National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

NASCAR creates winner-take-all championship format

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Say goodbye to the NASCAR era when a driver, fresh off a satisfying, top-10 finish, climbs from the car and raves about what a good points day it was.

Winning is all that matters under the latest and most radical change to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

NASCAR's overhauled championship format announced Thursday is a 16-driver, winner-take-all elimination system designed to reward "the most worthy, battle-tested" driver at the end of the season.

"Riding around and being pleased because the (previous) format rewards consistency, those days are going to be pretty much over," NASCAR Chairman Brian France said.

The field, expanded from 12 to 16 drivers, will be whittled down to a final four through eliminations after every three races of the 10-race Chase. The remaining four drivers will go into the season finale with an equal chance to win the championship: The first of the four to cross the finish line will be crowned Sprint Cup champion.

"No math. No bonus points. It's as simple as it gets," France said.

It's the fourth change to either the points or championship format since France created the Chase in 2004. For 28 years prior to the Chase, consistency reigned as the champion was the driver with the most points at the end of the season.

That ended a year after Matt Kenseth won the 2003 title with a single victory, and France began his pursuit of creating "Game 7 moments." Along the way, he has pushed his agenda of wanting aggressive drivers chasing wins.

He'll get that under the new format, which makes settling for points pretty much pointless.

Why? Because a win in the 26-race regular season virtually guarantees a berth in the Chase. Then, eliminations begin, and a driver can guarantee a trip to the next round with a victory.

Last August, Brad Keselowski chased Kyle Busch around Watkins Glen and declined to aggressively move his rival out of the way. Keselowski settled for second, racing for a good points day and declining to inflame his touchy relationship with Busch. But in doing so, he failed to win a regular-season race and missed the Chase, making him ineligible to defend his title.

Under the new format, a winless Keselowski would have no choice in that same situation but to bang fenders with Busch and go after the win.

That's exactly what France wants to see on the track each week.

"This is pretty clear: You have to win, you have to compete at a higher level, you have to take more chances," France said.

France said he expects contact among cars.

"Obviously there are some limits, but that's always part of NASCAR, to have some version of contact late in the race," he said. "Will this bring more of that? I'm sure it will."

The changes were lauded by Julie Sobieski, vice president of league sports programming for ESPN, which will broadcast all 10 Chase races this year.

"We have long felt that there was a greater opportunity within the Chase and are in favor of an elimination format, which has been most effective in American sports," she said.

Teams and drivers were briefed by NASCAR on the changes, and reaction was mostly positive.

"This took guts, this is a big deal," said team owner Joe Gibbs, who saw his three Cup drivers combine for a series-best 12 wins last season.

Busch, who won four races and finished fourth in the standings, wasn't as effusive.

"I don't like to always be the Debbie Downer ... but some of the things they are doing, I'm not in agreement with," Busch said, declining to be specific because he spoke before NASCAR unveiled the format.

He noted that Keselowski would have had incentive to wreck Busch at Watkins Glen, and said there are other scenarios NASCAR must now consider. He referred to last season, when, Kenseth opened the Chase with a win at Chicago, where Busch followed his teammate across the finish line for a 1-2 finish for Gibbs.

They again went 1-2 at New Hampshire the next week. But in the new format, that's not necessarily good enough. Busch would instead be looking to win in such a scenario to ensure a trip to the next round.

"I'm chasing him down to try to get to him, and if I got to him, I could have moved his (butt) out of the way to get a win and knock me into the next round of playoffs. Matt didn't need it," Busch said. "Those situations are what NASCAR is looking at. They are not wanting, `Let's just race to the checkered and not cause any drama and have a good points day."'

Another twist: In the Kenseth-Busch scenario, it would have been in the best interest of Joe Gibbs Racing for Busch to win and, because the points reset after each round, meaning multiple victories by a driver in the Chase has no benefit - the team would have incentive to orchestrate a Busch victory over Kenseth.

"That would be a NASCAR gray area that they'd have to make a judgment call on," Busch said.

NASCAR last year issued severe sanctions against Michael Waltrip Racing for trying to manipulate the finish of the last race of the regular season. The scandal led France to angrily warn teams they must all give 100 percent at all times, and laying down to help a teammate or technical partner would not be tolerated.

NASCAR President Mike Helton said nothing will change in race control and how officials enforce the rules.

"We'll officiate the sport the same way," Helton said. "We get the fact that this puts pressure on us officiating, and we feel like we're capable of stepping up to it."

France said extensive research done by NASCAR showed the new format appealed to fans because it eliminates points racing.

"The avid fans like it because they don't particularly care for points racing, even though they understand it," France said. "The casual fans don't understand points racing ... often, with all the mathematicals, you've got to have a computer next to you to figure out who is in and who is out at a given moment. (This) clears all that off and then emphasizes winning, which everybody understands."

Denver's John Fox regained perspective, vitality from health scare

NEW YORK -- John Fox never wanted to see himself on the Denver Broncos’ Week 9 injury report. But ignoring the symptoms of a serious health condition he had known about since 1997 -- the fatigue, gasping for air, dizziness, chest pain -- finally caught up with him, and his personal call-to-action was terrifying.

As he stood near the 14th hole at a Charlotte, N.C., golf course during the Broncos’ 2013 bye week, Fox’s heart began strangling him.

His throat was searing. His lips turned purple. He couldn’t breathe. Horrified, he sank to the turf and focused on staying conscious. Don’t faint, he told himself.  What if he didn’t wake up?

Fox’s mind raced as his aortic valve was shutting down, and the blood flow was slowing to his brain.

Why didn’t he take care of this a long time ago?

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“When I was on my knees on the golf course, I remember praying to God, ‘You can get me out of this, and I’ll get it fixed.’ That’s how scary it was,” Fox recalled. “It was like being smothered. I couldn’t breathe.”

Seeing a healthy Fox in the midst of a chaotic Super Bowl week and comparing him to the pre-surgery head coach, with his red, puffy face and bouts of breathlessness, has been a relief. He’s one of the NFL’s most admired and well-liked coaches.

He’s also a workaholic, like all of them, and when he learned back in 1997 -- while on the New York Giants staff -- that he was born with bicuspid aortic valve disease – his aortic valve had only two chambers instead of the normal three – Fox figured it was a repair he could put off when the time was right.

Well, that time was Nov. 4, 2013. After nearly dying on the golf course, Fox was rushed into surgery in North Carolina to replace his faulty aortic valve.

