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What Happened to the Indy 500?

May 22, 2015 -- 9:33am

Heading: Indy 500 no longer a big deal . . .

Remember when the Indianapolis 500 was a really big deal?

There was a time when the Indy 500 winner, like the heavyweight boxing champion, was one of America’s biggest and best known sports heroes.

The names Foyt, Andretti and Unser were as familiar to sports fans as Mantle, Koufax and Rose; Brown, Butkus and Sayers; Palmer, Nicklaus and Player.

But that was before cell phones and the internet; before smoking was considered a crime; before political correctness; before SUVs and Bluetooth.

Those days are long gone, as is the popularity of IndyCar racing. NASCAR became America’s choice when it came to car racing for a lot of reasons. It was more competitive, less expensive and more American.

And more organized. While NASCAR boomed, the people who ran IndyCar racing bickered, eventually dividing into two racing organizations that hardly anyone follows or cares about.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was once filled with nearly 200,000 fans for weekend qualifying sessions. Last weekend’s qualifying runs attracted a few thousand.

Once it was considered an accomplishment simply to make the race. This year there weren’t enough entrants for a full field. Most sports fans would be hard pressed to name a more than a couple of the drivers.

The Indy 500 is still a big one-day event. About 300,000 people will pack the stands. The TV numbers will be good. But that’s it, one day. The big build up to the race is history. The post-race celebration ends shortly after the checkered flag is waved.

Where once the Indy 500 was a major happening on the American sports calendar, it’s now merely a blip on the radar.

Everett Golson Worth the Risk for FSU

May 20, 2015 -- 9:40am

The tale of two new leaders . . .

  • FSU fans should be excited but cautious about the “recruitment” of quarterback Everett Golson.

At Notre Dame Golson proved when he’s good he’s very good. He also proved that when he’s bad he’s a turnover machine.

Overall, it appears to be a good catch for the Noles. FSU was headed into the 2015 season with lightly-regarded and inexperienced veteran and a bunch of highly-touted freshmen at the QB position. Golson immediately becomes the odds-on favorite to win the starting job and keep FSU among the college football elite.

Coach Jimbo Fisher couldn’t have been excited about the possibility of starting Sean Maguire or a freshman behind a totally rebuilt offensive line. Golson should make life easier and more successful for the group of talented but inexperienced linemen. Plus, he gives the freshmen QBs time to learn, develop and separate themselves.

The key to success for FSU is for Golson is to fit in, not try and to be another Jameis Winston.

  • I’ve always maintained that of all the so-called important jobs in big-time professional sports the least important was being a Major League Baseball manager.

I’m not about to change my mind now.

Obviously some managers are better than others and the best of the bunch do make a difference – albeit a small difference. It comes down to being a leader of men and everything that entails, but little else.

I bring this up again because of Marlins’ hiring of Dan Jennings as their new manager. Jennings’ credentials as a MLB manager are he once coached high school baseball in Mobile.

Oh, Jennings knows baseball. He is the Marlins general manager and he was a hall of fame-caliber scout. But he hasn’t worked out of a dugout since those days in Mobile and playing briefly in the minors.

How he fares as a big league manager will depend a lot more of how well Giancarlo Stanton hits than any strategic moves he makes.

With the hiring of Jennings I rest my case.

Gus Bradley Remains as Popular as Ever

May 18, 2015 -- 11:31am

The two sides of popularity . . .

  • A person can’t change his personality and those who try are quickly spotted as phonies. But I’d advise every coach and aspiring coach to do their best to mimic the strengths of Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley.

In spite of a 7-25 record and no tangible proof the team is improving, Bradley’s popularity is incredible. The reasons are simple. He’s consistently upbeat and accessible. The media love him. The fans love him.

I’m not saying Bradley is a bad coach. There’s no question he started his head coaching career with a bad hand. The Jaguars’ 2013 roster was among the worst I’ve ever seen.

Of course I’m not saying he’s a good coach either. For one thing, too many times apparent halftime adjustments by opponents have turned close games into blowout losses for the Jaguars.

Personality can only take a coach so far. But is an age where patience has been replaced instant gratification Bradley is ahead of the game.

Others coach would be wise to follow his lead.

  • I’ll shed no tears when Tampa Bay loses its Major League Baseball franchise. It doesn’t deserve a Major League team.

Ah, you didn’t know the Rays were moving, did you? Well, it’s not a done deal and there hasn’t been that much talk about it, but behind closed doors there’s some serious discussion about the Rays moving to Montreal.

I never have understood why the Rays get so little fan support. The area is a hotbed for youth baseball and spring training. The Rays have been a competitive team most years despite being a small payroll franchise.

The most popular excuses for the lack of fan support are Tropicana Park is a bad park and it’s located in St. Petersburg, not Tampa. A don’t agree with the first (Tropicana isn’t Wrigley Field but its okay) and the second is just that, an excuse.

Me and about 10,000 loyal Rays fans will be the only ones sorry to see the Rays leave town.

Hope Remains Despite Fowler Injury

May 13, 2015 -- 11:53am

If there’s even a glimmer of a silver lining when it comes to Donte Fowler’s injury it’s that it could give the Jaguars’ leadership another year to work on the rebuilding of the franchise.

