Before this column goes any further, an apology for the subject matter:
I'd like to apologize to all readers for writing about the Jacksonville Jaguars. Undoubtedly, you'd like to read about a better pro football team. Undoubtedly, I'd prefer to write about quarterbacks who throw seven touchdown passes in a game or who, even as opposed to Chad Henne against the Raiders, got more than 13 out of 40 passes to go more than 5 yards, as The Florida Times-Union Jaguars writer Ryan O'Halloran tweeted.
It would be great if I were writing about a team that fulfilled my preseason hopes — one which the defense catalyzed changes in game momentum, one which the quarterback took advantage of his top-of-the-first-round tackles to make reads of the defense and to spread the ball around to receivers, one which the running backs hit holes hard and broke free into the secondary with reckless abandon, one which fans hoped would bring it for 60 minutes every week.
If that were the case, I'd be writing about the Jacksonville Sharks or the Jacksonville Dixie Blues. I'm writing about the Jaguars, however, and apologizing, much like the Orlando CBS affiliate did for showing Jaguars vs. Raiders instead of the Manning Bowl (Eli's New York Giants vs. Peyton's Denver Broncos).
Apologizing. Like the Jags should, for drafting a punter instead of Russell Wilson, the Seattle signal-caller who was still on the board when punter Bryan Anger was picked in 2012. And how did you like that Seattle game, by the way (Seahawks 29, 49ers 3)?
Apologizing. Like Shad Khan should, for putting this pitiful product on display in Jacksonville. Jack Del Rio, Mike Mularkey, Gene Smith and the rest of the gang are gone like the wind; but frankly, we don't give a damn, since the product looks the same.
The team looks like an expansion team. Like they're Happy To Be There. Like they expect fans to derive some psychic benefit at this late date, almost two decades into the franchise's existence, …
Being in a position of authority regarding the Olympics can be a thankless job. Imagine being Mitt Romney, for example, who was instrumental in ensuring the Salt Lake City Olympics did well, but who wasn't really able to translate that into political capital. Or the Russians, preparing for the Sochi Olympics and facing international criticism for that nation's laws repressing homosexuality.
Most decisions made on the Olympic level are going to attract more criticism than compliments. In part, it's because the Olympic Games serve as an effective microcosm of global relations themselves — fractious, driven by sophistry and national self-interest. Despite these issues, sometimes the International Olympic Committee gets it right.
One example: The IOC reinstated wrestling as an official Olympic sport — provisionally, at least — reversing its plans to drop grappling as of the 2020 games. In a century that so far has been less than hospitable to amateur wrestling, this is a much-needed move that could, if not save the sport, at least buy it a little bit of time and perhaps give it a platform to gain some forward momentum after suffering more setbacks than Blaine Gabbert.
Advocates for the sport with Florida connections are enthusiastic about the IOC decision. Gerald Brisco, a former mainstay of Championship Wrestling from Florida during the 1970s, who also played a pivotal role with World Wrestling Entertainment for many years thereafter, commented on his Facebook page in the wake of the IOC's historic reversal.
"[This] shows that wrestlers never give up. The wrestling world came together worldwide to work to save our great sport," Brisco wrote. "[You] can't keep a wrestler on his back for long."
David Williams, longtime wrestling coach at Bishop Kenny High School, had this to add on the importance of wrestling in the Olympics.
"I'm very pleased that wrestling has been reinstated. For many minor sports like wrestling the pinnacle of …
For years now, at least since Tim Tebow made every Florida Gators game must-see TV, even for people who weren't self-identified Gator Nation members, there has been a hierarchy of college football teams in the state.
The Gators stood atop the landscape. The Seminoles: second best. And below them, a series of programs with fortunes that shifted from year to year — Miami, University of South Florida, University of Central Florida and all the rest.
The Gators were all anyone really wanted to talk about, with names like Tebow, Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez. The 'Noles? Not so much.
Even during the just-concluded E.J. Manuel era, which was more successful than not, there was a distinct feeling of frustrated climax. As I noticed last year when I was in Tallahassee for the Florida game — sitting in the student section, no less — there was no real expectation of victory for the home team.
