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My Favorite Holiday

Jul 02, 2015 -- 3:07pm

I love the 4th of July. In fact, it’s my favorite holiday.

What could be better than celebrating the birthday of our country, the greatest nation ever? The home of the brave and the land of the free; a place where dreams can come true.

What is better proof of how great it is to be an American than the fact millions of people -- some legally, some not – cross our borders every year to live in the USA? On the flipside, not many people are fleeing America to live elsewhere in the world.

I realize nothing is perfect and I respect the rights of those who have issues. I respect their right to protest. The right to protest is one of the many wonderful things about being an American.

What I don’t understand are Americans who seemingly hate the USA and protest to destroy rather than improve our country.

I love America and Americans. My advice to those who truly hate what the red, white and blue stands for is get the hell out. 

Corky Rogers, a True Hall of Famer

Jul 01, 2015 -- 9:36am

When I think of the best football coaches I’ve known there are several who could top the list. Anyone who’s ever glanced at a newspaper sports section or listened to a minute of sports talk radio knows the names. There’s Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier and Bear Bryant and Tom Coughlin and Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh . . . and then there’s a name some may not know or at least be all that familiar with.

That name is Corky Rogers.

Rogers has spent the last 43 years coaching high school football at Lee and Bolles, winning 444 games and 10 state championships. And there’s more to come because he’s not through. He’s working at least five days a week throughout the summer getting ready for his 26th season at The Bolles School.

That Corky has slowed down very little in incredible considering he’s 71, still bothered by a hit-and-run accident in 1988 that resulted in breaking his left leg in 11 places and had major heart surgery in 2012.

Don’t think for a moment Rogers wouldn’t have succeeded coaching at any level of football. He had his opportunities to coach in college but for reasons I’ve never heard him share he decided to remain at the high school level. Hundreds of Jacksonville’s young men benefitted.

He has coached several players who went on to play professionally and dozens who played in college. But the vast majority of his players, including some of his best, never played after high school.

All of them received the same treatment while playing for Rogers. While he knows and teaches the “X’s and O’s” of football as well as any coach I’ve known, the key to his success has been much simpler than drawing up plays. “Attitude” and “effort” are his two favorite words and the common denominators with all of his teams.

Actually you should add loyalty to that list. He has had incredibly low turnover in his coaching staff and many of his former players keep in touch.

Rogers is humble to a fault, always giving his assistants and players the credit for his success. He has shunned the spotlight. He’s polite with the media, but he’d prefer we talk and write about someone else.

Corky goes into the National High School Hall of Fame this week in New Orleans, the first Florida football so recognized.

Corky may be the last to agree but it is a well deserved honor. And one that’s long overdue. 

White Men Can Jump

Jun 29, 2015 -- 12:28pm

Basketball has long been known as “the black man’s game”.  Makes sense because everybody knows white men can’t jump, right?

Seriously, basketball is dominated by American black men. Try to name outstanding white American players in the NBA. Let’s see, there’s Kevin Love, a top-10 player, and . . . huh, well, according to Sports Illustrated’s list of top 100 active players there’s Chandler Parsons (56), Gordon Hayward (57), Ryan Anderson (57), David Lee (60), Kyle Korver (74) and JJ Redick (93).

Is Larry Bird the last great white American player? John Stockton was pretty special, too.

Hold on before you start screaming about me bringing up such a sensitive subject. There’s a reason: the NBA draft.

This year’s draft gives reason to think being an outstanding basketball player may have as much to do with geography as race. Of the 60 players drafted, 12 were white foreigners, mostly from Europe and one was from India. Only two white American players – Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, both from Wisconsin -- were drafted.

Those numbers correspond with the makeup of NBA rosters. While black men make up a large majority of NBA players, there’s a large group of white foreigners, far more than white Americans. And think of the long odds of making the NBA for a kid growing up in, say, Turkey, where basketball isn’t exactly a major sport and the USA must seem like its a million miles away.

Without doing any scientific research, I’d say those numbers indicate some white men can jump and the vast majority of young white American boys simply choose not to play basketball – much like most young black American boys simply choose not to play baseball.

What does all of this mean? There are many reasons why blacks are so dominant in one of America’s most popular team sports, but it’s not simply because of the color of their skin.

Two Keys to Jaguars' Success

Jun 26, 2015 -- 10:46am

This will be my last words about the Jaguars until they report to camp at the end of July.

You can dissect, examine, x-ray and debate what the Jaguars need to do to become a winner until the St. Johns River flows south, but it really comes down to whether or not two players make great improvement.

One is obvious. Blake Bortles has to play better. He has to establish himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. He doesn’t have to be elite, whatever that is, but he has to be better than average. He has to be a playmaker.

The odds are in his favor. He showed enough flashes as a rookie to make us think he can take the next step.

He showed toughness, never flinching when defenders charged.

