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Patriot Act

On a day when the biggest Jaguars news involved Maurice Jones-Drew copping out of answering questions about the "unfortunate incident" at the Conch House, there was far bigger football news for folks who call this area home.

The national media had counted Tim Tebow out. We here in Northeast Florida, who have watched him from his days as a wunderkind at Nease High School to his days as a dynamo with the Gators and onto his days as a pro with the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets, knew better. Or at least some of us did.

Some of us didn't. Pete Prisco had been dissing Tebow on Twitter for weeks, for example. I had filed a column speculating that Tebow could run for Congress — because his NFL career was "over" and all.

That column will never see the light of day, even though it seems like a viable option once Tebow's playing career is over. And — praise Bill Belichick — that isn't happening.

Multiple reports say that Tebow will be with the Patriots and in camp by the time you read this column. For those of us who have made a mini-career out of documenting Tebowmania, it couldn't happen at a better time.

To be sure, questions remain. The first of which, though not a pressing one necessarily: Who in Tebow's inner circle was it that "privately admitted" to media sources that Tebow's career was "done"? And will that person be in the inner circle going forward?

Other questions are more pressing — if you place any stake in the idea that Tebow will be a quarterback with the Patriots, under the tutelage of Tom Brady (an idea buttressed by the fact that the Pats cut backup quarterback Mike Kafka to make room for No. 15).

The question of Tebow's ability as a quarterback is still an open one. In the weeks leading up to his signing, reports from the media gave much anecdotal evidence of Tebow's failings as a quarterback — not just in the games, but even in practice, where he allegedly hit his coach in Denver, John Fox, with …   More


MoJo No Go?

The dreadlocks are back.

I note that because to the best of my knowledge — I was the only commentator to note that Maurice Jones-Drew cut his dreads within days after being drafted by the Jaguars in 2006. My theory then (and now): Jones-Drew was making a naked grab for endorsement dollars in a market that's never been wholly receptive to the stylistic flourishes of Jaguar players. Despite cutting his dreads, Jones-Drew overcame my initial concerns about his lack of size and mid-career questions about his ability to come back from injury to become one of the best running backs of his generation (despite whatever happened at the recent Reggae Sunday at St. Augustine's Conch House).

Problem is, that generation is about over. Jones-Drew is 28 years old — young for politicians and grandmothers; old for ballet dancers and NFL running backs. His age is especially significant when one considers how many on the Jaguars offense ran through him during Jack Del Rio's time as coach (seems an epoch ago, even though Del Rio's been gone only one season). Jones-Drew had a lot of work in that offense, which focused on the running game in a quarterback-driven league that stacked the rules in favor of passing offenses. As we know, the results of that work have been awesome on the stat sheet, but not so much in terms of that all-important win-loss column.

The Jaguars have only won one playoff game in Jones-Drew's career with them, after the 2007 season. Referees assisted on that 31-29 victory over the Steelers, I'd argue, by missing holding calls on what turned into the best highlight-reel scramble of David Garrard's career. Even in that game, with a reduced role at tailback, Jones-Drew tallied almost 200 all-purpose yards and earned co-MVP honors along with Garrard. The future seemed so bright, we had to wear shades. Since then, though, nothing in terms of playoff victories and national relevance.

And no one's forecasting much better for the upcoming season, …   More


First, Do No Pharm

The Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League have not had the best May. Three consecutive losses have stalled the team's early season momentum and have led to the benching of quarterback Bernard Morris. The third loss, to San Jose at home, preceded a backstage brawl involving officials, players and coaches after the game, hinting at larger problems with the franchise going forward. It feels counterintuitive to say a team at 6-3 as of this writing is in disarray, but clearly the Sharks are having problems.

And these problems go beyond game day scrums and quarterback changes. Consider the curious case of Douglas Michael Kleiner, a 49-year-old white male who, until recently, served as the Sharks' director of sports medicine. Kleiner was arrested and charged, according to the police report, for trafficking in controlled substances, practicing or attempting to practice medicine without a valid medical license, delivery and distribution of schedule III opium or derivative, and dispensing prescription or medical drugs without a license. The timing could not be worse.

