker room and said, ‘Gentlemen, you’re all invited back here next year. They’re the last people you’d think would start the revolution (of Open tennis), but they wanted the best players.”

The Open era of tennis began in 1968.

Buchholz retired as a player at the age of 29 after an injury ended his 10-year professional career. But he was just getting started.

He’s been a tournament promoter, network television commentator, and the U.S. Junior Davis Cup Team captain in 1970. He’s a founding member of the first men’s players association in 1963. He directed tournaments in his hometown of St. Louis, directed WCT events, directed a Virginia Slims event in 1972, and was Commissioner of World Team Tennis. He served as Executive Director of the ATP and started their pension program. He also started seven events in Latin America to promote the growth of the sport there.
Buchholz and his brother eventually bought and ran the tournament in South Florida, first playing in Delray Beach in 1985 and then at Boca West in ‘86. Looking for a permanent home, Butch was introduced to the Miami Parks Department who showed him a spot on Key Biscayne.
“They took me to Key Biscayne where the dump was in the park,” Buchholz recalled. “It was terrible, old cars, just awful. But I thought it was a perfect place for parking and building the tournament site.”

Building the courts and operating with temporary grandstands, they played the tournament there in 1987. Wanting to build a permanent stadium, Buccholz met stern opposition from Key Biscayne residents. After a protracted legal battle, the stadium was built in 1994.

“We started there in ’87 and helped revive the image of Miami, I believe,” he said. “We had worldwide coverage and the only other things we had were golf at Doral and the Dolphins.”

Buchholz had the idea that the Lipton International “Players Championship” should be a combined event with both men and women. No other tournaments outside of the Grand Slams did that.

“It wasn’t politically easy because a lot of tournaments wanted either men or women,” he explained. “But our success showed you could have a combined event outside of the Grand Slams. The success of Miami led to Indian Wells becoming a big, combined event. Cincinnati, Rome, and Spain followed suit. Most of the Masters series events are combined now.”

Selling the tournament to the International Management Group in 2000, Butch was contracted to stay on for five years. He was there eleven and retired.

“I’m sorry it’s gone from Key Biscayne,” he said of the Miami Open’s move to Hard Rock Stadium. “Miami was a big selling point for the players. A lot of them have friends there, the restaurants, the nightlife. Miami was a big draw.”

A member of TPC at Sawgrass through his ATP connections, Buchholz was in Ponte Vedra occasionally after retiring. But when his phone rang and it said, “PGA Tour” on the caller ID, “I thought, ‘I bet I haven’t paid my bill.’”

Instead, the Tour was interested in his promotion and Miami expertise and asked him to run their golf tournament at Doral.

“They wanted me to join the team as part of the fabric of Miami. I really enjoyed it,” he explained.

“We changed everything, you had to know Miami. They were selling hamburgers and hotdogs. We changed that to Shula Burgers and Joe’s Stone Crab. We built champagne tents. I had learned in tennis we’re in the entertainment business. It’s all about the experience. We’re putting together a wedding party for 300,000 people. We want everybody to have a good time.”

It all worked as they increased the tournament revenue by $2.1 million.

“The Trump organization did everything we asked,” Butch said of the owners of Doral. “Ivanka was our main contact. They upgraded the hotel, put on fashion shows, it really was something.”

But when Donald Trump became a candidate for President, everything changed. Members of Miami’s Latin community were offended by some of the things then-candidate Trump said regarding Mexicans and they dropped their support of the tournament. Politics got involved and the tournament disappeared to Mexico.

“The PGA Tour didn’t want to leave Miami,” Butch explained. “They’d been there fifty-six years, but they couldn’t find a sponsor.”

Buchholz generally now plays golf here in North Florida but has kept his membership at the Bear’s Club in Jupiter, mostly because of his friends there, including Jack Nicklaus. That twenty-five-year friendship is so solid he’s played golf with Nicklaus on Jack’s birthday for the last ten years.
He doesn’t play tennis any longer because of a balky elbow.
“It doesn’t bother me when I play golf,” he said with a laugh. “Just tennis.”
Although officially retired, Butch is still called on for advice about the game, and cares for it deeply.
“I’m glad I got to be a small part of changing the way the sport was presented. If I could run all of tennis for one day, I’d put everybody under one roof,”’ he said when I asked about the state of the game. “Not take any power away from anybody but get everybody on the same page.”

The move to North Florida was a conscious decision to change his lifestyle, and so far, it’s just what he and Marilyn were looking for.
“I don’t miss I-95 in Miami, that’s for sure,” he noted.
And without a hint of negative in his voice he added:
“I like the lifestyle here. A little bit of a slower pace. When we moved here, I promised my wife I’d get off a bunch of boards and I was ready to get up and not worry about what was going on. We’re enjoying it, it’s an easier lifestyle.”

