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SPORTSTALK

Some folks believe — mistakenly — that football is inextricably linked with autumnal chill or frozen tundra. Not so! Football is a year-round occupation now. For NFL fans, free agency and the impending draft take pride of place. And for those who'd rather watch live action, the Legends (formerly Lingerie) Football League and the Arena Football League have offerings worth checking out.

Ladies first, as the aphorism goes. At first glance, the Legends Football League struck some observers, like me, as willfully exploitative. That reputation might stick. However, if one looks at this brand of women’s football from a different angle, the precise analogue for it may not be the NFL, but something like roller derby — a sport that defied its roots long ago and has become a vehicle for genuine female empowerment.

What I’m saying is, don’t let the pretty faces and the taut bodies fool you into thinking there's anything soft about this version of the game. With a name change and an alteration of the uniforms, the LFL is moving toward legitimacy, in a WWE diva sort of way. The women will still be wearing short shorts and exposing their midriffs, but garters — which haven’t been used in the NFL in some time — are now gone. This makes it easier, in theory, for sports fans to know these women for the athletes they are.

And just like athletes in any other sport, there are legitimate rivalries — though, admittedly, they fly below the SportsCenter radar. And smack talk galore.

“Everyone thinks we are looking forward to the Atlanta game this year because everyone is talking a big game about them. [They] are the least of my worries right now,” said Jacksonville Breeze linebacker Adrian Purnell on LFL360.com, an indispensable Legends Football League resource.

It's hard to say, given the paucity and opacity of information about the league, how good the Atlanta team coming to town March 30 might be. …   More

SPORTSTALK

The Jaguars made it known heading into free agency that they would play their cards close to the vest. General Manager David Caldwell made no secret of that in his interview on 1010XL before free agency began.

“Every year, after this first week of free agency, they come out with the ‘big winners and losers’ of free agency, more often than not, the big winners in free agency are the big losers during the season, so it's just based off past history,” he said on March 9. “We're looking for good solid players that fit our age bracket [who] can provide not only some leadership capabilities, but some depth for our guys if we draft some young guys and have to play young guys early on, that these guys are going to be the bridge and help us get to the next level.”

Depth. Youth. Leadership.

These are the hallmarks of the Atlanta Falcons, the organization from which Caldwell hails, and the hallmarks of the Seattle Seahawks, the team for whom current head coach Gus Bradley worked as defensive coordinator.

As it turned out, the releases — not the signings — were the most notable aspect for the Jaguars in the days after free agency opened.

Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis — gone, if not forgotten.

Defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton — allowed to “test the market.”

Knighton’s first stop was Denver, where former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is now defensive coordinator. It remains to be seen if Knighton — whose weight and conditioning have been recurrent issues throughout his career — can handle the thin air of the Mile High City. The Broncos signed him almost immediately, though.

Last year’s free-agent splash, wide receiver Laurent Robinson, is gone after one season in the black-and-teal. A big year exploiting favorable matchups with the Cowboys earned him a $14 million bonus — a number widely ridiculed at the time of the signing …   More

SPORTSTALK

Being a fan of Division I college basketball in Jacksonville can be a frustrating experience. For fans of Jacksonville University's Dolphins, the last moment of real glory was more than 40 years ago, when big man Artis Gilmore led the squad to the national championship game at the end of the 1969-’70 season.

Fans of University of North Florida's Ospreys, meanwhile, can’t count on even a sepia-tinged memory like that to keep their memories sweet. In a sense of real achievement, every season is frustrating … and 2012-’13 was no different: Both teams were bounced from the Atlantic Sun Tournament in the first round.

The less-surprising of the two eliminations was the first — No. 7 seed UNF fell 73-63 to Florida Gulf Coast in Macon, Ga., in front of a reported crowd of 683 souls.

In any given year, the Ospreys haven’t inspired excitement, and this year was more of the same: UNF finished with 13 wins, eight in conference play. The Macon game was actually rather competitive, though; UNF led by five in the first half, and was within three points with less than six-and-a-half minutes to play. Then Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson scored nine consecutive points to effectively seal the victory.

The scrappy Ospreys did earn the respect of their opponents, however.

“Give UNF a lot of credit. They are an excellent basketball team, and I’m very happy with how hard we played to get the win,” Gulf Coast head coach Andy Enfield told FGCUathletics.com afterward. “We had different guys step up at different times in the game and when that happens, we are a dangerous team.”