This year has been a downer for those who seek to skirt the law regarding distribution of prescription medicines. Gov. Rick Scott's administration and Attorney General Pam Bondi have gone after pill mills in the way politicians so often take law-and-order stances: so they can be seen as "doing something about the problem" — which they are, in a narrow sense. However, as long as Big Pharma can make ridiculous profits 
from patented medicines, the true source of supply will never abate. It's easy to bust a pill mill or a team trainer; good luck going after Pfizer or Ranbaxy.

Some observers might assert a causal link between the team's underperformance of late and its pharmaceutical supply — which included favorites like hydrocodone, valium and testosterone — being interrupted. I think it would be a bit reductive to go that far without further evidence. What is clear, …   More


The Drugs Don’t Work

The Players Championship was perfect, if you like redemption narratives. Tiger Woods found his mojo and his form, and his body looked better than it has in years. As someone who spent a lot of the 1990s watching athletes perform in everything from pro baseball to professional wrestling achieve these flawless physiques, I felt a stir of recognition. Woods isn't a young man anymore, but his pecs were impeccable, and his victory at The Players restored the sanctity of his narrative. Nike's new Tiger Woods shoes, for example, were hot sellers before the win. Now? Good luck finding them, even at $180.

America loves a winner. But what happens when winners don't win or stop winning? Things get real. That brings us to the story of Vijay Singh — one of the best golfers in the world at one point — who's making news these days more for scandal than for anything he does on the course. At 50 years old, Singh tied for 78th at The Players and came out of the event no richer than he went in.

Singh recently filed suit against the PGA for "violating its duty of care and good faith" regarding his recent deer antler velvet scandal. According to the lawsuit, the Tour "failed competently and responsibly to administer its own Anti-Doping Program. … As a direct and proximate result of the PGA Tour's actions, Singh has been humiliated, ashamed, ridiculed, scorned and emotionally distraught."

At The Players, he wasn't exactly ridiculed — except by a spectator who razzed him by wearing deer antlers the first day. Perhaps that's a measure of respect for a veteran with one of the most impressive résumés of all active professional golfers — or perhaps it's a measure of the Fijian's irrelevance. Golfers half his age, such as Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, are the present day of the sport. At this point, Tiger Woods is an old-guard figure himself. Singh? Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard." He might be "ready for [his] close-up," but he …   More


Identity Politics

LeRoy Butler is as local as Famous Amos, the Pecan Park Flea Market and sclerotic traffic on I-95 North. The Lee High School grad had a standout career as a defensive back at Florida State University, then went on to play a complete career helming the strong safety spot with the Green Bay Packers.

Like former Packers defensive player (and long-deceased) Reggie White, Butler is a committed Christian. Getting beyond that, though, there are certain differences in the way they approach witnessing for the Lord.

One such difference has to do with the Packers' respective understandings of homosexuality, and how it factors into the Christian life. White opposed gays' civil rights struggles. During a 1998 address before the Wisconsin Legislature, White rejected comparisons of the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement, saying, "Homosexuality is a decision. It's not a race."

White's position is not an unfamiliar one, especially to those of us who have spent significant time in places where the culture is determined by evangelical Christian churches. The old "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" canard — if you took a drink every time you heard that, you'd be pickled by noon.

In the 15 years since White courted controversy and endeared himself to a moralistic swath of the Christian right, we have a much greater understanding of sexual orientation, as well as an understanding that sexual identity is not a matter of conscious choice on the level of "I'd rather go to Carrabba's than Olive Garden."

Butler was booked by a Wisconsin church to speak to a youth group on the subject of bullying and was to receive $8,500 for his efforts. All would have been fine had he avoided tweeting about Jason Collins' decision to become the first openly gay male athlete currently in American major team sports.

