An Open Letter to the Student Body of the University of Florida

Dear Students,

Where were you yesterday? You do realize that your football team, the Florida Gators, participated in a game against Eastern Michigan at 4:00PM Saturday, right? I know, the first game against the Idaho Vandals was canceled due to bad weather a week prior, but seriously, where were you? And yes, I know your football team had an embarrassing 2013 season going 4-8 and didn’t get invited to a bowl game for the first time since President Jimmy Carter’s administration, but seriously, where were you?

It was just lovely when the television cameras panned to empty seats at kick-off yesterday. At first, I thought they were showing us a shot of William & Mary, but no, it was “The Swamp”! Are you kidding me?

Let me tell you something, students of the University of Florida—you are embarrassing the Gator Nation.

Prior to 1990, the Florida Gators had a few bright spots, but were mainly a mediocre football team. We fans had to sit through plenty of .500 seasons, NCAA infractions, and annual beat downs courtesy of Georgia in Jacksonville at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. You know what? We sold out every game. It didn’t matter how many exams we had the following week. It didn’t matter how hot it was in “The Swamp”. It just didn’t matter—we woke up early Saturday morning, tapped a keg, spent what little money we had on snacks, wings, burgers—whatever, and we, if necessary, stumbled into the stadium to make as much noise and give as much support as we possibly could for our football team. Nothing else mattered, we just did it.

I understand that “The Swamp” doesn’t have proper 4G or WiFi coverage. Damn, what will one do without the ability to take a selfie and upload it to Instagram? No status update to Facebook or tweeting how trashed you are in the 2nd quarter of the game. It’s the end of the digital world as we know it, I get it. 

Get over it.

I’m sure AD Jeremy Foley is barking at every cell provider in North Central Florida to upgrade the cell towers, and is looking to put enough WiFi service in the stadium ASAP to appease the students, but in the meantime toughen up and get your butts in the seats. The alumni are doing their part to get their families to the games; all you have to do is ride your bikes, drive your cars, or heaven forbid, walk a mile or so to the stadium.

I graduated from UF over 20 years ago, and we didn’t have social media or the Internet for that matter, so I may be a bit on the outside when I offer advice on how to prepare for game day. Regardless, I feel its necessary to help all of you that still haven’t figured out how to prepare for a Saturday football game in The Swamp.

Ready? Here it goes.

First, since UF has become far more academic than it was when I was there, we must focus first on your classes. Study early and get prepared for the following week’s exams; don’t wait for the last minute. Don’t skip classes, don’t sleep in, live in the library if necessary. Saturday is just one day, and if you stop drinking by 10:00PM Saturday night, you should be able to get plenty of sleep if you feel it absolutely necessary to live in the library the following Sunday morning.

Next, don’t stay out too late Friday night prior. The bars shut down at 2:00AM, but that doesn’t mean you have to be there to close it down. Get your drink on, but get home early enough if necessary to get the proper amount of rest if needed. If you can close the bar, head to another party, and finally crash around 6:00AM to get only a few hours of sleep, then so be it. But it is incumbent upon you to get the proper amount of rest necessary to prepare for Saturday’s game.

Now to Saturday morning. Once you do wake up, it is crucial that you eat a good breakfast before you start drinking. Let me tell you, beer and Cheerios sounds like a good idea, but really it isn’t. Yes, I tried it a few times, so let me save you from that experience now. However, scrambled cheese eggs and beer isn’t too bad. I recommend putting salsa on the eggs, too; it definitely adds to the experience if you choose to pop open that Michelob Ultra while eating said breakfast.

Once you have a good meal in your belly, then commence the party wherever it may be. If you want to head down to University Blvd. or downtown to party with the masses then please go for it. Oh, and yes, the zip lock baggies must be in plentiful supply if you plan on sneaking Captain Morgans or Jack Daniels into the game; I recommend double bagging just to be safe. Whatever you do, make sure you have someone on look-out duty when you begin passing the bag around in the stands to ensure a police officer doesn’t confiscate your booze. One last thing: Don’t participate in a drinking game prior to the game; save it for the after-party.