Lonnie Marts

Lonnie Marts Leveling the Playing Field

Sometimes it’s funny how life takes you in the direction you’re supposed to go. Former Jaguars Linebacker Lonnie Marts is a good example of that. In the twenty plus year’s Lonnie and I have been friends we’ve had a running joke about his role as a football player.

“When that hole at the line of scrimmage opened up, I always knew you’d be standing in that hole,” I’d say to him.

“Yep, that was my job,” he’d answer with a laugh.

As we all know, not everybody would be willing to ‘stand in that hole’ but Lonnie was that guy as a professional football player and now is filling another gap as a dad, husband, mentor, coach and a member of the community.

Last year Marts and his friend James Coleman started the Level the Playing Field Leadership Academy. For Marts, it’s a chance to again fill a gap in the line. This time it’s a gap he sees in Black community when it comes to nurturing, teaching and growing boys into men.

“Why boys? I’m always asked,” Marts said by way of explanation. “Because our girls need some upstanding men.”

Level the Playing Field’s goal is to take boys in the Black community, ten to thirteen years old, particularly athletes, and stay with them and support them until they’re twenty-one. And it’s not just an ‘after-school’ program. Marts says it’ll be “24-7.”

“We know we’re going to have times we need to check on the boys that are out of the normally expected times,” Lonnie explained. “We’re working on their mental wellness. There’s something that happened in their lives that left them in their situation. You can’t teach or train a child when they’re hungry or tired. So, we have to work on their situation full-time.”

There are a couple of other organizations who are involved in a similar mission. Mal Washington’s foundation celebrated it’s twenty fifth year in existence in 2021. Martz has leaned heavily on Mal’s experience with his youth foundation as well as the “Son of a Saint” organization in his hometown of New Orleans.

“Mal is one of the first people I called. Sonny Lee started Son of a Saint and I talk with him all the time,” Lonnie said. “They’re recognized as one of the reasons crime is down in New Orleans. They’re only in existence for ten years but they’ve had a great impact in the city. They’re impacting these boys’ lives.”

Marts wants to start with just fifteen boys here in Jacksonville and grow from there. Lonnie was raised by his mother in a single parent household in New Orleans, played college football in his hometown at Tulane and played in Kansas City, Tampa, Tennessee and Jacksonville as a professional. He chose to stay here to have an impact.

“We missed the explosion of those other cities when we left,” he said of the travels he and his wife Gionne and their five children have had. “We’re not in the carousel of looking for a team (to play for) and we found everything here. My wife likes everything about being here. It’s a sports town and we decided to try and be a part of the boom here and grow with the city.”

As friends and co-workers, Lonnie and I have had long discussions about our backgrounds and our commitment to our careers. Lonnie said he was kind of shocked when his NFL career came to an end and three of his kids had grown up without him around.

“I wanted to be the ‘Dad in the house’ for my two youngest kids. I’m getting time back with my oldest three right now.”

Marts filled a gap in the line for Harvest Community School when they wanted to start a football program. He became the Head Coach and the Athletic Director, learning plenty about himself in the process. He recognized the platform he had as a former NFL player and the impact he was having on his students as players and as young men.

“I realized as a head coach and in coaching meetings what I was doing for young men was leading them to be better,” he explained. “Just because you were good at doing it doesn’t mean you’re good at teaching it. That’s what I’m working on right now: To learn to take some of the talents I saw I had and apply them to these young men.”

Marts’ head coaches in the NFL included Marty Shottenheimer, Sam Wyche and Tony Dungy. Bill Cowher was his defensive coordinator with the Chiefs. Lonnie credits all of their commitments to their communities as his influence to do the same here.

“They were adamant about being part of the community,” he explained. “With a platform, you have a responsibility.”

Shottenheimer, Cowher and Dungy also had an influence on Marts’ coaching style. He never was a yeller and a screamer.

“I wouldn’t have taken up coaching if I hadn’t been coached by Coach Dungy,” Lonnie said. “I see a lot of cursing and screaming in the high school game and I disagree with that. Coach Dungy kept his cool in the most difficult situations. He’s the only reason I got into coaching. Marty and Bill were also like that. I didn’t yell and scream during games, that doesn’t do anything to build young men.”

Building young men is something Lonnie now considers a calling.

“Too many men and especially Black men are not ‘in place.’” Marts explained. “If they were, daughters would have the chance to live better lives. Boys need to see what it’s like to be in a married home, part of a family. What I’m trying to give them is what my Mom gave me. I want to open their vision to see “I don’t have to walk that path.”

Marts also has a different idea about why and how young Black men are finding the wrong path.

“If you’ve never been taught that skill, you get frustrated,” he explained. “I think that’s where the young male of color is, ‘I can see that, but I don’t know how to do that.’ We’re trying to teach boys how to grow and open up a wide world to them. It’s not only football that can give them a chance to get out of their situation. There are other things they can learn and do.”

