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McIlroy not in Nicklaus or Tiger Class Yet

Jul 21, 2014 -- 3:45pm

Let’s not anoint Rory McIlroy as the next Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods quite yet.

The world is full of people with great talent in all walks of life, and even more with potentially great talent. The difference between the all-time greats and the rest is whatever it is that drives men and women to succeed after they’ve acquired fame and unimagined wealth.

McIlroy had established his great talent even before winning the British Open. He had climbed to the top of the mountain and then did what most people who reach the peak do: He slipped back down into the world of the very-good-but-not-great crowd.

Will he stay on top this time? Did he learn from his previous fall? Is he content with his fame and wealth?

The truly all-time greats in sports – such people as Nicklaus, Hank Aaron and Michael Jordan – never tired of winning until their bodies betrayed them or their minds went elsewhere.

It’s too early to put McIlroy in that class.

It is a cliché to explain an athlete’s greatness by saying he or she has “it” but regardless of how trite the expression is it also happens to be true. And for me there I no mystery what “it” is.

Simply, it is the continued drive for winning that produces the greatest of the great; it’s not being satisfied with victories already won, money already made and fame already acquired.

It drove Nicklaus to win a Masters at age 46. It kept Tiger going until his body broke down. It pushed Jordan to keep grinding after he was already declared the best of all-time.

It spurred Aaron to work like a rookie during the offseason long after his hall-of-fame status was secure. It kept Pete Rose hustling until the day he retired in his mid-40s.

The great Walter Peyton ran up mountains dragging a giant truck tire in April “after” he became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. It is what keeps Peyton Manning and Tom Brady working on improving at their craft even now.

By contrast, I’ll share with you a story about the late Jim “Catfish” Hunter, the first baseball player to receive a mega signing bonus. I asked him a year after the Yankees gave him $1½ million (indeed, a mega amount at the time) how the money had changed him.

“Now when I wake up early on a January morning to run and see it’s rainy and cold,” he answered, “I tend to roll back over and say, ‘What the hell? I’ll run tomorrow.’ “

Will Rory start “rolling back over” or will he get out of bed and go hit balls? 

A Full Appreciation for the British Open

Jul 14, 2014 -- 9:08am

I appreciate the British Open more every year. What changed my mind more than anything was finally going to the United Kingdom and Ireland and seeing first-hand what the courses in that part of the world looked like and how differently they played.

Like most Americans, I suspect, I was impressed with the “raw look” once I got over my initial shock of thinking, “These courses look like cow pastures.”

This week’s Open at Royal Liverpool promises to be a good one.

It marks Tiger Woods’ “real” return following back surgery. Woods, by the way, won the last time the Open was played on Royal Liverpool in 2006. I realize much of the shine is gone from Tiger’s game, but he’s still my pick to win.

Phil Mickelson is defending. Rory McIlroy is trying to prove he’s as great as advertised. Adam Scott is trying to justify being the No. 1 player in the world and heal old wounds he suffered at the Open.

But I’ll be pulling for golf’s most unusual character Argentina’s Angel Cabrera.

It’s easy to forget about Cabrera. He got my attention a week ago when he won The Greenbrier Open, his first regular PGA Tour victory. That, of course, reminded me how he also won a Masters and a U.S. Open.

He’s 44 and has been playing for a long time, if not that often. He swings at the ball like he’s trying to kill a rattlesnake but few hit it more solidly or past him. He doesn’t speak much English so you seldom see him on SportsCenter or The Golf Channel.

Some consider him an underachiever because he hasn’t won more often. I think he may be the sport’s greatest overachiever when you consider he grew up dirt poor in a country where only the rich play golf. He started as a caddie and never took a lesson.

He’d still just as soon play in a small tournament in Argentina as a PGA or European Tour event.

If he wins his third major and joins the rarified air on golf’s all-time great I imagine he’ll celebrate by drinking a lot of beer.

If he doesn’t win he’ll probably still drink a lot of beer and simply celebrate life in general.

More Signs of NASCAR's Struggles

Jul 09, 2014 -- 9:21am

Today’s topics: NASCAR woes and July:

  • It’s no secret NASCAR has problems. Attendance is down. TV ratings are down. It’s harder than ever to get sponsorship dollars.

The problems may be worse than NASCAR is willing to admit.

I was in Daytona Beach for the 4th of July weekend. I was there with my wife visiting friends, not for the races which I have covered for many of the last 40 years. The timing for a relaxing weekend would have been awful in years past because then the hotels and motels were jammed with racing fans. Ditto for the restaurants and bars. Traffic was horrible. There was a party on every corner, from the race track to the ocean, from Flagler Beach to well south of Daytona.

Not last weekend. There was little sign it was a racing weekend in Daytona Beach.

That may be the worst sign of all for NASCAR.

  • I love July. I hate July.

I love July because of Independence Day and the British Open. It’s the heart of the baseball season. It’s the month of my birth and that of one of my give grandsons. It’s vacation time.

I hate July because it’s the slowest month on the sport’s calendar. It’s when so many people whine about there not being any football. (I don’t want to hear from any Canadians or soccer lovers.)

And I hate July because of all of the damn lists. Because it is such a slow month for sports many of my unimaginative colleagues labor for ways to fill time and space. So they come up with lists: The best coaches, the worst coaches; the best fans, the worst fans; the greatest plays, the biggest chokes. They make lists of stadiums, hairdos, uniforms, mascots . . . anything they can think of.