Even though last year's Gators squad wasn't especially compelling, and even though Manuel was arguably the best ACC quarterback (especially if you ask the Buffalo Bills, who drafted him in the first round this year), it somehow wasn't surprising that Manuel struggled against the Seminoles' in-state rivals.
Last year's Florida game was a struggle for Manuel for the second consecutive year. He was intercepted three times in last year's game, in addition to coughing up the ball in the fourth quarter. If you had only seen Manuel in those games against Florida, there's no way you'd call him a first-round pick who could immediately start in the NFL — or at least the approximation thereof that's showcased in Buffalo these days. In part, that perception stemmed from a gulf between the two programs. Indications are that gulf is about to be bridged — courtesy of a redshirt freshman quarterback, one "Famous" Jameis Winston.
Winston's legend began before he took his first snap for the 'Noles in Pittsburgh — a tough place to win …
In recent years, it's been hard to muster up real enthusiasm for the on-field prospects of the Jacksonville Jaguars. That's not to say fans have not been loyal; even through seasons with many more losses than wins, the team has drawn at the box office, by and large avoiding blackouts. The same will hold true this year for all seven of the team's home games in Jacksonville.
Despite this, the national media has routinely lambasted Jacksonville and its fans. The team is subpar, they say, and the town isn't worthy of being an NFL city. And every time Shad Khan looks at a road atlas, someone seems to have a blog post or a column saying he's going to move the team. We saw it most recently when Khan bought the Fulham club in the English Premier League; certainly, went the logic, he's going to move the Jaguars to London.
How stale is that line of thought in 2013? How broken is that logic? Given that Khan in his short tenure has seemed more involved with the franchise than Wayne Weaver ever was, and that he's gone to great lengths to improve the stadium — everything from the public-private partnership for the scoreboards to the locker room and training facility upgrades — it seems ridiculous to play the "Jags Are Moving" card at this late date. Not to mention Khan's interest in The Shipyards and other Downtown properties similarly belies that meme.
The fact is, Khan didn't buy an NFL team so that it would lose 10 games a year for the next decade. Maybe change isn't coming quickly enough for some Jags fans, but what we are seeing is a concerted effort to remove the stench of defeat from EverBank Field and replace it with something we haven't whiffed in a long time: the sweet smell of success.
There are many reasons for optimism as the team enters the regular season.
Improved offensive line: It's been a long time since the Jaguars have had two tackles as good as Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel. We have to go back to the old days, when Coughlin …
With summer's heat finally beginning to abate, fall sports are on everyone's mind. In Northeast Florida, pro and college football take pride of place. But as Jacksonville becomes more cosmopolitan, we're seeing other sports emerge — one of them being women's rugby, courtesy of the Jacksonville Women's Rugby Club.
Practices began Aug. 20 for the JWRC — whose team nickname is the Sinners — and this should be an exciting campaign for these lady ruggers. This season, they have coaches from South Africa who have 40 years of combined experience.
Team President Melissa Newkirk, who played college rugby at University of Central Florida, talked about the challenges of playing rugby on the club level in an email interview. She said the squad has 20 players but would like to have 30 to 45.
"We do not have tryouts and take anyone who wants to play, so we will take on all that are willing!"
Players come from all backgrounds — some with intense rugby backgrounds, others without.
"About half of our players did play in college, but we get lots who have never played before, and we teach them the game," Newkirk said. New players can learn the basics in about a month, but it takes three to six months to really feel confident, she said.
Newkirk played three years as an undergraduate — an experience that led directly to starting up this team.
"I started playing rugby in college. When I moved back home, there was not a team," she said. "I loved playing and wanted to share my passion for the sport with others. We also have an amazing local men's team that was and still is very supportive of our team; without their help, the women's team would not have been possible."
Many in our area might notice similarities with other more familiar sports; indeed, there are analogues to football and especially soccer.