The tweet was an innocuous message of congratulations; the firestorm that followed, ironically, is far more instructive, in that it shows the …   More


First Draft

I've analyzed Jaguars' drafts in Folio Weekly for the previous decade, and for the better part of that decade as a fan, so I have plenty of opinions. Along the way, I've learned an important lesson: Nothing is ever as it seems on draft day.

It all seems simple in late April. Some teams draft the best available player (BAP) more often than not, knowing that attrition and injury will require that potential to find its way onto the field. Other teams draft for need — a philosophy decried by some as too reactive, as if the so-called BAP is a sure thing or a known quantity. Still others emulate Bill Belichick and trade down, under the assumption that diversifying the portfolio and putting more bodies in camp is the smartest play — sort of like what Rumsfeld said about Iraq: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. … there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

There's something there that applies to more than Mesopotamia. We never truly know the outcome of a situation going in. Despite the ruminations of self-styled purists, all teams basically use a hybrid of those draft philosophies: sometimes need, sometimes best player, sometimes an aggregation of picks. The three philosophies were at work in General Manager David Caldwell's first draft, and the results are more promising than they've in years.

The first pick, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, graded out as the best tackle — indeed the best player — in many pre-draft projections, and if you saw him keep the heat off Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M last season in the school's first year in the SEC, you'd agree. The obvious comparison to Joeckel is Tony Boselli — and though those are big shoes to fill, one hopes he'll be closer to that than the 2009 second-round bust pick Eben Britton, the discharged right tackle who talked a much bigger game …   More


Hot Air Athletes

Jonathan Papelbon and I have a couple of things in common. We both went to Bishop Kenny High School, so chances are he, too, has a collection of white shirts, blue pants and maroon ties. Chances are he saw "Star Trek" in a religion class — assuming Sister Edith's curriculum hasn't changed. And he has a habit of saying whatever he thinks. This habit revealed itself — yet again — recently.

Papelbon is best known for his relief stint with the 2007 Boston Red Sox, where he looked like he might be a once-in-a-generation closer along the lines of a Goose Gossage. His time in Boston ended soon enough, but his predilection for explosive quotes remains — thank goodness. In what was intended to be an anodyne interview with regional sports network CSN Philadelphia, Papelbon made some comments regarding the incident at the Boston Marathon, stoking a fire of national controversy.

"Today's day and age has gotten so crazy. Shoot man, Obama wants to take our guns from us and everything. You got all this stuff going on; it's just a little bit insane for me, man. I'm not sure how to take it," said the pitcher.

Compared to former Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker's comments in 1999, at the height of his career, criticizing the diversity of New York City ("It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."), those comments seem relatively sane, I guess, but what wouldn't?

Still, when one's being measured against Rocker (who'll be here on June 6 as a special attraction at a Jacksonville Suns game), that's a red flag. And when one deconstructs Papelbon's sentiment, it's just as insipid.

Let's start with the first sentence. "Today's day and age has gotten so crazy." Really, Jon, you don't say.

What day and age hasn't …   More


Giant Steps

I’ve been skeptical. I hate to admit it, but it’s the truth.

I’ve doubted the viability — or potential viability — of pro hoops in Jacksonville. And a part of me still does. Then again, I’ve been here a long time. The city of Jacksonville is changing.

Growing. Attracting more people with disposable income. More people who expect urban amenities — like the NBA.

Take the latest triumph of the Jacksonville Giants, our local American Basketball Association franchise that, in the words of acclaimed griot DJ Khaled, “all they do is win win win no matter what.”

The Giants, you see, have done it again. Yet another ABA championship for the city of Jacksonville. In what might have been their proudest moment as a franchise, they got it done.

Sweeping the first two games of what was intended to be a best-of-three series against the acclaimed North Dallas Vandals, the clincher was won by one point on a rainy night, on a weekend that let us know that summer is but a heartbeat away.