Seldom, if ever, do they do any real research or give the lists any serious thought. Most often some guy or gal comes up with an idea about a sport he covers and then comes up with a quick list so he can leave the office early and take a long weekend.

And yet we can’t resist them. Yeah, dadgumit, I say “we”. 

Carmelo Anthony: Loser

Jul 07, 2014 -- 1:56pm

I don’t pretend to be an NBA expert. I’m confused by this free agent frenzy involving LeBron James and whomever else in looking for a new contract. I’m totally confused when the talk turns to the salary cap and the salary cap exceptions and all that stuff.

But I am certain of one thing as I look at the NBA from the outside:  I wouldn’t sign Carmelo Anthony if he came for free. Okay, that’s an overstatement but I’m trying to make a point.

Carmelo is a scoring machine, no doubt about that. But he can’t spell the word pass; he thinks defense if something you put around your yard; he rebounds by accident.

He is the epitome of the superstar loser. The Nuggets became better when he left. The Knicks have been horrible since he arrived.

The only thing he does better than score is turn teams into losers.

I do understand some team, probably the Knicks, will give him a $100 million contract. The fans of that team will celebrate and, yes, Carmelo might sell a few tickets and give the TV ratings a bump. But his next team will lose more than it wins and the locker room will be in chaos.

There’s talk he could wind up with the Lakers. I can’t imagine Carmelo and Kobe Bryant happily sharing the ball. If he goes to Houston Dwight Howard might not ever get the ball on the offensive end and James Harden will go back to being a second option.

Yeah, he might fit in Chicago where the Bulls need a scorer, but Derrick Rose isn’t going to stay injured forever, is he?

Maybe he’ll wind up teaming with LeBron. If anyone can keep LeBron from scoring it might be Carmelo.

Summertime Thoughts on Baseball and College Sports

Jul 02, 2014 -- 9:54am

“Come see the stars of tomorrow today” has long been the No. 1 selling pitch of minor league baseball. It works because it’s true. The Jacksonville Suns are proof of that.

The Suns are one of the most successful minor league franchises in the country for lots of reasons, a great ballpark and marketing team among them. It also helps that such Hall of Famers as Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver have worn the Jacksonville uniform. The list also includes Randy Johnson and Larry Walker and a couple of today’s biggest stars, Marlins slugger Mike Stanton (2010) and Dodgers pitching ace Clayton Kershaw (’08).

By the time their careers end, Kershaw may well rank behind only Aaron as the greatest star to hone his game in our city. By some accounts, Kershaw just completed the best pitching month in Major League history, his 6-0 record including a no-hitter. He already has won two ERA titles in his MLB career.

I don’t know if any of today’s Suns are headed for the Hall of Fame, but you never know. Go check them out for yourself.

 

It’s easy to make fun of the geographical layout of most of today’s college conferences.

Really, does Rutgers and Maryland belong in the Big Ten? Can you wrap your arms around Missouri and the Southeastern Conference? Isn’t West Virginia an odd fit in the Big 12, the land of the 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots? Does Syracuse and Miami really belong in the same conference?

Nothing, however, can match the lowly-ranked Sun Belt Conference – yes, the Sun Belt is considered big boy football – when it comes to geographical lunacy.

Don’t you know fans of Idaho and New Mexico State really get fired up to play Georgia Southern, South Alabama, Troy, Georgia State, Appalachian State, Arkansas State and a couple of directional schools in Louisiana?

At least they’ll earn a lot of frequent-flier miles. 

 

I know I probably come across as something of a nerd when I talk about today’s topic. I really do understand that boys will be boys and sometimes that means doing something dumb. Shoot, I’ve done a few stupid things myself.

But let me get to the point. This is the time of year when football fans and coaches live in fear their players will do something REALLY stupid and wind up in jail or injured. Ah, the dreaded summer down time.

Coaches preach to the players. They plead with the players. They threaten the players. The message is always the same: Be smart; use a driver if you’re drinking alcohol; don’t get into a physical altercation with anyone, particularly a woman.

Still, some players will get in trouble despite all of the advice, support and warnings. I feel bad for the fans and coaches, but I don’t have any sympathy for the players. Behaving themselves for 4-8 weeks may not be easy, but it isn’t that hard. 

10 Things That Need to Happen for Jags to Make Playoffs

Jun 30, 2014 -- 9:07am

The Jaguars make the playoffs this season if . . .

  • Quarterback Chad Henne plays better than he ever has.
  • WR Cecil Shorts stays healthy and one of the two rookie WRs, Marquis Lee or Allan Robinson, immediately becomes a go-to guy.
  • TE Marcedes Lewis comes anywhere close to earning his sizeable paycheck.
  • RB Toby Gerhart proves to be a reliable as the main man (and that includes pass blocking).
  • Rookie OG Brandon Linder plays like a veteran, free agent guard Zane Beadles is worth the money he received, center Mike Brewster doesn’t get pushed around, tackle Luke Joeckel is as good as advertised and tackle Austin Pasztor is for real.
  • CB Dwayne Gratz can stay on the field and safety Jonathan Cyprien plays as well as he did the second half of last season.
  • Pass rushers Chris Clemons and Andre Branch get constant pressure on the quarterback.
  • Paul Posluszny gets some help from other linebackers.
  • The team finds eight defensive linemen better than Tyson Alualu.
  • Coach Gus Bradley is the real deal.

Indeed, if the Jaguars do all that they will be playoff-bound.

Then, once in the playoff, they’ll need a few more things before they find themselves in the Super Bowl.

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