The Back Nine: Sports, you just never know

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FILE - In this Sept. 13, 2014, file photo, Washington State alumnus Keith Jackson smiles after raising the Cougar flag before the start of an NCAA college football game against Portland State at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Jackson, the down-home voice of college football during more than five decades as a broadcaster, died Friday, Jan. 12, 2018. He was 89. (AP Photo/Dean Hare, File)

The Back Nine comes at you and hopes everyone enjoys/enjoyed MLK Day and remembered it for more than just getting the day off (if you did). Sometimes I look back at race relations in this country when I was a kid and it seems like fiction, like it can’t possibly have happened.

10. When did New Orleans hire Butch Jones to coach its late-game defense? Or was that Kentucky I was watching in those Fleur-de-lis uniforms? Most importantly, what just happened? I had no dog in the hunt, but I still couldn’t sleep Sunday night thinking about what it was like to be a Saints fan after that incredible loss. But as two of my favorite people — my friend Mark Wise and my wife Karen — like to say, the great thing about sports is that it is unscripted. It’s why we watch and why we know better than to turn it off. Of course, the gamblers in Vegas and elsewhere were watching and because the final line was 5½ and the final margin was five points, there were some bettors who were not happy (and others who were ecstatic) that the Vikings knelt rather than kick the extra point after the touchdown. The funny thing is that gambling is one reason it is mandated that they kick the point even after a game-winner. I just know that it seems like a weekly message from beyond that tells me never to bet on sports because the more you think you know, the less you know. Unless you had the over on Pittsburgh-Jacksonville.

11. So the quarterbacks for the NFL’s Final Four are Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Case Keenum and some guy named Tom Brady. I’m confused. I thought quarterback was the most important position in the NFL. I’m starting to think that it’s offensive coordinator because it is amazing to me how the better ones are able to get people open against the best defenses. And that includes Nathaniel Hackett at Jacksonville because the Jags needed every bit of the 45 points it scored against the Steelers. Hackett is another example of the sons of NFL coaches (Kyle Shanahan, Brian Schottenheimer, Adam Zimmer, Nate Carroll, etc.) who are successful in the family business. Anyway, it was an incredible weekend of NFL games other than the Patriots’ dissection of the Titans. Technically, I went 2-2 against the spread, although I picked the Vikings by six because the early line was 3½. This week, I think the Jags cover the nine points against the Pats, although it was funny to hear Tony Romo chastising everyone in the early minutes of the game for thinking Pats-Titans would be a blowout (and then it was). And I like the Eagles as 3-point home dogs against the Vikings. One miracle per season.

12. Certainly, it was a difficult loss for the mighty Gators on Saturday in Oxford and I understand the bitterness about the officiating, especially one official hallucinating on the baseline and calling Jalen Hudson for stepping on a line he wasn’t near. Look, in every sport, officials are going to miss calls. All you can hope for is that the calls eventually even out at the end of the season. It was more than that one call that beat Florida and remember that UF had a lot of calls go its way at Missouri just a week earlier. And in every sport, you have to realize that there are a lot of calls that aren’t black and white, but opinion. They are subjective no matter how many times we are told differently. Interference, block or charge, ball or strike, 9.9 or 9.95. I’m sure the official who made that call on Hudson was embarrassed when his grade came in and mistakes like that can keep you out of the NCAA Tournament or even the SEC Tournament as an official. But we all make mistakes. Sports are, by nature, a series of mistakes. One guy doesn’t box out or a defensive back makes a phantom tackle (sorry Saints fans) or misses home plate and it changes a game. Dems da breaks.

13. The bigger issue immediately is that teams are attacking Florida at the rim and there doesn’t seem to be a lot Florida can do about it because of current personnel and because when the Gators collapse defensively they are getting killed at the 3-point line. Florida ranks 11th in the conference in blocked shots and Arkansas leads the SEC in points in the paint. So this game Wednesday will be about toughness as much as anything and UF needs to find a way at home with Kentucky on the road Saturday. And while UF’s loss to Ole Miss was a downer, the thing that makes the SEC different this year is that you can lose to anybody. Two, three years ago, you had to play really poorly to lose to any of about six teams. Now, you can play decent on the road and still go down.

14. The death of Keith Jackson was another blow and even though us oldtimers are getting used to losing people we admire it doesn’t make it any easier. Jackson was a true gentleman, the voice of college football and the soundtrack for so much of what happened during the Steve Spurrier Era, especially the national championship win over FSU. He was also on the celebrated Gatorade commercial, which made it that much more authentic. But my favorite memory of Jackson is different from probably everyone else in the world. It was when he came on the TV at the start of a game and said, “Who ARE these Jacksonville Bulls?” The USFL Bulls were getting ready to play host to Herschel Walker and the New Jersey Generals and the old Gator Bowl was packed. It felt like football had finally arrived in River City. So that’s my favorite memory although, “IT’S JACKSON …. HE’S GONE!” is right up there. (See: Terry, Sugar Bowl).

15. College football continues to swirl with coaching hires (how different is your life if your beat was to cover Arizona and Arizona State?) and that includes coordinators moving from job to job. I need to get over one thing — why people think John Chavis is this elite defensive coordinator. I mentioned on my podcast that I was curious how many 30-point games his defenses have allowed during his time as a DC in this league. Thanks to a reader known as SAS, I now know. Since 1995, Chavis defenses have allowed 30 or more points 54 times, including 11 times in the last two years. Woo Pig. That just seems like a lot of bad performances. I’m not saying it was a bad hire. I just think his prime has passed him by. But college coaches (and NFL assistants) just seem to get recycled over and over. Noel Mazzone, who joins Sumlin at Arizona, is on his eighth Power Five school as an offensive coordinator.

16. Meanwhile, Alabama will have its fourth offensive coordinator in three seasons now that Brian Daboll has collected his ring and shuffled off to Buffalo. It always felt like a rent-a-coordinator move with Daboll. But he can always brag about the last play he called in college. So Alabama will have new offensive and defensive coordinators in 2018. Anyone want to bet the Tide is not in the College Football Playoffs?

17. The Tweet of the Week not related to the Vikings-Saints game (a lot of video and GIFs) came from ESPN announcer Fran Fraschilla and if you read item No. 12 you know I agree with this — “Note to top college officials: Get your rest, eat right, maybe cut back on one game a week. You know, 6 instead of 7. Lot at stake in 2nd part of season. Need you at your best. Ok? Thanks.” Look, their best isn’t going to be perfect. But the better it is, the better the sport is.

18. Man, when you’ve been watching as much TV on the recliner as I have and using your recuperation as an excuse, it can be a bear getting back in the gym. But I did every day this long weekend. It wasn’t much but it was better than nothing thanks to this playlist:

• “Fire” by Beth Ditto.

• “Erasure” by Superchunk.

• “You Worry Me” by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats.

• “Patient” by Caroline Pennell.

• And because I have become obsessed with “Revolver” again, the best album ever made, “For No One” by The Beatles.

And a special thanks to reader Jon Alverson who sent me a Spotify version of the last month or so of Back Nine selections. I feel like I need to take a long trip.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.