If you’re still wondering about Richt getting fired at Georgia, look what just happened to the coach who replaced him

Only twice in his long Georgia coaching career did Mark Richt lose a game by 30 points or more.

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 24: Head Coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs congratulates Chad Kelly #10 of the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi. The Rebels defeated the Bulldogs 45-14. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
OXFORD, MS – Head Coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs congratulates Chad Kelly #10 of the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, where the Rebels defeated the Bulldogs 45-14 last Saturday. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

It only took four games for it to happen to new Bulldogs boss Kirby Smart.

Georgia lost 45-14 at Mississippi last week and it was 45-0 midway through the third quarter.

Now this is not to say that Smart won’t be a successful coach at Georgia. For all we know the Bulldogs might beat Tennessee on Saturday and take control of the SEC East, igniting an extended heroic run for the former Alabama defensive coordinator.

Just think, Bobby Bowden lost 47-0 to Miami in his second game as Florida State coach back in 1976 but things worked out pretty well for him over time.

All I’m pointing out is here that winning in the SEC generally or at Georgia specifically is not an easy task. My belief is that Richt’s 145-51 career record in Athens will go down as a standard for others to envy and it shouldn’t have gotten him fired.

Of course, Richt can’t worry about that now. His new team at Miami is opening ACC play on Saturday at Georgia Tech, and after that Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh will follow.

Hard to know what will happen. The 3-0 Hurricanes haven’t been challenged yet by overmatched non-conference opponents. Don’t expect Richt to find himself down 45-0 to any team this season, however. His reputation for being consistently competitive was not built on stuff like that.

Richt was in his seventh season at Georgia before he lost a game by 30 or more. That was a 49-10 blowout to Florida in 2008, when Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow were on their way to a second national championship in the space of three seasons.

It happened again in 2010, when LSU rolled Georgia 42-10 in the SEC Championship game. The undefeated Tigers were No. 1 in the polls that day and headed for the BCS title game.

Rare occasions, then, and against outstanding opponents. Smart’s blowout loss last week came against an Ole Miss team that already has two losses against top opponents, FSU and Alabama, but treated Georgia like a sparring partner.

[Dolphins special-teams coach has sympathy for Jupiter’s Cody Parkey]

[Marching with Arnie’s Army at his final Masters round in 2004]

[Lamar Jackson could do what no Palm Beach County athlete has done]

Now probably the folks back in Georgia will be watching to see how Richt does against the Yellow Jackets, looking for another way to measure the coach they fired against the one they’ve got. Georgia Tech is a regular on the Bulldogs’ schedule, and a rival that Richt regularly beat.

In Miami, though, the focus is solely on what Richt can do with this new challenge. So far, so good. He doesn’t have to play Clemson, the team that beat Miami 58-0 last year and got Al Golden fired, and he doesn’t have to play Louisville, another national title contender within the ACC.

All Richt has to do is what he’s always done. Get his teams ready for a strong showing each Saturday, and forget about the fretting of fans and administrators. They haven’t been where he’s been. They haven’t done what he’s done.

 

A pat on the back for the Marlins, and not just because they’re going through a horrible time

Well, the Miami Marlins were eliminated from wild-card playoff contention on Tuesday night, but just as certainly I have been mathematically shut out, too, when it comes to predicting their final season record.

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 27: Manager Don Mattingly #8 of the Miami Marlins walks off the field during the game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on September 27, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
MIAMI – Manager Don Mattingly of the Miami Marlins walks off the field during the game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on Tuesday. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Back in the spring I wrote that the Marlins would finish 76-86, a five-win improvement over 2015. That actually felt a little generous at the time, but here they are, still with a chance to finish .500 or above for the first time since 2009.

It will take a strong finish in this weekend’s final series at Washington, and don’t forget that the Nationals are still battling to wrap up home-field advantage against Los Angeles in the playoffs.

Still, with the tragedy of Jose Fernandez hanging heavy over the franchise, it is impressive that the Marlins have accomplished what they have.

Don Mattingly is still the manager, which means a couple of things. Jeffrey Loria has been keeping his distance and Mattingly has kept his positive attitude about working with a team that isn’t ready to win big yet.