You can do it, students. You can make the University and the Alumni proud. Get your ass to the home football games. Invest a few dollars on tickets; you can do it. The next time a Gator football game is televised, we better see every seat filled just like they were a few years ago. The 2013 season is over, and yes it was an embarrassment, but it pales in comparison to how much you, the students, are embarrassing the University of Florida with your lack of attendance at our games.

You can live without your iPhones for a few hours. Take your pictures and upload them after the game. Status updates? Update everyone before entering: “Entering The Swamp to watch my Gators kick some serious ASS!”. See, there is an example of what to post prior to walking in. The digital world will survive without you for three to four hours while you cheer the Gators to victory.

Beautiful shot of the empty seats in The Swamp.

Beautiful shot of the empty seats in The Swamp.

Do you need your parents to take your tickets from you, and show you how to do “Football Saturday”? If you are at Florida, then you are pretty damn intelligent; don’t make your Mommy and/or Daddy come to Gainesville to show you how it’s done. They will school you like no professor could ever; trust me.

 

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Preview via My Take

The 2014 NFL season is under way, and the Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Philadelphia, PA to take on the Eagles this Sunday. Most, if not all, football experts are predicting a decisive victory for Philadelphia since the lowly Jaguars won only four games in 2013 and are considered a young and rebuilding football team.

What cracks me up is how some pundits simply wave their hands at the matchup as if they do not have the time to analyze the elements of the upcoming game. Yes, Jacksonville is the second smallest market in the NFL, and the team has struggled as of late, not having won a playoff game since 2007 when they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-29. That was also the last year they made the playoffs.

Coach Gus Bradley enters his second season as the leader of the Jaguars, as does Chip Kelly for the Philadephia Eagles. Coach Bradley was a candidate for the Eagles job, but was passed over for Coach Kelly.

The city of Jacksonville, FL is happy with that decision. We feel Coach Bradley is a fantastic coach, but still must prove himself.

Let’s take a look at this upcoming game, and what to expect.

Jacksonville’s offense against Philadelphia’s defense:

Last season, the Eagle’s defense was ranked 17th overall; fourth against the run and 32nd against the pass. They also released safety Patrick Chung, but the defensive front appears to be in tact. The Jaguars have LT Luke Joeckel back from injury, but struggled during the preseason with their interior offensive line. Center Brad Meester retired, which has left serious question marks at that position. His replacement, Mike Brewster, was cut on August 29, 2014.

However, the Jaguars, through free agency and the draft, have bolstered their offensive line and skill positions. The biggest acquisition was RB Toby Gerhart, and he will replace Maurice Jones-Drew who now resides in Oakland. QB Blake Bortles, WRs Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson were drafted in the first two rounds, and the surprise of the preseason, WR Allen Hurns out of Miami (FL) have excited the fan base and infused hope that has not existed in quite some time. The coaching staff will start QB Chad Henne Sunday, but it is a matter of time before Bortles becomes the starting QB.

The Jaguars must find a way to run the ball not only to gain yards, but to burn time off the clock and keep their defense off the field to have any hope of winning the game. The interior offensive line will be key to Gerhart’s success, or lack thereof.

Jacksonville’s defense vs. Philadephia’s offense:

This is where the “pundits” may be way too confident in their prognostications. Coach Gus Bradley, the former defensive coordinator of the LOB—the Seattle Seahawk’s defense, knows a thing or two about defense. In 2013, the Jaguars started rookies in their secondary, and by the second half of the season, they came together as a very tight unit, helping the Jags win the last four of six games of the season. In the middle is veteran LB Paul Posluszny, and he anchors a tough and aggressive defense. However, the Jaguars went out and signed defensive lineman Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Ziggy Hood.  Along with veteran Tyson Alualu, the defensive line should be vastly improved against both the pass and run.

That being said, the Eagles return QB Nick Foles, who came onto the scene in 2013 with 27 TDs and only two INTs. Let’s not forget RB “Shady” McCoy, who is considered in the top three of all NFL RBs. However, for some “shady” reasons, Coach Chip Kelly decided to release WR DeSean Jackson, which leaves Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper as the go to WRs. Will Foles be able to repeat his awesome performance of 2013? Will Maclin, who is returning from a serious knee injury, and Cooper be able to fill the departed Jackson’s shoes? Can the Jaguar’s defense prevent the Eagles from running up the score quickly and easily? 

