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SPORTSTALK

The national championship game between Auburn and Florida State is fast becoming a memory. What we saw on the field was revelatory. Jameis Winston had a lights-out performance as FSU stormed back and overtook Auburn in the second half of a game tighter than anyone expected.

Great game. Great end to the tortured history of the Bowl Championship Series — gone but not forgotten, late but unlamented. As soon as the game was over, however, another controversy was fueled — among the oldest in American public life.

A very excited Jameis Winston had this to say after the game: "We champions. We can share that. We are champions together. And through everything that we went through. Through all the haters. Through every single thing, we came out victorious. God did this. I'm so blessed. He's so blessed. All the stuff that he handled with Ethan [Fisher, the coach's son, who has been diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called Fanconi anemia] and he come out here and coach us? That touched me. And it's nobody but God. It's nobody."

Winston, a native of Hueytown, Ala., hit all the expected points: An appeal to God. A recognition that he was blessed. The usual conflation of divine providence and athletic achievement. NBD, except to a certain observer, an Alabama resident herself.

"Am I listening to English?"

Those words from Dee Dee McCarron — the mother of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron — brought forth a reminder that, despite the integration of college football in the 1970s, back when Bear Bryant prowled the sidelines, we're never too far away from racially coded rhetoric.

Mama McCarron apologized. Retracted the Tweet. BFD. To borrow from The Four Tops, it's the same old song.

Perhaps because college football is so delightfully plebian — everyone has opinions, the most vociferous often coming from those who never actually attended a college — it tends to bring out sides of people that might better be kept hidden. The …   More

SPORTSTALK

Rodeo cowboys are like strippers, or maybe freelance writers. Unless you have skin in the game, or unless you're a big fan of the pastime, the participants are necessarily anonymous.

The bumps they take, and the risks they assume — all very real. The same can be said for the payout, or lack thereof.

Just as a writer can get stiffed when he writes a story that gets spiked, the same can be said about some country-strong stud who gets thrown from a bull before the 8 seconds are up. Biggie Smalls once rapped, "Mo money, mo problems," but no money definitely does not equate to no problems.

The risks the riders take are far too great. When the Professional Roughstock Series rolled through the Jacksonville Equestrian Center Saturday night — the second stop on the circuit's 2014 tour — I saw a half-dozen sick bumps from the back of a bucking bronco or bull. Bumps that might have killed a lesser man, a man like me, for example — concussive head bumps, landings on the neck and so on.

Rodeo is no country for old men. Josi Young — a bareback rider from Buhl, Idaho, who took home a grand total of $14,188.46 during the 2013 season, placing him second in bareback-rider total earnings, according to the PRS website — made it to the final four, only to take an especially hard landing. As he lay on the ground, motionless, the announcer's stentorian voice held forth about the need to pray for him. Just as the crowd's silence reached a prayerful level, Young was back on his feet.

Miracle of miracles? Or conditioned response?

"No big contracts, no guarantees. If you don't ride, you don't get paid," said the announcer to the crowd — a sellout crowd of at least 1,000, with people being turned away by the police. Blue-collar, as you would expect, folks who arrived there in their gleaming F-150s, some attired in Western togs, others in "Duck Dynasty" paraphernalia. The code of the Good Ol' Boy in 2014 is that of mutually assured obsolescence. Within the …   More

SPORTSTALK

One thing I've noticed in my years doing this column — and my years writing about the Jags, especially — is that NFL players are, in the final analysis, commodities, nothing more, nothing less. The commodification of the gridiron hero has facilitated many narratives, none more so than the tendency of sportswriters to put those narratives in the Manichean framework of heroes and villains.

Consider how Jimmy Smith was treated as he wrestled with addiction issues; or, more recently, Justin Blackmon, who entered rehab after being indefinitely suspended from the team in November. Contrast that with the lionization of Brad Meester, a wholly average interior lineman whose gifts have been longevity and staying out of trouble.

For Jacksonville's white-bread sports media, that's more than enough.

