VIDEO: Ray Lewis Tribute - In the Air Tonight Phil Collins




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Browns hire Rob Chudzinski as new coach

RobChudzinski
A person familiar with the decision says the Cleveland Browns have hired Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski as their new coach.

Chudzinski will become the Browns' sixth full-time coach since 1999, said the person who spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday night on the condition of anonymity because the team has not yet announced the hiring. The 44-year-old Chudzinski has spent the past two seasons with the Panthers. He has had two previous stints with the Browns as an assistant coach.

Chudzinski, who grew up in Ohio and rooted for the Browns as a kid, interviewed with the team on Wednesday. He has spent the past two years working with quarterback Cam Newton.

The Browns have been searching for a coach since firing Pat Shurmur on Dec. 31 after a 5-11 season.


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(ap.com)
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Frank Gore shows few signs of slowing down

FrankGore2
Santa Clara, Calif. - Frank Gore turns 30 in May and is fast approaching 2,000 career carries in the National Football League.

Usually, those numbers signal a running back's imminent decline. There are, after all, a finite number of thudding collisions and helmet-to-helmets in a man's body.

But in Gore's case, it's hard to find evidence that the odometer has turned over. The heart of the San Francisco 49ers' offense had one of the best seasons of his eight-year career in 2012, rushing for 1,214 yards on 258 carries (4.7 average).

The 49ers (11-4-1) earned a first-round bye in the playoffs, which gave Gore an extra week to rest his body for the NFC divisional round game against Green Bay on Saturday.

"Frank's moving around really well," said 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. "I look forward to a great playoff game from him this week."

After back-to-back weeks facing Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, the Packers now get the 5-foot-9, 217-pound Gore, who remains an elite back with speed to get outside and power between the tackles.

In the 49ers' season-opening, 30-22 victory over the Packers, Gore had 16 carries for 112 yards. He got to the edge several times and ripped off runs of 10, 16, 21 and 23 yards, scoring San Francisco's final touchdown on the 23-yarder.

But much has changed since then. Colin Kaepernick has replaced Alex Smith as the starting quarterback and the 49ers are running a lot of read-option to take advantage of Kaepernick's strengths.

Kaepernick has carried the ball 63 times for 415 yards (6.6 average) and has scored five rushing touchdowns.

In Kaepernick's seven starts since Nov. 19, Gore's numbers are a more pedestrian 118-461-3.9.

Gore doesn't know on some plays whether he's going to get the ball or Kaepernick is going to keep it.

"It's on him," Gore said. "I've just got to be patient through the line and when I've got it, that's when I've got to explode."

As for whether the adjustment has been difficult, Gore said, "I play football. I'm a football player. I can adjust."

The Packers held Peterson to 99 yards in their 24-10 wild-card victory last week, breathing a sigh of relief that he hadn't gone off for twice that amount, as he had in each of their regular-season meetings.

Gore watched the tape of the playoff game and said the only difference was that the Packers didn't let Peterson get outside. He fought for most of his yardage between the tackles.

"I think A.P. did a great job," Gore said. "He had 100 yards and if you call 100 yards not a great day, that's crazy. But they didn't let him get to the edges like he did in past games. They got the win and that's what it's all about."

Gore respects Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who was the 49ers' offensive coordinator in 2005, the running back's rookie year.

"Very smart coach," Gore said. "He knew how to get players the ball who he thought could help the team be successful. I liked Coach McCarthy a lot. When he was here that was my rookie year; we didn't really have great players like we have now.

"He had to work with what he had and I think he did a great job."

Gore will be trying to beat his former coach Saturday, and Roman wouldn't mind seeing the back carry the load.

"Ultimately, I want him to have 40 carries because that means we probably won by a huge margin and then we can just keep handing it off to him at the end of the game," Roman said. "Frank is one of the best running backs in the National Football League and we're lucky to have him.

"And we need him at his best for this game, for sure."


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(jsonline.com)
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Vince Wilfork leads list of Patriots who land All-NFL honors

VinceWilforkCanes
The honors continue to roll in for the Patriots, as tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and special teamer Matt Slater were named to the 2012 Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America All-NFL team on Thursday.

On Gronkowski, PFW’s Dan Arkush writes, “They don’t make receiving tight ends any better than Gronkowski, whose red-zone chemistry with Patriots QB Tom Brady is a key element  in the league’s most productive offense.” Arkush said Wilfork is “arguably New England’s best defensive player,” and that he “commands the trenches and provides an extra dimension with his ability to play both inside or on the edge.” As for Slater, PFW says he’s “a solid gunner [who] is headed to Honolulu for the second time after leading the Pats in special-teams tackles for the second straight season.”


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(weei.com)
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Years later, murder case still echoes for Ray Lewis, families

RayLewisRavens3
For more than a decade, Priscilla Lollar struggled to face the realization that her son had been killed in a brawl outside an Atlanta nightclub.

But these days, her emotions are raw again, as one of the men charged in the slaying — Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis — attracts national attention for his impending retirement and the team's playoff run.

The brawl in the early morning hours of Jan. 31, 2000, left two young men from Akron, Ohio, dead from stab wounds. Lewis and two acquaintances were charged with murder, but the charge against Lewis was reduced to a less serious one in a plea deal, and his co-defendants were acquitted.

Lewis, who might be playing his last game Saturday, will retire after the playoffs as the most popular Raven in team history. But his legacy — Super Bowl MVP, one of the National Football League's best linebackers, two-time defensive player of the year — will include the footnote of the murder charges. Fans of opposing teams have taunted him by calling him a murderer, and some in the news media are discussing the case again.

Hyperbole over the incident has lessened, but may never fade. News outlets, including National Public Radio, the Orlando Sentinel and the popular sports website Deadspin, have written about it recently in light of Lewis' retirement. Opinions cover a wide spectrum, from those who say Lewis should no longer be tied to the murders to those who say the crime victims should not be forgotten.

Lewis and his teammates have said the experience matured him and made him eager to give back to the community. "Not only did it have a profound effect on the player he became, but it had a profound effect on the person he became," former teammate Shannon Sharpe said, noting Lewis' charitable work.

Lewis would not comment Thursday when asked about the incident. His trial attorney, Max Richardson, said this week that it should be left in the past because his client's name was cleared.

But if Lewis will be remembered as a hero by many fans in Baltimore and around the nation — his No. 52 has been the top-selling NFL jersey recently — in Akron, Priscilla Lollar tries to move on without thinking about him.

"I never did acknowledge [my son] being dead until last year," she said this week. "I wouldn't have wanted to live. I always felt that he was in Atlanta and he would be home soon and would call me soon. It was like that for years."

The Lollars have not been able to watch Lewis play on TV, and they maintain that his money and power gave him an advantage at trial.

"How can you understand something that is senseless?" Priscilla Lollar said. "There was no justice in anything. ..."

Thirteen years ago this month, Lewis and his friends were celebrating at a posh nightclub after Super Bowl XXXIV, won by the St. Louis Rams over the Tennessee Titans.

The group included Joseph Sweeting, 34, a music producer and promoter whom Lewis knew from his time at the University of Miami, and Reginald Oakley, 31, a former barber from Baltimore.

Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker, childhood friends who had moved from Akron to the Atlanta area, were also partying at the Cobalt Lounge.

The two groups spilled out onto the streets about 3:30 a.m., and a member of Baker and Lollar's group traded words with Oakley.

"A Moet bottle smashed into the side of my head. ... I swung and he swung back and all hell broke loose around us," Oakley wrote in "Memories of Murder," a self-published book whose account mirrors trial testimony about the start of the street fight.

Amid the brawl, Lollar and Baker were stabbed and bled to death on the street. Someone fired shots at Lewis' limo as his group sped away.

Police arrested Lewis before the day was over, and the linebacker cried as he was read his rights.

Priscilla Lollar remembers her son as a creative child who liked to draw and sing. The oldest of nine, he was a talented barber whose brothers and sisters looked up to him, she said.

"You just wouldn't believe it," she said. "People would come for him to cut their hair, I would listen to them offering him $100 just to give them a fade."

Atlanta was supposed to be a new start for Baker and Lollar. Lollar had pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession. At the time of his death, Baker was being sought by police on charges of possession of cocaine and driving with an open container of alcohol; he had previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of improperly handling a firearm.

Lollar was 24 when he was killed, Baker just 21. Lollar had gone to Atlanta to work as a barber in a friend's shop, part of a wave of Akron men who went to the city at that time, his mother said. Richard's fiancee was pregnant, and his daughter, India, was born a couple of months after his death.

Baker's parents died before he was killed; an aunt, Vondie Boykin, declined to be interviewed about the brawl and its aftermath.

Priscilla Lollar said both families, and the mother of Richard's daughter, are trying to move on. They still don't know exactly what happened that night.

"I was in the dark on a lot of things," said Lollar. She said she did not attend the trial, although other members of the family went.

The trial in Fulton County did not go well for prosecutors. Some outside experts said at the time that the prosecution was sloppy and the charges against Lewis, Sweeting and Oakley had been rushed. Others noted that witnesses had changed their stories.

Two weeks into the trial, prosecutors agreed to drop the murder charges against Lewis if he would plead guilty to a charge of obstruction of justice and testify against Sweeting and Oakley, who had criminal records that included convictions for theft, burglary and resisting arrest. The obstruction-of-justice charge was related to Lewis' telling those who left in the limo after the fight that they should keep quiet about the incident.

Lewis testified that he tried to stop the fight and that Sweeting and Oakley bought knives the day before they ended up at the nightclub. Lewis testified that he asked Oakley later what happened. "I said this is all on me," Lewis told the court. "My career is over because you guys tripping."

After less than six hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted Sweeting and Oakley; neither man could be reached for comment for this article. Lewis had a year of probation for the misdemeanor charge and was fined $250,000 by the National Football League for violating its conduct policy.

Sharpe, a Hall of Famer who joined the Ravens soon after Lewis was arrested, said this week that the two talked on numerous occasions that year about the experience.

"I'm sure he felt bad that two men lost their lives, tragically," Sharpe said. "His name will forever be attached to that. I told him ... a great portion of people will always remember you for what transpired in Atlanta; you can't change that, no matter if you win 10 Super Bowls."

Faye Lollar, Richard's aunt, says of Lewis: "I had to forgive him to start my life and live my life. Richard was a big part of our lives, for him to be taken so harsh, it was just devastating. Everybody's trying to go on with their lives. Ray don't even cross our minds."

Priscilla Lollar says justice will come eventually. "I trust in God that he's going to take care of it," she said. "I can't do nothing about it."

A few years after the incident, Lewis settled civil lawsuits with both families. Richard Lollar's daughter received about $1 million, according to news reports; the Bakers' settlement was not disclosed publicly. Police consider the case closed.

Lewis helped lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl win in the season that followed the trial, and he has been widely praised for his charitable work. His Ray Lewis 52 Foundation has, among other things, distributed food and school supplies to Baltimore families.

Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne declined to comment this week about the Atlanta incident, saying that the case has been resolved.

When approached in the team locker room after practice Thursday by a USA Today reporter, Lewis wasn't happy about the topic being broached. He declined to discuss it, saying, "Really, really. Why would I talk about that? That was 13 years ago."