“Our first concern was for his health,” said Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who had questions like everyone else as soon as he learned his coach -– his friend –- had collapsed. “How serious was this? What was going to happen in the immediate future as far as potential surgery? So really, the last thing you were thinking about was, when is he going to be back as our coach? We were more concerned with how with, ‘How is his health going to be, going forward with his life?’”

The Broncos, 8-1 at the time and in command of the AFC West, were in good hands.  Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, the former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach, would take over. Fox was told to get well.

That wasn’t easy.

“It was a little bit scary for a minute. I really don’t think about it much now. The first four days, I thought about it a little bit because it was like getting hit by a truck,” Fox admitted. “I got better every day, just like any player who has been through an injury.

“I never thought I wouldn’t be back once I was going through the process. Fortunately, I had my family and good medical people, and here I am. I really haven’t thought about it much, to be honest with you, here recently.”

Del Rio’s outstanding work as interim coach during Fox’s four-week recovery underscores the wealth of leadership and talent on this Super Bowl XLVIII Broncos team, which went 3-1 with the head coach on IR. All three victories were against AFC West opponents.

“Coach Fox basically took four weeks to go and heal, and I don’t think he wanted to take all four,” Del Rio said. “I was able to step in and I did the best I could to make sure our organization continued to run smoothly. He had installed the blueprint. We just took the blueprint and continued on.”

Shortly out of surgery, Del Rio arranged to have Fox address the team electronically.

“Probably one of the highlights during that time was, maybe a week later, we were in a team meeting, and we used a big screen and had a FaceTime chat with coach Fox,” Manning recalled, grinning widely. “He didn’t really know how to use it real well. He was very up-close, right into that camera.

“I think it was his first FaceTime chat he had ever done. It was good for the team to see him, and that was a special moment.”

This week, as the Broncos prepare for Sunday’s NFL championship game against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium, there have been plenty of other special moments. Fox is in his third Super Bowl  -- he was head coach of the 2003 Panthers team that lost to the Patriots, and defensive coordinator of the Giants team that lost to the Ravens in 2000.  He’s relishing this opportunity to finally prevail in one.

Most important, Fox is robust again.

He reflects back on how a tiny defect in his heart left him so vulnerable, and how his high-intensity job and his driven personality weren’t helping.

“You know, it’s really remarkable about my health, and I just have to say this, I am 180 percent better than I was eight months ago. I had a valve that was the size of a pinhead, now it is the size of a 50-cent piece,” Fox said. “What you do is that you learn to deal with stuff in life, and I attribute it to, of course, some of our hours some of the time. I might have been a little tired, getting old. This is a cause of age. “

Or stubbornness. Fox finally paid attention to that heart valve screaming at him for attention, and he’s grateful his wake-up call on the golf course forced him to listen.

“Really, it’s been a blessing. I’m way better than I was physically the last 10 years of my life,” said Fox, beaming at the realty of his good health. “So, it’s really been kind of an upgrade, and I feel tremendous.”

Nancy Gay is the Senior Managing Editor of CSNBayArea.com and CSNCalifornia. Follow her on Twitter at @NancyGay.

On precipice of history, Broncos live out John Elway's grand vision

NEW YORK -– If it weren’t for Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos wouldn’t be here this week. On that we can all agree, right?

And if it weren’t for John Elway, Peyton Manning wouldn’t be a Bronco.

It’s a cool quirk of fate that Elway –- one of the greatest quarterbacks in history –- could recruit and sign Manning, one of two active quarterbacks worthy of mention in the same sentence as Elway.

That Manning’s recruitment meant the end in Denver for Tim Tebow, one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all-time, adds spice.

Consider once more the landscape. Manning’s neck had been sliced and diced four times since he’d last played. But Elway knew the Tebow Era was built on smoke and mirrors.

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Tebow wasn’t sustainable. Wins the Broncos reeled off in 2011 were keyed by Denver’s defense. Even the playoff win over the Steelers came with fine print –- the Steelers were so wracked with injuries they’d have been better off forfeiting their spot in the Wild Card game.

So Elway went all-in on Manning. On March 20, 2012 -– 13 days after Manning was released by the Colts –- Elway got his quarterback. Now the two men have their shot at a Super Bowl title together.

“I just tried to show him what the Denver Broncos are all about,” Elway said Wednesday. “I think that where he was, he was still in shock that he had gotten released by Indianapolis and it was a tough situation there. But we tried to show him what the Denver Broncos are about, about what our staff was about, what we had to offer, the ability for us to be able to blend our offense to what he’s used to doing and been doing for a 14-year career, and also the young guys we had on the roster but also what the Rocky Mountain region was all about. So I felt really good about our story, and I’m glad that he saw it the same way.”

With Manning in the house on a five-year, $96 million deal, Elway hit the free-agent market hard.

The core of the Broncos receiving corps was in place –- Josh McDaniels drafted Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in 2010, and Elway drafted Julius Thomas in '11. But Elway sought a complementary tight end for Julius Thomas and signed both Joel Dreesen and Jacob Tamme in 2012 and '13, respectively. When Wes Welker showed up at the Broncos door needing a place to play in March 2013, Elway welcomed Welker in as well on a team-friendly deal.

Elway augmented the Broncos running game by drafting Montee Ball in 2013 to go along with Knowshon Moreno –- the first pick of the McDaniels Era back in 2008.

The importance of striking while the iron was hot –- and Manning’s health was good –- is underscored by the fact 27 of the 53 players on the Denver roster have been signed as free agents over the past two seasons.

By contrast, the New England Patriots had 11 veteran free-agent/waiver claims on their roster when the 2013 season began.

The Broncos have hit big on their free-agent “value” signings. Welker is one. Defensive end Shaun Phillips, corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive tackle Terrence Knighton are three others.

The Broncos augmented those signings with the acquisition of guard Louis Vasquez, who inked a deal worth $23.5 million that included $13 million guaranteed.

It’s hard to do a better job in free agency than the Broncos have done in the past two years under Elway. The bill, of course, comes due when a team is built that way.

For Denver, the cost is 14 players over the age of 30 and 16 players are going to hit free agency. Among them: Decker, Moreno, Rodgers-Cromartie, Phillips, OG Zane Beadles, LB Wesley Woodyard, DE Robert Ayers, S Mike Adams, WR Andre Caldwell and OG Chris Kuper.

Welker, meanwhile, carries a cap hit of $8 million in 2014, the final year of his deal and also the final year for both Demaryius and Julius Thomas.