Guard Parker Smith, an all-Atlantic Sun Conference second-team selection in 2011-’12, put up numbers that, as always, made observers wonder what would happen if UNF had more players of his caliber. Smith, a senior, scored 29 points, but given the Ospreys’ issues with turnovers and production inside the paint, he would’ve needed to score a few more to take the …   More

SPORTSTALK

Have you ever wanted to sing the national anthem at a Suns' game? You will have an opportunity to demonstrate your chops. Below, the missive from the Suns on the subject:

"With the regular season only a few weeks away, the Jacksonville Suns will hold an open casting call for National Anthem performers at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville on Saturday, March 16th, from 1:00 P.M. until 4:00 P.M. The Suns have seventy dates to fill with National Anthem performers. Auditions will be held on the field and singers will be asked to perform the song in a traditional fashion and in its entirety. Instrumentalists will be given more flexibility with their rendition. Vocal groups are also encouraged to perform."

The team also needs batboys.

"Applicants for batboys for the 2013 season must be at the Baseball Grounds by 1:00pm sharp on Saturday, March 16th. Potential batboys must be 14 years of age or older, be accompanied by his parent/guardian and must bring a copy of his most recent report card and a copy of his baseball playing schedule, if available, to apply."

These are great opportunities for singers looking for exposure and for high school aged ballplayers looking for a connection to one of the most respected organizations in the minor league system. Check them out!   More

SPORTSTALK

It's hard to fault the Jacksonville Jaguars for finally parting ways with Rashean Mathis, and it's equally hard to fault most of the sports media for looking at Rashean's tenure in Jacksonville through teal-colored glasses. But let's be real about his legacy.

For the last few years, Mathis was the guy on the field who could be targeted with the deep ball and beaten, time and time again. There was good reason for talk throughout the media of possibly moving him to safety — a position shift familiar to cover corners who can no longer cover. The fact is that Mathis wouldn't have started for at least the last two years — possibly more — on a team where he had real competition for his role, which by the end, given the emergence of Derek Cox, was as a No. 2 cornerback.

What's next? Obviously, he will explore the free agent market, get a camp invite, maybe a roster spot. But will any team with real aspirations be able to use him? He's not really a nickel back type; at his age and with his mileage, a shifty slot receiver would school him on many routes, and burn him deep.

I know — Mathis is a classy guy, a fan of Burrito Gallery, and one of the best football players from Duval County. I wish him well. But I have to give general manager David Caldwell credit for making a personnel move that was divested of the sentimental hogwash that seemed to drive moves in previous eras. In the case of Mathis, we see an illustration of the principle "addition by subtraction." Keeping him on the roster would be fuzzy math, unless he somehow could tap into the Ray Lewis "fountain of youth."   More

SPORTSTALK

Since the death of the wrestling territories, such as the then-local Championship Wrestling from Florida in the late 1980s, national wrestling promoters have faced a conundrum: How can they give their talent the necessary ring work so they look polished before putting them on the main roster? For World Wrestling Entertainment — far and away the leading outfit on Earth — the solution has been farm leagues; it's had them for the last couple of decades.

Over the years, WWE has had arrangements with a variety of outfits, like Louisville's Ohio Valley Wrestling and the United States Wrestling Association of Memphis. Those companies had plenty of success stories emerge from their bare-bones indie rasslin loops. Despite this, none of these solutions was permanent. This explains why WWE moved its training to Tampa, Florida, using the cryptically named NXT territory as its instruction base.

Why Florida? Why Tampa? The simple obvious reason: Wrestlers gravitate to Tampa after retiring, and so a lot of those who could teach greenhorns the ins and outs of the game are there already. Plus, Tampa has traditionally been a hotbed for pro wrestling. It was the spiritual center of the CWF decades ago; more recently, it's the spot from which all indie Florida wrestling emanates organically – again, due to the natural migration patterns of wrestlers, who enjoy the climate and the adult entertainment, to name two of the city’s main amenities.

NXT has television – only in Tampa. But, as has happened historically with Tampa promotions, the company's branching out, running shows throughout the state, as it did on Feb. 22 at the National Guard Armory on Normandy Boulevard. Now, this is Westside, way past I-295 — and the drainage reflected that. My subcompact car navigated a lot of standing water along the way.

Local event promoters know that rain kills crowds. Not pro wrestling, though; not on the Westside. Perhaps the marks were drawn in by the promise of meeting …   More

SPORTSTALK

I may be the only person in America who is in favor of military sequestration. I realize that it impacts people, including many local families who depend on the military for direct or indirect employment. That said, much of the economy – and economic choices – surrounding the US military in recent decades are inefficient, illustrating what Noam Chomsky described as “socialized costs, privatized profits.” No matter what war we look at in our nation’s history, the common thread is that a subset of patriotic Americans is getting PAID. Which is fine – someone has to!

It is beyond this column’s scope to weigh the pros and cons of having a global military presence, of funding and otherwise abetting movements throughout what was once called the Third World, and so forth. But given the long-standing tradition of having military flyovers at Jacksonville Jaguars games, it is instructive to look at the use of military displays as propaganda, specifically designed to shape the short-term thought processes and long-term philosophical inclinations of those watching. What effect is the displays intended to create? And what is the real loss when those displays no longer happen?