The Meester narrative, along with the team's slow-crawl improvement over the last weeks of the season, allowed the Jags' home finale to feel better than earlier ones at the ass-end of lackluster campaigns. The Dec. 22 game against the Titans, in the sun-soaked, surprisingly full confines of EverBank Field, was a capstone on the Meester era — and a fine illustration of how reality once again was framed by a convenient narrative in Jagland.

The Meester farewell had everything, including a treacly message on the videoboard from his kids. It was easily the greatest send-off for an interior lineman in franchise history. And why not? He'd been here since the Coughlin era. Meester even got a gimmick play in the red zone — shades of former Jags lineman Guy "the Human Turnstile" Whimper.

That was a nice moment. A few days before, however, the Jags sent another veteran off with considerably less ceremony. It wasn't nearly as pretty.

On the cusp of Jeremy Mincey's 30th birthday, after cultivating a well-earned reputation for tardiness (he missed the Jags' trip to Houston because he overslept), he was cut. The defensive end and Gators alum, who's always …   More

SPORTSTALK

We've all seen the commercial where the kid gets really excited about receiving Gator Bowl tickets. This, after all, is at least the second year it's run in the local market.

Every time I see it, I find myself laughing. In reality, what kid would be excited over any Gator Bowl matchup, especially this year's?

The not-so-hidden secret is that no one gives a healthy damn about the Georgia vs. Nebraska matchup on New Year's Day. But then again, what did they expect, given where the Gator Bowl falls on the pyramid of college bowl games these days?

The days when the Gator Bowl could front like it belonged high atop the second tier are a distant memory, joining toll booths on the Fuller Warren Bridge and two daily papers in Jacksonville.

An indication of where the Gator falls in the pecking order these days:

The Big Ten bowl selections, after Michigan State to the Rose Bowl and Ohio State University to the Orange, are as follows: Wisconsin to the Capital One Bowl; Iowa to the Outback; and Michigan to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. (That's a real thing, by the way.)

After all that, the Gator Bowl ended up with Nebraska — and as great a Springsteen album as "Nebraska" is, it doesn't add up to football that you care to watch.

For one thing, everyone who wanted to see this matchup would've seen it a year ago, when Georgia and Nebraska locked up in the Capital One Bowl. Aaron Murray lit up the scoreboard last New Year's Day, throwing for five touchdowns and nearly 500 yards as Georgia drove to victory. On the other side of the ball, Taylor Martinez threw for two TDs, and Nebraska kept the game competitive for three quarters and some change. As meaningless New Year's bowl games go, this one was at least diverting.

Will this year's Gator Bowl be as good as last year's contest between these two squads? Possibly. Maybe. But I'm not counting on it.

Murray tore his ACL, and it was just one of many injuries to bedevil the Bulldogs this year. The …   More

SPORTSTALK

From a USA Today article that described Jameis Winston's ultimately inevitable Heisman win on Dec. 14 as a "coronation" came an interesting insight into the mindset of Heisman voters — and how much they cared about sexual assault charges that shrouded the FSU quarterback in recent months.

"I think that there are some people who sort of feel distaste about it, but I don't think it's a huge issue for people," said Chris Huston, publisher of Heisman Pundit. "I think it's people who were probably less likely to vote for him anyway. Whatever reason they didn't want to vote for him, this sort of confirms it."

Whatever reason, indeed.

Earlier this month, Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs held a press conference to announce — to precisely nobody's surprise — that his office would not be pressing charges against the local football hero. This followed an investigation by Tallahassee police that, at minimum, can only be described as indifferent. An indispensable article in the Tampa Bay Times last week contains a treasure trove of indictments of the willful lassitude of small-town cops on a big-time case.

"There are many, many things that should have been done," former Tallahassee cop George Kirkham told the Times. "[It was] not a well-handled police investigation, I think."

Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, added: "This is criminal investigation 101, it seems to me. It's a real failure. The question in my mind is: Are they incompetent or was this willful?"