In a 2010 interview with the Baltimore Sun, however, Lewis opened up about the killings.

"I'm telling you, no day leaves this Earth without me asking God to ease the pain of anybody who was affected by that whole ordeal," he said. "He's a God who tests people — not that he put me in that situation, because he didn't make me go nowhere. I put myself in that situation.

"But if I had to go through all of that over again ... I wouldn't change a thing. Couldn't. The end result is who I am now."

Former teammate Sharpe noted that Disney, the company that passed over Lewis for a Super Bowl MVP commercial in 2001, is involved in a post-retirement deal with him. ESPN, a Disney subsidiary, will hire Lewis as an NFL commentator, according to news reports.

"That shows you how someone can rehabilitate their life," Sharpe said. "I'm sure there are some people that still dislike Ray for what transpired in Atlanta, but I know a different Ray Lewis."


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(baltimoresun.com)
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Frank Gore Can Be a Key for 49ers vs. Packers

FrankGore2
When the 49ers host the Packers this Saturday night, they need to remember Frank Gore.

No. 21, of course, hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s been in the 49ers backfield the entire season, churning out yards and making plays.

In his eighth NFL season, Gore has rushed for 1,214 yards – his second-best total as a pro  – and eight touchdowns, while also catching 28 passes for another 234 yards and a TD.

But since Colin Kaepernick took over as starting quarterback from Alex Smith in November, Gore has gone from being the focus of the offense to a complementary piece.

He had three 100-yard rushing games when Smith was the starting QB, but none over the final seven games with Kaepernick the starter.

Yet in the season-opening, 30-22 victory over the Packers in Green Bay in September, Gore pounded the Packers for 112 yards on just 16 carries – a 7-yard average – in leading a sustained ground attack that helped keep the potent Packers offense off the field.

As columnist Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group noted, for the 49ers to win their divisional-round playoff game against the Packers Saturday night at Candlestick Park, San Francisco needs to go back to its basics: running the football and playing a physical style on both offense and defense.

Though Kaepernick has brought a more wide-open, quick-strike style to the 49ers, beating the Packers may depend on whether San Francisco can play old-fashioned, run-oriented football.

“For one more week at least, the 49ers have to be bullies again,” wrote Kawakami.

The numbers indicate that the way Gore has been used since Kaepernick became the starter – and the team has adopted more read-option plays out of the Pistol offense that suits Kaepernick’s talents – is different. In the nine games started by Smith, says Kawakami, Gore averaged 5.4 yards a carry (140 carries, 753 yards). In the seven started by Kaepernick, Gore averaged 3.9 yards (118 carries, 461 yards).

The Packers, who know they’ll have to play better against the run this time against the 49ers, certainly aren’t losing focus on Gore. They know how good he is: a 5-foot-9, 217-pound slasher who seems to squeeze through impossible holes, is extremely durable and has six 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

“Frank Gore is an outstanding athlete. He makes plays for them,” Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews told reporters this week. “You’d like to think they’re going to get it going in that regard, especially with the lack of success (against the run) we’ve had in the past games.”

In their win over the Vikings last week, Green Bay gave up 167 rushing yards and 5.8 yards per attempt. In the regular season, the Packers ranked 17th in rushing defense, allowing an average of 118.5 yards per game and 4.5 per carry.

Gore has shown he’s been more effective as a runner in straight-ahead power-running formations rather than the read-option scheme. But, he’s also said he needs to evolve and learn to adapt and be more patient in that scheme.

Right offensive tackle Anthony Davis has no doubts Gore can pick up yards in this playoff game, no matter the play calls.

“We do our job, he does his and he’s as good as (heck) at his,” Davis told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.


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(nbcbayarea.com)
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Ray Lewis ending NFL career with same intensity that burned years ago at UM

RayLewisRavens2
It was late one night, and nobody was around other than a handful of University of Miami football players with little to do but talk. And talk they did, until one guy made a claim and a second guy objected to that claim and, well, there was just no way anybody was going to get to bed that evening until this whole mess was settled.

Ray Lewis was one of those men, Twan Russell the other. To most people, it would say something that Russell was a state champion in the 300-meter hurdles at Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas High. If Lewis was impressed, he didn’t show it.

“I’m the fastest linebacker,” Lewis said.

“You’re not the fastest,” Russell shot back.

They each kicked off their flip-flops and went flying down the road.

“Ray didn’t have a chance,” Russell, a Dolphin from 2000 through 2002, recalled this week. “Or he shouldn’t have, put it that way.”

The story comes to life this week because Lewis, 37 and a surefire Hall of Famer, is ending his career with Baltimore during these playoffs, which continue Saturday with the Ravens visiting the Denver Broncos. And what happened that night at UM has everything to do with how Lewis has stood out for 17 seasons with one franchise.

“He’s such a competitor, he would have said, ‘Let’s race on glass,’ ” said Russell, now the Dolphins’ director of youth and community programs. “To this day, I’ll say I won, but he argues me down. He didn’t beat me — he talks a whole lot louder. He would not let me leave until I raced him. He wanted to make sure I knew what kind of competitor he was. And I had to RUN. I really had to put the hammer down to beat him.”

That put Russell in the company of thousands. Lewis’ retirement announcement last week was no different from most plays he makes. You know it’s coming, yet when impact occurs, you’re still stunned.

So it was that when Lewis told teammates this was his “last ride,” the Ravens knew they had meetings to dash off to … yet they all sat there, stunned.

No more raspy, fear-of-God, “What time is it?” pep talks? No more Squirrel Dance out of the tunnel? No more running backs losing their mouthpieces as No. 52 comes from clear out of your picture to slam into him?

“It’s time for me to go create a different legacy,” Lewis said.

Most of all, he’s looking forward to spending more time with his kids, including Ray III, an incoming freshman running back at UM. Watching Hurricanes games will be a breeze for Ray, because even though he’ll maintain a home in Baltimore, his South Florida residence is in Boca Raton, where he’s also delving into a real-estate venture.

Lewis’ football legacy is secure. Describing Lewis’ ability to fire up teammates, Russell said, “I don’t think any other player could go into a football game with jumper cables and shock them. He has willed them to Super Bowls. … When you hear his speeches, that comes from a place most people aren’t capable of going. I truly believe it’s a spiritual place. I believe football is more than a game for him and that God put a little piece of something inside him that no one else has.”

Part of what’s inside Lewis came out in his final home game Sunday: tears. He got emotional meeting relatives before the game. Fans, not known for punctuality, were there to watch Lewis emerge for his signature dance one last time. Quarterback Joe Flacco instructed his wife not just to bring the video camera, but to smuggle it past security if need be. Running back Ray Rice, who fought back tears after hearing the news, was “emotional-struck.”

“My locker is right next to his, and I just can’t picture Baltimore without him,” Rice said. “He has kids, but I was one of his kids.”

That’s no coincidence. Tracing his rise, Lewis recalled being inspired by watching Junior Seau and asking himself, “Wow. Who does that? How can you be at that level?” He got to that level but didn’t stop.

“I started making my own mark and then I realized that I can do a lot of things to be great individually, but I wanted to be known differently. I wanted to make men better.”

Whether Lewis was racing sideline to sideline to chase ballcarriers, dropping into pass coverage or harassing quarterbacks, he made it look natural, almost easy. Don Soldinger, UM’s running backs coach during Lewis’ tenure, knows that over the years, whenever teammates needed to find Lewis in the training complex, they began by looking in the film room. That kind of dedication, Soldinger said, simply boiled over on Sundays when Lewis danced onto the field.

“Don’t let anybody kid you and say he was a showboat,” Soldinger said. “He’s not. I just remember him as a super, super intense guy.”

Intense on the football field, intense in the middle of the street racing barefoot. So what’s the real story on how that race turned out?

“I definitely say I won,” Russell said. “But he’s so convincing in his argument, sometimes I think he won.”


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(palmbeachpost.com)
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Bernie Kosar undergoing treatment for brain trauma

BernieKosar
We noted last month that former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar sounded so unintelligible in a radio interview that fans were concerned about his mental well-being. Kosar said the next day that he was feeling fine and surprised by the reaction to the interview, but he now acknowledges that he is getting medical treatment for brain trauma.

The good news is that Kosar says that treatment is working: Kosar says he has been under treatment from a doctor whose techniques for increasing blood flow to the brain have made Kosar feel better and sleep better.

“When I heard some of the things he was capable of doing I was bluntly a little skeptical . . . but just after a few weeks of treatment to not have the ringing in the ears, not have the headaches and to be able to sleep through the night without medications and all the stuff,” Kosar said.

Kosar said he has spoken to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the treatments, and that he’s hoping other NFL players can benefit. We hope Kosar, who has had a string of personal, financial and health problems in his retirement, continues to feel better.


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(profootballtalk.com)
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Ed Reed Not Considering Retirement

EdReed3
The Baltimore Ravens will be in for a drastic change at season’s end with longtime linebacker and arguably the heart and soul of the team in Ray Lewis calling it a career after 17 years in the NFL.

While Lewis has dominated the Ravens’ headlines over the past week or so, another defensive superstar for Baltimore has taken a backseat in terms of retirement talk. It has been speculated for the past few years that safety Ed Reed has been seriously considering retirement with injuries and the NFL’s new rules changing his style of play being motivating factors for walking away from the game.

Although retiring with his longtime teammate seems to be poetic in a way, Reed isn’t thinking about retirement at this point in time according to Edward Lee of The Baltimore Sun:

“I’m not thinking about that right now,” Reed said. “I’m football. I’m completing this year, and like I always tell you, I assess it every year. I assess myself every year physically. A guy in football, if he doesn’t do that, something’s wrong. So I’m not worried about that. I’m not focused on that. Right now, it’s playoffs, it’s Denver, it’s football.”

Reed is clearly motivated moving forward with his sights set on winning a Super Bowl title with the Ravens. Even though the Denver Broncos are his primary concern right now with the team potentially two games away from an appearance in the Super Bowl, retirement might become a desirable option if the team fails to get to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome or if they ultimately have what it takes to win it all.

Reed’s true intentions and thoughts on retirement will be revealed once the season is officially over for the Ravens regardless of the outcome in the playoffs. The veteran safety may go either way with retirement or playing another year or two realistic possibilities.


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(sportscity.com)
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Slayings not forgotten, Ray Lewis not forgiven

RayLewis
Priscilla Lollar still doesn't believe her son is dead.

Any day now, she hopes he might finally return from Atlanta, walking through the door of her home in Akron, Ohio, as if nothing happened on the morning of Jan. 31, 2000.

"If I truly accept that he's not coming back ... " says Lollar, her voice trailing off. "I don't discuss him in the past. I don't really acknowledge anything."

Deep down, she knows he's gone. She knows it every time she turns on the television and sees Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis — a reminder that her son, Richard, has been dead for 13 years, stabbed to death outside a nightclub in Atlanta, along with his friend from Akron, Jacinth Baker.

Their murders remain unsolved. But as the anniversary of their deaths approaches — and as Lewis dances into the sunset of his NFL career — the victims' relatives are still seething at him. While Priscilla Lollar says she's "numb" to Lewis, others want answers. And justice.

