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.

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Could this be the moment of truth for the Jaguars?

December 15, 2009

Here’s the good news: The television blackout for the Indianapolis Colts-Jacksonville Jaguars game has been lifted.

But that doesn’t stop this Thursday’s game from being the most important moment in the Jaguars season, and maybe the most important moment in the franchise history.

A loss to the Colts would likely drop the Jaguars from contending for a playoff spot. It would probably set the wheels in motion for a change at head coach. And….it may prompt the football fans in Jacksonville to abandon the team in the final weeks of the season and push the NFL to seriously look at relocating the franchise.

That’s a lot of pressure now weighing on David Garrard, Maurice Jones-Drew and the rest of the Jaguars crew. But that’s how serious it is. This past weekend’s loss to the Dolphins put the Jaguars in a tough position. They will need to win at least two of the next three in order to make it the playoffs.

There would be a bitter touch of irony if the Colts in fact deliver the knock-out punch to the Jaguars and send the team packing. It was the Colts flirtation with Jacksonville back in 1979 that launched the town’s quest for a NFL team. Approximately 50,000 fans showed at the Gator Bowl to try to convince the Colts owner to move the team south from Baltimore. It didn’t happen and the Colts eventually bolted to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. But the move whetted the appetite of Jacksonville residents to get their own team.

Fast forwarding three decades, however, there is the reality  of the Jaguars losing 17,000 season ticket holders this year and a string of television blackouts until this week. National sports talk shows are already sizing up the prospect of the Jaguars leaving the state of Florida and heading to Los Angeles, which doesn’t have an NFL franchise right now.

Gov. Charlie Crist has suggested that the Jaguars should draft Gators legend Tim Tebow as a way to spur ticket sales.

But I’m not sure that’s the right tack.

There’s an argument that needs to be made to the NFL that abandoning Florida right now is unfair given the tremendous economic problems in this state. Relocating the team would just be another blow during a challenging time. Would the NFL be so heartless to rip away a team because of economic misfortunes that are larger than anything going on with the team? And moving probably won’t immediately transform the Jaguars into a dominant team again because part of the current woes stem from several years of bad decisions on draft day and through free agency. (Jerry Porter anyone?)

Of course, there’s another way that the Jaguars can salvage hope in the short run: They can win Thursday’s game and keep the team in contention. Winning could help a lot of things.


Fantasy flops and flashes

August 24, 2009

As you stumble into your fantasy draft for the upcoming season, here’s a few random thoughts on the players to get – and the players to avoid – from Florida’s three NFL franchises.

FLASHES:

1. Maurice Jones-Drew: Despite my overall concern that he’s not going to provide enough offense to help the Jacksonville Jaguars make it back to the promised land, you would be a fool to not take him for your fantasy team. As long as he’s the main offensive weapon, he will remain a great fantasy running back. He will still lose some touchdowns to fullback Greg Jones but that is more than offset by the fact that he is great catching the ball out of the backfield.

2. Derrick Ward: This was probably the best off-season acquisition for the 3 Florida teams. Ward showed against the Jaguars last weekend why he could have a monster season. Yes, the Bucs have other tailbacks on their roster but Ward was a 1,000 yard rusher last year for the N.Y. Giants who could put up those numbers again if he’s given the chance.

3. Ronnie Brown: There are those nay-sayers who think that relying on Brown is a risk. But with the Dolphins still keeping the Wildcat in their playbook it’s easy to see that Brown will be the man in Miami. Don’t be surprised if he passes the 1,000 yard mark this season.

 4. Chad Pennington: Make him your No. 1 quarterback? Uh no. But Pennington would be a great guy to have if the injury gods target your main quarterback. Pennington had over 3,600 yards passing and 19 touchdowns last year and there’s nothing to think he can’t match those numbers or do a little better.

5. Ted Ginn Jr: This is essentially a make-or-break year for Ginn. He is the main target for Dolphins QB Chad Pennington  and he needs to emerge as the go-to guy or Ginn will be labeled a draft bust. That said Davonne Bess has shown flashes of potential and has the skills to become a leading receiver on the team.

FLOPS

1. Antonio Bryant: Let me count the ways: He’s coming off surgery, he’s only had one season where he had more than 70 catches, and oh yeah, see flop No. 4, which is there will be  no one decent getting him the ball.

2. Torry Holt: Don’t be the sucker who thinks that all the Jaguars have been waiting for is a great receiver. Holt was a great receiver when he played for the St. Louis Rams. But at the end of the day the Jags will rely on Mojo and not a 33-year-old receiver to get the job done.