Jaguar fans have been incredibly patience, their support strong for a team that has struggled so badly.

  • No playoff team for seven years;
  • No December hope of the playoffs since 2010;
  • A 14-50 record the last four seasons;
  • 9-39 the last three seasons;
  • 7-25 the last two seasons under the leadership of General Manager David Caldwell and Coach Gus Bradley;
  • Scoring an NFL-low 15 points a game last season.

That’s ugly.

Part of the problem can be traced to a string of awful first-round draft choices, something that has plagued this franchise for more than a decade. You have to go back to 2002 to find the Jaguars’ last solid first-round pick. That was John Henderson. Now you can throw Fowler’s injury into the mix and the beat goes on.

While there’s smidge of hope the Jaguars could make a big leap this season – they made some potentially good free agent signings and had what appears to be a solid draft even without Fowler -- a more realistic and honest assessment is the team’s still at least a year away. Fowler’s injury now makes that more likely -- and more understandable.

When you combine such a bad break as Fowler’s injury with the likeability of Bradley and Caldwell you get the feeling the patience of the fan base and ownership could well continue for at least another year.

I realize I’m reaching for a silver lining, but understand I’m simply trying to talk some of you dedicated Jaguars fans off the window ledge.

Ricky Fowler Answers His Critics

May 11, 2015 -- 10:19am

Whoever said Rickie Fowler was overrated WAS right -- until Sunday.

Before Fowler put on his incredible, record-shattering final round performance that earned him the Players championship, his fame and bank account far outdistanced his accomplishments on the golf course.

Fowler was a talented player and a marketing genius. His brightly colored wardrobe, oversized caps with the flat bill, shaggy hair and gentlemanly conduct made him far more popular and rich than a player with one victory had ever enjoyed.

Perhaps it was a magazine’s anonymous poll of Fowler’s peers in which he was labeled overrated that provided the kick in the pants the 26-year-old Fowler needed to grind a little harder and fulfill his potential.

No one has questioned Fowler’s ability since he was a hot shot junior golfer and then an All-American college golfer at Oklahoma State. When he joined the PGA Tour he immediately became a regular on leader boards, contending often but winning only once. That was three years ago.

Was he too conservative on the course? He could not handle his nerves on Sunday afternoon? No one could explain it, but Fowler simply couldn’t finish like a star.

Somehow, though, it didn’t matter. He was always listed among the outstanding young guns in professional golf. He drew some of the largest galleries wherever he played, those galleries loaded with kids and women of all ages. Little Ricky’s popularity ranked near the top of Tour players.

Was the marketing of Fowler genius or luck? More likely it has been a combination of the two. No one seemed to be bothered by his popularity except – as we discovered thanks to that Sports Illustrated poll -- some of his peers. No doubt envy was a factor, but his peers did have a strong argument to support their feeling.

That argument disappeared Sunday afternoon of the 2015 Players. While all eyes were on Sergio Garcia, Kevin Kisner, Bill Haas, Ben Martin, Kevin Na and, for a while, Rory McIlroy, Fowler stumbled through the first 12 holes, out of sight, out of mind.

Then he turned it on. Little Ricky became Ricky the Great. Overrated became overwhelming.

Fowler played the last six holes six under par. He played the last four holes in 11 shots. Counting the playoff, he played his last 10 holes eight under par. He made playing the feared No. 17, island-green par-3 look like a walk in park. Three times late Sunday Fowler stood on the 17th tee box. Three times he birdied the hole. His three tee shots wound up a total of less than 18 feet from the hole.

What Fowler did on this day was make his future on the course look brighter than his clothes.  

My Prediction to Win The Players

May 06, 2015 -- 10:31am
My thoughts about The Players include . . .
 
I love the 17th hole of the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. It’s great theater. It’s a great test of a golfer’s nerves.
 
I realize for everyone who agrees with me there’s someone who thinks No. 17 stinks. Golf purists – in other words, snobs – think the short hole with the island green is a gimmick.
 
My only problem with No. 17 is it gets too much attention. Mention The Players to someone and their first response likely will have something to do with the tiny island green hole.
 
One tiny hole overshadows what I think has evolved into the best all-around test of golf for the world’s best players. The course doesn’t favor one type of player over another.
 
The TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course requires a golfer to think and to hit every club in the bag. Players have to be able to hit fades and draws, often on the same hole. There is little luck involved. Good shots are rewarded. Bad shots lead to bogeys. 
 
The course, not just one hole, should get more recognition.
 
It is an old and tiresome debate about whether or not The Players should be considered a major championship. I agree with AP golf writer Doug Ferguson who says the tournament should be accepted for what it is, the signature event on the world’s No. 1 golf tour. It has the biggest purse, the deepest field and is played on special course.
 
That certainly tells everyone it is a special tournament.
 
But only the best golfers can ever give it major status by how they feel about the tournament. Will it ever become as important to them as one of the four majors? Will the top players ever include The Players alongside the majors when planning their yearly schedule?
 
I have a feeling if The Players ever becomes a major we won’t know it until several years after the fact -- when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and other such golfers look back on their careers and include winning The Players alongside their green jackets and claret cups.
 
My pick to win The Players is Sergio Garcia. He won in 2008 and is usually on or near the leader board on the weekend.
 
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