A few days back, it was reported that the military sequestration process, among other effects, would end flyovers at all sporting events going forward. As Vito Stellino from the Florida Times-Union reported, the Air Force conducts “about 1000 flyovers at sporting events per year as part of their training routines.” A few of those flyovers, as you would expect, are at Jags’ games

There are some who believe that the Jacksonville Jaguars’ organization was instrumental in making those displays happen. That confusion wasn’t cleared up necessarily by team President Mark Lamping, who said, “We’ve only heard rumors and haven’t received any confirmation, but the flyovers have been an important part of the Jaguars games …   More

SPORTSTALK

For whatever reason, David Garrard's comeback has not taken off. Despite the dearth of quality quarterbacking in the league, the former Jaguar Pro Bowler hasn't elicited a lot of interest in the league. Enter the quarterback-starved Jets, who worked him out this week.

All we know about the Jets' QB situation is in the linked article: Tebow will be released. That said, it seems like it might behoove the Jaguars to give Garrard at least a courtesy tryout. The Jags haven't gone out of their way to let former quarterbacks return, but at the veteran minimum salary, what is the harm of having a proven hand at the position to backup/challenge Gabbert? This would free up the team to draft a quality tackle in the No. 2 position instead of reaching for a quarterback without having the line to keep him healthy.   More

SPORTSTALK

One of the notable things about Tim Tebow's occasional forays into preaching and Christian ministry is that the scrutiny on him seems to increase with each passing occurrence — even as his career on the gridiron seems in doubt. His recent decision to speak at a Dallas church, only to rescind it, hints at him being at a crossroads. 

 

The spurned Dallas Minister, a Robert Jeffress, has taken heat for the kind of comments that we expect to hear in certain churches — fusillades against same-sex marriage and other issues that are betes noires to the fundamentalist community. Unfortunately for Tebow, Jeffress is ready and willing to engage the quarterback for his reversed decision:

 

"I am grateful for men of God like these who are willing to stand up and act like men rather than wimping out when it gets a little controversial and an inconvenient thing to stand for the truth … God bless men like that."

 

This is a fight that Tebow — with his careful, anodyne public image always at the forefront — simply cannot win. He can't engage in a discussion of these issues; he has far too much to lose, no matter where he comes down. If he agrees with the preacher and like-minded folks, that will be how he is defined in the mainstream media, which still remembers his Super Bowl ad years ago. Disagree, and he launches himself into a role his endless campaign of self-promotion cannot handle. He can't discuss this issue, no matter how he comes down on it, without ticking somebody off. And therein lies the problem with his recurrent desire to witness his faith while working in the sports-entertainment industry.

 

The problem isn't that Tebow is a wimp, but that he is a cipher. He stands for what people want him to stand for, espousing a Christianity much closer to Joel Osteen than C.S. Lewis. That is his prerogative. But when one decides to accept these speaking gigs, rejecting the invitation once media …   More

SPORTSTALK

First, let me say I'm not a fan of the new logo. I think the cat’s head is slimmed down too much, the ears are too pointy, and the tongue — why it's still teal is beyond me.

That said, I understand the need for it — just as I understood the need to take the team to black uniforms. Aggressive rebranding is necessary for this franchise to take the great leap forward. It's time. In fact, it was long past time.

Change came quite slowly and cautiously in the Wayne Weaver era. The original Jaguars owner was a throwback in a way that fit Jacksonville of a bygone era — a time when Baymeadows Road was two lanes and Mandarin was still out in the sticks.

By the time the team got to the 21st century and the interminable Jack Del Rio epoch, it seemed like Weaver was standing still while so many other teams in the league were moving forward. The chances that were taken — Matt Jones as a project wide receiver in the first round, Jerry Porter as a big free-agent signing — seemed like half-measures, partly because the coaching staff didn't seem able to maximize the talent on hand. The David Garrard phase seems a lifetime ago, partly because there are so few signature memories attached to it.

We're long past that now. Garrard will likely never play another down of pro ball, and his replacement, Blaine Gabbert, inspires little confidence outside his own locker room. It doesn’t seem to matter too much. This team — 2-14 last year, with the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft — has something intangible going for it. And there are tangible factors, too.

Let’s start with the head coach. When Mike Mularkey was hired, the fan base and NFL observers were both underwhelmed. He hadn’t had rousing success during his previous head coaching stop in Buffalo, and his mild-mannered personality seemed anticlimactic after the tempestuous Tom Coughlin and Jack Del Rio, who definitely could show fire when he wanted. It was inconceivable that he'd get only one year to …   More

 
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