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SPORTSTALK

Time was, wrestling cards in Jacksonville would draw upwards of 5,000 people — sometimes more than once a week. Back in the glory days of "Championship Wrestling from Florida," the Briscos, the Funks, Harley Race, Ric Flair and a rotating cast of barroom brawlers built like brick shithouses brought out huge crowds.

Today a lot of those guys are dead or getting there. And those days have been gone for quite some time.

Like stagflation, the Jacksonville Journal and the paper mill smell that choked this city like an olfactory homunculus, the days of turnaway crowds at the rasslin' matches are as dead as kayfabe — the belief, promulgated by promoters until the World Wrestling Federation steroid trials of the early 1990s that wrestling is "real."

World Wrestling Entertainment gets here a few times a year, and does decent business, but the old days are long gone, despite the best efforts of John Cena and the gang.

Wrestling, of course, is still an active "thing" — as Shelton Hull's profile of indie wrestler Jon Davis [News, "Don't Try This at Home," Jan. 8] indicated. There are still touring troupes. One of the best-regarded — Evolve — came back to Jacksonville for a pay-per-view performance for the first time since last summer, when the company drew a few hundred bodies to the sweltering Potter's House gym on the ever-scenic Westside.

The company continued its tradition of holding wrestling events in economic blight zones on Jan. 12, when it held Evolve 27 at one of the most notorious nightclubs in the entire city, Plush, located in the heart of the Arlington Crime Blotter. The club, which has been in operation almost continuously under one name or another since at least the early '90s (now sort of officially called Brewster's Megaplex), has been a rite of passage for everyone from 
hip-hop heads and rave kids to punk rockers 
— old and new school.

Noise is often made about shutting the place down, but it has …   More

SPORTSTALK

From a USA Today article that described Jameis Winston's ultimately inevitable Heisman win on Dec. 14 as a "coronation" came an interesting insight into the mindset of Heisman voters — and how much they cared about sexual assault charges that shrouded the FSU quarterback in recent months.

"I think that there are some people who sort of feel distaste about it, but I don't think it's a huge issue for people," said Chris Huston, publisher of Heisman Pundit. "I think it's people who were probably less likely to vote for him anyway. Whatever reason they didn't want to vote for him, this sort of confirms it."

Whatever reason, indeed.

Earlier this month, Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs held a press conference to announce — to precisely nobody's surprise — that his office would not be pressing charges against the local football hero. This followed an investigation by Tallahassee police that, at minimum, can only be described as indifferent. An indispensable article in the Tampa Bay Times last week contains a treasure trove of indictments of the willful lassitude of small-town cops on a big-time case.

"There are many, many things that should have been done," former Tallahassee cop George Kirkham told the Times. "[It was] not a well-handled police investigation, I think."

Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, added: "This is criminal investigation 101, it seems to me. It's a real failure. The question in my mind is: Are they incompetent or was this willful?"

The police didn't bother to track down evidence that could have corroborated — or entirely busted — the accuser's story. Nor did they bother to locate easily findable witnesses, one of whom had a cellphone video of the alleged assault in progress (he later deleted it and unloaded his phone). Then, a police detective reportedly discouraged Winston's alleged victim from pressing charges, telling her that "she will be raked …   More

SPORTSTALK: THE JAG-OFF

Will Blake Bortles ever be able to avoid turnovers? Does he have some sort of problem processing the whole play in crunch time? After all, pressure mounts, the Jags QB’s decision-making only gets worse. And why does he throw against his body?

These were my questions coming into Sunday’s game. I had started to call him Blaine in conversation. And I had almost stopped, until his end-zone interception at the four-minute mark of fourth quarter.

I probably should stop again.

Harsh? Maybe. Not compared to the CBS announcer who mused aloud about how long the Jags could stay with Bortles this year — as if another round of Chad Henne would fix everything. But whereas the Times-Union said Bortles “regressed” in Cincinnati, the Jags offense in fact looked better than it ever had before this year.

Denard Robinson’s early run for 38 yards was one of those plays that can open up the whole offense. Toby Gerhart looked solid from the get-go, too. The Jags did play it safe in first half, as usual, to their detriment: They racked up a mere 34 passing yards.

