Smith a well-deserved addition to the Hall of Fame

February 8, 2010

While there was some discussion about whether other players such as Cris Carter deserved a snub, there can be little argument that Emmitt Smith deserved to go into the Hall of Fame during his first-year on the ballot.

Smith, just the second Florida Gator to make it to the Hall after Jack Youngblood, was without a doubt one of the most dominating running backs of the ’90s and just a big a reason for the Dallas Cowboys three Super Bowl wins during that decade as anyone else (and even more so than Michael Irvin….)

Smith is the all-time NFL rushing leader with 18,355 yards and scored 164 rushing touchdowns and posted 11 consecutive seasons where he rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

Smith of course remains one of the Gators most outstanding players and rushed for 3,928 yards, the second highest total in school history. (The all-time rushing leader in Gators history is Errict Rhett, who finished with 235 yards more than Smith, but played during four seasons.) Smith still holds the all-time season rushing record in UF when he put an astounding 1,599 yards in 1989. That same season he rushed for 319 yards against New Mexico, which is also a Gators record.

There can be little doubt that Smith remains one of the best players to ever suit up for a Florida college team and one of the best players from Florida to play in the NFL.

Firing Gruden and Del Rio won’t fix problems

December 29, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Now that the NFL regular season is over, the hand-wringing, speculation and rumors over the fates of Bucs coach Jon Gruden and Jags coach Jack Del Rio will go into overdrive.

But let’s hope the owners of both teams take a deep breath before they do anything rash.

More often than not jettisoning a head coach doesn’t fix a team’s problems. Sometimes it just makes it worse as the team transitions to a new offense, new defense, etc. etc.

Let’s just put two names in the mix: Tom Coughlin and Tony Dungy. Coughlin and Dungy have won the last Super Bowls for their current teams. But both coaches were unceremoniously forced out the door at Jacksonville and Tampa Bay despite their record of success for the two teams.

You would think that the Glazer family and Wayne Weaver would remember their own bit of history before they start down the same path this time.

It could be argued that Dungy was too nice to get his Bucs players to take that extra step, but I think his record with the Colts disproves that. The Bucs won with defense, while the Colts win with offense. Dungy has shown that he can win regardless of the talent level around him. Coughlin, by contrast, likes to do things a certain way. But his undoing in Jacksonville had more to do with a disastrous series of personnel moves that put the team up against the salary cap.

Gruden, of course, lacks charm but he was able to lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl title back in 2003. That has been forgotten, however, as Tampa Bay continues to suffer meltdowns in December. On Sunday, the team had a shot for the playoffs but somehow managed to lose to the lowly Oakland Raiders. The Bucs lost the last four games of the season to end 9-7.

One of the arguments being used against Gruden is his constant quarterback shuffling.

Any sportswriter, however, who makes that point just isn’t watching enough NFL games. MOST teams in the league lack a true, bonafide, consistent quarterback. Anyone who thinks that the Bucs could have won 9 or 10 games with Chris Sims or some other cast-off is fooling themselves.

Jeff Garcia the last two years has made a difference. There’s a reason that the Tennessee Titans handed the ball this season to Kerry Collins. Their young quarterback Vince Young just couldn’t get the job done. Gruden’s complex offense needs a smart poised quarterback in order for it to succeed.

Jacksonville’s problems this season aren’t all Del Rio’s fault. Losing two offensive lineman at the start of the season was a killer blow. And a series of once again questionable moves, like signing Jerry Porter, also contributed to the team’s demise. The Jaguars have already announced that the team’s vice president of player personnel James “Shack” Harris has resigned. The departure of Harris may be a sign that Del Rio will get one more season to turn things around.

The one thing, however, that could be used against Del Rio is his handling of the team this year, including a now-infamous blow-up with one of his star linebacker. If Del Rio has lost control of the team then it may be time to close this chapter of the Jaguars franchise.

But at the end of the day it comes down to the players, not the coaches. It was the aging Bucs defense that got ripped for nearly a thousand yards rushing in the closing month of the season. It was the Jags offense that lacked playmakers who could stretch opposing defenses.

And changing coaches will do little to fix that problem.

Last minute Pro Bowl ballot box stuffing

December 8, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Just to remind you: Football fans have until noon on Tuesday to submit their ballot for the 2009 NFL Pro Bowl. You can go here to cast your electronic ballot.

May I make a few last minute suggestions at stuffing the ballot box:

QB: Chad Pennington, Miami Dolphins. Pennington has played a pivotal role in helping the Dolphins rebound from last year’s horrific season. But did you know he’s actually got more passing yards right now that Matt Cassel, who had back to back 400-yard games? Did you know he’s ranked fifth in completion percentage, or that right now he’s got a higher quarterback rating than the two guys with Manning in their last name? But it boils down to this: If the Dolphins make the playoffs it will have a lot to do with Pennington.