Barry Bonds is still the co-hitting coach, which shows he is serious about getting back into baseball’s good graces.

Overall, the team has fought hard all season. The Marlins were still in the hunt as July turned to August. At that point they were 57-48 and just four games back of Washington in the division. Not bad for an outfit that lost 2015 NL batting champion Dee Gordon for 80 games on a PED suspension.

[Jupiter’s Cody Parkey has sympathy of Dolphins’ special-teams coach]

[Marching with Arnie’s Army during his final Masters round in 2004]

[Lamar Jackson could do what no Palm Beach County athlete ever has]

Bottom line, Palm Beach County is looking good for an old-fashioned baseball revival next spring.

In addition to the Marlins, Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium is the spring home of the St. Louis Cardinals, who still are scrambling for a wild-card spot this week and always can be counted upon to be highly competitive.

Meanwhile, West Palm Beach’s new spring-training ballpark will house the Nationals, who could be coming off a deep playoff run, and the Houston Astros, who are handling themselves consistently well in the tough American League with a chance to match last season’s 86-win total.

All of this is proof that baseball can be fun, and the Marlins could actually be in on it again once February rolls around.

Until then, the grief over Jose’s death will make all this talk of momentum moot.

 

Jupiter’s Cody Parkey has sympathy of Darren Rizzi after missed field goal at Miami

 

Glad to see that former Jupiter High School star Cody Parkey is still a member of the Cleveland Browns following his rough and rapid debut in last week’s 30-24 overtime loss at Miami.

Parkey was added to the Browns’ roster last Friday, two days before that game, when the regular kicker got injured. His first time working with his new teammates was during pregame warmups at Hard Rock Stadium. Three hours later he was sent out to attempt what could have been the winning field goal from 46 yards at the end of regulation. He missed.

Miami Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch (50) and Miami Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain (28) celebrate a last second miss by Cleveland Browns place kicker Cody Parkey (3) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on September 25, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
MIAMI GARDENS – Miami Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch (50) and Miami Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain (28) celebrate a last second miss by Cleveland Browns place kicker Cody Parkey (3) on September 25, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Not really fair to blast the guy when he barely had met his holder and the long snapper and the special teams coach. Also, as Dolphins assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said this week, practicing alone is not the same as trying to make one under the crazy heat of an NFL game.

“Cody Parkey has been a Pro Bowler in this league,” said Rizzi, “but he was out of it for a little bit. He’s been out since preseason (cut by the Eagles on Sept. 3) and it’s very hard to simulate this job. You can go to any field, whether it’s Jupiter High School or anywhere, and stay in shape, but you can’t simulate a live rush in a situation like that.

“It’s like me going out in my back yard and making 20 free throws in a row all by myself. All of a sudden you put me in a game situation and things change.”

Browns coach Hue Jackson cut Parkey some slack when asked about Parkey earlier this week, but with a qualifier. Asked if he plans to keep Parkey as his kicker after missing 3-of-6 against Miami, he said, “Yes, I do right now.”

“That’s a tough job,” Jackson continued. “I can’t put that on him. That’s a tough situation. Everybody says, well, that’s the kicker’s job. It’s his job, but normally a guy has a job, he’s been around his employer a little bit, he’s been around his teammates a little bit. It was tough. It was tough circumstances. Unfortunate. If he would’ve made it, we’d be celebrating right now. But he didn’t. And I think it’s unfair just to dump it all on him.”

Cleveland plays Sunday at Washington, which means that Parkey fortunately has another chance to perform to his usual standards without hearing the potential boos or any other fan reactions at a Browns home game. He could go 5-for-5 in a victory over the Redskins and win the entire city over.

For the moment, it makes sense to think that the Browns are checking around to see who else is available on an emergency basis, just like every team does, the Dolphins included. After all, that’s what got Parkey this opportunity.

[Running with Arnie’s Army during his final Masters round in 2004]

[Tim Tebow gamely trying to fit in with Mets’ Instructional League kids]

[Lamar Jackson could do what no other Palm Beach County athlete ever has]

Patrick Murray, the Browns’ regular kicker, has been placed on injured reserve after hurting a knee in last Friday’s walk-through practice session prior to the team’s flight to Miami.