Down 19-3 in the third, Bortles went deep to Allen Hurns — where was this derring-do early on? The playbook is buttoned up until garbage time approaches. This mode works with teams that have personnel advantages. The Jags, however, have to create and exploit mismatches to win.

When they go deep, especially to Hurns, good things happen. Hurns was the star of the game, making every catch, fulfilling every bit of the potential he flashed in the season opener. The Jags were in the game, looking credible, and Allen Hurns was the X-factor.

The turning point: The Jags were within three when Bengals backup running back Jeremy Hill took it to the house. Safety Josh Evans was hurt on a play where no one in Jags secondary really wanted to tackle Hill, least of all Evans. That should have been it, but Bortles had one more drive.

Then came the seemingly inevitable pick in …   More

SPORTSTALK: THE JAG-OFF

And so begins the next New Era in Jacksonville Jaguars football, with Blake Bortles getting his first NFL start. Irrational exuberance is the watchword: I know of at least one person who benched Aaron Rodgers for Das Wunderkind in fantasy football, in what was an exercise in wish fulfillment writ large. (If that’s a money league, buddy, I want in next year).

The start of the game, despite a Toby Gerhart fumble 12 seconds in, was encouraging. Bortles’ passes were crisper than fresh celery, taking advantage of strong line play in the first couple dozen plays. He had the time to make reads, which resulted in a nine-completion, 83-yard first quarter; also, Denard Robinson looks to be learning the running back position, even taking over some inside runs (which may be preferable to leaving that duty to the motorless Gerhart). The defense had yet to be exposed, yet.

Small victories, right?

Jags fans sat and waited for the collapse, but Bortles kept them in the game until the second half. Deep to Allen Hurns, then a TD toss to a dude they just picked up from the Saints practice squad. If it were up to Bortles and our scrapheap wideouts, the Jags would have won. But the outcome this week was determined by that festering wound we call a pass defense.

The secondary, with or without the concussed Dwayne Gratz, is not NFL caliber. Probably, with some coaching and acclimation, they could function reasonably well in the Canadian Football League. Maybe not. The issue, after all, is coverage, and Canadian fields are even bigger, with even more open space.

Down 10, the Chargers began to jump Bortles' routes. The second half was ugly, yes, with Keenan Allen looking like J-Smooth in his big game against the Ravens —catching bombs from the Chargers QB. 

Despite the obliteration of the third quarter, the Jags were only down 13. Compare that to the Colts catastrophe or the can of whoopass the Washington Racistnames opened on them, and it does …   More

SPORTSTALK

Sports fans get used to the same old comments from players -- junior versions of Coachspeak.

Uche Nwaneri of the Jacksonville Jaguars doesn't even play that though.

 

Regarding the NSA, Uche had this to say on Facebook this afternoon:

"We aren't the only ones [to have this approach to national security] but we claim as a country to be 'Exceptional'... the truth is we have become paranoid as a government. We have a false blanket of fear from the propaganda of terrorism. We have taken things too far. To spy and keep a database on literally EVERY American is unethical, immoral and should be ILLEGAL."

Uche is not the only pro athlete to come out on social media in recent years against our ever-expanding national security apparatus and the narrative that undergirds it.

Rashard Mendenhall -- then a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers -- ignited a firestorm almost three years ago with Tweets that took issue with the official narrative re: Osama bin Laden and 9/11.

His first tweet on the subject: "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side ... "

 

After that, Mendenhall tweeted: "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style."

Mendenhall deleted this tweet soon after posting it. He took a lot of criticism, which summarily died down as time passed.

There is a lot said about the yoking of the narratives of professional football and American militarism. However, a look beneath the surface reveals a complexity of thought amidst those actually wearing the uniforms that belies the ever-present motifs of flags waving and fighter jet flyovers.

  More

SPORTSTALK

Being a fan of Division I college basketball in Jacksonville can be a frustrating experience. For fans of Jacksonville University's Dolphins, the last moment of real glory was more than 40 years ago, when big man Artis Gilmore led the squad to the national championship game at the end of the 1969-’70 season.