"My nephew was brutally beaten and murdered and nobody is paying for it," Baker's uncle, Greg Wilson, told USA TODAY Sports. "Everything is so fresh in our mind, it's just like it happened yesterday. We'll never forget this."

Only Lewis pleaded guilty in relation to the case: for obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor. He originally was charged with two counts of murder but struck a deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony against two of his companions that night, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting.

Lewis never implicated his two friends at trial, and they were acquitted. Lewis had testified that Oakley, Sweeting and another man had gone to a sporting goods store the previous day to buy knives. Baker's blood later was found in Lewis' limo. Having fled the crime scene, Lewis told the limo's passengers to "keep their mouths shut." The white suit Lewis was wearing that night — on Super Bowl Sunday — never was found.

"I'm not trying to end my career like this," Lewis said in his hotel that night, according to the testimony of a female passenger in the limo.

He didn't. For his punishment, Lewis received one year of probation and a $250,000 fine by the NFL.

Lewis declined to comment when asked about the subject Thursday by USA TODAY Sports. Messages left for agents and attorneys representing him were not returned. Oakley, recently living in Atlanta, didn't return messages seeking comment. A relative of Sweeting, living in Miami, hung up when reached by USA TODAY Sports. And the prosecutor, Paul Howard, declined a request to be interviewed.

Said Lewis: "You want to talk to me about something that happened 13 years ago right now?"

Lewis was more circumspect about the incident in a 2010 interview withThe Baltimore Sun. "I'm telling you, no day leaves this Earth without me asking God to ease the pain of anybody who was affected by that whole ordeal." he said. "He's a God who tests people — not that he put me in that situation, because he didn't make me go nowhere. I put myself in that situation."

In those 13 years, Lewis has not only rehabilitated his image but become an iconic figure for his dominating play and leadership. His 17-year career is likely to be immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, about 20 miles south of Akron, where Lollar and Baker are buried near their families.

Lewis, 37, will be eligible for induction five years after his retirement this season, which could come as soon as Saturday if the Ravens lose their playoff game at Denver. After announcing his retirement, Lewis has basked in the praise of adoring NFL fans. The crowd roared as he took a victory lap — and dance — around the stadium Sunday after beating the Indianapolis Colts. Commissioner Roger Goodell even said he wants to employ Lewis as a special adviser to himself because he's a "tremendous voice of reason."

Cindy Lollar-Owens, Richard Lollar's aunt, says Lewis' pending retirement prompted her Thursday to visit the funeral home, "because that's where my nephew retired."

Lollar-Owens says she doesn't know if Lewis did or didn't stab anybody — just that Lewis was there and that evidence suggests he was involved. For his part, Lewis denied guilt in the stabbing and said that he was unfairly targeted by Howard. Lewis said he didn't know who did the stabbings amid the push and pull of a crowded fight around 4 a.m.

It's not enough for some family members.

"Every time I see him, I think of my nephew," Lollar-Owens says.

The victims
Baker and Lollar were 21 and 24 at the times of their deaths, both having been stabbed several times in the heart and upper body.

Both had overcome personal struggles before that night. Lollar's mother had been in and out of prison, leaving Lollar-Owens and her mother to raise Richard. Both Lollar and Baker had criminal records with minor drug-related offenses.

But they moved from Akron to Atlanta in search of a better life. Lollar was trying to make it there as a barber, Baker as an artist. Lollar also was ready to have a family. His fiancé, Kellye Smith, was pregnant with his daughter, born about a month after his murder.

The daughter is now 12 and attends a private school near Atlanta. The family says it tries to shield her from the details of her father's death.

"She just knows her father is not here," says Katheryn Smith, mother of Kellye Smith. "She doesn't really know what happened. So far, we've kept most of it from her."

Katheryn Smith says she harbors no grudge against Lewis, though the circumstances are different from those of other relatives.

Smith's family sued Lewis for $13 million and reached an undisclosed settlement on behalf of Richard Lollar's daughter in 2004.

In the suit, Lewis answered questions under oath in a deposition.

"His attitude during the deposition and everything wasn't that great," Katheryn Smith says of Lewis. "He disappointed me in the things he said. But I decided I wasn't the one (to judge). You have to leave that up to God, you know? He was there when it happened. I think they all got off fairly easy, but I don't have any hard feelings. I think he had a bad choice of friends."

She declined to elaborate on Lewis' deposition testimony, which has not been disclosed. Kellye Smith didn't return a message seeking comment. The settlement includes a confidentiality clause.

In another suit, Gladys Robinson, Baker's grandmother, also reached an undisclosed settlement with Lewis in 2003 after suing him for $10 million. She is now deceased.

Time with family
The way Priscilla Lollar remembers it, her son was supposed to come back to Akron soon after Jan. 31, 2000. He was supposed to pick her up and bring her down to Atlanta, where he could help keep her out of trouble. She says she was at a friend's house when her phone rang that day. It was her stepfather, who told her to come home.

When she learned from him what happened, "I didn't believe it," she says. She still doesn't. "I'm numb to the fact, even after all this time."

Her sister, Lollar-Owens, still wants to believe that Lewis feels their loss. Explaining why he was retiring now, Lewis recently said he wanted to spend more time with his children.

"I've seen where he was speaking about family and stuff, and I'm quite sure that every time he sees his son, he thinks about the son, grandson and father that we lost," Lollar-Owens says. "It would be impossible not to. Never a day goes by that we don't think about him."

For "closure," she wants to talk to Lewis. If she gets the chance, Lollar-Owens says she would ask him for money, not for herself, but to build a beauty salon in the name of her nephew, the barber.

"That would be my kind of closure, because I would have his memory," she says.

She also wants the truth. "I would like for him to tell one day exactly what happened," Lollar-Owens says.

It might help relieve the pain and anger for her mother, Joyce Lollar, who fell sick with heart trouble last month.

Joyce Lollar has bristled at the sight of Lewis on TV, a feeling shared by Greg Wilson, the uncle who helped raise Baker.

"I cringe. I just cringe," Wilson says of seeing Lewis on television. He's upset at how the case was handled by Howard. He also blames the NFL and Ravens. Prior to the next Super Bowl in 2001, then-Ravens coach Brian Billick criticized the news media for continuing to ask questions about the murders.

"The problem to me is America was more interested in him playing football instead of him paying the price for what he was involved in," Wilson says. "That's how we feel. They wanted nothing to happen to him. (Team owner) Art Modell didn't want his golden boy to suffer, so he could make money for him. So they did all they could to get him out of trouble."

The other men moved on after their acquittals. Oakley published an unedited book on the murders entitledMurder After Super Bowl XXXIV, copyrighted in 2010.
In the book's opening, Oakley describes a chaotic scene with several fights breaking out. He describes Lewis imploring his friends to get into his limo. He describes a man staggering in the street holding his side before "falling backward onto the street." He later describes three other men getting into the limo saying, "We kicked they ass."

The rest of the book is unavailable and out of print.

Wilson says there was supposed to be a meeting with Lewis and the families after the trial. It never happened.

"We wouldn't have went to the meeting anyway," Wilson says. "It would not have been a peaceful meeting. … I'll be very upset if they induct (Lewis) into the Hall of Fame. There's other people out there that committed a lesser crime and they're sitting in jail."

Baker, his nephew, "was raised in our home," Wilson says. "We have no compassion for Ray Lewis, for Art Modell, for any of them. We don't want to see him."


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(usatoday.com)
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VIDEO: proCane DeQuan Jones' Monster Dunk



proCane DeQuan Jones had season highs with 11 points and 26 minutes against the Nuggets on Wednesday, adding five rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block.


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VIDEO: Darius Talks About His Big Game



Darius Rice talks about his 19 point, 13 rebound performance in the Legends' win.


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Ryan Braun heads wide array of guests to attend fanfest

RyanBraun
MILWAUKEE -- All-Star outfielder Ryan Braun and all three of the Brewers' new relievers were among 50 current, former and future players confirmed Thursday to attend the team's annual "On Deck" event later this month.

Besides Braun, the Brewers announced that relievers Burke Badenhop, Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny would attend, as would broadcaster Bob Uecker and top 2012 Draft picks Clint Coulter, Victor Roache and Mitch Haniger.

On Deck, scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 27, at Milwaukee's downtown convention center, is the club's annual fanfest, with autograph and photo opportunities, interactive forums with coaches and players, memorabilia sales and baseball activities for kids. Advance tickets are $15 for adults and $9 for kids, and are on sale at Brewers.com/OnDeck.

The full list of participants includes current 40-man roster members John Axford, Badenhop, Jeff Bianchi, Braun, Nick Bucci, Hiram Burgos, Khris Davis, Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Yovani Gallardo, Mat Gamel, Scooter Gennett, Caleb Gindl, Carlos Gomez, Gonzalez, Gorzelanny, Taylor Green, Corey Hart, Johnny Hellweg, Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado, Chris Narveson, Michael Olmsted, Wily Peralta, Josh Prince, Mark Rogers, Logan Schafer, Josh Stinson, Tyler Thornburg and Rickie Weeks. Missing from that list, at least for now, are starting third baseman Aramis Ramirez, shortstop Jean Segura and right fielder Norichika Aoki.

Manager Ron Roenicke and his entire coaching staff will attend, as will former Brewers Jerry Augustine, Jim Gantner, Larry Hisle and Gorman Thomas, and prospects Coulter, Kentrail Davis, Drew Gagnon, Haniger, Taylor Jungmann, Hunter Morris, Jimmy Nelson and Roache.

A club official said the full autograph schedule would be announced at a later date, but that the system in place for previous On Deck events would hold. Some signers will be labeled "premier," and their autograph available via a random selection process with numbered coupons, which will be distributed beginning at 8 a.m. CT at the Delta Center. Coupon distribution will be available up to an hour before each designated autograph session.

Fans can receive one coupon per event admission ticket and can use that coupon to enter the random selection process for any one of the select players. There is no cost for coupons to enter the random selection process; however, those holding one of the 250 coupons that are chosen must pay $25 at the respective autograph stage to collect their player signature, with all autograph proceeds going to the Brewers Community Foundation.

Players and staff not included in the premier autograph list will not use the random selection process. Each of these players will sign 250 autographs at prices ranging from free to $10. The autograph opportunities are for signatures on photo cards provided by the team -- the Brewers say they cannot guarantee that any player will sign other memorabilia. 

The club's announcement noted that cash is the only acceptable form of payment for autographs.


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(mlb.com)
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Pay cut coming for Santana Moss?

SantanaMoss2
Washington Redskins WR Santana Moss' salary will jump from $2.65 million to $4.15 million next season, making him among the team's five highest base salaries.

Moss would likely have to renegotiate his deal if he wants to stick around in 2013. We don't see that as being a problem for the veteran WR.


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(footballguys.com)
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Vince Wilfork Will Be A Challenge For Houston

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One of the Texans’ challenges will be not letting Vince Wilfork wreak the havoc he did last time when he rang up four tackles, a sack, a deflection and a forced fumble. He was dizzyingly active, said rookie center Ben Jones. “I knew he was a really big guy,” Jones said. “But some of the plays he made, I’m like, ‘All right, this guy’s really athletic to be this big.’ ” If there’s a solution, it’s hitting him before he can figure out what’s coming. “You just try to get on him and get on him fast so he can’t read run or pass,” Jones said


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(boston.com)
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Andre Johnson dismisses doubts

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HOUSTON — By no means are the Texans expecting people to forget the 42-14 beating they took a month ago at Gillette Stadium. They haven’t forgotten it themselves.