3. Cadillac Williams: The off-season signing of Ward just confirmed the news that Cadillac’s days as a dominating back are likely behind him. Right now he’s way down on the depth chart and there doesn’t appear to be much of a chance that will change.

4. Whoever winds up starting as the Buccaneers quarterback. There’s a reason that head coach Raheem Morris can’t make up his mind during training camp on who should be quarterback. That’s because either option is mediocre at best.


5 burning questions for the upcoming season

August 1, 2009

Ah training camp.

That wondrous moment has arrived when we know that another great NFL season is about to rise. And it’s a time when you are supposed to be filled with great optimism for your favorite team. After all parity is king in the NFL and any time can suddenly find itself in the Super Bowl, like say Arizona.

Unfortunately I remain a bit skeptical about this season’s prospects for Florida’s trio of NFL teams. The Bucs and Jags, and to a lesser extent the Fins, have some issues to work out in the next few weeks that could determine their fortunes in the upcoming season.

So here’s the 5 burning questions for the upcoming season.

1. Can anyone play quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? The Bucs quarterback situation is a mess. Any fan should think the prospect of Byron Leftwich battling Luke McCown for the starting job is depressing. Some Bucs apologists may like to think this is a short-term solution until rookie Josh Freeman is ready, but team officials have already tried to dial down expectations by suggesting Freeman will spend the season on the sidelines. At this point in time, I think it may be better to bring in Jeff George from retirement. Yeah, that’s how bad I think it is. Unless someone emerges as a bonafide starting quarterback, the Bucs will be lucky if they win six games.

2. Is Maurice Jones-Drew the answer? Hate to sound like a broken record on this score, but I remain utterly unconvinced that Mojo will be able to handle the load of a full-time running back in Jacksonville. He can be explosive and he catches the ball out of the backfield, but I’m just not sure he can run the ball 20-25 times a game and still be effective. If I’m wrong, the Jags fortunes this season look up. But if I’m right that puts a lot more pressure on David Garrard to revert back to his winning form of two seasons ago.

3. Another year of magic for the Dolphins? Last year was an amazing turnaround for Miami. To go from 1-15 to 11-5 is simply astounding. And there are a lot of reasons why it happened. But this year the schedule is much harder, New England is expected to get Tom Brady back from injury, and the Wildcat offense may not be the big surprise it was a year ago. The Bills brought in Terrell Owens, the Jets brought in a new coach and a new rookie quarterback, you get the idea. The AFC East could easily be one of the most competitive divisions in the league.

4. Will Jack Del Rio keep his job? This is easily a make or break year for Del Rio. There’s no doubt that his offensive line was devastated last year and it contributed mightily to the team woes. But Del Rio also showed signs of losing control of his team. It’s hard to believe this team almost made it to the Super Bowl just two seasons ago. This year Del Rio has to rebuild his defense and hope that additions like Torry Holt will breathe life into a lackluster offense. If it doesn’t happen, Del Rio will likely be history.

 5. Will Ted Ginn Jr. ever live up to the hype? The great thing last year about Chad Pennington is that he didn’t rely on just one receiver to get the job done. And with expectations that incoming West Virginia quarterback Pat White could help run the Wildcat offense, there may be even less pressure on the Fins squad of wide receivers. But let’s not forget that Ginn was a first-round draft pick back in 2007. The Fins passed on Brady Quinn despite their need for a quarterback. But even if Quinn hasn’t lived up to the hype, neither has Ginn. He had a solid season last year but I’m not sure 56 catches and 2 touchdowns is worth a No. 9 pick. Fellow Ohio State receiver Anthony Gonzalez was drafted at No. 32 by the Colts and last year caught 57 catches and had 4 touchdowns.


Jags and Bucs offseason moves bewildering

April 3, 2009

New Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris was quoted this week as saying he is pleased with the strides that some of his young players are making, including possible starting quarterback Luke McCown.

Hmm. Ok. Whatever.

The plain fact is that both the Bucs and the Jacksonville Jaguars have drifted aimlessly through this offseason. Unless these two Florida teams make some major teams come draft time both will be hopelessly mediocre in the coming year.

The most significant change for either team has been the Bucs addition of former Giants running back Derrick Ward. With the release of Warrick Dunn and the constant injuries of Cadillac Williams, it was a smart play to get another decent running back in the mix.