Fans of University of North Florida's Ospreys, meanwhile, can’t count on even a sepia-tinged memory like that to keep their memories sweet. In a sense of real achievement, every season is frustrating … and 2012-’13 was no different: Both teams were bounced from the Atlantic Sun Tournament in the first round.

The less-surprising of the two eliminations was the first — No. 7 seed UNF fell 73-63 to Florida Gulf Coast in Macon, Ga., in front of a reported crowd of 683 souls.

In any given year, the Ospreys haven’t inspired excitement, and this year was more of the same: UNF finished with 13 wins, eight in conference play. The Macon game was actually rather competitive, though; UNF led by five in the first half, and was within three points with less than six-and-a-half minutes to play. Then Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson scored nine consecutive points to effectively seal the victory.

The scrappy Ospreys did earn the respect of their opponents, however.

“Give UNF a lot of credit. They are an excellent basketball team, and I’m very happy with how hard we played to get the win,” Gulf Coast head coach Andy Enfield told FGCUathletics.com afterward. “We had different guys step up at different times in the game and when that happens, we are a dangerous team.”

Guard Parker Smith, an all-Atlantic Sun Conference second-team selection in 2011-’12, put up numbers that, as always, made observers wonder what would happen if UNF had more players of his caliber. Smith, a senior, scored 29 points, but given the Ospreys’ issues with turnovers and production inside the paint, he would’ve needed to score a few more to take the …   More

SPORTSTALK: THE JAG-OFF

It’s true that any player on an NFL field is among the best in the world at the game of football. That includes Chad Henne. The Jags quarterback is in his seventh year now, having been drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the second round, and he’s always looked almost good enough.

The Jags thought so when they brought him back this year to be a veteran bridge between the dumpster fire that was Blaine Gabbert and the certain Valhalla that the Blake Bortles epoch will be. But no one has really been sold on Henne since he got here — and Sunday’s loss in Washington won’t silence the doubters.

The Jaguars managed to put together a full half of competence in Philadelphia, but all they managed to do in the first half against the Washington Racistnames — yes, the team’s official name is a racial slur; no, we will not print it — was injure a couple of superstars. Get well soon, RGIII and D-Jax. The funny thing was that when RGIII was in, struggling with this year’s offense, Washington looked almost as bad as the Jags. Once he was replaced by Kirk Cousins, however, and the offense was executed more efficiently, the Jaguars went from being exposed on offense to being exposed on both sides of the ball.

Given the 10 sacks the Jags allowed, there clearly were plenty of occasions when Henne didn’t have any time in the pocket. The interior line has been a liability since the preseason, and likely will be 14 more times to come. Even when Henne did have time in the pocket, however, he looked tentative making reads downfield. He tends, even this late in his career, to lock in on receivers — and he made the Washington defense look like a top-five unit. Which it isn’t. At all.

Well before halftime, the Jags looked like a beaten team — worn out and demoralized on a 68-degree day in Landover. There were a couple of nice moments in the second half, but overall the Jags looked ragged and ragtag. Which …   More

SPORTSTALK

We've all seen the commercial where the kid gets really excited about receiving Gator Bowl tickets. This, after all, is at least the second year it's run in the local market.

Every time I see it, I find myself laughing. In reality, what kid would be excited over any Gator Bowl matchup, especially this year's?

The not-so-hidden secret is that no one gives a healthy damn about the Georgia vs. Nebraska matchup on New Year's Day. But then again, what did they expect, given where the Gator Bowl falls on the pyramid of college bowl games these days?

The days when the Gator Bowl could front like it belonged high atop the second tier are a distant memory, joining toll booths on the Fuller Warren Bridge and two daily papers in Jacksonville.

An indication of where the Gator falls in the pecking order these days:

The Big Ten bowl selections, after Michigan State to the Rose Bowl and Ohio State University to the Orange, are as follows: Wisconsin to the Capital One Bowl; Iowa to the Outback; and Michigan to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. (That's a real thing, by the way.)

After all that, the Gator Bowl ended up with Nebraska — and as great a Springsteen album as "Nebraska" is, it doesn't add up to football that you care to watch.