The memory is still fresh for wide receiver Andre Johnson. But seeing the way the Texans have been written off by many, Johnson could only shake his head.
“Every team comes into the season with an ultimate goal and that’s winning the Super Bowl,” Johnson said. “There’s steps you have to go through to get to that point and that’s a big one.

“A lot of people say we don’t have a chance. I just laugh at it. We’ll be ready.’’

Coming off a season in which he racked up a career-high 1,598 receiving yards (second in the league) when many said his best years were behind him, Johnson tunes out the doubt.

“I really don’t get caught up in what people say,” Johnson said. “You have to go out and play.

“We know what kind of football team we are. We know if we go out and play well, we’re capable of beating anybody.”

The Texans will have pieces that were not there a month ago.

Tight end Garrett Graham, who sat out the first meeting with lingering effects of a concussion, will likely be on the field, although he sustained another concussion last week against the Bengals.

And Owen Daniels is coming off a team-high seven-catch, 73-yard performance.

“In order for us to get where we want to go, it’s not going to take one guy,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take everybody.”


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(boston.com)
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Frank Gore: 'We know we should be here'

FrankGore2
SANTA CLARA -- Having made his playoff debut last year, Frank Gore said Wednesday he's more comfortable entering the 49ers' playoff opener Saturday against the visiting Green Bay Packers.

"Last year was like, 'Oh, we made it,' after we had so many down years," Gore said. "We know we should be here. We want to get to the Super Bowl."

Gore ran for 1,214 yards this season, including a 112-yard outing in the season-opening win at Green Bay.

Gore said he's spent the past 1 1/2 weeks getting his body ready. He also watched the Packers keep Adrian Peterson somewhat contained in the wild-card round.

"They didn't let him get to the edges like in past games," Gore said.


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(mercurynews.com)
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Browns talk with Rob Chudzinski

RobChudzinski
CLEVELAND -- The Browns are interviewing Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski for their coaching job, league sources confirmed to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Chudzinski, who has had two previous stints as an assistant with Cleveland, is visiting the team's facility in Berea, Ohio, on Wednesday.

His interview had earlier been reported by the Plain Dealer.

Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner are in Week 2 of their search to find a "strong leader" to take over the Browns, who went 5-11 this season.

The Browns reportedly interviewed Marc Trestman, coach of the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, on Tuesday.

After meeting with Chudzinski, the Browns are expected to interview Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The Colts have granted the Browns permission to speak with Arians, who has been hospitalized twice in recent days with an inner ear infection.

Arians fell ill on Sunday and had to miss the Colts' playoff loss to Baltimore.

Arians also has ties to the Browns, serving as their offensive coordinator from 2001-03.

Fox Sports reported the team will interview Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the first known defensive coach to meet with the Browns.

The Browns met late last week with Chip Kelly but decided to reboot their search for a coach after leaving Arizona late Sunday morning without landing the Oregon coach.

Chudzinski, 44, has spent the past two seasons with the Panthers working with quarterback Cam Newton. Carolina finished fifth in total offense in 2011 and 12th last season under Chudzinski. He was Cleveland's tight ends coach in 2004 but was fired along with the rest of Butch Davis' staff. He returned to the club in 2007 as the offensive coordinator for Romeo Crennel.

Last year, Chudzinski interviewed for head-coaching jobs with St. Louis, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.

Chudzinski's connections with the Browns run deep.

He grew up in Toledo, Ohio, pulling for the Browns, and he was thrilled to be part of Davis' staff. After he left Cleveland the first time, he spent two seasons as San Diego's tight ends coach, working with perennial Pro Bowl standout Antonio Gates, before he was hired by Crennel in 2007.

That year, the Browns won 10 games -- their most wins since 1999 -- and had four players make the Pro Bowl. However, 2008 didn't go nearly as well, as injuries and a six-game losing streak to close the season resulted in a 4-12 record and the firing of Crennel.

Chudzinski went back to the Chargers for two more seasons before he was hired in Carolina.


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Cutler Show: Jay wants Hester to stay

DevinHesterBears2
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler made it clear he wants Devin Hester to return for the 2013 season, and he acknowledged it is "safe to say" the receiver might flourish in a new offense likely to be brought in once the team hires a new coach to replace Lovie Smith.

"He's one of the most dynamic players in the NFL with the football," Cutler said Wednesday during "The Jay Cutler Show" on ESPN 1000. "So you don't want to go against a guy like that. You don't want to see him on the other sideline."

Cutler's remarks came in response to questions about Hester's recent statements in which he expressed a desire to retire from the NFL.

Responding to the news about the club's decision to fire Smith last Monday, Hester said he no longer enjoys the game.

"I don't even know if I want to play again, man. That's been on my mind for two years now. It ain't (fun)," Hester said. "So I have my workers comp papers in my pocket. (I'll) see how I feel, go home, talk to my wife, my family; see where we go from there. I've got two beautiful kids, man. Two boys. A lot of stress has been on my mind lately."

Clearly shaken by the firing of Smith, Hester said "the media, the false fans, you got what y'all wanted. (The) majority of you all want him all out."

Hester admitted his lack of production resulted in stress off the field. After establishing himself as one of the greatest returners in NFL history, Hester tried to transition over to receiver, but the move never successfully panned out. Hester caught 57 catches in 2009, but his production dropped each subsequent season, with the receiver hauling in 23 balls in 2012.

"Not being able to showcase my talents the way I want them to be able to be showcased, it's stressful," Hester said.

Hester later took to Twitter to clarify remarks about retiring.

"Let me make myself clear the reason why I feel like retiring," Hester posted. "Has nothing to do with Lovie Smith getting fired. It's hard to play the game when you're not happy and you're having fun with what you do in life."

Cutler expressed empathy Wednesday for Hester's situation, adding he hasn't yet talked to the receiver.

"I think (Brandon Marshall) went to dinner with him and talked to him a little bit," Cutler said. "I'm not for sure about that. Emotional guys. Lovie brought him in. When these things happen, sometimes you're put in front of a camera and you say things that maybe you don't mean.

"Maybe he meant it. I have no idea. Whenever you go out there and you don't do the things you think you can do on the football field, it's frustrating. Frustration builds up and builds up, and it forces you to think about doing other things I guess."


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Ray Lewis grew to love Baltimore, and vice versa

RayLewisRavens3
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When Ray Lewis was selected in the first round of the 1996 NFL draft, he didn't even know the nickname of the team that drafted him.

The Cleveland Browns had just moved to Baltimore, and general manger Ozzie Newsome chose Lewis with the 26st overall pick after taking tackle Jonathan Ogden at No. 4.

"I picked up the phone," Lewis recalled, "and the first thing I said to him was, 'Ozzie, what's our team name going to be? Who are we?'"

Lewis quickly became the face of the Baltimore Ravens, and the stellar middle linebacker will remain a beloved figure in Charm City long after he pulls off his No. 52 jersey for the final time.

"When you think about the Baltimore Ravens, the first name you mention is Ray Lewis," Baltimore running back Ray Rice said Tuesday. "That's just what it is,
and it's something that will never be taken away from him."

The 37-year-old Lewis will retire after the Ravens finish their current playoff run. Baltimore (11-6) plays at Denver (13-3) on Saturday.

Lewis was elected to 13 Pro Bowls, was twice named NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was Super Bowl MVP after the 2000 season. But nothing makes him prouder than saying that he played 17 seasons, all with Baltimore.

"Out of everything that's been going on, that's probably the biggest thing that has me the most excited, that I've been able to stay in one place for so long," Lewis said. "You watch so many players go in and out, shuffle from team to team.

"For me to be here, I was a kid when I came here and didn't have a clue what was going on. I grew with this city and this city grew with me. I will die a Raven. That's an awesome, awesome feeling. There's no greater achievement for me, myself, to say I've always been connected to one thing my entire life."

John Unitas left Baltimore for San Diego, Joe Namath spent time with the Los Angeles Rams, Joe Montana bounced from San Francisco for Kansas City. The list goes on.

"Look at the guy we're going up against this week, Peyton Manning," Ravens guard Bobbie Williams said. "He could probably go back to Indianapolis and be mayor if he wanted to, but he couldn't finish his career in one place."

Lewis did. And although Lewis hasn't announced plans to run for office in Baltimore, Williams is certain his teammate could make some noise on election day.
"He's very political, well spoken, very articulate," Williams said. "He would put up some good numbers at the polls."

Baltimore loves Lewis, and he loves Charm City right back. After Lewis did his trademark dance on the field as the clock ran out on the Ravens' 24-9 win over Indianapolis last Sunday, Colts receiver Reggie Wayne called the celebration "disrespectful."

Lewis dismissed the charge Tuesday, insisting that the display was not intended as a slap in the face to the losing team.

"When he was in Pop Warner playing football, I was in Baltimore," Lewis said. "The game was over. I didn't go toward their sideline and make a big issue of it because I've never been that type of player. (It was) a salute to my city, knowing that people love to see that. And not just people. My teammate encouraged me the most. It was about me, honoring my team and honoring my city."

Williams started his 13-year career in Philadelphia, then toiled for eight years in Cincinnati before coming to Baltimore last June. Lewis started in Baltimore and ended in Baltimore. Period.

"It's awesome," Williams said. "Even some of the greats that have played this game, at the end of their career they bounced around trying to get one more year in. But for one guy to play here his entire career, and to be relevant even to the end, it's unheard of."

Lewis has been playing for Baltimore as long as the Ravens have been the Ravens. No other player in the world can make that assessment.

"It's a great thing, the relationship between Baltimore and Ray," coach John Harbaugh said. "It's very unique. I don't think there can ever be another situation like this. Jonathan Ogden was a similar situation, obviously. You've got two guys who came in when the organization was just beginning. As Ray said, before there were team colors, before there was a mascot, there was Ray and Jonathan Ogden. ... It's just a very special thing."


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(ydr.com)
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Devin Hester Sells Gurnee Home

DevinHesterWallpaper
Chicago Bears wide receiver/return specialist Devin Hester has sold his home in Gurnee, Il. for $322,500.

The five-bedroom, 3,100-square-foot home was one of Hester’s three in the Chicago area, the Tribune reports.

After the season, when the Bears fired head coach Lovie Smith, Hester threatened to retire from the league.

“I don’t even know if I want to play again,” Hester said. “That’s been something on my mind for two years. It’s not (much fun for me anymore). I’ve got my workers comp papers in my pocket. We’ll see how I feel. I’m going to go home and talk to my wife and talk to my family and see where we go from there. I got two beautiful kids, man, two boys. A lot of stress has been on my mind lately.”

There’s no word yet if the sale had anything to do with his recent comments.


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(chicago.cbslocal.com)
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Ryan Braun on video games, WBC, Brewers



Every year, when a new version of Sony’s “MLB: The Show” series hits stores, Ryan Braun and his Brewers teammates can’t wait to dig in and dig at each other about how slow/ugly/weak their characters are in the game.