“Young African American guys need to learn how to set up others for success,” he continued. “Not just themselves. It’s not just about Instagram followers and the cars and the houses and the jewelry.”

“That’s why we’re starting with fifteen boys of color, but we hope to open it up to anybody in single parent homes. It’s overwhelming how many on our Northside are in poverty. They’re thinking no one cares and they don’t have any hope. They need somebody who they know who cares and wants to help. They need to know they have another choice. Giving them the knowledge of another path gives them just that.”

Marts is working with Big Brothers, Big Sisters looking for mentors. He’s trying to get the word out on the Northside about potential Academy members. Delores and Wayne Weaver have provided a matching gift as seed money to get the Academy off the ground. He’s talking to the City about using a community center on the Northside to get their ‘kids’ together.

“How can we stop this?” Marts concluded. “How can we keep these young boys from getting locked into something that’s not good for them. We’re trying to teach the boys to be a value and not a burden to the city and their community.”

This week he’s hosting a virtual event called “The Huddle” to raise awareness, and hopefully funds. Dungy and Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks will be among the participants Thursday night at 7PM. If you’d like more information, or would just like to help, start at their website, leveltheplayingfieldla.org or find them on Facebook or Instagram.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars Should Avoid The Past

A couple of years ago I was sitting in the press box during a Jaguars game next to my good friend and colleague Dan Hicken. After a particularly goofy play, you know kind where the Jaguars get a turnover and immediately throw an interception that goes the other way for six? Dan turned to me and said, “Is this team cursed?”

We laughed and I told him the story of the phone calls and emails I received when the Jaguars original logo came out in 1994. “Don’t they know the blue tongue shows a cursed animal!” the writers exclaimed. I passed that along to Wayne Weaver at the time, knowing the “blue tongue” was his wife Delores’ idea. Wayne laughed it off, as did the current Jaguars ownership when they redesigned the Jaguars head. Dan and I had a laugh, then stopped with raised eyebrows and said, “Really?”

Google “Blue Tongue Curse” and this phrase pops up: “According to legend, animals that have blue tongues are a curse that was brought down by the gods.”

So, in some cultures, the blue tongue is a thing.

As we watch the Super Bowl today, we’ll suffer through the numerous former Jaguars who have populated the Bucs and the Chiefs rosters, including THREE former Jaguars starting quarterbacks.

It would be bad enough that Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert, the two backup quarterbacks in the game, are former starters here, but even Byron Leftwich plays a significant role in Super Bowl LV as the Bucs Offensive Coordinator. The Chiefs also have Patrick Omameh on their practice squad, as well as Dustin Colquitt who spent a minute here in December. In addition to Leftwich, the Bucs are using Leonard Fournette in a two-man backfield in a much more effective role than his three years here.

This is a familiar song for Jaguars fans. “Everybody who leaves here gets a Super Bowl ring,” is a common refrain. Because it’s true. If not a spot in the big game, former Jaguars players litter the rosters of playoff teams year after year.

Under different ownership, different personnel decision makers and coaches, the Jaguars have been on the wrong side of players’ decisions at nearly every turn in their history.

After buying a car specifically with a full lay-down front seat so he could sleep there in the parking lot trying to make the Jaguars, Allen Lazard was cut, signed with the Packers and is now one of Aaron Rodgers favorite targets. Marcedes Lewis is in his third year with the Pack, the Jaguars letting him go in free agency.

When it comes to players, and decisions about who to keep, who to let become a free agent and whom to draft, it’s not hard to see the path the Jaguars took to the bottom of the league and the top of the draft.

Go all the way back to the 2006 draft and there aren’t many players picked that year even still playing in the league, but the Jaguars first round pick is still a productive player. Problem is that Marcedes is still playing. With the Packers. Inexcusable to let him become a free agent at a time they desperately needed him in the locker room.

Jump ahead to the 2010 draft and there are about half of the players picked in the first round now finishing ten years in the league. Including the Jaguars first pick, Tyson Alulu. But he’s been in Pittsburgh starting nearly every game for the Steelers for the last four years. Could it have been that expensive to keep him around? It wasn’t like he was a hotly sought-after free agent.

It’s difficult to play the “But they could have had that guy” game when the context of the team isn’t part of the discussion.

But it’s hard not to play that game though in the 2011 draft. Blaine Gabbert was the best player in the draft according to Jack Del Rio at the time and while Gabbert is still in the league, he proved not to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. And the player taken right after him was J.J. Watt. At least the Jaguars didn’t take Christian Ponder in the first round. He was taken right after Watt by the Vikings and only lasted 38 games in the league.