For the Broncos, it’s not now or never. But given Manning’s age and the looming free agency issues of his key receivers, this will likely be Denver’s best shot at hoisting a Lombardi before Manning retires.

It’s hard to get to this point. Manning deserves the bulk of the on-field credit for getting Denver here. But Elway’s vision and decisiveness put Manning in this position. 

Tom Curran is the Patriots Insider for CSN New England. Follow him on Twitter @tomecurran.

Russell Wilson Show about to go global

We’re still getting to know Russell Wilson this week, but his relative NFL anonymity outside the Pacific Northwest won’t last long. The ebullient Seattle Seahawks quarterback is all but inviting everyone to jump in for his ride along the Super Bowl XLVIII highway.

So what if the crowd in front of the Richard Sherman stage has been twice as thick this week? “He’s a great football player,” Wilson explained with an enormous smile. So is Wilson, but he is so understated about his superlatives, you can easily forget how remarkable he is.

Wilson, 25, has notched more victories, 24, than any second-year quarterback in NFL history, moving past Ben Roethlisberger’s 22 wins in his first two seasons. He’s listed at a generous 5-feet, 11 inches, a perceived height detriment that saw him slip to the third round of the 2012 NFL draft.

Of course, 31 other NFL teams claim today they also saw something special in Wilson, the triple-threat quarterback/baseball player/gifted student who graduated with a BA in communications in three years from North Carolina State and transferred to Wisconsin, in part, because his desire to also pursue professional baseball was so strong.

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Selected by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, Wilson the second baseman bounced around the minor leagues but began turning NFL heads with a brilliant senior season at Wisconsin in 2011. He was a team captain and a powerful running threat who could block and throw just as easily off-balance or downfield.

"I kind of wanted to go against the odds," Wilson said. "I was a 5-11 quarterback, I had big hands, I could run. I was not going to let being a 5-11 quarterback stop me. My height doesn't define my skill set and my intelligence for the game."

These were physical skills that more than compensated for a lack of ideal height. The intelligence, character and work ethic are reminiscent of the iconic Denver Broncos quarterback Wilson will face on Sunday.

He is a younger facsimile of Peyton Manning: same attention to detail, same razor focus, physical ability and keen football mind. Wilson, in fact, attended Manning’s passing academy as a high school sophomore.

Their fathers played in the NFL. Archie Manning was a quarterback legend during the paper-bag shame era of New Orleans Saints’ futility.

Harrison B. Wilson III was a brilliant football player and scholar at Dartmouth and president of his law school class at the University of Virginia. Russell Wilson’s father collected his prestigious degrees, then set them aside for his one shot at the NFL, in training camp with the 1980 San Diego Chargers.

Harry Wilson’s impact on his Chargers teammates was so profound, they dubbed him “The Professor,” even though he never made the final roster.

Harry also never made it on this earth long enough to see his son play in the NFL. A long, difficult struggle with diabetes led to Harry Wilson’s death in 2010 due to complications from the disease. He was only 55.

The father’s imprint on his meticulous son, much like Archie’s on Peyton, is evident as you watch Russell Wilson deliver on the field, or captivate an audience during a Super Bowl interview session.

“(My father) might have been 28, somewhere around there, 29 years old when he went to go play for the Chargers. I remember Kellen Winslow used to call him ‘The Professor’ because he used to have those big, old school glasses,” Wilson recalled this week. “I just remember my dad talking about Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow and those guys, how talented they were and how much work they put in all the time, how their mind was never going to settle, no matter how good they were doing or how bad they were doing.

“The other thing that I learned from my dad is that you always have to persevere, have a great purpose in your life and understand where you're trying to go, have a great perspective. Those three things -- those three ‘Ps’ -- that he used to always tell me, were so real and they still stick with me today. It's the same thing going throughout this week with all the talk. I'm as calm as I can be, to be honest with you."

What else has helped? Appreciation for, and advice from, other greats in the NFL.

"I've talked to Terry Bradshaw. I've talked to Drew Brees, those two people. Talking to those guys, you know it's no different,” Wilson said of his approach to the biggest game of his life. “Just try to be as normal as possible. I think the biggest thing is to be poised. That is one of my strengths, but when you have a game like this and all the cameras are going on, and all the excitement that you've been working your whole life to get there.

“Your nerves will be up a little bit; just turn them down a little bit.”

Wilson’s teammates feed off his well-honed poise. They love his catch phrases, such as “Go against the odds,” or “There’s a king in every crowd.”

“The one thing I always say about him is he’s so much more mature for his age,” Seahawks tight end Zach Miller said. “He plays like he’s so much older and he doesn’t make very many mistakes. If he makes a mistake, it’s such a rarity and everyone kind of laughs about it.

“He’s just so on-point with his game plan, with his film study, and everything he does is of a mature quarterback.”

Said coach Pete Carroll, “We’ve never seen anything from Russell that wasn’t a consistent: direction, support, mindset, character, work habits; he’s never changed at all. Nothing’s ever changed. The way we deal with him has been very consistent because he’s been so rock-solid consistent. He’s ready for this opportunity. “

None of this is by accident. Harry Wilson, The Professor, trained his son very well.

“It’s still going to be first, second and third down,” Wilson said Wednesday, beaming at the thought of a Super Bowl Sunday only days away. “It’s still going to be red zone. It’s still going to come down to a two-minute drive before the half and at the end of the game.

“Hopefully, I pull through and win the game for us."

If that happens, it will not be a surprise to anyone who knows Russell Wilson. As The Professor used to tell his boy, “Why not you, Russ?

“Why not you?”

Nancy Gay is the Senior Managing Editor of CSNBayArea.com and CSNCalifornia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NancyGay.

Scrivens pitches shutout with NHL-record 59 saves

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) Ben Scrivens made 59 saves in a spectacular performance that helped the Edmonton Oilers beat the San Jose Sharks 3-0 Wednesday night.

The Sharks matched the record for shots against the Oilers, accomplished by the New York Rangers in a 4-3 loss in 1993. This time, the recently acquired Scrivens turned away all 59 as Edmonton won its third straight.

Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall scored for Edmonton, which had only 27.

Obtained from Los Angeles in a trade Jan. 15, Scrivens got in front of point-blank shots, close-in deflections, goalmouth scrambles and rebounds his defensemen failed to cover.

Scrivens stopped 20 shots in the first, 22 in the second and 17 in the third.