“It’s a fun way for us to talk trash,” Braun said, laughing, he breaks down how his teammates’ play in the game. “It’s a way for us to see what guys they got right, what guys they didn’t get right in terms of the abilities they give different guys on the team.

“We always have fun with that, and hopefully it’s an opportunity for us to make fun of each other a little.”

This year, Braun is not only one of the best characters in the video game, he has a shot to be on the cover, thanks to Sony’s “MLB 13: The Show” cover vote. And while Braun currently sits in last place among the seven candidates, he thinks he still has a shot if Brewer Nation can come through late.

RyanBraun
“First and foremost, they’ve never had a Brewer on the cover, so I think it would be cool to be the first Milwaukee Brewer on the cover of ‘The Show,’ ” Braun said. “It will be exciting for our fans and for our organization. The big-market teams always get all of the love, so it would be exciting to show a little bit of love to a smaller-market team. It seems like they always put American League guys on the cover, so it’s time to get the National League back on there.”

ESPN Playbook: Are you a big video game player?
Ryan Braun: I play a little bit of everything. I play “Call of Duty,” I play “Halo,” and I play a little bit of “Madden.” I’ve always been into the baseball games like "The Show," but there isn’t just one game I stick to or play too regularly.

When did you first start playing video games?
I remember when I had the original Nintendo with “Baseball Stars” and “Tecmo Bowl.” I remember playing “Tecmo Bowl” all the time. That’s my favorite game. I used to play as Walter Payton. He was unstoppable. [laughs] “Baseball Stars” was another one that was so much fun, and it’s probably the first game I remember playing regularly. It was just something that I really enjoyed and it increased the passion I had for playing the game of baseball.

What do you think of the “MLB: The Show” series? Is it realistic enough for you?
It is. The details of the game are just incredible. It’s amazing how far baseball video games have come and how accurate they are as far as getting a guy’s tendencies and routines and mannerisms down. The details they have from the stadiums to the fans, it really is incredible.

When you look at your character in the game, what do you think? Is he fast enough? Strong enough? Good-looking enough for you?
[laughs] I think they’ve done a pretty good job other than the fact that they still have me with the long hair. I cut my hair about a year ago, but other than the length of my hair, I think it’s pretty impressive. They’ve done a pretty good job.

I’ll let the producers of the game know, in “MLB 13,” give Braun a haircut.
Please. [laughs]

I checked the voting, and you’re currently in last place. Why do you think you’re falling so far behind?
I’m at a pretty big disadvantage because I don’t do Twitter, I don’t do Facebook … I don’t do any of the social media stuff. I think that puts me at a pretty big disadvantage, but I hear the people of Milwaukee are waiting until the end of the week to make their move, so there’s still hope.

During the season, do any of the Brewers bring video game systems on the road?
Some guys will bring their PlayStations with them on the road, and other guys like to play video games on the plane. It can get pretty competitive.

Besides campaigning for this cover vote, what else have you been doing in the offseason?
I’ve been traveling a little bit. I spent some time in Europe and in Costa Rica, just relaxing and enjoying my downtime. I live in Los Angeles in the offseason, so right now, I’m just enjoying this incredible weather. It’s 70 degrees in January, so I’m enjoying the weather, traveling, and keeping myself in shape, but I’m really looking forward to getting out to spring training in a little while.

I hear you’re going to be playing in the World Baseball Classic again this year. Why did you want to sign up to be a part of Team USA?
Last time I did it, I had so much fun. I think it’s an incredible opportunity to represent your country. There’s just something about wearing that USA jersey and hearing your national anthem that’s incredibly patriotic. It’s a really special experience. I’m honored to be playing, and really thrilled that I have that opportunity.

The atmosphere and the crowd vibe with all of the drums and flags was unlike any baseball crowd I’d ever experienced.

It really was. To a lot of guys, it was almost like playing winter ball with all the energy and passion. Team USA opened up against Canada in Canada, and the intensity was almost like a playoff game. It was pretty incredible, it really was. The atmosphere and environment really make it a lot of fun.

Last season, you had an incredible season. How important was it for you to put up such huge numbers a year after the scandal?
For me, the goal is always to be as consistent and productive as possible. I’ve never really focused on what anyone else really thinks, I’ve just always tried to be the very best player I can be and play as consistent as I can. But absolutely, I can say that last year there was some added motivation.

As a kid growing up, did you have a favorite baseball player who you used to play as in the video games, and then you eventually got to meet or play against?
Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite player growing up, so it’s certainly been a lot of fun to get to know him and hang out with him a little bit. I wear his Swingman apparel, the cleats, the batting gloves, and all that stuff, so it’s been really cool to have the opportunity to get to know him. It’s really one of those surreal experiences to think about playing the Ken Griffey baseball video game as a kid, and then getting to meet him. Everything in major league baseball happens so fast, and you rarely get that chance to sit back and reflect about what you’re doing, but when something like that occurs, you really try to embrace that moment and enjoy.

Out of all of the players you’ve had the chance to interact with, who has given you the best advice in terms of finding success at such a high level?
The two best teammates I’ve ever had were Trevor Hoffman and Mike Cameron in terms of them being good guys, great leaders, and while both of them had great careers on the field, it’s more about how they carried themselves day in and day out. Through good and bad, success and failure, they were always the same person and that’s something I’ve always admired about them, and something I always strive to do as a player.

Millions of people are going to play as the virtual Ryan Braun in “MLB 13: The Show” in a couple of months when the game hits stores. What’s the one thing about hitting in real life that they’ll never be able to capture in a video game?
There’s something special about hitting a home run and getting to circle the bases. I think individually, there isn’t much greater feeling than hitting a home run and getting the opportunity to enjoy the moment a little bit as you round the bases. I don’t think they can ever quite capture that experience in a video game.

The only other thing left to capture is some virtual crime-scene tape down the third-base line in case your character ever trips rounding the bases. What did you think when you saw the creativity of your teammates for their chalk outline the day after your infamous fall?
I think the further I get away from that moment, the funnier it became. In the moment, it wasn’t funny. I could’ve got a home run, I could’ve got an extra run for my team, but moving away from that, it was pretty funny and one of the lighter moments you enjoy.

I guess that’s another note to the game’s producers, to get that chalk outline into the game in one of the cut scenes.
That would be too funny. [laughs] That would be cool.


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(espn.com)
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Ray Lewis won't apologize to Reggie Wayne for dance

RayLewisRavens2
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne felt that Ray Lewis' final "squirrel dance" as a Baltimore Raven was disrespectful. Based on the reaction to our post, a lot of our readers surprisingly agree with Wayne.

Lewis isn't about to apologize.

"It wasn't about them at that time," the linebacker said Tuesday via BaltimoreRavens.com. "That was about capping off a heck of a legacy of 17 years. When he was in pop warner playing football, I was in Baltimore. To salute my city that way, I guess the trot around the field was disrespectful too. No. It wasnât even about them."

Lewis and Wayne both went to the University of Miami. Guys from the "U" are insanely competitive and hate to lose. That's why we can't fault Wayne for his statements, even if they seem silly from the outside. It's like teams complaining about running up the score: The Colts could have stopped the Ravens from being in the position to celebrate Lewis' legacy.

It was a cool moment for an all-time great. For Wayne to complain is one thing. Anyone else that gets bent out of shape about it probably has deeper problems.
"The game was over," Lewis said. "I didn't go towards their sideline or make no big issue of that because I've never been that type of player. But [it was] to salute my city, knowing that people love to see that."

Lewis went on to say that he loves Wayne to death and how he texted Colts coach Chuck Pagano right after the game.

Lewis indicated that Wayne might have been upset by the loss, but stressed how much he cares for the veteran wide receiver, who is a fellow Miami alum and also a close friend of safety Ed Reed.

"It wasn't even about them," Lewis said. "It was about me honoring my team and honoring my city."


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(nfl.com)
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Willis McGahee returns to Denver Broncos practice

WillisMcGaheeBroncos
Willis McGahee returned to practice Tuesday with the Denver Broncos, just one day after acknowledging "if we played a game tomorrow, no I couldn't go" on the knee he injured two months ago.

The Denver Post reported the veteran running back wore a black jersey during the session, setting him apart from his teammates dressed in orange. Tuesday marked the first day McGahee could step on the practice field after being placed on the team's injured reserve/designated-to-return list with the torn medial collateral ligament and leg fracture he suffered in a Week 11 win over the San Diego Chargers.

McGahee -- with a history of knee injuries -- isn't eligible to play until the AFC championship, should the Broncos advance that far with a win over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday.

Oft-injured Knowshon Moreno has been a nice surprise for the Broncos in the backfield, and we expect him to hold down the fort even if McGahee returns. Before the injury, nobody touched McGahee's workload as he led the team with 731 yards on 167 carries and four touchdowns through 10 games.


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(nfl.com)
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Ray Lewis to meet old nemesis in Peyton Manning for final time

RayLewisRavens3
Having announced his impending retirement, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis knows that each playoff game could be the last time he suits up. As luck would have it Saturday, the 17-year veteran will face old nemesis Peyton Manning when the Ravens visit Denver.

Including the Broncos' 34-17 victory Dec. 16 at Baltimore, Manning has beaten the Ravens nine consecutive times, with the first eight while wearing an Indianapolis uniform.

Despite that losing streak to Manning, Lewis recalled Tuesday during a teleconference that the meetings were fiercely competitive.

"It's always those close games (you remember)," Lewis said. "It's those classic memories that you reminisce about when the game is over. The warrior side of me remembers all those times being a heck of a battle."

Lewis said the losing streak to Manning means nothing in regard to Saturday's AFC division-round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The winner advances to the AFC championship game.

"It's a whole new game now," Lewis said. "The only thing that matters right now is if we win this week."

Lewis recorded 13 tackles Sunday in the wild-card playoff game victory over Indianapolis, playing for the first time since tearing his right triceps Oct. 14 against Dallas. He said he "feels great" and the 10 weeks off rejuvenated his body.

Manning said at some point he will personally greet Lewis with well wishes, whether it be on a hand-written note or with a face-to-face meeting. "(Lewis) is an excellent player," Manning said Tuesday. "He's made a huge difference for their team coming back; you could see the energy that he brought to that team on Sunday.

"My thoughts on Ray Lewis — you could go back every single time we played against him. ... Ray Lewis knows how I feel about him, and I'll share that with him at the appropriate time."


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(denverpost.com)
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Ed Reed on December loss to Broncos: 'We were not a team that day at all'

EdReed4
It was an extremely turbulent week for the Ravens prior to being routed by the Denver Broncos in December.

Before a 34-17 loss to the AFC West champions, the Ravens fired longtime, oft-criticized offensive coordinator Cam Cameron one day after an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins and replaced him by elevating quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell.

As the Ravens (11-6) prepare for Saturday's AFC divisional-round playoff game against the Broncos (13-3) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, free safety Ed Reed referenced the troubles surrounding the Ravens on Dec. 16 at M&T Bank Stadium.

"We had some internal stuff going on that definitely affected the way we played," Reed said following the Ravens' AFC wild-card playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts. "We were not a team that day at all."

That was apparent in terms of the Ravens' lackluster play.

