The Back Nine took last week off to recover from The Players but we’re back with a heavy heart after the passing of a mentor.
10. You knew it was coming for several weeks because Jack Hairston wanted it to come. He was ready to go and called several friends to say goodbye before he left this world at 81. Hairston hired me twice and was one of the reasons I became a sportswriter. I was working in sports information in 1975 as a student at Florida when the SEC Skywriters came to town. The Skywriters were a collection of writers from the South who toured the SEC schools and had a great time doing it. That was the first time I met Jack, and he made it look like a blast being a sportswriter. He hired me as a stringer for The Sun and handed me my first press pass — Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta preseason football game in Jacksonville. He hired me in 1980 to be the editor of his new magazine “Bull Gator.” Hairston hired a lot of people who went on to successful careers and mentored so many young writers. He was at his best in a hospitality room where coaches felt comfortable talking to him. It was a different day then. When Jack Youngblood was drafted by the Rams, Hairston brought him to the newspaper office so he could watch it on the teletype. Hairston, who would correct you if you pronounced it Hare-ston instead of Hahr-ston, was a bulldog when it came to chasing down stories. He struggled at times as the business changed and wasn’t always the most politically correct. When we were going through the horror of the student murders in the summer of 1990, I told Jack to ask Steve Spurrier how his players were dealing with it. So in the middle of a press conference, Hairston blurted out, “Steve, has the Gainesville Slasher affected your team?” He was a piece of work, as blunt as a worn-out eraser. A lot of us owe a lot to Jack Hairston.
11. If you watched the Florida-Georgia baseball series, you probably came away feeling like the Back Nine did. The Gators got the needed sweep but looked like the old Gators at the plate. You know, the ones who were struggling so badly early in the SEC schedule. Now, was it because Georgia had good starters with bad numbers (probably) or because the UF hitters were a bit sluggish, as Kevin O’Sullivan said after Sunday’s game (possibly)? Or is it that the Gators peaked too early? One thing for sure, we saw why Georgia has only three SEC wins. That is a team that finds ways to lose games.
12. We’ll find out a lot about the Gators this weekend as the postseason starts. I know, the series at South Carolina actually closes out the regular season but it is going to feel like the postseason. The winner takes the SEC title and the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament. I think both teams have wrapped up national seeds, which means they can host all the way to Omaha. The loser of the series will be the three seed in Hoover. It’s hard for me to see Florida winning two of three in Columbia after the Gamecocks swept the series this weekend in Fayetteville. But, hey, this team has been full of surprises this season.
13. It was another one of those special weekends for the UF program. Both men’s and women’s tennis teams advanced to the Sweet 16 and the men’s track team won the SEC title. Every time I read about Jeff Demps winning sprints I can’t help but wonder what he’d look like running back kickoffs this year. At the same time, do you want to risk injury (see: Andre Caldwell, Jacquez Green) with a guy who probably will be your No. 1 tailback? Anyway, great job by the men and the women in both sports (women’s track finished second) as Florida has wrapped up another SEC All-Sports Trophy.
14. The one downer of the weekend was the performance by the softball team in the SEC Tournament. Everyone was looking forward to a Florida-Alabama final but the Gators failed to show up for their semifinal game against LSU. The 9-1 loss tied for the worst under Tim Walton (’09 Washington, ’07 UCLA, ’06 Tennessee). It was just one of those games where UF did nothing right. Maybe they got it out of their systems. We’ll see this weekend when Florida plays host to a regional.
15. Sometime this week, the NCAA is expected to announce the results of its lengthy investigation of Southern Cal football. I’m guessing there will be some vacated wins and scholarship reductions. The BCS title can’t be affected because it’s not governed by the NCAA. But Reggie Bush’s 2005 Heisman Trophy can be if it turns out he was ineligible. In the light of the Brian Cushing fiasco, I hope they don’t re-vote. Heck, if they had a re-vote after that season’s national title game, Vince Young would have won. But it will be interesting to see how the Heisman people will handle this. They could vacate it or give it to Young. Or they could just ignore the whole thing. Doubtful. If I’m Bush, I’m shipping my Heisman Trophy to the Cayman Islands.
16. Apparently, the Orlando Magic liked their time off so much they decided to take most of Sunday off as well. Boys, the Celtics are going to play that way to the end so you might as well decide if you want to shove back or not.
17. Because we have to have one of these stories every month, this month it’s the denials and speculation and rumors surrounding John Calipari. He tweeted that he wasn’t going anywhere (is that even official?) but the new story breaks that his good buddy William Wesley, also known as Worldwide Wes, has been shopping a Calipari-LeBron James package around to NBA teams. Sleazy doesn’t begin to describe the situation at Kentucky.
18. Is your iPod ready for the summer. It isn’t if you haven’t downloaded “California Gurls” by Katy Perry. Trust me, it’s going to be the song you hear the most this summer. Also, try “The Difference Between Us” by the Dead Weather. And for old-schoolers, “The Wizard” by Uriah Heep.