"Rugby is a constantly moving game, like soccer; there are no downs or stoppage as in football," Newkirk said. "The main …
Let's go ahead and blame (or thank) Alex Rodriguez. It seems to work for everything else.
The former Jacksonville Sun, Miami native and high school state championship baseball player has had a rough time of it lately. Rodriguez's link to Biogenesis of America, a Miami firm in the business of "enhancing" the performance of athletes, has been all over the news this summer — and the bulk of the coverage has been negative.
At this writing, Rodriguez is back playing for the Yankees. This quite likely might be his last stint.
With the threat of suspension from Major League Baseball for 211 games looming over his head pending an appeal from the union, any suspension would be a career-ender for the embattled 38-year-old third baseman and three-time Most Valuable Player.
Rodriguez once was widely heralded as one of the game's greats. Before the PED scandals hit, smarter minds than mine had him on the fast track to Cooperstown. Now? He gets booed. At home. Unless he's hitting home runs.
See, that's the paradox about performance-enhancing drugs. Everyone's against them — in theory. In theory, we all have unwavering moral codes, and we'd rather play fair and lose than cheat and win. Trouble is, for athletes, there's a limited window during which one can succeed. Success means many things — winning, cashing in, earning individual accolades. But if someone is giving his life to a sport, racing against time and attendant deterioration, it's rational to wonder, regarding cheating: Why not?
No one these days admits that Rodriguez is his favorite athlete. However, he's still influential — at least the much-lambasted mindset that drove him to performance enhancement is.
In July, a former Biogenesis employee, Porter Fischer, told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that teen boys — high school athletes — would visit the clinic looking for that extra edge that included "[s]ports performance packages, which would include HGH, …
For Gator Nation, it's been a Bummer Summer. On the heels of the PR nightmare of Aaron Hernandez (one of the best tight ends of the Urban Meyer era) facing murder charges in New England comes the recent embarrassment presented by Riley Cooper, former Gators wide receiver, who got liquored up at a Kenny Chesney concert and torpedoed his career by tossing a racial slur at a security guard.
As with Hernandez — whom Tim Tebow accompanied to a bar at least once when both were Gators — there's a Tebow connection to Cooper: They were college roommates. It makes you wonder what Tebow's take on all this might be. However, the Patriots quarterback has yet to offer a response at press time; it's likely he never will.
In the hours after Cooper's drunken "I will jump that fence and fight every n***** here, bro" comment, there was no shortage of instant analysis. There were some who felt Cooper's unfortunate incident signified a larger sense of entitlement, as a reasonably prominent member of the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver corps.
"According to a number of sources, Riley Cooper wanted to be treated as if he was Bradley Cooper at the Chesney concert," Joseph Santoliquito wrote on the Philadelphia CBS affiliate's website. "He was an unruly ‘drunk who wanted the red-carpet treatment and security to basically kiss his ass, because he was "Riley Cooper, an Eagle," from what I saw,' said someone close to what happened that night. Apparently, when Cooper pulled out the ‘Don't-you-know-who-I-am' card, it wasn't acknowledged. ‘Security wasn't having it,' and Cooper apparently had a snit-fit."
While he's not the first white guy to get drunk and go atavistic and hateful with ill-considered rhetoric, Cooper faces a problem that is specific to his line of work.
Former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe talked about it on "The Norris & Davis Show" on Baltimore radio station 105.7 The Fan.
"What he did open was a can of worms for everybody …
It's the biggest achievement yet in local roller derby: The Jacksonville RollerGirls all-star team, the New Jax City Rollers, qualified for the 2013 Women's Flat Track Derby Association Division One Playoffs in Richmond, Va., Sept. 13-15 as the No. 30 seed. Teams from around the world will compete. And the New Jax team will be there, thanks to its hard work and dedication. And those fans who can't make the trip to Richmond can still view the action on WFTDA.tv.
Keri "Fancy Schmancy" Lewis, fresh off a tournament in Tampa, fielded some questions by email.
The first question that bears reflection: Is roller derby "feminist"? Her answer might surprise you.