Losing their third consecutive game, the Ravens trailed by 28 points heading into the fourth quarter. That followed quarterback Joe Flacco's pair of turnovers, including an interception returned the entire length of the field by cornerback Chris Harris, gave the Broncos 10 points.

The Ravens' offense was ineffective.

And the defense struggled as well with running back Knowshon Moreno running roughshod over Baltimore, hurdling a stationary Reed at one point as Manning exploited the secondary with his receivers' double-move patterns to strike deep with a touchdown pass to Eric Decker behind cornerback Cary Williams.

Will this game be different now that the Ravens get back several injured players who missed the first game against Denver? That includes offensive guard Marshal Yanda, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Ray Lewis, tight end Ed Dickson and strong safety Bernard Pollard with all set to play Saturday.

"It’s going to be a hard-fought game," Reed said. "This is the playoffs. We know what we got, they know what we got. We’re going down there with all of our weapons and all of our tools. And we’re coming to bang.”


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(baltimoresun.com)
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Sam Shields Earns Game Ball

SamShields2
The Green Bay Packers coaching staff awarded four game balls from the NFC Wild Card playoff victory over the Vikings on Saturday night. They went to FB John Kuhn on offense, LB Clay Matthews and CB Sam Shields on defense, and rookie LB Terrell Manning on special teams.

Shields was credited by the press box statisticians with seven tackles, a team high. He also broke up two passes and had an interception, the third of his career in the postseason.


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(packers.com)
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Vince Wilfork still driven after all these years

VinceWilforkPatriots2
FOXBOROUGH – Vince Wilfork knows what's on the other side of the finish line, but he hasn't even begun to try to locate it.

After nearly a decade in the National Football League, he still loves the game and being a part of a team. The constant pursuit of unattainable perfection and getting ready for another opponent still excites him.

When those things no longer make him jump out of bed in the morning, the New England Patriots defensive tackle says he will walk away and take up a more solitary pursuit, such as throwing the shot put.

"I got one the other day to see if I can still throw it," said Wilfork, who holds the Florida high school record of 68 feet. "I threw it 54 feet, but I felt a lot of bones cracking."

For now, and into the foreseeable future, Wilfork plans to serve as the steel ball causing bones to crunch. He claims his love for the game is still as pure as it was when he was lining up for Santaluces Community High, and listening to his words gush, it seems those feelings come from a genuine place.

It would be a lie if Wilfork said he doesn't enjoy the wealth and spoils that come with being a successful NFL player – he drives an orange Mack truck to Gillette Stadium most days – but that isn't what fuels him. If it were, there likely would have been some type of drop-off after he fought for and signed a five-year, $40 million contract prior to the 2010 season.

That hasn't happened.

Wilfork has earned second-team All-Pro honors the two seasons since his new deal, and should earn a third consecutive nod this year. Wilfork says when his eventual demise does arrive, it will be the result of his body breaking down, not a lack of interest or effort.

"I have a chance to play this game and people pay me for what I love to do. So I never try to let that justify why I should play or why I shouldn't play," Wilfork said. "It's all in the heart. The passion. The love you have for the guys in this locker room, love for the organization.

"Until the day I don't (love the game), that will be my last calling. As long as I enjoy myself, I'll continue to play – no matter the price."

Wilfork's job can be thankless at times. His work isn't often highlighted in network broadcasts as the cameras instead shift to one his teammates dancing in the backfield after taking down the quarterback or stuffing a running back.

But those with a finer appreciation for the game know he is the nucleus of the Patriots defense and the man to fear. The Houston Texans, who visit Sunday for a divisional playoff game, know this as well as anyone.

In their Dec. 10 meeting with the Patriots, Wilfork, seemingly single-handedly, ate up and disrupted the Texans' zone-blocking scheme and helped hold running back Arian Foster to 46 yards, the first step in a 42-14 victory. Asked earlier this week how they planned to neutralize Wilfork, Texans coach Gary Kubiak could only throw up his hands.

"The thing that is so difficult is he plays everywhere," Kubiak said. "So it's not like you go the other way with the ball or try to avoid something. You're going to have to deal with him all day long."

Wilfork is hoping to introduce the Texans to a whole new brand of terror this week.

After winning the Super Bowl as a rookie, it seemed enjoying February glory was stipulated in Wilfork's contract. But it's been more than awhile since he tasted it, and each successive failure in the years since has only made his memories of triumph taste that much sweeter.

Getting another ring is all that matters now, and Wilfork has designs on making this year the one.

He'll go out and work that much harder in practice and hope everyone follows his lead. He has no doubts the guys will. He says they're a good group, but he knows he has to show them how he's approaching it before they can come along.

"I have to show these guys what it's going to take to win," he said.

It beats throwing the shot put.


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(blog.masslive.com)
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Clinton Portis Shops For Luxury Real Estate

ClintonPortisCanes
The past forty-eight hours have been rough for those wishing the 'Skins had made it to the next round of the play-offs so maybe this look into the life of former player Clinton Portis will cheer up the sad souls still mourning the loss against the Seahawks. He's the star of the Scoring The Deal premiere tonight on HGTV in which luxury real estate agent Jason Abrams travels the country trying to find the most pimped out pads for his sportstar clients. Curbed spoke to Abrams by phone about how he got this job in the first place and what we can expect from tonight's episode. Read on for some stories about Portis (and, er, his stripper pole).

You go into these cities looking for the 'best in show' as you call it. What does that mean? Number one, it has to fit. For example, when you think about it the average closet has 36 inches of what they call 'long hang' which you might use for gowns or something. You know how frustrating it is to hang up all your clothes and everything hits the shelf below it. That's what happens to these guys. Everything has a crease. These are the things that nobody thinks about. Then think about trying to use a standard kitchen table and chairs and then realizing you're lucky if you get one butt cheek on it. It's gets really old really quick. A lot of the times they just want to find a house that fits their stature.

Besides that it has to happen fast. We're finding homes for these guys in real time. They need to move that day. Can you imagine if you got a phone call tomorrow that said you had twenty-four hours to report to a new city? It's kiss the kids, I'll see you in nine months.

So many professional athletes homes have such over-the-top, sometimes completely wacky, amenities. How do you find those? Forget about finding a house that fits their personality. These guys have been dominant in their profession their entire lives. The reality is to be a blue chip athlete in one of the major leagues means that you were the best in LIttle League, the best in high school, the best in college, and now you're a professional. Which means you probably don't settle for a whole lot of things. So when they walk into a home that is beige, maybe that doesn't have enough flair for them. So these guys end up doing a lot of redecorating. We're talking bright colors. Amazing pieces of art. We're talking wanting to have something that no one else has. In some cases that ends up being exotic dancing poles. In Clinton' Portis' case it became black leather wall paper.

Great that you mention former Redskin Clinton Portis and even better that he's the star of the series premiere. What are we going to see in his episode? You're going to see a pool that is perched on the roof of a high rise building with some of the most amazing views of intercoastal Miami. You're really no one until you have you're own roof top pool (laughs). This isn't in the episode, but Clinton and I spent a little bit over Christmas together at the White House packaging supplies for the troops. Everyone is walking through and looking at the trees and then they realize ohmygod, it's Clinton Portis. And the line that formed within minutes was huge. That guy is so beloved in DC. All of a sudden it became secondary that they were all in the White House.

Since he's such a popular DC personality can you tell us anything else we might not know about him? Clinton has been a client of ours for almost a decade. I consider him a dear, dear friend. Having sold for him all over the country I can tell you that everyone of his houses is amazingly unique. And he does all of the decorating himself. He picks the color palate, he looks for the furniture himself. His McLean house doesn't look anything like his penthouse in Miami which doesn't look anything like his sprawling estate in Gainesville.

Your business can't have started with Clinton Portis. How did you get into this? I can trace it all back to one moment. I had a first [athlete] client in Detroit, Michigan who I helped buy a house. Then on a whim I decided to fly out to meet his financial advisor and his agent, unannounced, just to say thank you. I figured, this is cool, I'm going to go on my first ever business trip now. I was in my early twenties. His financial advisor was great. He said thank you, I shook his hand. Then I flew to LA to meet his agent and I never made it past the receptionist. But I left a little note. Two weeks later the phone rang and it was the agent and he said no one had ever come all that way just to say thank you before and could I handle another client. Who also happens to be in Michigan. So I sold that person a house and then the next week the financial advisor called and said, we have somebody but he's in a different state do you do anything anywhere else? I said yes, of course! And then I hung and realized what I had just said and then created a business really quickly. I'm in the unique position of being able to trace my entire success back to one day of thank yous.


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(dc.curbed.com)
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Thursday is a big day for the Magic's DeQuan Jones

DeQuanJonesCanes
PORTLAND, Ore. — The date Jan. 10 is an important day in the NBA — and for Orlando Magic rookie swingman DeQuan Jones.

It's the day when all of the league's nonguaranteed contracts become guaranteed for the rest of the season. That's why the waiver wire has been busy in recent days, with several teams letting players go.

In September the Magic signed Jones to a one-year minimum-salary deal worth $473,604. The Magic will be obligated to pay him his remaining salary if they keep him on their roster through Thursday.

His roster spot is probably safe.

"Hopefully, that is the case," he said.

Jones, undrafted from the Miami Hurricanes, started his fourth consecutive game Monday when the Magic played the Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said Jones' biggest improvement since the preseason has been his concentration on the defensive end of the court.


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(orlandosentinel.com)
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Ryan Braun will play in the World Baseball Classic

RyanBraun
Ryan Braun said during a radio interview with WSSP-1250 in Milwaukee yesterday that he’ll participate in the World Baseball Classic.

Braun played for Team USA in 2009 and the Brewers left fielder has already started working out in preparation for this year’s event, which begins in early March.

Braun won the NL MVP in 2011 by hitting .332 with 33 homers and a .994 OPS in 150 games and followed that up by hitting .319 with 41 homers and a .987 OPS in 154 games last season, but finished runner-up in the voting to Buster Posey.


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(nbcsports.com)
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Ray Lewis' dance 'disrespectful,' Reggie Wayne says

RayLewisRavens2
The Baltimore Ravens' 24-9 wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts ultimately might best be remembered as "The Ray Lewis Retirement Extravaganza."

There was the emotional pregame "squirrel dance." That bear hug with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Numerous tributes on the in-stadium screens. A postgame victory lap.

But when Lewis brought back the "squirrel" after lining up in the backfield on the Ravens' final play Sunday, Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne had seen enough.

"I saw it as disrespectful," Wayne said Monday on WNDE-AM in Indianapolis. "They'd already had a tribute every quarter."

We could see how the spectacle surrounding Lewis would become tiresome for a Colts team that traveled to Baltimore solely to keep its season alive. Instead, they became a supporting act to a day about Ray.


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(nfl.com)
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Reggie Wayne Is Second All-Time When It Comes To Catches In The Playoffs

ReggieWayne
Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver, ever. For a time, it looked as if Colts receiver Marvin Harrison could break or tie some of Rice's long-standing records. However, a knee injury in 2007 robbed Harrison of his signature speed, and two years later he was out of football after 13 years in the league. One area where Marvin always seemed to struggle was post-season play. He had 65 catches for 883 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs during his long career.