Parkey set an NFL rookie record for points (150) with Philadelphia in 2014. He also made the Pro Bowl that year. In 2015 he didn’t play much because of a groin injury.

Florida fans remember Parkey for his time at Auburn, and a 42-yard field goal he made to wrap up a 17-6 win over the Gators in 2011. He also made a 52-yarder in the 2013 SEC Championship game against Missouri and kicked for the Tigers against Florida State in the BCS Championship game that same year.

Doing my joyful duty as part of Arnie’s Army at his final Masters round in 2004

When I covered the Masters last April it was tough seeing Arnold Palmer unable to participate at the ceremonial first-tee event on Thursday morning. He made it out for some photos and watched from a chair at Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player got the tournament started.

FILE - SEPTEMBER 25, 2016: Golfer Arnold Palmer has died at the age of 87 in Pittsburgh. AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 9: Arnold Palmer of the USA waits to putt on the first green during the second round of the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2004 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA – Arnold Palmer of during the second round of the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2004. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Arnie still had the full devotion of the crowd, however, just as he did in 2004 when he played his 50th and final Masters. I had the privilege of following him around that Friday on his way to a missed cut, scrambling around outside the ropes with the rest of the Army and sometimes getting close enough to hear The King say something to one of his smiling, waving fans.

It was a great afternoon spent in the company of a great and gracious man. Thought you might enjoy reliving it, too. Here’s the reprint of my column from The Palm Beach Post of April 10, 2004.

 

ARNIE TAKES ARMY ON FINAL, SENTIMENTAL MARCH

By Dave George, Palm Beach Post columnist

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Some got a pat on the shoulder, others a handshake and just about everybody left Augusta National with a story about how Arnie looked in their direction and winked or smiled or gave the thumbs-up signal, just for them.

Only Bill Eastwood of Greensboro, N.C., took home an actual physical artifact from the historic final round of Arnold Palmer’s 50th consecutive Masters. Eastwood’s prize was a healthy divot of turf and mud that Arnie carved from a spot where no golf ball has any business being. Eastwood put the earthy blob in a potato chip bag for safekeeping, telling those around him in the sitting area well right of the 11th green that “I could have sold this on eBay.”

It was a comment that drew little laughter from the assembled company of Arnie’s Army, any one of whom would gladly have accepted a purple welt, or a purple heart, if only the King’s ball could have caromed off their body and onto the putting surface.
We’re talking about a golfer who hasn’t won the Masters since 1964, back in the days of John and Paul and George and Ringo, a man who hasn’t made the cut at Augusta since 1983, Dan Marino’s rookie season in the NFL.

 

To be 74 and still dragging a multitude of fans up and down the hills and through the pine thickets and over the portals of yesteryear is a phenomenal accomplishment.

To have them care so much that you’re never going to do it again, that’s a bond much tougher to break than par.

“I guess it’s more difficult for me because I’m sort of a sentimental slob,” said Palmer, who needed quite some time to get that sentence out. The emotion welling up within him during a post-round TV interview often soaked his words in sadness and caused his throat to catch.

Out on the course, though, that was a different matter. The King’s slow procession toward a second consecutive 84 was accomplished, at least half of the time, within arm’s reach of the gallery ropes. Palmer clearly wanted it that way. He needed the energy of his fans to make it up some of those long and unyielding Augusta National inclines.

They called to him all day, with greeting-card sonnets like “Thank you, Arnie,” and “Thanks for the memories,” and “We love you, Arnie.” Every now and then, too, somebody shot him a zinger, as one good friend might to another, and got in return a comeback line delivered in good cheer.

“These hills are a little steeper than they were 50 years ago, huh, Arnie?” came a voice from a snow-topped gentleman trudging outside the ropes on the long slog up No. 8. “Just a tad,” Palmer shot back, holding his index finger and thumb about an inch apart.

Never did he want it to end like this, he’d have to admit, because never did Arnie want it to end at all.

“I looked at the galleries and there were so many people out there I recognized, and some people who would remind me that they had been with me for the whole 50 years,” he said.

“That’s part of the reason, I suppose, that I have played as long as I have. My competitive attitude, though it hasn’t shown up much lately, it’s still there.”