I say yes.

The Eagles will win, but not by much: 24-20. The Jaguars are going to lose, but will surprise many this year and perhaps earn a wild card spot in this year’s playoffs. 

Yes, you heard it here first. The Jaguars will return to the playoffs this season.

 

Goodbye, My Friend Robin Williams

I can’t believe you’re gone, Robin. I had no idea that you were in that much pain. Surely, no one knew you were in that much pain. Damn, I turned to you whenever I needed a laugh or an emotional lift because you were so good at bringing laughter and joy to everyone around you. Just last week, I turned to you for a laugh, and it took only a few seconds to accomplish the goal. You were that good. I wish somehow I or someone could have done the same for you.

The first time we met, I knew immediately we would be close. For me, you were a natural at reaching out to a person. I know when I was sad, or down, you would instantly bring me back to a place that was tolerable if not bliss. Hell, you were so good that the troops overseas enjoyed having you; not only because you made them laugh, but because you truly cared. Just another reason I loved you so.

You were so good you crushed it in movies, too. There wasn’t a movie you did that I didn’t love. Of course, there are the popular ones such as Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, Dead Poets Society, etc., but one of my favorites is a film that flew under the radar, Jakob the Liar. Of course the critics panned it, but you were spectacular as always, and made the message of the film clear as day. However, your performance in Good Will Hunting will never be forgotten. By far my favorite film, you reached deeply into a part of my heart that I never allow anyone to discover. That movie will always best represent your talent as an actor, but most importantly a human being.

I remember the time I traveled to Las Vegas to see you. You were commencing your world tour and opening at Caesar’s Palace. I had close to front row seats, and from the minute you stepped on stage, you had everyone in the crowd crying with laughter. Before you started your act, you had fun with the gentlemen that walked to their seats with a hired escort in tow. You were spot on that night. Your 90 minute show flew by and I left wanting more. That night you confirmed that you were the best in the business. No one could come close to your talent or intellect.

Now you are gone. I feel empty. I truly feel like I lost a best friend. I also feel guilty because I will never be able to repay you with the correct amount of gratitude for all you have done for me and the citizens of planet Earth. If we only knew the pain you must have been feeling to take your own life. I know you loved your family very much, and I also knew that you battled the demons of addiction, too. You shared often that you entered rehab to battle those demons, and honestly, we thought you were winning the fight. Sure, there were times you lost ground and had to return to seek assistance, but you were human and allowed to ask for help even though you seemed super-human to most. Why you would decide that the only course of action to finally defeat the demons was to take your own life I hope I will never understand.

Goodbye, my friend. I hope God takes you in and provides the comfort that you clearly sought. I will never understand, but will eventually accept it. You will be sorely missed.

“You don’t know about real loss, because it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself.”

How the San Antonio Spurs Are Destroying AAU Basketball

The past two NBA Finals games in Miami have been absolute blowouts and embarrassments for the Miami Heat. A team put together to win several championships, the Miami Heat is now down 3-1 in the 2014 NBA Finals, and the next game is Sunday night in San Antonio. I did predict that the Spurs would win in six games, but I never thought the Spurs would perform as well as they have this series.

I guess I gave the Heat too much credit by thinking it would go six games.

However, on a deeper and more personal level, I wondered why a team so talented as Miami could be beat so easily on their home court. Seriously, the Heat have LeBron James, the best player in the NBA, and arguably one of the best players of all time. Then I remembered that LeBron was left off the NBA’s All-Defensive team this season.

Clearly, he was left off for a reason.

If you’ve watched these four games between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, then surely you’ve noticed that the Heat have played very little defense. In game three, the Spurs scored over 40 points in the first quarter alone. Then comes game four, and everyone in the world figured the Miami Heat was going to come out on fire, score a ton of points, and play serious defense.

Nope.

