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NEW ORLEANS – Around the Super Bowl and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of everything surrounding the game:
MODELL HOF DEBATE
One of the liveliest debates this weekend in New Orleans could be not about the Super Bowl itself, but on whether late Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell should be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of fame.
In Cleveland, many fans haven't forgiven Modell for deciding to relocate his Browns franchise to Baltimore 17 years ago. But his supporters contend he helped create America's most popular sport.
Modell will be considered for enshrinement along with coach Bill Parcells, former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., single-season sacks leader Michael Strahan, offensive linemen Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, running back Jerome Bettis, wide receivers Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed, defensive standouts Charles Haley and Kevin Greene, guard Will Shields and defensive back Aeneas Williams.
Also up for consideration, two senior nominees: defensive tackle Curley Culp and linebacker Dave Robinson.
Voters will select between four and seven new members.
The Ravens' unexpected run to the championship game has been, in part, fueled by the team dedicating its season to Modell. Baltimore's players have worn patches with "Art" on their jerseys to honor Modell, who died on Sept. 6, just four days ahead of the opener.
— Tom Withers — http://twitter.com/twithersAP
BROTHERLY ADVICE: BOB BRYAN
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh are hardly the only high-profile siblings who've squared off in their arena of expertise. The AP is asking some others who can relate how to handle going against a family member in the Super Bowl.
Tennis player Bob Bryan and twin brother Mike are the world's best doubles team, having won a record 13th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open last weekend. Their 20-2 record going into this weekend's Davis Cup matches against Brazil are the best of any U.S. doubles team in the 100-plus year history of the event.
When they were younger, however, the Bryans played singles and often found themselves facing each other in the finals of a tournament.
"We would flip a coin for the match," Bob Bryan said before he and Mike were to take the court in Jacksonville, Fla., for Davis Cup play against Brazil. "(Our parents) didn't want us to become rivals or be competitive against each other, which actually worked out great. We had all our trophies in the same trophy case and shared victories together.
"With both sons in the final (our parents) could sit back, get some lemonade and enjoy the match. There was no pressure on them because the family had pretty much taken home all the hardware," he added. "I saw an interview with the Harbaughs' parents and got the same sense. You could see there was no pressure or stress on their face. They felt like they've already won."
But Bob Bryan said he wouldn't want to be in John or Jim Harbaugh's spot this weekend. When he and his brother played each other, it was impossible to muster the cutthroat attitude athletes need.
"You don't have that killer instinct against that family member," he said.
In fact, playing WITH his brother has made their success that much more rewarding.
"Really, the reason we pulled the plug on singles so early is because we didn't get nearly the same amount of joy from winning," Bob Bryan said. "Now, when we're winning tournaments, we get to talk about it together forever. For the rest of our lives."
— Nancy Armour — http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour
QUICKQUOTE: CEE LO GREEN
Cee Lo Green explains why it seems there's more entertainment at this year's Super Bowl than others in recent history:
"The Super Bowl has become such a big event in itself. So many people come from everywhere, looking to not only be a part of the Super Bowl but also the festivities leading up to the game. There's so much to do from parties, concerts and events like our ESPN event where Goodie will be performing. It's so much to do."
TALE OF 2 CITIES
In some ways, New Orleans has gotten better since Hurricane Katrina. The restaurant scene, for instance.
But drive just a few miles outside the French Quarter and a different picture emerges.
This is definitely a tale of two cities.
Some parts of the Big Easy, such as the Ninth Ward and Treme, don't look a whole lot different than they did the day after Katrina came ashore — more than seven years ago. On a ride-along with three advocates for the homeless group Unity of Greater New Orleans, it didn't take long to realize just how much is left to do in this unique American city.
There are still thousands of abandoned homes and buildings — more than 10,000, according to some counts, maybe as many as 15,000. Many of the houses are still adorned with the spray-painted "X'' that became a symbol of the devastation during those awful days back in 2005, when it was used by searchers to let everyone know the structure had been checked and how many bodies could be found inside.
Christopher Weaver barely escaped the floodwaters after the levee just a block away from his house in the Lower Ninth Ward came crashing down. He's returned to a rebuilt home, but most of his neighborhood is marked by vacant, overgrown lots or abandoned homes that still bear the scars of Katrina.
With the Super Bowl blimp flying off in the distance, Weaver was asked what life is like for people like him.
He shook his head and looked at the abandoned lots across the street, obscured by weeds that are taller than he is.
"You can see it for yourself," Weaver said. "It sucks."
— Paul Newberry — http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
STAT OF THE DAY: $100M COIN TOSS
The stat of the day today is about gambling on a simple question: Heads or tails? Bettors worldwide are expected to wager $100 million on that coin toss outcome at the Super Bowl.
That's according to gambling expert R.J. Bell of Pregame.com, which tracks betting trends in casinos in Nevada and elsewhere.
Bell says in the past 46 Super Bowls, the coin has fallen heads 23 times and tails 23 times. But the NFC has won 14 of the past 15 Super Bowl tosses.