The man who spent 8 of those 13 years playing second-fiddle to Marvin was Reggie Wayne. Today, Wayne is the mentor, working with young receivers much the same way Marvin worked with him. Unlike Harrison, Wayne has had some of his biggest moments in the post-season, and Sunday's 9-catch, 114 yard performance only added to his legacy.

One of Jerry Rice's most amazing accomplishments are his 151 catches in his 29 career playoff games. Th tops, all-time in the post-season. No. 2 on that list? Reggie Wayne.

Per Michael David Smith of PFT, Wayne's 9 catches Sunday put him ahead of the Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin and Steelers wideout Hines Ward, into second place on the all-time in the playoffs with 92 grabs in 18 playoff games.

It goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway, Reggie Wayne is amazing.


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(stampedeblue.com)
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Ray Lewis was 'nervous,' one Ravens teammate says

RayLewisHurricanes
One more nugget from Ray Lewis' last stand in Baltimore.

In the hours before Lewis took the field for his final home game at M&T Bank Stadium -- he's set to retire after the season -- teammate Brendon Ayanbadejo noticed something peculiar about the Ravens legend.

"I've never really seen Ray nervous before," Ayanbadejo told Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, after Baltimore's 24-9 wild-card victory over the Indianapolis Colts set up a trip to Denver to face the Broncos next weekend.

Ayanbadejo rode shotgun in Lewis' white Infiniti from the team's hotel to the stadium and saw, as Silver described, an "emotional teammate savoring every second of the journey."

"I mean, Ray Lewis doesn't get nervous," Ayanbadejo said. "Well, Ray was nervous. It was a pretty amazing sight."

Anything resembling the jitters melted away as Lewis led the Ravens with 13 tackles. The seven-time All-Pro saw plenty of action on defense against the Colts and, as the game's final seconds ticked away, thrilled the masses with his patented "squirrel dance."

One last moment with the people before vanishing into the Baltimore night.


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(nfl.com)
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Willis McGahee isn't ready to play on hurt knee

WillisMcGaheeBroncos
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee says his rehabilitation from an injured knee is on track, but "if we played a game tomorrow, no I couldn't go."

"This isn't my first rodeo for a knee," McGahee said Monday, as the Broncos started preparing for their divisional playoff game Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens. "I've been through a lot worse."

The 10th-year veteran, who became one of the NFL's most dependable runners despite tearing all the ligaments in his left knee during his last game in college, is eligible to return to practice Tuesday after tearing a ligament in his right knee on Nov. 18. He would be eligible to play in the AFC championship game if Denver advances.

McGahee said his rehabilitation is going well, but he doesn't know how the knee will respond when he returns to practice. Coach John Fox was noncommittal about the timing of McGahee's return and said he would update the team's injuries on Tuesday.

McGahee got the bulk of Denver's carries through the first 9½ games, but went down in the second quarter of a home game against the San Diego Chargers in November. Despite the injury, he led the team with 731 yards rushing in the regular season.

McGahee said he felt no sense of frustration watching another running back do his job while he's injured. This is the fifth playoff team he's been part of. None of the previous four - three in Baltimore and one with the Broncos - went to the Super Bowl.

"We're winning," he said. "Three more games to the Super Bowl, as long as we keep winning. My selfish days are over with. It's time to get a ring."


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(nfl.com)
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Calais Campbell agreed to a five-contract

CalaisCampbellCards
TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell agreed to a five-contract extension Thursday. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. The 6-foot-8, 300-pound lineman had 51 solo tackles and 73 overall tackles last season. He also had eight sacks, two forced fumbles, 11 passes defensed, one fumble recovery, his first interception, and blocked three field goals. The Cardinals had placed the “non-exclusive” franchise tag on the 25-year-old Campbell on March 2. Drafted in the second round in 2008 out of the University of Miami, he was the Cardinals 2011 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year for his community work.


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Chase Ford SIgned To Futures Contract

ChaseFord
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings wasted no time making sure their practice squad players will be around for the offseason.

The team announced on Monday afternoon all eight have been re-signed to reserve/futures contracts.

Those players are: defensive tackle Chase Baker, running back Joe Banyard, tight ends LaMark Brown and Chase Ford, defensive back Bobby Felder, guard Tyler Holmes, tackle Kevin Murphy and receiver Chris Summers.

The Vikings now have 52 players under contract for 2013. Fourteen players who finished the season on the 53-man roster are unsigned.


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(1500espn.com)
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Devin Hester clarifies retirement comments on Twitter

DevinHesterBears2
Earlier this week the Chicago Bears Devin Hester made comments about how NFL football is no longer fun for him and how he thinks this could be the end of his career. He also said his family is a factor and he needs to take that into account regarding his decision about his future. These comments came on the same day Bears coach Lovie Smith was fired, and given how close Hester was to Lovie, there was speculation that the two incidents were related.

Also factor in that Hester, one of the NFL’s most dangerous return men in history did nothing on kick returns in 2012, and had a very non-descript year catching the ball, and it’s easy to see why he made such comments of frustration. But today he clarified.

“Let me make myself clear the reason why I feel like retiring has nothing to do with Lovie Smith Getting fired.” Hester tweeted 25 minutes ago

He followed that tweet up with

“It’s hard to play this game when you’re not happy or having fun At what you love to do in life.”

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Chicago Tribune.com, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

A Fulbright scholar, published author and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; he’s also a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.


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(beforeitsnews.com)
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Jon Beason eager to return

JonBeason
CHARLOTTE – Jon Beason was forced into a spectator's role for the majority of two straight seasons.

The Panthers linebacker didn't miss a single game during the first four seasons of his NFL career, but he's only played in five over the past two years.

A torn left Achilles tendon suffered in the opener ended his 2011 season. This year, knee and shoulder injuries forced him to injured reserve prior to Week 5.

Those injuries turned the three-time Pro Bowler into a fan. It's not Beason's desired role, but it wasn't all bad thanks to Carolina's four-game win streak to end the season.

"It's been fun to be a fan a little bit," Beason said. "Everything looks so promising."

Beason's final 2012 appearance came in the 30-28 loss in Week 4 at Atlanta. The Falcons – backed up at their own 1-yard line with 59 seconds left – gained 59 yards in one play before kicking the game-winning field goal in the final seconds.

Carolina struggled to recover from the devastating loss to the eventual NFC South champions and by Week 10, the Panthers were 2-8.

But they would only lose one more game.

"To start the season (2-8) and finish 7-9… it's just a complete 180," Beason said. "I can't be more proud of the guys, the coaching job.

"There are guys that were playing that you weren't expecting to, guys we had to bring in and bring up off the practice squad, and it was great to see them play well."

Beason – a five-time captain – was particularly proud of the 44-38 comeback victory over the Saints in the finale.

"You go down 11 points and you can say, ‘You know what, what are we playing for? We're not going to the playoffs, pack it in and head home,'" Beason said. "But that's not the makeup of this team. To come back against a team like that is huge. I know how hard it is to play down there, but the guys pulled it off."

Beason wasn't on the field for the inspired late-season turnaround, but he's eager to help carry that momentum into the start of next season.

Beason has already had knee surgery and said he'll have shoulder surgery in the coming days. His sights are set on a speedy rehabilitation so he can re-join a dynamic linebacking corps.

Beason led the team in tackles in each of his first four years, but he knows tackles will be hard to come by next season. Rookie Luke Kuechly set a team record for tackles with 205 – breaking the previous mark of 174 by James Anderson in 2011 – and Thomas Davisicon-article-link recorded 118 tackles in his first full season since 2008.

"It's going to be slim pickings," Beason said. "Thomas and James have got to get theirs and Super Luke the tackling machine. Numbers will be down, but we'll be playing at a high level and that's all that matters."


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(panthers.com)
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PHOTOS: Ray Lewis In His Last Home Game As A Baltimore Raven

RayLewisWildCardWknd2013-2

RayLewisWildCardWknd2013-1


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17 Active proCanes Entered The First Weekend of NFL Playoffs… 14 Remain

AndreJohnson2
17 active proCane entered Wild Card weekend looking to make it to the Super Bowl. Three have been sent home packing. There are still plenty left competing.

STILL IN:
Houston Texans: Andre Johnson, Brandon Harris, Chris Myers.
Green Bay Packers: Sam Shields
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bryant McKinnie
Denver Broncos: Orlando Franklin DJ Williams
New England Patriots: Vince WIlfork
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Bosher, Harland Gunn
San Francisco 49ers: Tavares Gooden, Frank Gore

OUT:
Indianapolis Colts: Reggie Wayne
Washington Redskins: Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss

Six #proCanes are currently on the injured list and not on an active NFL playoff roster: Willis McGahee (Denver), Rashad Butler (Houston), Darryl Sharpton (Houston), Damien Berry (Baltimore), Tommy Streeter (Baltimore) and Brandon Meriweather (Washington).


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VIDEO: Ray Lewis' Final Introduction as Raven in Baltimore




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PHOTO: Sam Shields Wild Card Weekend Interception

SamShieldsWildCardWkndINT2013

Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) celebrates his interception with teammate Tramon Williams (38) during the second half of an NFL wild card playoff football game against the Minnesota Vikings Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)


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Future proCane Brandon McGee vs Florida State (2012) Video Highlights




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Ray Lewis bids farewell to Baltimore Ravens fans in style

RayLewisRavens2
The 37-year-old Lewis will end his 17-year NFL career after the Ravens complete a postseason that began with Sunday's first-round game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Lewis returned to his middle linebacker position after a 10-week absence. Minutes before the opening kickoff, Lewis thrilled the sellout crowd during introductions by coming out of the tunnel and gyrating to the tune "Hot in Herre."

Hundreds of fans had their cellphones raised to either take a picture or videotape the moment.

Lewis does the dance only before home games, and this was Baltimore's last this season at M&T Bank Stadium.

If the Ravens don't win Sunday, it will be Lewis' final game. If they beat the Colts, the Ravens will next play on Saturday in Denver.

Lewis concluded pre-game warmups by addressing the entire team on the 5-yard line. After his short speech, Lewis hugged a few teammates, mingled with a few people in the crowd and jogged to the sideline, where he engaged in a lengthy embrace with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Thousands of fans were wearing No. 52 jerseys. Lewis has been a fan favorite in Baltimore since he was selected in the first round of the Ravens' initial draft in 1996.

Ken Malik, 61, wore a purple Lewis jersey and a broad smile.

"It's the end of an era for the Baltimore Ravens," he said. "He's been a great player. He's stood for what the Baltimore Ravens are and what they have been since they (came) to Baltimore."

There is no age limitation for fans of Lewis, who made his NFL debut when Kylie O'Neill-Mullin was 4. She was wearing a long black tunic with Lewis' number on the front and back.

"This is a big deal. It's the last time he'll come out of the tunnel," she said. "It's the last time he'll play on this field. I'm excited to be here."

One fan had a sign with a purple heart and the No. 52 in the middle. Earlier, a helicopter flew overhead with the No. 52 painted on its undercarriage.

Lewis was sidelined since Oct. 14 with a torn right triceps. He worked diligently to return in time for the playoffs, and his hard work paid off.

Lewis was elected to 13 Pro Bowls and is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He told his teammates on Wednesday, "This will be my last ride."