Those of us privileged to walk the final 18 with Arnie saw it Friday, and more than once. Here’s a personal favorite.

Arnie is tired, and looks it, as he walks over to the No. 6 tee and plops on a wooden bench. The round has started badly, with missed greens and short drives and three bogeys in the first five holes. There’s a little time before the par-3 green ahead of them clears so Palmer rolls up his pant legs, pulls down his socks and calls for 16-year-old Sam Saunders, his grandson and handpicked caddy for this special event, to pull the Aspercreme from a zippered pocket in the golf bag.

It’s his shins that are killing him, and that’s where Palmer applies the cream, liberally.
A sign of age, yet the hundreds of people staring at their hero choose not to comment, even in whispers, even among themselves.

Arnold eventually sticks his tee in the ground and prepares to play, but just then, down and to the right of the elevated No. 6 tee, a great roar of appreciation goes up for the arrival of another legend, Jack Nicklaus, at the nearby 16th green. If Arnie had stopped and looked up, he could have watched his old friend and 1960s rival smiling and waving to the crowd.

But Arnie doesn’t stop. He swings right through the sound of thousands cheering the Golden Bear and sends toward the green a shot for the ages. The ball covers the 180 yards in the space of about five accelerated hearbeats and stops 6 feet from the cup.

Palmer gives the crowd a courtly half-bow and answers the hallelujahs with a neon smile.
Then he steps over to the ropes and says to a startled spectator, just loud enough for that one man to hear it and no one else, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then.”

Lee Trevino would have shouted that line at bullhorn volume and thrown his head back in a howl of laughter. He is one of golf’s great showmen. Palmer, however, isn’t the sort of performer who has to be “on” to entertain.

Friday he never hitched his pants, unless it was to squat down to stick his tee in the ground or pull his ball from the cup. He never drained a long birdie putt, either. There were only seven pars in his round, and a closing bogey on 18. What a final flourish it would have been had that last par putt dropped. I’d say that it looked to be about 5 feet to me but it was tough enough just catching a glimpse of Arnie’s red shirt and Bay Hill visor through the heads and shoulders of the people crowded around that green.

“C’mon, Arnie, c’mon, Arnie,” everyone seemed to whisper as he took the putter back, as if a fifth Masters title were riding on it. This is the Army of today, no different than the very first one right here at Augusta National. It was 1958 and some soldiers on leave from Augusta’s Fort Gordon worked the Masters scoreboards with something less than absolute objectivity. Holding up signs announcing the presence of “Arnie’s Army,” they eventually caused Cliff Roberts and the Masters committee to ban signs at future tournaments.

If Palmer was daydreaming about any of that Friday, he quickly snapped back to attention while crossing through a ditch down in Amen Corner. A 5-foot snake, as black as a water moccasin and thus presumed to be poisonous, was right in front of his feet.

“If I felt a little tired,” said Arnie, “I didn’t then. I came out of there and I was flying.”

Later, walking up No. 14, Palmer’s fiancee, Kit Gawthrop, met him in a crosswalk across the fairway with a few encouraging words and a gentle push in the back toward the end of this epic round. Soon thereafter he was coming up the 18th fairway to the most heartfelt ovation of his life. Arnie realized at that moment his shins weren’t hurting. Not in the least.

Magical, this farewell lap through the magnolias, exactly the sort of thing that Nicklaus deserves one day. Here’s hoping that his talk Friday afternoon of never playing the Masters again was just the fleeting disgust of a pair of 75s talking.

Golf is a game made for giants, and there’s no better place to appreciate them than here among Southern pines that have been here a century, and ghosts that never will leave.

 

Where Arnold Palmer finished in his 50 Masters tournaments from 1955-2004First: 4 (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964)
Second: 2 (1961-T, 1965-T)
Third: 1 (1959)
Fourth: 2 (1966-T, 1967)
Seventh: 1 (1957-T)
Ninth: 1 (1963-T)
Tenth: 1 (1955-T)
Other: 13 times
Missed cut: 25 times

[Adam Gase off to slow start compared to other first-time NFL head coaches]

[Tim Tebow tries to blend in with Mets’ Instructional League kids]

[Lamar Jackson could do what no Palm Beach County athlete ever has]

 

FSU coming off horrible loss and that isn’t so great for the South Florida Bulls on Saturday

Don’t expect Florida State to lose a second consecutive game on Saturday. That hasn’t happened to Jimbo Fisher since 2011.