Three of his best stops in the first period came on a San Jose power play when he got a pad on Dan Boyle's slap shot from the hash marks, Jason Demers' backhand on a rebound and Patrick Marleau's deflection from about five feet in front.

Defenseman Justin Schultz put the Oilers in front with a long shot at 10:51 of the first. His harmless looking wrist shot hit a player in front and eluded the grasp of San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi.

The Sharks rang two shots off the goalpost in the second and forced Scrivens to be even better than he was in the first period.

Scrivens flashed his glove to make two sparkling stops off Bracken Kearns and Demers, seconds apart early in the period. He got a well-deserved standing ovation late in the period after stopping Marleau twice - once on a quick breakaway - and then making his 41st and 42nd saves on a goalmouth scramble. He got several standing ovations in the third.

The Sharks, whose previous high for shots on goal was 57, continued their domination in the third period but couldn't find a way to put the puck in the net.

Hall scored six minutes into the period to finish off a 2-on-1 break with Eberle and then fed Eberle for the third goal with just over a minute remaining. Hall finished with three points.

No. 6 Kansas holds off No. 16 Iowa State

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Andrew Wiggins has finally started to live up to the hype.

The superstar freshman scored a career-high 29 points, including six straight late in the game, to lead No. 6 Kansas to a 92-81 victory over Iowa State on Wednesday night and help push the Jayhawks' winning streak to seven straight games.

Wiggins, the nation's No. 1 recruit, has caught fire after a slow start to his college career. He had 27 points in Saturday's win at TCU, and matched that with an emphatic dunk that gave Kansas an 81-72 lead with just under 3 minutes remaining in the game.

The Jayhawks (16-4, 7-0 Big 12) put away the Cyclones (15-4, 3-4) from there, something they failed to do after building a 16-point first-half lead and a 13-point second-half cushion.

Perry Ellis added 20 points for Kansas, which has won five straight over the Cyclones.

Georges Niang led the Cyclones with 24 points and DeAndre Kane added 22.

LeBron James apologizes for using slur in interview

MIAMI (AP) LeBron James of the Miami Heat apologized Wednesday night for using the word "retarded" while answering a question posed in a pregame interview.

James says the word's usage is a bad habit that he's trying to break, and that he'll try not to use it again.

"I mean no disrespect," James said.

The NBA's four-time Most Valuable Player opened his postgame interview session by addressing the matter without being asked. James and the Heat lost Wednesday to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 112-95.

Durant has 33 as Thunder rally early, drop Heat

MIAMI (AP) Down by 18 points midway through the opening quarter, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder looked well on their way to witnessing a rout.

That's exactly what happened.

And they enjoyed every moment.

Durant remained sizzling with 33 points, Serge Ibaka added 22 and the Thunder roared back from an abysmal start to embarrass the Miami Heat 112-95 on Wednesday night, erasing an 18-point deficit by outscoring the two-time defending champions by 43 points over a 33-minute span.

The Thunder led by as many as 25, and shot 16 for 27 from 3-point range. Miami was 3 for 19 from beyond the arc.

Durant has now scored at least 30 points in 12 straight games, matching the league's longest such streak since Tracy McGrady did it in 14 consecutive outings in the 2002-03 season. The Thunder extended their winning streak to nine, inching them closer to Indiana in the race for the league's best record. And the Oklahoma City bench outscored Miami's reserves 39-21, with Jeremy Lamb scoring 18 and Derek Fisher going 5 for 5 from 3-point range for his 15 points.

LeBron James scored 34 points for Miami, his 1-on-1 duel with Durant not really amounting to much on a night where the Heat allowed 25 points off turnovers and blew an 18-point lead for just the fourth time since he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh became teammates nearly four years ago.

Bosh scored 18 points and Dwyane Wade added 15 for Miami.

Much of the buzz going into the night was about the MVP race, and how this might be the season that Durant finally catches James for the league's top individual award.

And head-to-head, they weren't separated by much, which isn't uncommon.

But for just the fourth time in 17 meetings between their teams, Durant came out on top.

Ibaka opened the scoring with a jumper, and the Heat answered with an immediate 18-0 run, not even needing 5 minutes to get what appeared to be complete control. With 6:20 left in the opening quarter, Bosh made a pair of free throws to make it 22-4.

That pretty much ended the Heat highlights for the evening.

By the end of the first, the Thunder were within nine. Lamb scored 13 in the second quarter alone, helping Oklahoma City take a 55-50 lead into the break, with the Thunder already having scored 19 points off turnovers.

The third quarter, Durant and the Thunder put it away.

Durant and James went man-to-man at times in that period, both finishing with 12 points in the 12 minutes. The difference was, Durant was getting plenty of help, and James wasn't getting much.

Fisher connected on a 3-pointer to end the quarter, pushing Oklahoma City's margin to 16, and the Heat had no answers in the fourth.

NOTES: Fisher made five 3-pointers, total, when the Heat faced the Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals. ... Shug McGaughey, who trained last year's Kentucky Derby winner Orb, was part of the sellout crowd, along with Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. ... Oklahoma City shot 14 free throws in the third quarter, the most by any Heat opponent in that period all season. ... The Heat fell to 7-12 this season when allowing more than 100 points. They're 25-1 when holding teams under 100. ... The Thunder are 8-0 on the road against Eastern Conference opponents.

Lions RB suing NFL, helmet maker over concussions

DETROIT (AP) Former Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best is suing the NFL and helmet maker Riddell after concussion problems helped cut short his career.

The lawsuit was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court on Tuesday. It alleges the league has been aware of evidence of mild traumatic brain injuries and the risk for its players for years, but "deliberately ignored and actively concealed" the information. It also accuses Riddell of making defective helmets and failing to inform the players of the long-term effects of concussions.

"The NFL, like the sport of boxing, was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results and the fact that some members of the NFL players population were at significant risk of developing long-term brain damage and cognitive decline as a result," the lawsuit reads.

"Despite its knowledge and controlling role in governing player conduct on and off the field, the NFL turned a blind eye to the risk and failed to warn and/or impose safety regulations governing this health and safety problem."

A message was left Wednesday seeking comment from the NFL. Riddell spokeswoman Erin Griffin declined comment Wednesday night.

The Detroit Free Press was the first to report on the lawsuit.

Best's suit comes just days before the Denver Broncos take on the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Sunday. It also comes on the heels of a ruling by a federal judge that calls into question the viability of a proposed $765 million settlement of NFL concussion claims.