K: Matt Bryant, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bryant has been incredibly reliable for the Bucs and has missed just four field goals out of 32 attempts. He’s also fourth in the NFL in scoring.

OLB: Joey Porter, Miami Dolphins. Hey, he should get in for backing up his smack talk about Matt Cassel. But Porter also leads the league with an amazing 16.5 sacks. He’s a quarterback wrecking machine and the core of the Dolphins defense.

CB: Rashean Mathis, Jacksonville Jaguars. Yeah, the Jags season hasn’t been sensational but Mathis has four picks this season, including two he returned back for touchdowns.

Thanksgiving sports shoutouts

November 27, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

 As much as I love this holiday – the wonderful merger of football and food – it makes me realize that we are now in the waning moments of another great football season. Yeah, bowl season is right around the corner, and the NFL lumbers on until February, but I know in my heart of hearts that the end is near.

On this day of remembrance, let me give a few Thanksgiving Day thanks to:

1. The Tampa Bay Rays. Their incredible season is the number one sports story in Florida this year. The team didn’t win it all, but the Rays have so much young talent that you know they will be in the running again next season.

2. The Wildcat offense. It hasn’t worked to perfection every game, but the Miami Dolphins came up with the number one wrinkle for the NFL this year. Now it seems every other team in the league has tried to emulate it. Will it put the Dolphins in the Super Bowl? No, but it’s one of the reasons that the Dolphins have turned into a legitimate playoff contender this year.

3. Chad Pennington. He’s the other reason that the Dolphins have fared so well this season. There’s no way you can blame the N.Y. Jets for picking up Brett Favre when the team had the chance. But it’s a been a godsend for a team that has been wandering in the wilderness when it comes to consistent quarterback play. Pennington – with his efficient play and steady demeanor – fits in exactly with a team that wants to grind it out and play tough defense.

4. Florida Gators. A jaw-dropping, mind-numbing offensive juggernaut. It’s not just Tim Tebow, it’s everybody. Speed kills. I just can’t conceive anyone beating them the rest of the season.

5. Warrick Dunn and Jeff Garcia. Yeah, maybe both of them are past their prime, but they get it done week in and week out. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stay on this hot streak and make the playoffs, it will be because of these veterans.

Warrick Dunn’s bid for Hall of Fame starts now

November 23, 2008
Warrick Dunn signing copies of his autobiography

Warrick Dunn signing copies of his autobiography

With five games left in the season, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Warrick Dunn has a shot to go from possible NFL Hall of Fame contender to a lock.

The season-ending injury to Earnest Graham has given Dunn a tremendous opportunity: A chance to go over 1,000 yards rushing for the sixth time in his remarkable 12-year career. Entering the matchup against the Lions, Dunn has 476 yards on the season. But that’s a pretty good showing considering that in most games Dunn was splitting time with Graham. Only twice so far this year did Dunn get more than 20 carries. In one of those games, he rushed for 115 yards.

The brutal math is this: Dunn probably needs to get around 12,000 rushing overall to have a legitimate chance. Currently Dunn is just shy of 10,700 rushing yards and he is ranked 19th all-time in rushing. It would be reasonable to assume that he can probably top the 11,000 mark this year. Dunn is 33 years old but he’s played well enough to suggest he could squeeze out at least one or two more seasons barring serious injury. (UPDATE–Dunn rushed for an additional 90 yards on Sunday, bringing his total to 566 for the season, 10,747 for his career.)

Another plus for Dunn: Thanks to his skills as a receiver, he is ranked 20th all-time in all purpose yards. Dunn has 15,231 total yards, putting him ahead of Jerome Bettis, O.J. Simpson and even LaDainian Tomlinson, who everyone already considers a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. (UPDATE–His total all-purpose yards is now at 15,358.)

If the Hall of Fame were based on character, everyone knows there would be absolutely no debate. Dunn’s life of charitable giving in the wake of his mother’s savage murder has been inspiring.

But unfortunately, that won’t be enough to do the job for Dunn. It will come down to statistics. His longevity will help his reputation, but he also lacks another crucial characteristic for Hall of Famers: A championship ring. That’s because Tampa Bay foolishly allowed Dunn to leave their team for the Falcons the year before the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Since that time, the Bucs have been inconsistent at the position as potential superstars like Cadillac Williams have been sidelined to injuries.

Of course, the Bucs are happy that they have him back for this crucial stretch to the playoffs. And it gives Dunn a chance to prove that he’s one of the best the game has ever seen.