In this Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, photo, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher walks off the field after losing an NCAA college football game against Louisville, while Louisville players prepare to dowse their coach with Gatorade, in Louisville, Ky. (Pat McDonogh/The Courier-Journal via AP)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher walks off the field last Saturday while Louisville players prepare to dowse their coach, Bobby Petrino, with a celebratory Gatorade bath. (Pat McDonogh/The Courier-Journal via AP)

We’re talking 66 games without back-to-back losses. Only Oregon, at 70 games, has gone longer in that category.

Of course, FSU’s 63-20 disaster at Louisville last week was a bonafide shocker. It reset the entire ACC race and had the people who projected the Seminoles in the College Football Playoff field feeling pretty foolish.

There’s no reason why FSU shouldn’t handle 3-0 South Florida this week, though. Jimbo has the team’s full attention now, and the humiliation of losing that way to Louisville will provide plenty of motivation. No team had ever scored 63 on the Seminoles, and that covers all the lean years prior to Bobby Bowden’s arrival at the school.

There were six games last year where the FSU basketball team didn’t allow 63 points, for crying out loud.

[Adam Gase is lagging behind NFL’s other first-time head coaches]

[Tim Tebow tries to blend in with Mets’ Instructional League kids]

[Lamar Jackson could do what no Palm Beach County player ever has]

Reminds me of a few other times, however, when devastating scores were dropped on state teams but the effects were shaken off very quickly.

In 1998, Butch Davis’ Miami Hurricanes took a 66-13 beating at Syracuse in late November. One week later they returned to the Orange Bowl to upset No. 3 UCLA 49-45.

Steve Spurrier had to take his medicine, too, in the national championship game following the 1995 season. Florida came in unbeaten but lost the Fiesta Bowl to Nebraska by the startling score of 62-24.

One year later the Gators won their first national championship, blasting FSU 52-20.

As for FSU’s chances of making the College Football Playoff field and possible a spot in the national championship game at Tampa, consider this.

Ohio State and Oregon played in the inaugural national title game under the new playoff format and they got there after taking surprising losses early in the season. The Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech in September of 2014 and Oregon lost to Arizona. In each case the opponents were unranked and in each case Ohio State and Oregon were top-10 teams playing at home.

By that measure, losing to No. 10 Louisville on the road shouldn’t disqualify FSU from anything at this point. Let’s see how the rest of the ACC season plays out.

Louisville plays at Clemson on Oct. 1. Four weeks later Clemson is at FSU.

Now if you want to argue the other side of this thing, looking at FSU’s 6-4 record in its last 10 games as the sign of a serious decline, this South Florida game is the real litmus test. It was a 17-7 September loss to the Bulls in Tampa that ultimately convinced everyone that 2009 should be Bowden’s final season.

My view is that Jimbo has got things tightened down a lot better than that. Louisville is going to make a lot of teams look bad this year. Suddenly they’re a national title contender.

The Seminoles have nine more games, including dates with Miami and Florida, to prove that they are, too.

 

Gotta be the schedule, right? Adam Gase is lagging behind the other first-time NFL head coaches of 2016

 

Adam Gase, still looking for his first win, isn’t doing too well in comparison to the other first-time NFL head coaches in the class of 2016.

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase speaks to the media after an NFL football game against the New England Patriots Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase speaks to the media after last Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the New England Patriots. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles and Ben McAdoo of the New York Giants are each 2-0, making thing look fairly easy. Dirk Koetter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is 1-1, with a 40-7 loss at Arizona last week weighing him down.

Back in July I wrote a blog surmising that Gase had the toughest road among these four in establishing himself right away with winning credentials. That was based largely on being made to open the season at Seattle and New England, an especially cruel welcome to the job.

Now, though, it is time for Gase to win a game, to make that happy locker-room speech, to validate Stephen Ross’ decision to turn his team over to a guy with no head-coaching experience at any level.