Suckers might think that means the Ravens are due for the AFC, but Baltimore's chances of winning the toss this time: Still 50 percent.
— Oskar Garcia — http://twitter.com/oskargarcia
TROUT CRASHES SUPER BOWL ADS
A rising baseball star is crashing the Super Bowl with his first major national commercial.
Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, last year's American League rookie of the year and runner-up for the league's MVP, will be featured in a new ad for Subway, along with Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin, Justin Tuck of the New York Giants, Olympic speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, and boxer Laila Ali, among others.
The ad marks Jared Fogle's 15-year anniversary of losing 245 pounds by eating Subway.
Trout says being part of a Super Bowl ad is "an incredible feeling."
The endorsement is a natural for Trout, who grew up eating the restaurant chain's sandwiches (His favorite: chicken teriyaki with hot peppers and oregano)
Since his favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles, isn't playing, Trout says he enjoys checking out the commercials.
"Some get pretty creative, some of them get a laugh, some prove a point," he said. "I'm sure I'll be getting a lot of text messages during the Super Bowl just to mess with me a little bit."
As for the game, Trout says he thinks San Francisco to win even though he wants Baltimore to prevail.
"I've got a lot of 49ers fans on the Angels, and I know I'll hear it when I get to the spring," he said.
Pitchers and catchers report this month, and soon Trout will be playing alongside slugger Josh Hamilton. Trout said he texted the former Rangers superstar to welcome him to the Angels.
"The next thing he said to me was, 'Get your legs loose.' I was pretty excited. It will be pretty fun."
— Beth Harris — http://twitter.com/bethharrisap
STATE OF THE NFL
Player safety, the New Orleans Saints bounty program, cold-weather Super Bowls, even his popularity among New Orleans restaurant owners — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell touched on a wide range of topics Friday during the annual "State of the NFL." Among the highlights:
Goodell defended the league, which has come under increasing scrutiny following new studies about the long-term effects of concussions as well as recent suicides by former NFL players. President Barack Obama recently said if he had a son, he's not sure he'd let him play football. And the NFL is being sued by thousands of former players.
Goodell says steps the league has taken in recent seasons have made the game safer, and more steps are likely going forward.
"We will not relent on this," he said.
Neurosurgeons will be part of gameday medical staffs beginning next season, he said. The league is also looking at eliminating certain low blocks and will continue to impose harsh punishments for illegal hits — particularly for players who are repeat offenders.
Proper tackling technique also needs to be emphasized, getting players to get away from using their heads and return to using their shoulders and arms.
"The No. 1 issue is, take the head out of the game," Goodell said.
Asked specifically about Obama's concerns, Goodell said "I welcome" the comments because it keeps attention on the dangers of head trauma.
"What we are doing is leading the way to try and make sure people understand you need to treat these injuries seriously," he said.
Goodell refused to apologize for his harsh treatment of the Saints' bounty program, even if it means he's not the most popular man in New Orleans this week.
Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season, and four current or former Saints players were punished after an investigation found the club had had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.
"There's no question that there was a bounty program in place for three years. I think that is bad for the players, it's bad for the game," Goodell said. "I don't believe bounties are going to be part of football going forward, and I think that's good for everybody."
His only regret was not convincing teams, players and coaches that everyone shares in the responsibility of making the game safer.
"I wasn't able to make that point clearly enough with the union and with others," he said. "But that is something we're going to be incredibly relentless on."
Despite eight coaching vacancies and openings for seven general managers, no minorities were hired for the NFL's most high-profile positions this off-season. Goodell says that's unacceptable.
"There was full compliance of the Rooney Rule. In fact, I believe there were a record number of interviews," Goodell said. "But we didn't have the outcome we wanted. It's very important to the success of the league to do that, and we're committed to find that solution."
Goodell said the league needs to look at whether the rule needs to be expanded or adapted.
COLD-WEATHER SUPER BOWLS
Next year's Super Bowl in New York is unlikely to be the last played outdoors in a cold-weather city, judging by Goodell's remarks.
"The game of football is made to be played in the elements," he said. "Now, we hope they will not be extreme, but we will be prepared if that's the case. Some of the most classic games in history were played in extreme conditions."
— Nancy Armour — http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour
WHAT'S IN A NAME? FOR HARBAUGHS, DEFINITELY A 'J'
Jack and Jackie Harbaugh weren't trying to be cute when they gave all three of their kids names that start with the letter "J."
John, the eldest, was a given. He's named after Jack, whose given name is also John. Jim's name came from Jackie's doctor in Perrysburg, Ohio, who also was named Jim.
"They came in and said, 'What are you going to name this baby?' and I said that I liked the name Jim," Jackie Harbaugh said.
As for Joani, their third child and only daughter, her full name is Joani Marie and it comes from Jackie Harbaugh's mother's middle name and the first name of Jack Harbaugh's mother.
So it really wasn't planned, this whole family of J Harbaughs?