U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody denied preliminary approval of the plan because she's worried the money for 20,000 retired players could run out sooner than expected. She also raised concerns two weeks ago that anyone who gets concussion damages from the NFL would be barred from suing the NCAA or other amateur football leagues.

Best was selected by the Lions in the first round of the 2010 draft and accounted for 1,000-plus yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. But he was limited to six games during the 2011 season after what he said was the third concussion of his football career. He was cut by Detroit in July.

Best also had a scary fall when he was a college player at California that knocked him out and sent him to the hospital with a concussion and sore back.

Best, who turns 25 on Thursday, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the NFL and Riddell, to go along with economic and non-economic damages.

"Unfortunately, with these types of injuries, as has been documented, the long-term effects of the injuries to the brain may not manifest themselves for a number of years," Bret Schnitzer, Best's attorney, said in an email to The Associated Press. "Jahvid obviously had some manifestation of concussion syndrome, which is well documented in the media. But in terms of the full extent of the injury to the brain, as we can see from other players and from the science, that can't always be determined in a 25-year-old."

Schnitzer declined to make Best available for an interview.

"He was disabled from playing football due to the concussions. That's all I'm really going to indicate in terms of his condition at this time," Schnitzer said in an email. "It'll develop through the litigation."

Six-time All-Star Berkman retiring from MLB

HOUSTON (AP) Six-time All-Star Lance Berkman is retiring after 15 seasons in the major leagues.

Berkman almost left the game last offseason before signing with the Texas Rangers. He then had another injury-plagued season and was limited to 73 games.

The 37-year-old Berkman was Houston's first-round draft pick in 1997 out of Rice, and played 12 seasons for the Astros. He played 1,879 career games, all but 287 for Houston, finishing a .293 career hitter with 366 home runs and 1,234 RBIs.

"Lance was one of the greatest players in Astros history," his original team said in a release Wednesday night.

The Astros said they hope to honor Berkman during the upcoming season and "give the fans the chance to recognize his outstanding career."

He finished the 2010 season with the New York Yankees before two years in St. Louis, where he was part of the 2011 World Series champions.

"Just physically I've gotten to the point where I don't feel like I can compete at a level that I'm used to competing at," Berkman told KRIV-TV of Houston. "I could probably still drag my carcass out there, but I'm not interested in doing that. ... I don't want to hang on just to hang on."

Berkman said he was excited about retiring.

The Rangers declined their $12 million contract option for 2014 last October, which got Berkman a $1 million buyout. He hit .242 with six homers and 34 RBIs for the Rangers.

He went on the disabled list July 7 with a left inflammation and a sore right knee, and played only five games after coming back the final month of the season.

The six-time All-Star played only 32 games for St. Louis in 2012, when he dealt with a strained left calf and had two operations on his right knee. He hit .301 in 2011 for the Cardinals, who won the World Series that season over Texas.

Berkman had said last winter that he had gone into that offseason feeling like he was going to retire then. But he responded to the Rangers, and made $10 million last season.

Broncos put pads on, get to work at Jets complex

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) The Broncos braved the cold for their first full practice of Super Bowl week, working in pads for nearly two hours after a 30-minute walkthrough session Wednesday.

Denver practiced on the synthetic turf outdoor field at the New York Jets training facility. By the end of practice, the temperature dipped to 21 degrees.

"It was great," Broncos coach John Fox said after practice. "We're pretty much weather-proof. We practice in this stuff all the time. Being in Denver, we've played in a few different elements. We practiced numerous times in single digit, played in single digit, played in wind. We've practiced in snow many times. We're pretty much ready for anything."

Fox has chosen not to use the indoor field at the Jets plush headquarters for practices this week, opting for the type of natural elements that will greet his team at Met Life Stadium on Super Sunday.

Fox was pleased with the flow after the travel and various commitments connected to playing in a Super Bowl. Wednesday is typically when the focus toward the game increases, given the full-scale practices.

"I wanted to see how well they would re-boot, get re-charged and practice what we've put in," Fox said. "They recalled it and it went very well. We had a very good practice."

The Broncos had a sense of normalcy on a few levels.

Peyton Manning, as usual, was in command and precise with his throws. He seemed unaffected by the elements.

"Very sharp," Fox said. "What I've noticed, he had to get used to weather over the past two years. I think he's done an unbelievable job, which I think people forget."

Seahawks' Carroll, Schneider once pursued Manning

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) They sat on the tarmac just hoping for the chance at a meeting.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider waited in the private plane in Denver, wondering if Peyton Manning would accept a request to meet with the brain trust of the Seattle Seahawks to see if that could be a potential landing spot for the free agent quarterback.

This was March of 2012, before Manning decided Denver would become his permanent address and before Russell Wilson took up residency in Seattle.

And as Carroll recalled on Wednesday, the entire process was "brief."

"We tried to get involved with that to see if there was a next stage to the process and there wasn't," Carroll said.

The fact the paths of Manning and the Seahawks intersect in Sunday's Super Bowl is no coincidence. The decision to bring Manning to Denver was the catalyst for the Broncos becoming an offensive marvel that set records on its way to an AFC championship. And his decision not to seriously consider Seattle as a landing point also was hugely important in the Seahawks finding the pieces both in free agency and the draft to build a team that was the class of the NFC.

Manning recalled Wednesday how he wanted privacy in the process of figuring out his next team after being released by Indianapolis.

"I remember it wasn't very private. It was quite a public spectacle," Manning said. "I could have done without that."

Manning eventually signed with Denver in late March. The process leading to his decision included a number of other franchises, including an early morning phone call that awoke Carroll. Manning had heard Seattle was interested and thus the process started.

Seattle was in the market for quarterbacks at that point. They had gone through the trio of Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson without satisfaction during Carroll's first two seasons and now stood the chance to possibly make a pitch to Manning.

They had yet to draft Wilson - who Carroll said he now would have selected much higher than the third round - so it made sense for the Seahawks to try and get involved.

"We talked about the basics of what it might mean for him coming to us and the process was underway," Carroll said. "It was very early and he had said he didn't know what he was going to do, where he was going to visit and what was going to come up and he wanted to gage what our interest was."

Seattle's limited pursuit ended in Denver. Manning never took the meeting with Schneider and Carroll. Manning went on to have conversations with the 49ers, Cardinals, Dolphins and Titans before making the choice to join the Broncos.