Let’s take a look at the starting roster of each team:

Miami Heat

  1. Mario Chalmers, G, Kansas (USA)
  2. Dwyane Wade, G, Marquette (USA)
  3. Rashard Lewis, F, Alief Elsid HS (TX/USA)
  4. Chris Bosh, C-F, Georgia Tech (USA)
  5. LeBron James, F, St. Vincent-St. James HS (OH/USA)

San Antonio Spurs

  1. Manu Ginobili, G, Kinder Bologna (ARGENTINA)
  2. Tony Parker, G, Paris BR (FRANCE)
  3. Boris Diaw, F, Pau Orthez (FRANCE)
  4. Tim Duncan, F, Wake Forest (US VIRGIN ISLANDS)
  5. Tiago Splitter, C, Saski Baskonia (BRAZIL)

Arguably, these roster changes for every game, but do you notice any differences between the two?

I’ll give you three guesses, but the first two don’t count.

Without doing extensive investigative reporting on each listed player, I would venture to guess that each Heat player played in the AAU prior to their college and/or NBA career. Those on the Spurs roster did not.

I can speak somewhat intelligently about AAU Basketball since my 10-year-old son currently plays in a league. At least twice per week, not including tournament games, I sit back and watch the coaching in these games. Not just my son’s group, but the others, too. They participate in a series of drills to improve their dribbling and shooting, but passing and defense is often ignored.

In today’s basketball world, we want to see superstars. The players who can dazzle us with their dribbling and shooting skills are the ones that every college coach in the land wants. Therefore, the AAU leagues are now focused on giving the colleges what they require. If a kid is extremely talented, e.g. LeBron James, they bypass college basketball all together, and enter the NBA Draft immediately out of high school.

A paradigm shift in sports has occurred to a degree where defense has taken a serious back seat to offense. Look at football—the running back position has all but disappeared from relevance. The NFL is a pass-happy league, and it’s all about airing it all over the field. If a college QB has any semblance of passing proficiency, they are given a long and hard look by every NFL coach in the league. If you watch a Major League Baseball game, then you’ll see people sleeping in the stands, if they even show up, if the score is 2-1.

Then there’s the San Antonio Spurs, the anti-NBA team. A group of team first, “me” second players that make up a small-market team that gets very little fanfare outside of Texas. Their head coach, Gregg Popovich, known for his post-game interviews as well his success with the San Antonio Spurs, leads a team of starters that never sniffed an AAU team. They pass in order to get the best shot possible, not just a good one. They play incredible defense. They are a team, and have undefined the word “me”.

And they are about to win another championship.

Perhaps it’s time to re-think AAU basketball here in the United States. Clearly, the Miami Heat are still in a different reality since they are flirting with signing Carmelo Anthony, the poster child of the anti-team movement. Give Anthony the ball, and his teammates turn immediately to the hoop hoping they can get the offensive rebound in case he misses. But he tends to hit quite a few shots, so surely he’ll be offered a gazillion dollars to play in South Beach.

As for my 10-year-old son, his basketball future may not include AAU. Don’t get me wrong; his coaches do a great job coaching the skills they focus on, but in my opinion the training is incomplete. My son is also on a YMCA team, and the coach puts an emphasis on the team and not just scoring points. The conundrum for me is that I may make a detrimental decision that negatively affects his development.

I guess that’s life in a nutshell. We make decisions that are larger risks than others.

One thing is for sure: The San Antonio Spurs are proving what most of us have known for a very long time that synergy outperforms individual efforts. Great teams outperform superstars all the time, and the 2014 NBA Finals are proving it once again.

Accepting vs. Embracing Diversity: Donald Sterling Did Us A Favor

Thank you, Donald Sterling, for shining a light on an issue that is known to exist, but still goes unaddressed. An old man, wealthy and set in his ways, was recorded saying what everyone knew he felt. Once it went viral, the voices of reason could be heard from the top of any nearby mountain shouting for Sterling’s head.

What I find striking about this recent revelation is that it further demonstrates that a huge problem still exists in the United States.

I have been outspoken about politicians and political parties since the beginning of President Barack Obama’s presidency. One of the great divides today in our country thanks to the GOP is racism and diversity. The Republican Party has gone out of it’s way to widen the divide courtesy of the birther movement, voter fraud scares via voter ID, and refusing to raise the minimum wage just to name a few. The top tiers of the Republican Party has plenty of Donald Sterlings and that will not change anytime soon.