Enter the Cleveland Browns, who also are winless and equally desperate with rookie Cody Kessler as their emergency starter at quarterback. In fact, you have to do a little digging to find a September Dolphins game as desperate as Sunday’s will be to both teams.

Only three previous times in franchise history has an 0-2 Miami team been matched against an 0-2 opponent.

In 1988 Don Shula’s Dolphins beat Green Bay 24-17 and went on to finish 6-10. That was one of only two losing records the Hall of Fame coach ever recorded.

Nick started 0-2 as Miami coach in 2006 and squeaked out a 13-10 win over 0-2 Tennessee on a late Olindo Mare field goal. Again, the Dolphins were bound for a 6-10 finish.

The closest parallel to where Gase stands now, however, is the disastrous debut of Cam Cameron in 2007. It’s not fair to compare the two in any other way. Gase presents himself as much more suited to a long and successful career as an NFL head coach. Here, though, are the facts.

Cameron, a first-time head coach, started out with tough games against a couple of eventual playoff teams, the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. The first game was an overtime loss on the road, fairly encouraging overall. The second, a 37-20 loss to the Cowboys, featured some offensive spark by the Dolphins but a ton of wild and unpredictable mood swings, sort of like last week’s loss at New England.

Next came a match with the 0-2 New York Jets at Giants Stadium. Losing that one 31-28 really exhausted any enthusiasm that remained for Cameron and his sunny outlook on awakening the Dolphins. It took a 15-point rally by Miami to even make the game close, with an unsuccessful on-side kick with 1:15 remaining as the final tease.

That became the lasting theme, one sad loss after another until Cameron finally broke through with a December upset win over Baltimore. In overtime, of course.

This is the kind of attitudinal avalanche that Gase can’t afford, not because he is in the slightest danger of being a one-and-done Dolphins coach but because 2016 doesn’t need to be a training exercise alone.

Miami fans and Dolphins players want to feel like somebody else’s problem for a change. On top of that, getting the Browns at home is the closest thing to a respite that Gase is going to get.

Without a victory over Cleveland on Sunday, it gets pretty dismal around here, and it might stay that way for a while, especially with a Thursday night trip to Cincinnati coming right up next week.

Should be easy but it won’t be. The Browns are in the same rut. Everybody knows it’s win or go utterly sour now.

 

 

 

Tim Tebow gamely tries to blend in with Mets’ Instructional League kids

 

PORT ST. LUCIE – Six minutes into Tim Tebow’s first workout as a member of the New York Mets’ organization a local television news helicopter arrived overhead, which begged the question: What took them so long?

Former football star Tim Tebow shakes hands with a coach just prior to practicing for the first time in the instructional League for the New York Mets baseball team. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post
Tim Tebow shakes hands with a coach Monday just prior to practicing for the first time in the instructional League for the New York Mets baseball team. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

Already Monday morning more than 100 media members were gathered on the back fields at Tradition Field, the Mets’ spring-training facility, to see the former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback stretch and warm up with players 10 years his junior.

Already the first wave of an estimated 400 fans was in place, wearing Florida Gators jerseys with his famous No. 15 or carrying them for a hopeful autograph signing opportunity later, along with a few Denver Broncos and New York Jets shirts. The Mets’ public attendance count was 400 at 11 a.m., but people continued to walk in after that, with the workout scheduled to end at 1 p.m.

Tebow is doing his best, meanwhile, to blend in. Not easy for him, but it never is.

If the Mets had given him No. 99 instead of No. 15, it wouldn’t have mattered. Those who love Tebow are fixated on him alone, standing along the fences and backstops and occasionally letting out a whoop or an attaboy whenever he does something, anything, like taking a lead off first base as part of a baserunning drill or tracking a fly ball in left field.

It won’t be like this every day. Tebow, starting out his professional baseball career at 29, will have the weekend off to do his pregame work analyzing college football for the SEC Network.

He was in Oxford, Miss., for instance, last Saturday for the Alabama-Ole Miss game before flying to Florida for this new gig. He’ll be leaving here after Thursday’s workout to report to more SEC Network duty, probably LSU at Auburn, and then back next week for more baseball drills.

Today at 1:30 p.m., there’s supposed to be a press conference with Tebow. Meanwhile, he’s working hard with these mini-Mets, some of them former draft picks coming off busy minor-league seasons and others entry-level players in their late teens.