He proved he could run well enough to turn busted plays into positive yards.

He showed a powerful arm and that gunslinger attitude great quarterbacks have.

But his accuracy has to improve. So does his ability to read defenses and predict how defenders will react. How many times did he throw the ball right into the hands of a defender? How could he not have seen the defender?

The other player is less obvious but not by much. Luke Joeckel has to perform at left tackle like a player who deserved to be a No. 2 overall draft pick.

There’s a huge question mark with Joeckel. He has often looked overmatched to this point.

History tells us the best offensive linemen prove early in their careers they have the right stuff. While Joeckel’s rookie season was all but a wash because of an injury, he was healthy last year and his play was mediocre at best. Most worrisome is he was beaten by both speed rushers and bull rushers.

Year 3 will determine if he’s the answer or a bust.

Bortles and Joeckel, of course, are dependent on each other. A great left tackle is a quarterback’s best ally and vice versa. 

Thoughts on Jaxson De Ville

Jun 24, 2015 -- 9:30am

My thoughts on a retiring mascot and a young champion on and off the course:

  • I’m not a sports mascot expert by any means but Jaxson de Ville is the best mascot I’ve ever seen. My apologies to The Chicken, who was outstanding.

Fact is I’ve spent most of my 50-plus years covering sports ignoring mascots, but Jaxson de Ville was too entertaining too ignore. I’ll admit without shame I looked forward to seeing him perform at Jaguars games. He was a daredevil, a comedian and a bit edgy. (Remember the Ebola Towel?)

I was always amazed at how athletic he was. Some of the things he did were incredible, doubly so when you consider he did them in a bulky costume. Ever see him play golf in costume? Fly down from the top of the scoreboard?

The man inside the suit, the real Jaxson de Ville, was Curtis Dvorak, who is retiring. Being nearly 41 years old is old for a mascot, especially one who did the things Dvorak did for 19 years.

I know there’ll be a new Jaxson de Ville this fall. I’m sure he or she will do well. But I also know he or she has some big shoes to fill in more ways than one.

  • I hate it when our professional athletes are referred as kids. And I hate it even more when those who do use the word “kid” try to justify it by saying how understandable it is that so many of these athletes do stupid, unlawful things because of their age.

I hate it even more after watching Jordan Spieth during and after his triumphant U.S. Open performance.

Spieth is 21 years old and a University of Texas dropout. He has now won back-to-back majors, adding his Open trophy to the green jacket he won in April. He’s now rich beyond his dreams and in as much demand as any athlete in the world.

Trust me, if you watch and listen to Spieth you know you’re watching an intelligent, well-grounded grown man, not a “kid”.

I’m not saying all athletes could be as mature as Spieth, but he sets a stand they should strive to reach.

And one we should expect from our adult athletes.  

Why My Opinion Changed on the US Open

Jun 22, 2015 -- 10:08am

The U. S. Open has come and gone and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

I was really looking forward to this year’s Open because it was being played on a uniquely different kind of Open course, Chambers Bay, a British Open-style links course full of quirky bounces and strange-looking brown grass. But the more I watched the less I liked what I was seeing. Shouldn’t OUR championship be played on an American-style course?

The more I heard the players whining about the greens the more I liked it. But as the world’s best golfers repeatedly missed short putts – 5 feet or closer – the more I realized they were right, these weren’t near championship-caliber greens. Would you want the Super Bowl played on a high school field?

My worst fears were realized when the title came down to missed near-gimme-length putts. And I’m not just talking about Dustin Johnson on the final hole.

In the end a great champion, Jordan Spieth, emerged and the drama was fantastic. Still, even today, I don’t feel like I watched or enjoyed a U.S. Open.

The USGA, no doubt, feels like it successfully pulled off taking its No. 1 championship for the first time to the Pacific Northwest and playing it on an 8-year-old course patterned after some of the great British layouts.

Spieth’s winning 5-under-par total was a typical winning Open score. The 21-year-old Texan is the No. 2 ranked golfer in the world and he has now won the year’s first two majors, a rare feat. So, yes, looking back it will come off as an outstanding Open championship.

But will it be remembered more for Spieth’s victory or Johnson’s final-hole collapse? (He three-putted from 12 feet. His first putt was for the victory. His second putt, from 3½ feet, was to get in a playoff with Spieth.)  

If Spieth manages to win next month’s British Open, Johnson will become a footnote (admittedly a large footnote). If Spieth exhales and doesn’t win or seriously contend in the British Open, then Johnson’s role as another tragic victim in U.S. Open lore will be enhanced.

Whatever, I now realize I prefer the U.S. Open to be played on one of our great traditional courses or on one of our outstanding newer but clearly American-style courses.

And while I want a challenging layout, one to test a player’s physical skills and his mental toughness, I want it played in the best possible conditions. The golfers deserve that and so do those of us who love golf.  

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