Make-or-break time for Jaguars and Del Rio

November 13, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Heading into last week’s game with the Detroit Lions, there was some hand-wringing about whether or not it was a make-or-break game for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Translation: It will look really, really bad if the Jags lose to a winless team.

But in my mind the future of the Jaguars franchise – and the future of head coach Jack Del Rio – will be decided this weekend when the undefeated Tennessee Titans roll into town. That’s because this season will rapidly roll down hill if the Jags can’t find a way to knock off the Titans. Jacksonville would be 4-6 heading into the final stretch of the season with playoff hopes all but evaporated. The team has a brutal set of games in the next few weeks that could easily leave them no better than 6-10 by year’s end. (That’s what happens when you lose to Cincinnati and Cleveland.)

Now many of the things that have happened this bizarre season are beyond the control of Del Rio. It’s not his fault that an offensive lineman nearly got killed during a drive-by-shooting. Nor were a rash of injuries on the offensive line his fault. But for the most part, NFL owners and NFL fans don’t care about the what-ifs, they care about the right now.

And when you have stories leaking out that Del Rio is banning music in the locker room and benching his team captain, it’s clear that things have may have spiralled out of control and that this might be his last season in Jacksonville.

But nothing would cure that ill more than a victory over the Titans, who despite their record, are not an impressive football team. Their defense is dominant, but not scary. Kerry Collins is well, Kerry Collins. While the team has a solid ground game, the Titans have lacked for years that playmaker wide receiver who can strike fear in opposing teams.

Of course that’s the same problem with the Jags, which despite the resurrection of Matt Jones this season, have just not found a way to replicate the magic they once had with Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. David Garrard is usually more dangerous with his legs right now than his arm because of the inconsistent WR play on the team. This is important because while the Lions couldn’t shut down the Jaguars rushing attack, the Titans will. Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor combined for a paltry 31 yards rushing in their season opener against Tennessee.

The Titans have so far this season have made it by winning ugly, doing just enough to scratch and claw out a victory.

But for the Jags losing will be equally ugly: It could signal the start of a complete retooling, yet again, of this franchise. Del Rio has been a good coach and has taken the Jaguars to the playoffs twice in the last three years. But given the high expectations after last year’s 11-5 season, a losing season may doom him. Right now Del Rio has a 49-42 record in six seasons and two trips to the playoffs.

In eight seasons former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin was 72-64 before he was forced out, including four playoff wins and two trips to the AFC Championship game. Hmmmmm…….We all know how that turned out.

Warrick Dunn’s powerful tale of forgiveness

November 7, 2008

 running_for_my_life_1601                                                                                                                                                                  Warrick Dunn has accomplished a lot during his distinguished career – from helping the Florida State Seminoles win a national title to rushing for nearly 11,000 yards while playing for the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – but Dunn’s true legacy hasn’t been on the football field. It’s been his efforts to remember his mother through his incredible charitable efforts to help single parents get a home of their own. In the last 11 years, Dunn has given 78 single parents in Atlanta, Tampa, Baton Rouge and Tallahassee get their own homes.

And now Dunn, with help of writer Don Yaeger, has tried to give some insight into his life, and most importantly, the moment that changed it forever: The murder of Dunn’s mother, Betty Smothers, a Baton Rouge police officer who was ambushed and killed while working a second job as a security guard. Dunn had just turned 18 years old when his mother was gunned down.

The book Running for My Life details how Dunn made an amazing decision last year to travel to Angola State Prison in Louisiana to visit Kevan Brumfield, who is on death row for the murder. One excerpt available here is chilling as Dunn goes over the list of questions he wants to ask Brumfield, only to hear his mother’s killer insist that he was wrongly convicted of the crime. The passage also details how the death of his mother forever changed Dunn’s life, especially since he was forced into the role of helping take care of his five siblings. He admits how he has been afraid of starting his own family because he never again wanted to be in a position where someone would take something precious away from him.

But then Dunn goes on to explain how he decided to forgive Brumfield anyway – and how he poured out his “soul” to this killer.

Former NFL star Tiki Barber did a story on the Today Show about Dunn’s experience and in the piece Dunn says he’s now free and he has no plans to return to witness Brumfield’s execution when the time comes. But more importantly, the video shows Dunn hand a set of house keys to a single mother and say “here’s my mother’s dream,” a reference to the fact his own mother never got a home of her own.

It’s a powerful moment that now has even more clarity thanks to Dunn’s own revealing words.

(Warrick Dunn – who isn’t playing this week because the Tampa Bay Bucs are off – will appear at the Tallahassee Borders book store at noon on Nov. 8 to sign copies of his new book.)