Seattle went on to sign Matt Flynn as a free agent from Green Bay two days before Manning's deal was finalized with the Broncos. The Seahawks drafted Wilson in the third round a month later and kept around Jackson, the starter for most of 2011, to create a three-way QB competition Wilson eventually won during training camp.

How the Seahawks are currently constructed would have drastically changed had the talks with Manning progressed beyond just those initial conversations. A number of roster moves the Seahawks have made - signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett as free agents, trading for Percy Harvin as examples - might not have happened if Manning had opted for Seattle. Seattle would have been limited with its salary cap space because of the money Manning would have commanded.

Some of those moves are at the root of why Seattle is in the Super Bowl and are the ones Schneider said he thinks about when recollecting about their efforts with Manning.

"I just think that we would have continued to do things the way we do it all the time," Schneider said last week. "I know that we wouldn't have been able to afford several players but we would have competed in other areas to compensate for it in where we were deficient in our roster. It's a daily process."

Manchester City pound Tottenham 5-1, move to top of Premier League

LONDON (AP) - Free-scoring Manchester City stormed back to the top of the Premier League with a high-tempo 5-1 victory at 10-man Tottenham on Wednesday.

City only managed to net once in the first half through Sergio Aguero but piled on the goals after the break to end Tottenham's unbeaten league start under new manager Tim Sherwood.

Tottenham first saw Michael Dawson's equalizer disallowed for offside before halftime, then had Danny Rose sent off for a sliding tackle on Edin Dzeko in the penalty area.

Yaya Toure doubled City's lead from the spot kick in the 51st, and Edin Dzeko exploited dithering defending to net the third.

Although Etienne Capoue pulled one back for Tottenham, Stevan Jovetic and Vincent Kompany scored further goals for City as Arsenal was knocked off the summit.

Sizemore agrees to minor league deal with Yankees

NEW YORK (AP) Scott Sizemore is among nine players agreeing to minor league contracts with the Yankees, giving New York another option as Alex Rodriguez's replacement at third base.

Sizemore, who turned 29 on Jan. 4, has been limited to six games over the past two seasons because of an injured left knee that twice required surgery.

He originally got hurt on Feb. 25, 2012, during a fielding drill in Oakland's first full-squad spring training workout and had surgery that March 21 to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Sizemore returned to hit .216 with six RBIs, a double and triple during 21 spring training games last year and was 0 for 6 last season when he got hurt again April 9 while chasing a bloop single by the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout.

Peyton and Eli have dinner, baby is focus

NEW YORK (AP) Eli Manning and big brother, Peyton, got a chance to spend a few hours together and the main topic of conversation wasn't the upcoming Super Bowl.

Instead of going over how Peyton and the Denver Broncos might attack the Seattle Seahawks' stingy defense for Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium, the focus for the two quarterbacks was the newest member of Eli's family, 7-month-old Lucy.

When Peyton arrived at Eli's home in Hoboken, N.J., on Tuesday night, he got to meet and hold his niece for the first time. Eli didn't make him change any diapers. His biggest contribution might have been that he didn't prepare the chicken dinner. He certainly didn't want any responsibility in case Peyton got sick for the NFL championship game, which is being played in Eli's home stadium.

Legion of Boom goes to lengths few secondaries can duplicate

NEWARK -– Dan Quinn held up a hand. He wiggled his fingers.

The point the Seahawks' defensive coordinator was emphasizing? That the length of one man’s fingers is a big reason the Seattle Seahawks are preparing for the Super Bowl.

The football aspect of Seattle's Richard Sherman tipping a pass away from San Francisco's Michael Crabtree in the closing seconds of the NFC Championship was quickly overshadowed by Sherman’s postgame dissertation on his ability relative to Crabtree’s.

Sociological navel-gazing ensued.

But the play itself was made possible by Sherman’s smarts, timing, leaping ability and -– quite simply –- his length.

MORE: Bailey finally gets title shot  |  Welker wouldn't miss Super Bowl

He’s 6-foot-3, but height isn’t the only measurable that matters when judging the size of a cornerback. Sherman also has 32-inch arms and hands that measure nearly 10-inches. His vertical leap is 38 inches.

Crabtree is 6-foot-1. His arms are a smidge longer than 34 inches. His hand is a half-inch smaller than Sherman’s. His vertical is 34 inches.

Add it all up and Sherman is about 4 1/2 inches longer than Crabtree. About the length of his fingers.

The Legion of Boom is just as much the League of Long. Sherman and 6-foot-1 Byron Maxwell are the starting corners. Their strong safety is the league’s most imposing defensive back, 6-foot-3, 232-pound Kam Chancellor. Their safety is 5-foot-10 Earl Thomas. On the small side for Seattle, but so immensely talented, the Seahawks can afford to make the exception. In December, 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner -– another cornerback -- was suspended for a year in after a substance policy violation.

Massive DBs, Pete Carroll said Tuesday, are what he needs.

“There is a difference,” Carroll told me during Super Bowl Media Day. “The big guys can make a big difference. It’s the ability to engulf receivers. Kam does it at 230-something pounds and pounding you; Sherm and Brandon Browner and Maxwell, those guys do it with their length and ability. There’s something to it and I learned it way back when in my college days and I’ve been trying to find guys like this ever since.

“It comes down to reach,” he added. “You’ll see guys who are there to make the play, they reach to make the play and they don’t get a hand on the ball. And the guy who’s got 32- to 34-inch arms, they can reach further.”

Makes sense. But few teams have gone to the same lengths Seattle has. Looking at the other teams in the NFL’s Final Four, four of the Niners’ six corner were 5- foot-10. The other two were 6-feet. They had two safeties listed at 6-1, another at 6-feet and two more at 5-foot-10, including their best safety, Donte Whitner.

The Broncos have 6-foot-2 corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (a willowy gu, who is not known for playing physically). The rest are 6-foot or smaller. The Broncos’ biggest safety is Duke Ihenacho. Chancellor is two inches taller and outweighs Ihenacho by 25 pounds.

The Patriots’ tallest corner is the 6-foot-1 Aqib Talib. The rest of the corners measure 5-11, 5-10 and 5-10 and those are optimistic listings. The Patriots’ starting safeties are 5-foot-10 Devin McCourty and 5-11 Steve Gregory.

The defensive scheme a team employs has a lot to do with the size of the corners it uses.