"No," Jackie Harbaugh said. "We aren't very creative."
— Nancy Armour — http://twitter.com/nrarmour
SALSA VS SQUIRREL
Which dance do you prefer: Victor Cruz' touchdown salsa or Ray Lewis' game entrance squirrel?
Cruz breaks it down: "The Ray Lewis slide has a little more intensity, a little more swagger fire under it. The salsa is just for swagger, for flavor, a little bit, but it's two completely different joints."
Cruz did his interpretation of the Lewis dance and said he likes them both.
"It's unique to each other's character, each other's personality," he said.
Lewis might trade dance props for any holdover luck from Cruz' trip to the Super Bowl last year; the wide receiver won a title with New York.
Cruz said he plans to tweet during Sunday's game from his (at)teamvic account, about the game and the entertainment.
"I'm looking forward to Alicia Keys ... singing the national anthem, as well as Beyonce at half time," Cruz said. "I feel like they picked some good performers this year."
— Nekesa Mumbi Moody — http://twitter.com/nekesamumbi
FAN TAKES: GOODELL
Fans at the NFL Experience are here for fun but also have some strong thoughts about Commissioner Roger Goodell as he talks about the state of the league.
Many are torn with the Super Bowl in town as they heal from Goodell's disciplining of the New Orleans Saints in a bounty scandal.
Despite mixed feelings, the party's not stopping.
Here's what some folks said Friday as a local brass band, the Brass-O-Holics, jammed on a stage.
— "He's the grinch who stole our Christmas, but it's Mardi Gras, so it's all good in the neighborhood. Welcome, Roger." — Stephanie Arwood, a New Orleans resident in a Marcus Colston jersey with her young son.
— "There's a lot of anger toward Roger Goodell. I hope the Saints fans have mercy on him while he's here, truthfully. ... Katrina's a perfect example of how we'll pick up and move on, but we're not going to move on until the season's over with. Especially while he's here, I think we'll take every opportunity to give back to him what he gave to us." — Sammie Mitchell, a New Orleans resident sporting a gold Saints jersey as he took pictures with friends and family.
— "I don't have any hard feelings. ... "It's time to move on and get ready for next season. We just have to move forward." — Edwin Cowart of Gretna, La., sporting a Jimmy Graham Saints jersey. He says he's following the lead of coaches and players in moving on.
— Stacey Plaisance
5 KEY PLAYERS: BALTIMORE
We asked AP pro football writer Barry Wilner to pick five key players for each team in this Super Bowl. You'll want to pay attention to these guys on Sunday.
First, for the Baltimore Ravens:
— JOE FLACCO (QB, JERSEY NO. 5): Flacco is on a personal streak this postseason with eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three games. He outplayed top draftee Andrew Luck, then Peyton Manning, then Tom Brady in leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl. And he's been successful in the playoffs over his five-year career — he has an 8-4 playoff record and an NFL record by leading his team to playoff wins in each of his first five seasons.
— RAY RICE (RB, JERSEY NO. 27): Rice has been the hub of the Ravens' offense throughout his career — a threat to break long gains on runs or screen passes. This season, he rushed for 1,143 yards and nine TDs, caught 61 passes for 478 yards. He has two touchdowns in the postseason.
— RAY LEWIS (ILB, JERSEY NO. 52): Lewis has been the emotional engine for Baltimore his entire career, and retires after this game. Teammate Bernard Pollard calls him "The Raven." Lewis missed 10 games this year with a torn right triceps, but has been sensational in playoffs with 44 tackles. He was the MVP of the 2001 Super Bowl, the Ravens' only championship, and Defensive Player of Year in 2000 and 2003.
— PAUL KRUGER (DE, JERSEY NO. 99): Kruger had a breakout season and has been among the best defenders in playoffs. He led Baltimore with nine sacks and has 2½ in the postseason. He's very disruptive and also can drop into coverage, though that's not his strength. He doesn't get double-teamed as much with Terrell Suggs getting healthier.
— CARY WILLIAMS (CB, JERSEY No. 29): Williams is a very up-and-down defender who has two picks in postseason, including one in the end zone in the AFC championship. A so-so tackler, better as coverage man, yet made 75 tackles during the season. Williams joined the Ravens in 2009 after Tennessee cut him.
— Barry Wilner
Repeating something the league has been saying for more than a year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he hopes there will be HGH testing soon — before the start of the 2013 season if he has his way.
Your turn, players' union.
The league and union paved the way for testing two seasons ago in the collective bargaining agreement. But the sides have been at an impasse, with the NFL Players Association saying it needs more information about the validity of a test that is used by Olympic sports and Major League Baseball. The union also has issues with the appeals process, saying the league won't agree to the independent arbitrator that Major League Baseball's drug-testing program has.
EDITOR'S NOTE — "Super Bowl Watch" shows you the Super Bowl and the events surrounding the game through the eyes of Associated Press journalists across New Orleans and around the world. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.