In 2012 the Jaguars famously took Justin Blackmon in Shad Khan’s first draft as an owner. Supremely talented, Blackmon had problems beyond football and was out of the league after 20 games. Interestingly, none of the first six wide receivers taken that year, including four taken in the first round, are still in the league.

There were five tackles taken in the first round in 2013. Four are still playing and starting in the NFL. Only the Jaguars second overall pick Luke Joeckel isn’t playing football right now. Eric Williams was the first pick and while he’s injured and won’t play in the Super Bowl, he’s been a mainstay for the Chiefs up front.

There’s plenty to argue about the when it comes to the decisions made in the draft room in 2014. Dave Caldwell thought they could get either Blake Bortles and Marqise Lee or Jimmy Garaoppolo and Allen Robinson. Luckily Johnny Manziel wasn’t on their radar. They decided on Bortles over Garaoppolo and ended up getting Robinson late in the second round. He didn’t want to be a receiver on a Blake Bortles quarterbacked team, so he left as a free agent a few years later and is a star for the Bears. Teddy Bridgewater is still playing, another quarterback taken in the first round.

In 2015 they missed on Dante Fowler and his character issues. In 2016 they got the player they wanted in Jalen Ramsey but didn’t realize what a goofball he was.

The 2017 draft should irk all Jaguars fans. Tom Coughlin selected Leonard Fournette, looking for a back to carry the load. That’s fine, take a running back, but it looked like Coughlin was building a team to win twenty years ago instead of in today’s pass-happy NFL. Christian McCaffrey was the most versatile running back in that draft. And I won’t mention that Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were taken tenth and twelfth in the first round. Yes, the Jaguars were a play away from the Super Bowl that year but in this exercise, we can look at the bigger picture.

That was also the year they let Lewis go as a free-agent and Paul Posluszny retired. They never have recovered from the leadership void they left in the locker room. Calais Campbell filled that for a bit, but it’s tough to do by yourself. Six of the eleven defensive starters from the 2017 defense are still starting in the league.


I’m still perplexed by Coughlin’s pick of Taven Bryan in the first round of the 2018 draft. I suppose he was building across the defensive line of scrimmage hoping to have a cadre of linemen in a rotation. But Lamar Jackson was taken three picks later.

Hard to say what will come of the personnel the Jaguars acquired in last year’s draft. C.J. Henderson only played eight games before getting hurt and K’Lavon Chaisson did show promise at the end of this season. Yannick Ngakoue is on his second team after getting bad advice and forcing his way out of Jacksonville. And not figuring out how to keep Calais Campbell showed the decision-makers didn’t have a good handle on what was going on in the locker room. It’s the unpardonable decision that eventually cost Caldwell his job.

In fact, you throw all of those decisions at one team in just ten years, it’s no wonder they’re 1-15 and will pick first in this year’s draft.

Here’s to hoping that the new brain trust of Trent Baalke and Urban Meyer somehow leaps away from the “blue tongue” curse and puts the Jaguars on a new path.

Don’t over think it. It was good to hear Baalke say he was interested in taking the best player available on the board in the draft. Take Trevor Lawrence and move on. Use some of that $76 million under the cap and invest in some of the premium positions on the offensive line, at linebacker and safety.

Watch the Super Bowl today and enjoy it. Look at what the Bucs and Chiefs did with a new coach and a new quarterback to move from pretenders to contenders. And think of what can be in short time.

Author’s Note:

The sports and broadcasting worlds lost an icon this week and I lost a close and true friend as tennis legend Tony Trabert died at his home in Ponte Vedra on Wednesday. He was ninety years old. A NCAA Tennis Champion who also started on the University of Cincinnati basketball team, “Trabes,” as he was known to his generational friends, went on to win ten Major Championships including three legs of the Grand Slam, the French, Wimbledon and US titles in 1955. His only loss was to Ken Rosewall in the semi’s in Australia after helping the US team bring home the Davis Cup. That year Tony had one of the all-time great yeas in tennis, winning 106 matches, including 38-straight and taking 10 straight titles. Trabert played on five Davis Cup teams and went on to Captain the squad for five years. A Hall of Famer himself, he served as the President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and his broadcasting career as the lead tennis analyst here in the US and in Australia spanned over three decades.

In the high-velocity worlds of sports and broadcasting it’s hard to find a mentor but Tony was mine for the second half of my career as a genuine and trusted friend. He made me better at my job but more importantly taught me to be a better person. His level of grace was unmatched. Tony had a kind soul, a quick wit, an easy smile, a generous spirit and a look-you-in-the-eye firm handshake. I was lucky to write about Tony in this column a few times, a small look into his life and legacy, on and off the court.

Trabert called North Florida home for nearly forty years, meeting his wife Vicky while broadcasting at The Players Championship on March 20, 1982. “You know, our zip code, 32082,” he often joked.

Like anybody who knew him, I will miss him terribly.