Every now and again Tebow must jog past the assembled media on the way from one field to the next. “How’s it going?” he always is asked and a smile is all he gives. Everyone wants more, of course. One time, as he moved between diamonds, Tebow gave some quick hand slaps to fans leaning over a railing and in the process dropped the bat and glove he was carrying.

It’s a lot to handle, this Tebow lifestyle. He’s likely to spend a few weeks in Port St. Lucie, a stretch that might include some games at Roger Dean Stadium against Instructional League players from the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. Everything is up for grabs at this point, with a possible assignment to a Fall League in Arizona another possibility.

He’s up for anything, apparently, or this highly public plunge into baseball’s backwaters never would have happened.

Lamar Jackson could do what no Palm Beach County player ever has

 

I promise not to turn this into a weekly update, but based on a remarkable early-season run of domination USA Today is listing Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson as the top contender for the 2016 Heisman Trophy.

SYRACUSE, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals warms up before the game against the Syracuse Orange on September 9, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
SYRACUSE, NY – Lamar Jackson of the Louisville Cardinals warms up before the game against the Syracuse Orange on September 9, 2016 at The Carrier Dome. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

That will catch America’s attention Saturday when the Cardinals play Florida State, two top dogs contending with Clemson for the ACC Atlantic Division.

Jackson is of particular interest here, though, because he played at Boynton Beach High School and is a candidate to become the first Palm Beach County athlete to win the Heisman.

Brad Banks of Glades Central High School has come the closest. He was the runnerup to USC’s Carson Palmer in the 2002 voting. A star quarterback at Iowa, Banks beat Palmer for the Davey O’Brien Award and also was voted AP Player of the Year and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

Here are the six times Palm Beach County athletes have finished in the top 10 of Heisman voting.

 

Finish   Player                   School              Yr         Heisman winner

2nd         Brad Banks            Glades Central   2002      Carson Palmer

4th         Anthony Carter     Suncoast             1982      Herschel Walker

6th         Tre Mason              Park Vista           2013       Jameis Winston

7th         Anthony Carter     Suncoast             1981        Marcus Allen

T8          Craig Erickson       Newman             1990       Ty Detmer

10th       Anthony Carter     Suncoast             1980        George Rogers

[Dolphins’ most recent playoff season started out 0-2, so simmer down]

[Anthem protest by Dolphins players unwelcome on 9/11 or any other day]

[Nate Silver’s vaunted prediction team sees last-place finish for Dolphins]

Dolphins still kicking themselves over blocked field goal at Seattle

The New England Patriots are 1-0 and the Miami Dolphins are 0-1 because of the kicking game.

Miami Dolphins kicker Andrew Franks has a field goal attempt blocked by Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cassius Marsh (91), left, in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
SEATTLE – Miami Dolphins kicker Andrew Franks has a field goal attempt blocked by defensive end Cassius Marsh in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s 12-10 loss to the Seahawks. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

At Arizona last Sunday, the Cardinals’ Chandler Catanzaro missed a 47-yard field goal try in the final minute. The snap was low, disrupting the timing of what already was a difficult kick, and the Patriots escaped with a 23-21 victory.

Of course, Bill Belichick had his special teams all buttoned up for the season opener, not because Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were missing and absolutely everything had to go right but because Belichick is a details guy, no matter the occasion.

That’s how you wind up with Stephen Gostkowski being named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, and that’s how the Patriots have an early edge in the AFC East standings over Miami and everybody else.

Gostkowski made all three of his field goal tries, including one from 53 yards, plus a couple of extra points. That last part really counts, too, now that the NFL has pushed conversion kicks all the way out to 33 yards.

As a bonus, New England’s defense got the benefit of Gostkowski’s excellent kickoffs. The Cardinals’ average starting position after kickoffs was their own 18-yard line.

To recap, Patriots good in all areas of the game. Patriots good, period. Year after year.

Darren Rizzi, the Dolphins’ assistant head coach and special teams coordinator, knows all of this. He also knows how badly his unit cost Miami in Sunday’s season-opening loss at Seattle.