The police didn't bother to track down evidence that could have corroborated — or entirely busted — the accuser's story. Nor did they bother to locate easily findable witnesses, one of whom had a cellphone video of the alleged assault in progress (he later deleted it and unloaded his phone). Then, a police detective reportedly discouraged Winston's alleged victim from pressing charges, telling her that "she will be raked …   More

Sportstalk

Jeremy Mincey was one of the defensive players most closely associated with the Del Rio era, and even though this last year hasn't been especially memorable for him, and it seemed like he had fallen out of favor with Jags HC Gus Bradley, it still seemed like he would be a franchise fixture for a while longer. This was until last weekend, when Mincey found himself cut from the squad.

I found out on Facebook: "2006: signed with the Jaguars on my birthday; 2013: released by the Jags on my 30th birthday." 

"Life is funny like that sometimes. It was going to happen sooner or later if you understand business. Either way I'm still blessed and I know something greater's waiting for me," he continued, adding "watch what happens next."

Given the way 2013 happened, I wondered if he'd reached the end of the line. Then I remembered -- there are spots in the NFL where former Jags always seem to turn up.

 

 

One such spot -- Detroit, where Rashean Mathis and Mike Thomas have drawn recent paychecks.

Another such spot --  Denver Colorado, with the Broncos. Denver -- my kind of town. Denver -- in the house, or at least the defense, that Jack Del Rio built.

Folio caught up with Mincey on the eve of his first practice with the Broncos and got his exclusive insights on his end with the Jags, being reunited with JDR, his thoughts on Gus Bradley and becoming part of the Denver legacy.

On Being Cut By Jax: "I felt freed but will miss my true fans. And Duval will be my home forever."

On Being Back with Del Rio: "Feels great to be back with Mr. Del Rio".

On Gus Bradley: "He's a great coach; I just wasn't his guy."

On the Broncos Playoff Push: "Definitely excited about the playoff push and playing beside Hall of Famers".

A very excited Jeremy Mincey, whose greatest gift on his 30th birthday might have been January Football, thanks to the franchise that cut him. [AGG]   More

SPORTSTALK

Sports fans get used to the same old comments from players -- junior versions of Coachspeak.

Uche Nwaneri of the Jacksonville Jaguars doesn't even play that though.

 

Regarding the NSA, Uche had this to say on Facebook this afternoon:

"We aren't the only ones [to have this approach to national security] but we claim as a country to be 'Exceptional'... the truth is we have become paranoid as a government. We have a false blanket of fear from the propaganda of terrorism. We have taken things too far. To spy and keep a database on literally EVERY American is unethical, immoral and should be ILLEGAL."

Uche is not the only pro athlete to come out on social media in recent years against our ever-expanding national security apparatus and the narrative that undergirds it.

Rashard Mendenhall -- then a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers -- ignited a firestorm almost three years ago with Tweets that took issue with the official narrative re: Osama bin Laden and 9/11.

His first tweet on the subject: "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side ... "

 

After that, Mendenhall tweeted: "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style."

Mendenhall deleted this tweet soon after posting it. He took a lot of criticism, which summarily died down as time passed.

There is a lot said about the yoking of the narratives of professional football and American militarism. However, a look beneath the surface reveals a complexity of thought amidst those actually wearing the uniforms that belies the ever-present motifs of flags waving and fighter jet flyovers.

  More

SPORTSTALK

[Edited to reflect game results after this went to press].

If you're older than 40, you might remember the heartwarming TV show "Eight Is Enough." And you might have thought eight losses would be enough for University of Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley to send Will Muschamp packing … but you would've been wrong!

"I have total confidence in Coach Muschamp," Foley told the media before the team's final loss of the 2013 campaign — obliteration at the hands of Florida State. "I've made that very, very clear. You know, gotta fix some things, and you know when you have seasons like this, that's what you do. You evaluate, you analyze and you fix things. You don't panic.

"Obviously, it's not acceptable. It's not who we are. It's not what we're about. We're confident we can fix it," Foley said.

What drives Foley's confidence?

"He's been a big-time football coach for a long time. … When I'm around him, I feel even better."