"I don't think roller derby is a feminist enterprise. It takes a village to run a roller derby league. Flat-track roller derby was founded in Austin, Texas, in 2003. It was started as a female-only sport, but there were men that played an integral part of the league function, ranging from coaches, staff, referees, bout announcers, photographers, videographers, volunteers to fans. Derby leagues become a big family."
Supporting her contention that roller derby is of equal importance to both genders, Lewis mentioned that the local men's team — the Magic City Misfits — is the fourth-ranked team in the United States.
Even with all that love, it's difficult for athletes, who must hold down day jobs, to find time to practice and compete.
"It is a challenge getting a practice and bouting venue that accommodates our league's needs," Lewis said. "Can we get enough practice time at reasonable hours for the skaters? Finding bout venues that are affordable and give us the opportunity to put on a good bout for paying patrons [is a challenge]. We also struggle making it affordable for skaters to compete on our traveling team, especially the all-star team. New Jax travels at least five times a year to out-of-state bouts, and getting the money and time off work to compete can be taxing on …
In my years of writing this column, I've found that I write many more arrest/trouble-with-the-law stories than I'd anticipated when I was handed the keys to the Sportstalk franchise in 2005.
Athletes across the spectrum seem to have issues with law enforcement. I feel like I've written a few articles about various arrests and legal situations faced by pro wrestling legend Ric Flair.
But the bulk of my "athlete gets arrested, and in other news, the sun will rise tomorrow" stories have to do with college athletes — specifically athletes from the University of Florida. As good as their football team has been on the field, and their basketball team has been on the court, the school's student-athletes can't seem to go very long without being clotheslined by the long arms of the law.
Sometimes, we see basketball players running afoul of statute — consider Joakim Noah's bust a few years back for a double dribble: open container law violation with a side violation of marijuana possession. Usually, though — and perhaps not surprising, given how many people are on the roster in any given year — the offenders are football stars.
Quite often, those offenses involve guns. I remember writing about former Gators and Jaguars player Dee Webb and the unfortunate incident that happened when he and a couple of other players were present when an assault rifle discharged and fired into a neighboring apartment. Charges were dropped, that time, for what a Gainesville police rep called "an accidental shooting with incredibly poor lapses in judgment." I bet Marissa Alexander wishes she'd received that benefit of the doubt.
And then, there's the Aaron Hernandez story, which seems to involve a purposeful shooting, albeit one with more "incredibly poor lapses in judgment." Though it is said that he has been a model prisoner since he was locked up a few weeks back.
Not all lapses in judgment involve firearms and inconvenient corpses, of course. …
A few years ago, when Wayne Weaver owned the Jaguars and the only thing that changed from year to year were the names of the players on the police blotter, there wasn't much to say about the Jaguars ownership from the business side.
Recall all of the media hype about blackouts, moving to Los Angeles and other topics that seem more dated with each passing week. Now the Jaguars have an owner with the gumption to put his investment in the center of the global stage. And really, it's about time someone figured it out.
Given the league investment in its franchises in the Northeast Corridor, one cannot give Shad Khan enough credit for realizing that the best way to trump that bias is to establish his small-market Southern franchise as a global entity. To that end, with the purchase of Fulham soccer team in the English Premier League, he's established himself as a sovereign figure in sports, one with the capital, moxie and vision to be among the most important sports team owners of his generation.
Check out Khan's words. They should sound familiar to Jags fans — in tone and spirit, they're reminiscent of what he said when he bought the Jaguars. It's just been a couple of years, but the cleansing power of Khan's frankness and clarity make the former regime seem like a dim memory.
"Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me," Khan said in a statement. "My priority is to ensure the club and Craven Cottage each has a viable and sustainable Premier League future that fans of present and future generations can be proud of. We will manage the club's financial and operational affairs with prudence and care, with youth development and community programs as fundamentally important elements of Fulham's future."
London readers of Folio Weekly — and I assume there are some — can take those words to the bank. They're more solid than the pound sterling. And what's clear, especially in retrospect, is that Khan saw and sees American football as …