But you can’t win the NFL without a complete offensive team. Even a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers had to rely on Ben Roethlisberger to step up from time to time. And McCown will not be the answer. Please ask the Minnesota Vikings what it means to have one of the best running backs in the league without a decent quarterback. Why do you think the Chicago Bears just traded for Jay Cutler?

Some sports columnists have tried to sugarcoat the situation for Bucs fans and say they shouldn’t cry over losing Cutler. I would agree that maybe the Bears gave up a lot to get Cutler. But the message is clear. You cannot win in the NFL without a quarterback who other teams fear. And that’s not the case right now.

And don’t get me started about Kellen Winslow. He was a terror when he played at the University of Miami but his track record so far has been spotty. He will not suddenly transform McCown into a world-class quarterback.

The situation with the Jaguars is just as bewildering. Right now we have David Garrard at quarterback and who else?

The Jags still haven’t signed running back Maurice Jones-Drew to a long term deal, the team has virtually no wide receivers right now after jettisoning Jerry Porter and Matt Jones, and right now the plan appears to be have Jones-Drew split some time with fullback Greg Jones.

Draft day is right around the corner so there is a chance to make some changes that could help both these franchises. But right now the only Florida team that appears to have a shot of making it to the playoffs in 2009 is the Miami Dolphins.


Big stakes at the Daytona 500

February 15, 2009
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

In the crazy world of NASCAR, the biggest moment in this racing calendar is not at the end of the season, but at the start.

But Sunday’s Daytona 500 means so much more than just the herald of another exciting season.

It will kick start an effort to keep alive a fantastic sport amid a great deal of change. In an excellent story that ran this weekend, the N.Y. Times highlights the changes that happened to NASCAR – everything from the fact that Dale Earnhardt Inc. will no longer compete to major changes to teams fielded by legend Richard Petty. The story notes the track had to reduce prices in order to sell thousands of tickets to this year’s event.

Ken Willis, a columnist for the Daytona Beach News Journal, weighs in, noting how NASCAR was founded at a time of recession but that it has managed to survive. The paper also reports that while grandstand tickets are gone, pricier infield tickets were still available.

To highlight the concern about the sport, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will be the grand marshal at this year’s race and his press release touting the fact Crist went out of his way to say “we must remember sports traditions like NASCAR are a major part of the state economy.” Crist’s office estimates that Daytona International Speedway alone generates $155.4 million in sales tax revenue for Florida.

What this means of course, is when he says “Gentleman start your engines” he won’t be talking about just one race.


FSU AD predicts NCAA will hand down its verdict later this month

February 3, 2009

Florida State University Athletic Director Randy Spetman said Tuesday that is looks like that the NCAA will finally hand down its verdict in the academic fraud scandal sometime after national signing day on Feb. 4.

“We think it’s any day, I guess I now believe it will be next week,” Spetman said following a meeting at the Governor’s Mansion with Gov. Charlie Crist.

Spetman conceded that FSU officials are ready to deal with the fallout from the incident. Nearly a year ago FSU turned in a report acknowledging that student athletes were provided improper assistance for an online course. FSU went before the NCAA last October.The university has already imposed sanctions on itself by voluntarily decreasing the number of scholarships it offers in sports.

“It wears on us, we’re ready to get on with it,” Spetman said. “We think the university has been totally transparent, we’re ready to move forward and go on.”

Spetman was part of a group of Florida sports officials who met to discuss the state’s sports industry with Crist, himself an avid Seminole and former high school quarterback.

Spetman’s suggestion to Crist was interesting: He urged the governor to keep the tuition costs for students as low as possible, noting that any increase in tuition is money that the FSU athletic department bears when it offers scholarships to students. The reason it’s an interesting statement is that FSU President T.K. Wetherell is among those backing an effort to give universities more leeway to raise tuition at a time that state lawmakers are slashing higher education budgets.

Several of the representatives of Florida’s $36 billion sports industry acknowledged that the souring economy has affected their operations somewhat, although some, such as Jeff Steranka, CEO of PGA of America, said business was “stable” at the current time. But many of those present did give their thoughts on how to keep Florida’s sports industry vibrant, including asking that the governor support ongoing financial incentives for the industry. Professional franchises in Florida, for example, receive sales tax rebates from the state.

Other suggestions:

Kathy Milthorpe of International Speedway Corp., the entity that runs NASCAR, told Crist to keep taxes low.

–Several representatives urged that the state continue its support of the Florida Sports Foundation which hands out millions in grants to help bring various sporting events to town.

Mark Jackson, president of the Grapefruit League, put in a brief pitch for the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex in Auburndale.