You see, it is quite easy to state that you value diversity. Check out corporate America today, and you can find diversity statements everywhere in their mission statements. See, what most folks don’t understand that there is a huge difference between acknowledging diversity, accepting it, and embracing it.

Baby Boomers were introduced to the idea early in their professional careers. Every Human Resource department immediately incorporated language into the corporate environment to prevent lawsuits; not just to fight off racism, but to ensure that good old white boy club didn’t take total control. Women, minorities, and the disabled were to be given equal opportunity, and every suit within ear shot would shake their heads in total agreement for all to see.

By the time those within “Generation X” worked their way into leadership roles diversity was no longer simply acknowledged, but accepted. Racism would not be tolerated, and they would welcome a diverse culture anywhere a team was formed. Forward progress, yes, but the journey was not near complete. Too many baby steps, and not nearly enough marathons.

Today, we have Generation Y, Millennials, taking hold of society and corporate America, and they continue to excel and grow their influence. Now, diversity is not simply acknowledged or accepted, but it is embraced. It is welcomed. Forget the fact that more and more opportunities are now available for women, minorities, and disabled individuals, but they are viewed as natural equals and differences are not pointed out, but looked for. Those differences are what improves ideas, methods/procedures, and creativity. In the end, the world is becoming a better place.

Unfortunately, there are those that still hold positions of power and influence that remain closed-minded and set in their ways. Jokingly, I often tell people that every four years, when we elect or re-elect a President, old folks die off and younger people enter the voting pool. Those turning 18 years of age and registering to vote are for the most part welcoming and nurturing diversity and doing their best to rid society of racism.

I realize that the statements made above were broad-stroke in nature and you can find racism everywhere. Also, you can find Seniors that embrace diversity across our land. I speak in generalities, and the law of averages are followed. All I know is that as a father of a 10 year old son, I hope that the disease known as racism never enters his heart, and he sees it for what it is: hate and ignorance.

To quote one of my favorite musicians, Neil Peart: “Quick to judge, quick to anger, slow to understand. Ignorance and prejudice and fear walk hand in hand”.

Marcus Luttrell: Lone Survivor and True American Hero

I had the honor of listening to Marcus Luttrell, the “Lone Survivor”, along with other American heroes in the Jacksonville, FL area when his “Patriot Tour” came to town this past Wednesday, March 12, 2014. I was looking forward to this event, but when a good friend could not make it due to a family member’s illness that forced him to leave town I almost didn’t go. Graciously, he gave his ticket to a friend of mine and we went.

I had several reasons for wanting to attend. First, I wanted to hear first-hand Luttrell’s experiences as a Navy SEAL especially the event that led to what became the movie “Lone Survivor”. Second, I wanted to physically see the man who went through hell and back defending what we American’s treasure. Third, I was hoping to personally thank Luttrell for his service to our country. I was fortunate to accomplish two out of three of my goals.

Before Marcus Luttrell took the stage, other heroes spoke about their personal experiences. The one thing they all had in common was their undeniable devotion to the United States of America and what it stands for. They are unapologetic, loyal, and incredible human beings. Some lost limbs, others lost loved ones, and others have now devoted their civilian lives to helping other veterans. They also have selflessness in common; they continue to give for this country after leaving much on battlefields all over the world.

When Luttrell walked on the stage, honestly, I was expecting a man who was somewhat confident in his presentation possibly bordering on arrogance. However, he was far from cocky; quite the opposite actually. He seemed just like any other guy you would bump into at a ball game or at the store. He spoke immediately without waiting for the crowd’s adulation. He looked into the crowd like a man who was nervous and out-of-place. It was almost like he didn’t completely understand why everyone was there to see him.

While interjecting a joke or two into his presentation, he discussed the fateful mission that has become known around the world. Ordered to hunt down a wanted terrorist in a dangerous section of Afghanistan, he and three comrades, Navy SEALs trained like no other soldier anywhere, experienced what no men should ever be asked to. He told us the real story of what happened on that mission, and pointed out what really happened versus what the film illustrated. He said the main reason for the differences were two-fold; first, it was way too graphic, and second, to save the families of the dead soldiers the horror of watching what truly happened to those men.