Good that he feels good around Muschamp. But not surprising, since he said, when Muschamp was hired in 2010, that "he is the only person we met with [to discuss the opening] and the only person we offered the job to." Clearly, there was no reason to bother with anyone else! Foley saw no reason to bother with minority candidates, either, such as former defensive coordinator and current architect of the Louisville program, 
Charlie Strong.

Nothing hubristic about the instant hire, nor about the need to justify Muschamp staying on.

Foley went to great lengths before the Saturday game to resolve seeming inconsistencies between retaining Muschamp and canning Ron Zook nine years before, even though Zook never had a season as crummy as the one the Gators just played. But it was clear someone had to take the fall — and that someone was Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

The writing was on the wall even before the last game, as Foley set up something familiar to Jaguars fans: the Disappearing Coordinator …   More

SPORTSTALK

When I was a kid, I was shocked when things were renamed.

When the Soviets renamed cities as Stalingrad and Leningrad, or the Vietnamese used the name Ho Chi Minh City, I found it jarring. I couldn't understand what would drive renaming — the need for historical reinvention, perhaps, or a desire to reinforce a new iconography. It seemed inorganic somehow.

I had the same issue with banks. My local Barnett Bank was absorbed by Wachovia, which in turn was absorbed by Wells Fargo. Not that the localist permutation was necessarily better than the behemoth that re-contextualized it, but it seemed more authentic somehow when it was a smaller entity.

The local always is absorbed by the global in the sense of corporate identity. Any hipster startup worth its salt has an eye on the exit strategy: when to cash out, how much to cash out for and, maybe, who to cash out for. Critics carped and caviled when the nihilist website Vice was bought out by Fox. Really, is there much difference between the two?

We are marks for branding, us 21st-century Americans, especially when it comes to our diversions. We want our food stamped "organic," our music from an "indie" imprint, our quasi-subversive literature from a small press. And this extends to our public buildings — we expect them, paradoxically, to exude a sense of purpose. As if it matters if the place where we see a concert or an ice hockey game or whatever is named after anyone important, and memorial or tribute to any concept.

Some are struggling with recent talk from Alan Verlander, Jacksonville's sports and entertainment executive director, of amending the name of Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. He said the idea came up during negotiations between the city and the Jacksonville Jaguars about the EverBank scoreboards. Mayor Alvin Brown said he has no plans to change the name of the arena, said David DeCamp, the mayor's spokesman.

In response to talk of adding a corporate name in 2002, the …   More

SPORTSTALK

Pop Warner is under siege — or so says the national media.

Recent reports are that Pop Warner, America's largest youth football program, saw its participation drop a staggering 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2012, from its 2010 peak of 249,000 participants. Pop Warner, founded in 1929, grew steadily until recent years; according to ESPN, participation dropped 5.7 percent in 2011 and another 4 percent last year. If there's anything encouraging to be said for Pop Warner enthusiasts, it is that the decline appears to have flattened this year.

Why are kids leaving Pop Warner?

Many prominent commentators attribute the decline to factors that include the increased popularity of other sports. Others say Pop Warner is becoming less popular because of the NFL concussion epidemic, which has been blamed for everything from Junior Seau's suicide to Jim McMahon's descent into senescence.

Youth football probably won't go on as it is forever. I remember when I played in the 1980s, and the practices were grueling. Lots of laps and calisthenics, tackling drills in every practice and — for fat boys like me — trips to the sweat box to make weight. Today's parents seem less willing to subject their children to that — or even to let the children choose that for themselves.

Wes Benwick, president of the Mandarin Athletic Association (MAA) for the last two years, is the father of four boys who were or are Pop Warner players. Benwick's sons have had no concussions, though he "understands the risks" of youth football.

"Part of me is not surprised by the decline in participation," Benwick said by phone. "What I am seeing is an increase in younger players participating and a decline among older players due to alternatives" such as different leagues with different rules "because of age/weight issues" or even different sports.

The MAA has spent $25,000 to $30,000 on new helmets over the last couple of years, according to Benwick. Helmet technology is …   More

 
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