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(nfl.com)
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Ed Reed still not considering his future

EdReed3
Ed Reed had a front-row seat for Ray Lewis’ swan song at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday in what would eventually be the Ravens’ 24-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. But the reception the fans gave Lewis hasn’t influenced the free safety’s decision about his own future with the organization.

Reed, 34, is in the final year of his contract with the Ravens, who have not said anything publicly about whether they want the nine-time Pro Bowler to return. Reed has considered retirement the past couple of offseasons, but in the locker room beneath the stadium, he said his primary focus is on the Denver Broncos, the team’s opponent in the AFC Divisional playoff round.

“I’m not thinking about that right now,” Reed said. “I’m football. I’m completing this year, and like I always tell you, I assess it every year. I assess myself every year physically. A guy in football, if he doesn’t do that, something’s wrong. So I’m not worried about that. I’m not focused on that. Right now, it’s playoffs, it’s Denver, it’s football.”

Reed has been plagued by shoulder and neck injuries throughout his career, and it’s been speculated that those ailments have contributed to a decline in his tackling skills.

But Reed still tied cornerback Cary Williams for the team lead in interceptions with four in the regular season. He almost collected his ninth interceptions in 12 postseason contests when rookie quarterback Andrew Luck tried to complete a pass to rookie tight end Coby Fleener in the first quarter.

Unlike Lewis, Reed does not have a Super Bowl ring, which might be enough to re-kindle his interest in remaining active in the NFL. That achievement might cap a Hall of Fame career, but Reed said it doesn’t dominate his thoughts.

“Just play the game and let it come,” he said. “We work out and prepare to go to the Super Bowl like all 31 other teams in the league. And only two are going to get to play and only one is going to get to win. So prepare for it. If it happens, it’s going to be a blessing. That’s what we’re reaching for. If not, just keep on striving.”


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(baltimoresun.com)
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Jeremy Shockey Files for Divorce After 8 Months

ShockeyPanthers
Jeremy Shockey's marriage is just like his 2012 NFL career -- over -- 'cause he's filed for divorce after eight months of wedded bliss ... TMZ has learned.

The 32-year-old free agent -- who didn't play at all this season -- filed divorce docs late last year in Miami, claiming his marriage to Daniela Cortazar-Shockey was "irretrievably broken."

According to the docs, Jeremy and Daniela tied the knot waaay back in May 2012 ... but by October, he was already over it and they separated.

One bit of good news for Jeremy, in the docs he claims Daniela signed an airtight pre-nup that blocks her from getting a single cent -- no property, no support ... zilch.


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(tmz.com)
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Roger Goodell: Ray Lewis 'incredible'

RayLewisHurricanes
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis set to retire after the playoffs, has lauded the career and contributions of the future Hall of Famer, calling him "a special guy. Obviously, he's an incredible football player."

Speaking in an extensive interview with The Baltimore Sun, Goodell said he thought Lewis would likely stay in the league in some capacity long after retirement.

"It's very unique to have a player play 17 years in the NFL, and the second thing is to play with one team and to really, truly become the identity of the brand of football that they play," Goodell told The Sun. "It's passionate, emotional, physical.

"That's the kind of game Ray plays, and that's the kind of game the Ravens pattern themselves off of. That's a great thing for the Baltimore community, the Ravens' fans and for the team to have that kind of leadership. That's what it is: It's leadership. That's what he provided to the team, to the NFL and to the Baltimore community."

Lewis, 37, said Wednesday he would retire at season's end, that it was time for him to create a "new legacy."

"There comes a time for everybody," Goodell said. "You're saddened to have someone so special to the game of football leave the field, but I know that he's the kind of guy who will stay involved and who, one way or another, will continue to make a contribution back to the game of football. He's a special guy. Obviously, he's an incredible football player, but he's also made enormous contributions off the field."

Lewis, who hasn't played since tearing his triceps two months ago, intends to return when the Ravens host the Colts in Sunday's wild-card game, having resumed practicing Dec. 5. He is also close to signing a multiyear contract with ESPN to join the network as an NFL analyst, according to an SI.com report.

"I think he's a great example ... how you can play the game in a very physical way but play it fundamentally sound, using the right techniques, techniques that are safe for you and safer for the opponent," Goodell said. "Watching him play, it's just always 110 percent effort on every play. He's giving it his all, he's got incredible passion. He's a fierce competitor and you saw that in the way he played the game. It's something I admire and I love to watch him play."

Goodell said he and Lewis had regularly kept in touch during the commissioner's six-year tenure regarding pressing issues facing the league.

"He's a tremendous voice of reason," Goodell said. "He's someone that has a unique pulse of the players and that's helpful to me. That perspective is important to hear, and he would always share that with me whether he called or I called him. ... He means a great deal to this commissioner, and I could tell you that I will always seek out his input. He will stay involved, I'm certain of it, in football, and that perspective that he has is something I'll reach out for on a regular basis."


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(espn.com)
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Broncos have plan in place for Willis McGahee's return

WillisMcGaheeBroncos
Q: When Willis McGahee returns, what will be the roster move to activate him? Won't they need to release someone to make room? Kind of a bummer to be so close to a Super Bowl and miss out.

A: Paul, McGahee may be ready to practice on a limited basis next week when the Broncos begin their game-week preparation. However, the team's timetable is still that he would be ready to play in a limited role in the AFC championship game and beyond if the Broncos advance that far.

Broncos coach John Fox was asked recently about McGahee's progress. Fox said the AFC championship game was still the target.

He said:

"He's rehabbing and all indications are it's on schedule. He's getting better every day. He won't be ready any time real soon, but we'll evaluate that as we get going and finish up the regular season. All indications are he's making good progress."

McGahee tore the medial collateral ligament and suffered a compression fracture in his right knee during the second quarter of the Broncos' 30-23 victory over the Chargers on Nov. 18. The injury, as is sometimes the case with an MCL, didn't require surgery to repair.

So, McGahee was placed on injured reserve, but "designated for return," an option for the first time this season. Teams can now bring one player back off injured reserve during the season, but they have to declare which player it will be as soon as the player is moved to injured reserve in the first place.
It's what the Ravens did with linebacker Ray Lewis.

The dynamics of it for the Broncos are that McGahee can return to practice when the Broncos deem him ready for that, but they don't have to make a roster move at that point.

He can basically practice as the 54th player on the roster. It's that way so teams can evaluate the player's readiness to play in a game before they make any decisions.

But to play him in a game, the Broncos would have to make a roster move. So, yes, somebody is getting one of the unkindest cuts of all, to potentially be a week or two away from the Super Bowl and get released would be difficult to accept for any player.

Last February, the Patriots cut wide receiver Tiquan Underwood the day before the Super Bowl. So Underwood went to the Super Bowl city, practiced through the week and was cut less than 24 hours before the game.

He wasn't going to play a lot in the game, but that would stick with you for quite some time.

In terms of the Broncos' roster move when McGahee comes back, the expectation is that he would be a part of a rotation. He's still less than two months out from a serious injury.

He also does not play special teams. So to add him to the roster, that will influence the decision about who gets released. To add him and not release another running back, however, means the Broncos would have six players at the position, a rare number for a team that doesn't use a lot of two-back sets.

They signed Jacob Hester because of his abilities in pass protection. Hester showed in the regular-season finale he can contribute in the run game. And other than McGahee, he is the only running back the team has who checks in at more than 215 pounds.

Two of the backs — Lance Ball and fullback Chris Gronkowski — are two of the regulars on special teams. Ball has played 53 percent of the team's special teams plays this year while Gronkowski is at 56.7 percent (270 plays). Only Omar Bolden, Nate Irving and David Bruton played more on special teams this season than Gronkowski did.


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(denverpost.com)
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Aubrey Huff intends to play in 2013, hopes an opportunity opens up

AubreyHuffGiants
Aubrey Huff, the consistent power producer and 2010 Giants hero derailed by an episode of panic attacks in 2012, is looking to make a comeback in 2013.

"He wants to play,'' Huff's attorney Ed Hayes said by phone. "He's working out. It's not a matter of physical issues. Nor is it a matter of mental issues, which he's addressed.''

According to Hayes, Huff, who has 242 career home runs, had an issue with panic attacks on one occasion, sought treatment and has no lingering issue.

"Medication is an amazing thing," Hayes said.

(It should be noted Zack Greinke, who had a similar issue, signed the most lucrative contract this winter, his $147 million deal with the Dodgers.)

Huff's situation is very much like it was three years ago, when the Giants picked him up off of the scrap heap and he wound up having such a productive season, he finished seventh in MVP voting in 2010 and subsequently signed a two-year, $22 million deal. Hayes said Huff intends to prove that last year, when he hit an uncharacteristic .192 in 78 at-bats, is in the past.

Hayes has talked to a few teams, but they know the reality is Huff may need to wait to see what happens with Lance Berkman first. Berkman is ahead of Huff in the pecking order, but the same American League teams could make sense for Huff, provided they can overlook his one rough year.

Texas is one team eyeing Berkman, and that's a team that would presumably interest Huff, a Fort Worth product. The Rays, Orioles, Indians and Red Sox are among other teams who could add a hitter.

Said Hayes, "We're keeping our fingers crossed an opportunity will open up."


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(cbssports.com)
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2nd Annual Jon Jay Bowling Challenge to Benefit Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade

JonJayCards
Jon Jay, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder and Miami native, will host his 2nd Annual Celebrity Bowling Challenge. Proceeds will benefit Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade to support its many positive programs for 10,000 area youth.

Along with other Major League Baseball stars, Jay will bowl with attendees during the fun-filled fundraising event. The evening will include red carpet arrivals, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, exciting bowling matches and more. Sponsorships are available.  

“We’re very thankful to Jon Jay for choosing Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade to receive proceeds from this fun event,” said Alex Rodriguez-Roig, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade. “With the efforts of individuals such as Jon, we continue to make a difference in the lives of many area youth.”

“I played baseball at the Boys & Girls Club for years, so I’m thrilled about the opportunity to give back to an organization that has meant so much to me,” said Jay.

When:
Saturday, Jan. 26, 6-9 p.m.
5:45 p.m.         Red carpet arrivals/media availability
6:15 p.m.         Cocktails/hors d’oeuvres/introductions
6:45 p.m.         Bowling Challenge begins
8:30 p.m.         Winners announced

Where:
Lucky Strike Lanes
1691 Michigan Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Cost/Sponsorships: Individual tickets: $450 per bowling team (five guests will be matched with a celebrity) and $100 per person (singles will be randomly matched with other single entries/celebrities.)
 
Sponsorships: World Series Sponsorship ($5,000): Corporate/logo recognition on all marketing materials, corporate signage and the opportunity to include corporate products and/or literature during the event, 12 autographed baseballs by Jay and all MLB players in attendance, two bowling teams (10 people total)
Extra Innings Lane Sponsorship ($1,500): Corporate/logo recognition on all marketing materials, the opportunity to include corporate products and/or literature during the event, one bowling team (five people)

How: For sponsorship or additional event information, call Tom Hagan at CAA Sports at 212-277-9000 or thagan@caa.com. To purchase individual tickets and more information: visit www.jonjaychallenge.com.


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