“If you’re an “off” (coverage) team (that gives cushion to the receivers at the line of scrimmage, size) doesn’t matter as much,” said Carroll. “But if you’re a bump-and-run-style team like we are, that length adds to the difficulty of the receivers to get off the football.”

Quinn points to end-zone plays like the one that decided the NFC Championship as a reason bigger is better.

“The 50-50 balls you throw up, especially in the red zone (are better defended by bigger corners),” he pointed out. “The guys who can play at the line of scrimmage you almost have to have because of the number of big receivers. There was a time when the (smaller) Cover-2 corners were in vogue. Now we want the guys who are big and can get their hands on guys because the receivers they’re on are 6-2 and 6-3 and you need to be able to match up with them.”

The Patriots are a “game plan” team that will switch its coverage style based on opponent. New England covets defensive backs who can toggle between different styles. But, as we saw in the AFC Championship game, smallish corners are ripe for exposure against big receivers on downfield routes and crossing patterns.

Demaryius Thomas (6-3), Julius Thomas (6-5) and Eric Decker (6-3) combined for 20 catches on 29 targets and 292 yards against New England in the AFC Championship. Denver killed New England with crossing patterns that –- perhaps -– could have been gummed up a bit if the Patriots' corners were more daunting with their jams at the line of scrimmage. They weren’t. And the quickness advantage the Patriots corners have over bigger receivers is mitigated when the quarterback is well-protected and accurate with his throws. Peyton Manning was able to throw to spots the Patriots corners couldn’t reach (witness Decker’s sideline ownership of Logan Ryan in the second quarter).

In the Super Bowl, Denver’s decided size advantage is going to be gone.

“We play a lot of three-deep (safeties) and a lot of man-to-man,” explained Quinn. “We ask a lot of those (cornerbacks) at the line in terms of pressing the receivers. But one other aspect to the press is that it wears out those receivers at the line. It’s hard getting off press all the time. Our guys are very strong.”

Wes Welker knows he’s going to get the fly-swatter treatment anytime the Seahawks get a chance. 

"There's always that mindset (with a defense) that (officials) can't call everything, so it's one of those deals where you just have to deal with (physical play at the line),” he explained. “You've got to play through it and make it where they can't hold you. Run such a good route where they can't hold you or do anything like that. So, the main thing is going out there and playing the best you can and we'll see how the game is called early on and see how they're playing it and try to be physical ourselves."

Tom E. Curran is the Patriots Insider for CSN New England. Follow him on Twitter @tomecurran.

Sapp tackles Strahan's HOF candidacy

NEW YORK -- Some sort of cuckoo seems to hit certain players when they make it into the Hall of Fame. And they don’t even appear to realize it. Goose Gossage seems to bounce around the country looking for people to tell that Mariano Rivera (while a fine pitcher) couldn’t do what relievers of his era did. And he looks bitter.

Reggie Jackson not too long ago unveiled to Sports Illustrated a long list of players he didn’t think belonged in the Hall of Fame -- Gary Carter, Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven, Phil Niekro and Jim Rice among them. And he looked bitter.

Now, Warren Sapp is at the Super Bowl ranting that Michael Strahan is not a Hall of Famer.

The Sapp gripes about Strahan are not new. Sapp and Strahan are two of the more compelling defensive figures of the 2000s and certainly two of the most outspoken. They have had a mostly-entertaining feud for more than a decade. The feud seemed to begin after Strahan set the NFL sack record on a more-than-questionable “sack” on Brett Favre. Favre famously fell to the ground before Strahan even got there.

Sapp called that a travesty.

Strahan called Sapp a jackass.

Sapp said there should be an asterisk next to the record because it’s not legitimate.

Strahan said there should be McDonald’s next to Sapp’s house because he’s fat.

And so on.

So this Sapp attempt to degrade Strahan as he is coming up for the Hall of Fame vote is not especially surprising. Here’s Sapp’s money quote to Newsday’s Neil Best, if you are interested.

“When you stack it up, and he only has four straight Pro Bowls and a mythical sack record that y’all still walk around like it’s something to be praised -- I mean y’all have to get off your high horse in New York and speak about the real.”

It’s really quite astonishing how many things Sapp got wrong in that little rant. I mean, you would think he would have looked it up first. Strahan never made four consecutive Pro Bowls -- his longest streak was three (twice). But even more to the point, this “straight Pro Bowl” theme is a farce. Strahan made seven total Pro Bowls which is the same number as (get ready for it) Warren Sapp. He was first-team All-Pro four times which is the same number as (get ready for it) Warren Sapp. He was NFL Defensive Player of the Year once, same number as (yeah) Warren Sapp.

They played different positions -- Sapp a defensive tackle, Strahan a defensive end -- so it’s hard to compare them. They had different responsibilities, dealt with different blocking strategies and so on. Sapp was usually double-teamed; his role on many plays was just to take up those two blockers. Strahan was often in pass-rush mode, meaning he would wheel around a tackle and go after the quarterback no matter what the play meant.

That said, it’s difficult to make a case that Sapp was a more productive football player than Strahan. Sapp’s 96.5 sacks as a defensive tackle is remarkable -- only John Randle among defensive tackles had more. But Strahan had 45 more sacks and led the league twice. Strahan forced more fumbles, recovered more fumbles, made more tackles, made more big plays, started more games and starred on two Giants teams that played in the Super Bowl (Sapp played on one). Again, Sapp’s role was different. But these comparisons make a lot more sense than the “straight Pro Bowl” nonsense.

And the “he only has four straight Pro Bowl” crack is not only wrong, it’s disingenuous. Strahan missed the Pro Bowl in 2000 or else he would have made seven straight, just like Sapp. And Strahan aged better than Sapp, putting up a productive Pro Bowl season at 34 while Sapp really wasn’t the same player after 31.

However, comparing Sapp and Strahan is not the point. The point is that there seems a bit of a trend of athletes who make it into the Hall of Fame trying to lock the door behind them. When the Baseball Hall of Fame made the pronounced mistake of having current Hall of Famers vote in new Hall of Famers, they found that NOBODY was as good as they were. Every time. The living Hall of famers voted on four different ballots. And they voted in exactly zero players. Yeah. Zero.

And, it seems like every few days you have another Hall of Famer complaining about the players today. Maybe it’s Jim Rice, who was not exactly viewed as the most fundamentally sound player, complaining about how nobody cares about fundamentals anymore. Maybe it’s Paul Molitor, who overcame a drug addiction while playing, griping that A-Rod should not go to the Hall of Fame because he used drugs. Maybe it’s Warren Sapp trying to extend a quarrel from the playing field to the legacy field now that he’s safely in Canton.

