NFL alumni hoping for better benefits this year

NFL Alumni Association executive director George Martin is hoping this year to finally get increased pension benefits and better long-term health care for former players.

Nine months after being picked to lead the group of about 4,000 members, Martin said Wednesday that the top concern of retired NFL players is the same as it has been for so long: "pension increases, pension benefits."

What Martin termed "Campaign 2011" comes as the NFL and current players have to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The current deal expires in a month.

"There's been much ballyhoo, much discussions (about the CBA)," he said. "If anything's talked about, 18-game schedule to a possible rookie wage scale, all of those things do not impact the lives of retired players. I think it's just merely a fortuitous opportunity for us that it coincides with the expiration of the CBA."

Jeff Pash, the NFL's lead labor negotiator, said current benefits for retired players won't be affected if the league and union don't reach a deal before the current CBA ends.

"Even if we get past March 4, there will be no changes," Pash said. "They will continue the same as they are now."

The NFL Management Council this week said it signed an agreement to provide an underwritten long-term care insurance policy to eligible retired NFL players that will allow spouses the possibility to purchase similar policies.

Martin made no reference to that insurance during his news conference, but touted a new medical alliance under the NFL Alumni banner to provide pro bono services for former players unable to afford medical treatment, particularly from head trauma that has led to problems such as early dementia, Alzheimer's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease.

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WANT MY BALL BACK : In the final minute of Pittsburgh's last Super Bowl two years ago, linebacker LaMarr Woodley sacked Arizona's Kurt Warner and forced a fumble to clinch the Steelers' 27-23 victory.

And he wants the ball back from teammate Brett Keisel, who recovered the fumble.

Keisel initially offered the ball to Woodley, who then turned it down.

"I made a mistake," Woodley said. "After the game, in the locker room, he said, 'Hey, LaMarr, do you want the football?' And I said, 'No, man, keep it.' ... But now he won't give it back to me."

Even this week, with the Steelers preparing to play Green Bay, Woodley again asked about the ball. It looks like he'll have to settle for trying to get another one Sunday.

"This time, he owes me a football," Woodley said. "Hopefully he'll go out there and get me one."

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SUPER MAC: The Mid-American Conference is well represented at the Super Bowl, with 15 former players suiting up for either the Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Over the years, the MAC, we've felt that we've been overlooked," said Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings, who played at Western Michigan. "We have a ton of guys that make a huge impact in this league."

Among the six former MAC players on the Steelers roster is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Jennings is one of nine Packers who share conference ties.

Only the Southeastern Conference with 18 has more former players in this Super Bowl. There are also 15 players from the Big Ten.

"You definitely don't have to be from a BCS conference school," said Jennings, who initially committed to Michigan. "I got the opportunity to establish myself as a student and then as a player. It worked out great for me. If I had the chance to do it all over again I would choose Western. It allowed me to progress a lot quicker and mature a lot quicker."

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BACKUPS NEAR HOME: Both of Green Bay's backup quarterbacks are Texas natives.

Matt Flynn, the primary backup for Aaron Rodgers, was born in Tyler, Texas — about 100 miles from Cowboys Stadium, where the Packers play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.,

Graham Harrell, the Packers' third quarterback, played high school football for his father only about 40 miles away in Ennis, where he won a Class 4A state title. He also played at Texas Tech.

"I'm half the country away in Green Bay and all of sudden for the Super Bowl you are coming home," Harrell said. "It has been awesome. I'm so excited to here."

Flynn, who started at New England in December when Rodgers was recovering from a concussion, said he will prepare this week by envisioning himself playing in the Super Bowl.

"I definitely will, probably more so than usual because it is the Super Bowl," said Flynn, who completed 24 of 37 passes for 251 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in a 31-27 loss to the Patriots.

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PLAY FOR FREE: With all major school districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area closed because of extreme cold and icy conditions, the NFL postponed a Play 60 kids' day at the NFL Experience and an NFL Charities youth bowling tournament.

For the 1,500 school kids scheduled to attend Wednesday's Play 60 event, each of them will receive a ticket for themselves and a guest to attend the NFL Experience on Sunday before the Super Bowl.

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AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner and Jaime Aron contributed to this report.