For one thing, everyone who wanted to see this matchup would've seen it a year ago, when Georgia and Nebraska locked up in the Capital One Bowl. Aaron Murray lit up the scoreboard last New Year's Day, throwing for five touchdowns and nearly 500 yards as Georgia drove to victory. On the other side of the ball, Taylor Martinez threw for two TDs, and Nebraska kept the game competitive for three quarters and some change. As meaningless New Year's bowl games go, this one was at least diverting.

Will this year's Gator Bowl be as good as last year's contest between these two squads? Possibly. Maybe. But I'm not counting on it.

Murray tore his ACL, and it was just one of many injuries to bedevil the Bulldogs this year. The …   More

SPORTSTALK

In the last two decades, Jaguars fans have seen plenty of quarterback changes. Brunell for the ineffective Beuerlein, which no one mourned. Leftwich for Brunell, in Del Rio's first year, which occasioned racially-coded disses of B-Left the whole time he was here. Garrard for Leftwich, which happened with all of the smoothness of an Arab Spring revolution. Gabbert in, Gabbert out.

And now, hopefully, the last one for a while: Bortles for Henne.

Bortles took over in the second half, the team down 30-love, after one of the worst halves of football in franchise history, and the fans (most of whom stuck around through halftime, remarkably) cheered him as loudly as they booed the doomed Henne. He looked decisive and — in garbage time especially — competent. Not on that Kirk-Cousins-against-the-Jaguars way, maybe, but he made his reads, evaded pressure, and did all of the things a fan would want him to do. And hey, it's worth noting that the Jags won the second half 17-14, if you’re into moral victories. 

Bortles is the team's third attempt in two decades at drafting a franchise quarterback. He is singular, in that he has the smarts and toughness Leftwich had, but (unlike Leftwich) he is guaranteed to be beloved in this market unless he is a Gabbert-level flop. He will be allowed to make his mistakes. And so too will Coach Gus, who starts the second straight year in an 0-3 hole.

The offensive line, an embarrassment all year, seemed to hold a little better for the rookie … at least this outing. The open question though is what happens to all of this good feeling when the novelty wears off. There were times in the first half, for example, when the defense appeared at times to have quit, or at least to lack the conditioning to play all out on a warm September afternoon. 

During a tightly scheduled post-game press conference, Gus Bradley sounded very enthusiastic. And why wouldn't he? Despite being stomped on the field, the …   More

SPORTSTALK

Since the death of the wrestling territories, such as the then-local Championship Wrestling from Florida in the late 1980s, national wrestling promoters have faced a conundrum: How can they give their talent the necessary ring work so they look polished before putting them on the main roster? For World Wrestling Entertainment — far and away the leading outfit on Earth — the solution has been farm leagues; it's had them for the last couple of decades.

Over the years, WWE has had arrangements with a variety of outfits, like Louisville's Ohio Valley Wrestling and the United States Wrestling Association of Memphis. Those companies had plenty of success stories emerge from their bare-bones indie rasslin loops. Despite this, none of these solutions was permanent. This explains why WWE moved its training to Tampa, Florida, using the cryptically named NXT territory as its instruction base.

Why Florida? Why Tampa? The simple obvious reason: Wrestlers gravitate to Tampa after retiring, and so a lot of those who could teach greenhorns the ins and outs of the game are there already. Plus, Tampa has traditionally been a hotbed for pro wrestling. It was the spiritual center of the CWF decades ago; more recently, it's the spot from which all indie Florida wrestling emanates organically – again, due to the natural migration patterns of wrestlers, who enjoy the climate and the adult entertainment, to name two of the city’s main amenities.

NXT has television – only in Tampa. But, as has happened historically with Tampa promotions, the company's branching out, running shows throughout the state, as it did on Feb. 22 at the National Guard Armory on Normandy Boulevard. Now, this is Westside, way past I-295 — and the drainage reflected that. My subcompact car navigated a lot of standing water along the way.

Local event promoters know that rain kills crowds. Not pro wrestling, though; not on the Westside. Perhaps the marks were drawn in by the promise of meeting …   More

 
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