And time again, it’s striking to see how little self-awareness these Hall of Famers show. Warren Sapp probably does not realize how much he is detracting from his own greatness when he belittles Strahan. There are lessons in football, of course, and one of my favorites is that when you score a touchdown you should act like you’ve been in the end zone before. If you’re blessed enough to make the Hall of Fame, any sport, you should act like a Hall of Famer.

“I don’t think his résumé stacks up,” Sapp said of Strahan.

“The tiger does not pay attention to the opinion of the sheep,” Strahan said of Sapp.

Hmm. Who do you think won that exchange?

NYC turns Times Square into Super Bowl Boulevard

NEW YORK (AP) New York City's Times Square is now known as Super Bowl Boulevard.

Bundled-up football fans were sliding down a giant Manhattan toboggan run Wednesday. It towers over the 13-block street fair that has taken over the city's busiest thoroughfare.

The shiny silver Vince Lombardi Trophy made its debut in a glass case along the "boulevard." The trophy will be awarded to the winner of Sunday's game.

New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck carried the prestigious award from a truck to a trophy display area as hundreds of people watched.

People waited in frigid temperatures to get autographs from NFL players and milled about the many tents emblazoned with corporate logos.

Organizers expect more than a million people to visit during the coming days.

In twilight of his career Broncos star Champ Bailey finally gets his title shot

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- There is only one speed for Champ Bailey. His NFL accelerator remains pressed to the floor, the motor continues to rev. But the wheels? Well, lately, they don’t always comply.

So there may be a deeper appreciation of what this Super Bowl XLVIII trip is all about for Bailey. He worked 15 years to get a spot on the NFL’s ultimate stage, and rarely was he doing it in the shadows.

Most often, Bailey -– a 12-time Pro Bowler -- stole the limelight. Of late, he has seen that glare magnify a difficult 2013 season largely interrupted by a foot injury, and invite nagging questions about whether he can still keep pace with the NFL’s elite receivers.

For a dominant player widely regarded as the NFL’s best cover cornerback since he was drafted No. 7 overall in 1999, this has been his longest season and his most trying. Fortunately, Bailey – who missed 11 games and only worked himself back into the starting lineup after Chris Harris tore his ACL – has always been a pragmatist.

He watched others of his NFL generation reach Super Bowls with a mixture of appreciation and determination. My time will come, Bailey told himself.

"I'm a big fan of the game, and I don't like to lose, but I have found myself getting over it faster than most people because I can't dwell on the past,” said Bailey, a role model and spiritual leader for many of his NFL peers. “All I can do is just try to get better and give myself a better chance the next time. I don't really dislike it, it's just ... I deal with it.

“I enjoy the game. I always watch the game. I've just never been to one."

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He got so tantalizingly close last year, and the near-miss was jarring. Matched against Ravens receiver Torrey Smith in the AFC divisional game in Denver, Bailey was simply overwhelmed. Smith burned him for two touchdowns and 98 receiving yards in Baltimore’s upset victory.

Suddenly, Bailey -- the Broncos’ signature player since he was traded to Denver from Washington in 2004 -- was mainstream, not magnificent. 2013 was his first NFL season without an interception. Everything seemed to unravel at once.

“Everybody's going to get beaten, everybody's going to have a bad game at some point," Bailey said of last season’s playoff loss. "I think that's what separates the pros from the guys that think they're pros. It's the guys that can forget about the bad things and just keep moving on.”

In the AFC Championship Game, Bailey’s unique instincts and talent helped limit Tom Brady and crush the New England Patriots’ quest for another Super Bowl title.

“Anytime you have a guy like that, a true pro, you want to win it for him,” said Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, so proud to be Bailey’s protégé.

“If you’re a cornerback in this league, I think you had to watch Champ Bailey and look up to him.  And to see him go out on top, get to the Super Bowl, is just an honor.”

Talk to Bailey this week – who has locked down his words while he maintains focus -- and it’s apparent these days of Super Bowl hype before facing the Seahawks on Sunday at MetLife Stadium are interrupting the most important business trip of his life.

 “I never thought there’d be a moment where I didn’t get back,” Bailey said Tuesday as he endured Media Day. “I knew I would heal and get back, I didn’t know when. It definitely took a lot longer than I expected. It worked out even better than I thought. I don’t think any guy on any roster is 100 percent, but my foot feels good enough to play, and I’m ready to go.”

Denver coach John Fox knows how hard Bailey has worked toward this opportunity.

“I know it’s been a frustrating season for Champ up until now or up until recently," Fox said. "He did have a foot injury. It did set him back. He spent many games inactive throughout the season, but he was always there. And in that defensive room, in that DB room, his guidance, his leadership was always there and that never wavered. He stayed positive.

“Sometimes that can be a tricky thing, when things aren’t going as planned, but he weathered it. He got himself back healthy. It was a lot of hard work on his part, as well as our training staff, and a lot of support from the coaching staff and his teammates.”

While Peyton Manning’s hunt for a second Super Bowl ring is a great story, Bailey’s odyssey toward his first makes him the sentimental favorite to lift a Lombardi Trophy over his head on Sunday.

“It might have been one of my fonder moments in coaching just watching him hoist that Lamar Hunt trophy there in Denver,” Fox said. “He’s been tremendous, and he’s a great player, a great person and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Will Bailey call it a career if a Super Bowl championship is added to his resume?

“We’ll see,” he said, trying to brush aside that distracting thought. “I’m not really thinking about retiring if I win. All I’m thinking about is winning and doing what I’ve got to do to win the game. That’s my preparation this week.

“After the game, we’ll talk about that.”

Nancy Gay is the Senior Managing Editor for CSNBayArea and CSNCalifornia. Follow her on Twitter at @NancyGay.

OKC's Brooks to coach Western Conference All-Stars

NEW YORK (AP) Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks has earned his second All-Star coaching assignment.

Brooks clinched the Western Conference spot Wednesday night when Portland lost to Memphis, guaranteeing the Thunder (36-10) will have a better winning percentage than the Trail Blazers through Sunday.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich is ineligible because he coached the West last year.

Brooks, the 2010 Coach of the Year, led the West to a 152-149 victory over the East in 2012, when the Thunder eventually reached the NBA Finals before losing to Miami.

Indiana's Frank Vogel will coach the East in the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans.

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