I can honestly say that I have never been so engrossed in a dialogue than I was listening to Marcus. The candor, humility, and absolute pain in his words carved a place within my memory that will never be erased. The detail he explained with every aspect of that mission was mind-boggling. His wounds and the ability to keep going; to survive. To continue fighting. To complete the mission until it was clearly lost, and he still found a way to go on.

I have a special place in my heart for all current and veteran military members. The sacrifices on and off the battlefields are incredible and in my opinion undervalued. I wish our government would do far more for those that serve or served with honor. After experiencing The Patriot Tour, that place in my heart is now much larger.

I can never feel sorry for myself for any type of struggle I may have or will experience; all I have to do is remind myself of Marcus Luttrell and other great American heroes. What they have dealt with trumps any and all bad things I can think of, and my life has not been a bed of roses. Veterans have always been a source of inspiration for me, but now they are true role models thanks to Marcus Luttrell’s courage to share with us all what he and his brothers went through while serving our country.

If you have a chance to see The Patriot Tour, then do not hesitate to do so. At least do yourself a favor and read his book or see the movie “Lone Survivor”. I cannot convince everyone to respect the men and women of the Armed Forces and/or Veterans, but every chance I get I will act in a way that shows the respect they deserve. I hope everyone finds their way to show that respect. We owe them everything we have. They are the best that the United States of America has to offer. They are the United States of America.

God bless you all.

Marcus Luttrell during the Patriots Tour in Orange Park, FL

Marcus Luttrell during the Patriots Tour in Orange Park, FL

My Son Is My Life; My Other Kids are My Lifeline

The annual event. The Super Bowl party. Yes, I look forward to it every year. I love football—always have and always will. During the season, I watch as many games as I can. College or pro—I don’t care. Hell, I even help coach my son’s football team.

If football was taken away from me, I don’t know what I would do.

Last night I was reminded why I love the Super Bowl. Recently, I turned 48 years old, and honestly I’ve been spending time looking in the mirror staring down the barrel of 50 years of age. Plenty of reflection looking back on the past and looking forward to the future. Emotions on both ends of the spectrum have been deeply explored.

Then the Super Bowl party arrived.

Soon after our arrival—my wife, son, and yours truly, my “other” kids arrived.

Instant bliss.

I have strong feelings for my brothers’ kids. Not blood-brothers, mind you, but brothers nonetheless. He has four kids, two boys and two girls, that I love like they are my own. I haven’t seen them in quite some time. I will not use their names, but first was the oldest.

Recently selected for the National Honor Society, I couldn’t wait to give her a big hug and kiss. She’s not my daughter, but she is my “daughter”. I held back tears but hugged her for a long time. I am so proud of her. She is nothing short of spectacular in all facets of life.

Then came my brother’s doppelganger. He is almost as tall as his father, perhaps a few inches shorter. He is going to be a lady-killer. Super kid, too. For a very long time I felt he may have to be the son I would never have. Regardless, I still consider him my “son”.

Then the little ones. One was celebrating a birthday, while the other had his trademark awesome smile on his face the entire night. I am an introvert, but these four kids infused energy that I needed.

Don’t get me wrong, my son Jake is my LIFE. He is No. 1 and that will NEVER change.

Unfortunately, there was a time in my life when I had about given up on having kids of my own. These four kids were going to be mine by default. Yes, I love and care for them that much.

Usually, when a game especially the Super Bowl is a blow-out like last night’s game, I want to head home early. Last night was a different story. I needed to be around those kids. I had my son Jake sitting next to me at times when he wasn’t buried in his iPad after losing interest in the Toilet Bowl, but I also had my “other” kids near me at all times.

I thought of the times I actually held the oldest in my arms dreaming that she was actually mine. Now she is bordering on adulthood with college and a extraordinarily bright future ahead of her.

Age 50? Whatever, dude.

I have an incredible wife, an incredible son, and four children from a different mother and father. Close friends cannot be manufactured, but they can be nurtured and appreciated. And yes—their kids are my kids.

The good news is—they know and accept it.