When Cassius Marsh got a hand up to block Andrew Franks’ field-goal try in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins blew a chance to tie the score at 6-6. They also blew an opportunity to score following a fumble by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson at the Seattle 36. In a game where the Miami defense was hit hard by injuries and generally gassed by being on the field too long, this was particularly demoralizing.

[Dolphins’ most recent playoff season started out 0-2, so simmer down]

[Anthem protest by some Dolphins players unwelcome on 9/11 or any other day]

[Nate Silver’s vaunted prediction teams sees a last-place finish for Dolphins]

Should Franks have gotten that kick up quicker? Did he attack it too casually, recognizing that the distance was shorter even than an extra point? Did the Miami kick-protection team get a little sloppy on its blocking? Any or all of these could apply, and any or all of these could crush the Dolphins’ chances of pulling off an upset at Foxborough, where every point is precious.

For that matter, Franks only got 16 field-goal tries in 2016, making 13 of them. The way Miami often struggles to move the ball, there simply are no opportunities to waste in any game. On Sunday, Franks made one from 41 yards but got blocked on a gimme. Ugh.

On the plus side at Seattle, Miami rookie Jakeem Grant showed what an unpredictable and potentially explosive return man he can be. A couple of times he was thrown down like a rag doll on punt returns, which certainly can happen to a 5-foot-7 man in a Godzilla-sized NFL. On the opening kickoff of the second half, however, Grant caught the ball in the end zone and shot 45 yards to the Miami 41-yard line.

The Dolphins didn’t do anything with it, going three-and-out and calling out Matt Darr for one of his seven punts. That won’t do, either, but Grant will have Gostkowski working hard on Sunday to keep kickoffs in the corners or out of sight.

It’s all part of the kicking game, and it’s why the AFC East standings already look the way they do. Frustratingly familiar.

Dolphins’ most recent playoff season started out 0-2, so simmer down a bit

There’s so much excitement over any season opener, and such an oversized letdown when it goes the wrong way.

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89) catches a pass for a touchdown over Miami Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain (28) in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
SEATTLE – Wide receiver Doug Baldwin catches a pass for a touchdown over Miami Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain  to give the Seahawks a 12-10 victory on Sept. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Wallow in the disappointment of Miami’s 12-10 loss to Seattle and you miss the larger point. Half of the teams in the league lost last weekend. Half of the teams in the league got off to a bad start.

If there weren’t 15 regular-season games to go, this would be a major problem. Instead it is a challenge, and judging by this first look at Adam Gase’s team, the Dolphins are up to a challenge.

Maybe this helps. Total up the opening-day records of all the teams left on Miami’s 2016 schedule. The answer is 5-7.

The NFL is set up for everybody to be in a scrap every week, in other words, and the Dolphins are hardly alone in really needing a win in Week 2.

Suppose they get one at New England on Sunday. That would be enormous, if only because there is so little margin for error in keeping the Patriots close in the AFC East. There is no point, however, in rifling through playoff scenarios in September, good or bad.

Miami’s most recent trip to the playoffs, Tony Sparano’s debut season of 2008, started out with a couple of losses.

Seven times in franchise history the Dolphins have made the playoffs after splitting their first two games.

Four of those opening splits on the way to the postseason began with a loss. I remember covering a particularly disheartening flop on opening day in 1985.

The Dolphins lost 26-23 at Houston that day, with Don Shula pulling Dan Marino from the lineup in the fourth quarter because the future Hall of Famer was not sharp coming off a long training-camp contract holdout. To make matters worse, the Oilers were 6-35 in the previous three seasons and were considered a soft touch, even in the Astrodome. Instead, they beat Miami on a Mike Rozier touchdown run with 25 seconds to play.

[Anthem protest by some Dolphin players makes political football of opener]

[Nate Silver’s vaunted prediction team sees a last-place finish for Dolphins]

[It’s a soft opening for Tiger Woods’ return, and that’s a smart move]

By season’s end, however, the Dolphins were the host team for the AFC title game and gunning for a second-straight trip to the Super Bowl.

Not trying to make a comparison between the roster on that Miami team and this one, but the word on opening-game losses is the same: Settle down and look to build on the positives.

There were plenty of those in Sunday’s battle to the end with the talented Seahawks.