It was a one-point victory, keynoted by the usual suspects: Anthony Jackson, who’s been so clutch this year, with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 105 seconds left on the clock; Jermaine Bell, who poured in 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help in the effort; and Ed Horton and Currye Todd — the dynamic duo of guards — each with 22 points.

This was a different Giants victory than many we’ve seen. The turbo-charged NBA jam scoring wasn’t as much in evidence, even though at the half the team had 57 points. The Giants went cold in the second half, letting the Vandals back in the game as if the ABA were fifth-century Rome, but no matter. They were able to close out, like champions do. Word is, Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan, whose team played every close game as if they needed a collective Heimlich maneuver, was watching the game and furiously taking notes.

OK. Maybe not. We know that ABA …   More


JU’s Loving Lacrosse

There are several notable events going on in area college sports this week.


JU’s Juggernauts

One of the more heartening local sports stories of 2013 is the rapid ascendance of Jacksonville University's men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. The programs haven’t been around long, yet they are reaching national power status quickly and dominating the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the process.

JU’s men’s team suffered its first MAAC defeat, 14-11, to Marist College on April 13, snapping the Dolphins’ four-game winning streak. JU’s conference in other sports, the Atlantic Sun, prepares to add lacrosse to its roster next season. The Dolphins are a resilient bunch, as their recent trip to Virginia Military Institute indicates. The Keydets rallied, even tying the game at halftime, but the Dolphins came out of the break strong and finished off VMI.

In the 13-8 victory, two Dolphins with international backgrounds — Paraguay native Ari Waffle and Cameron Mann of Hamilton, Ontario — did hat tricks. Kyle Rebman and Rob Wertz each scored twice, and Will Crenshaw, Dakota Rohlin and Brian Kensil each added a goal.

In addition to all of those scoring threats, JU’s defense was equally solid — especially in the final minutes. Pete DeLuca stopped 15 shots on goal, including seven in the fourth quarter. The JU team won in Lexington, Va. — a tough place to play. It’s easy to imagine them making a deep run in the MAAC Tournament the first week of May.

The same can be said for the women’s lacrosse team. The Dolphins routed the University of Detroit Titans on April 14, improving to 11-4 overall. The JU women are 3-0 in coverence, clinching at least a share of the A-Sun title.

The women’s squad is a family affair. Head coach Mindy McCord is married to an assistant, Paul McCord — a relationship that only adds to the storybook quality of this program and …   More


Sunny Days Ahead

When considering how successful the Jacksonville Suns have been over the decades, it's a good idea to allow for more than just the win/loss record. The Suns — owned by the Bragan family since Jacksonville was a much smaller, more provincial city — have adapted with the times. Still, some things remain the same. One thing is a robust schedule of crowd-pleasing promotions designed to keep people coming to the park all season long.

The team just wrapped up its first homestand against the Jackson (Miss.) Generals, and the promos were all centered on Peter Bragan Sr., the legendary owner who died last July. Bragan was honored with a talking bobblehead giveaway and a distribution of Bragan Field baseballs. These are the kinds of keepsakes that diehard Suns and Minor League Baseball fans will cherish for years and are great kickoffs for what will be a special season. There'll be many events, and while there's not enough space to cover them all, a few highlights should be noted.

All-Star Blitz: Why not showcase some of the best talent in the Minor Leagues — the Southern League All-Star game in July? Bragan Field is the crown jewel of the parks of the Southern League, as locals know, and the Suns are among the minor league's preeminent franchises. So it makes a perfect locale for the All-Star game on July 17, as well as the Homerun Derby, a favorite of kids of all ages. The day before the game, go by The Jacksonville Landing and check out the MLB All-Star Game “Watch Party” on the big screen.

Rocker Around the Clock: The team is bringing two former Atlanta Braves from back in the day. A hero to every 30something Southern male who ever played outfield and swung for the fences every time he stepped to the plate … Dale Murphy hits town May 6. On June 6, fireballer-turned-conservative-flamethrower HYPERLINK ""John Rocker visits. He made some controversial comments about New York City’s ethnic …   More