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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.

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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.

Seahawks star Lynch walks out of media day

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Marshawn Lynch was there. He even talked a bit.

Then he was gone, cutting short his Super Bowl media day appearance after 6 1/2 minutes.

And then he was back, albeit to the side of the "mixed zone" the NFL created for players not on podiums or in microphone-equipped speaking areas at the Prudential Center.

But this time he wasn't speaking, except briefly to Deion Sanders for NFL Network, to the Seahawks' website, and to Armed Forces Network.

Seattle's star running back, wearing a cap, hood and dark sunglasses, even acknowledged he was trying to avoid being fined by the league for not meeting his media requirements Tuesday. That's why he returned to the floor of the arena rather than disappear completely after he cut short his Q and A with perhaps 100 media members packed together trying to hear his pearls of wisdom.

When he came back, one reporter asked Lynch, "Are you trying to avoid being fined by standing here?" Lynch twice nodded his head yes.

Earlier this month, Lynch was fined $50,000 for not cooperating with the Seattle media. The NFL put the fine on hold, saying it would be rescinded if he complied with media obligations.

"Players are required to participate and he participated. We will continue to monitor the situation," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday.

Lynch has required media sessions Wednesday and Thursday. The Seahawks play the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

There is a history of fines handed out by the NFL during Super Bowl week dating to the 1991 game.

Buffalo coach Marv Levy was hit for $5,000 for missing the `91 media day. Bills running back Thurman Thomas, like Levy a future Hall of Famer, was docked $5,000 for failing to participate in a mandatory interview session, though not on media day, in '92.

Three players have been fined $20,000 for missing media availabilities: Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora in 2012, Patriots left tackle Matt Light and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork for refusing to speak to the media following that Super Bowl.

The Oakland Raiders were fined $50,000 as a team for not making all coaches and players available for a required media session in 2003.

Along with letting slip a profanity to Sanders, he three times described himself as "smooth" to the Hall of Fame cornerback, adding: "I ain't never seen no talk that won me nothing."

Earlier, Lynch answered 16 questions at the outset of the Seahawks' one-hour availability, with topics ranging from the Denver defense to teammate Michael Robinson to, well, why he avoids interviews.

"I like to keep it low key," Lynch said. "I'm just about action. You say `hut' and there's action. All the unnecessary talk, it don't do nothing for me. I appreciate that people want to hear from me, but I just go to work and do my thing. You feel me?"

Whether Lynch will feel like showing up the next two days, when the Seahawks will be available in a hotel ballroom - no barriers between them and the media - is uncertain.

The Seahawks opted to not place Lynch in one of the 17 areas with microphones and name plates identifying the players Tuesday. He also talked to teammates while standing around.

Several youngsters in the stands above him asked to have footballs signed and he obliged once they tossed him the souvenirs. He also signed a Seahawks helmet, but he didn't converse with the fans.

While he did that, about five dozen media members stood in front of Lynch and shouted out a few questions. He ignored almost all of them as time ran out in Seattle's availability.

Lynch watched as the scoreboard clock counted down to zero and, when it was announced the Seattle portion of media availability was over, he left for good.

"He's such a major factor on our football team," coach Pete Carroll said, "but in this setting he becomes somewhat of a recluse and doesn't want to be a part of it. We try and respect that as much as we can."

Robinson was asked if he advised his backfield mate on how to handle media day.

"He's a grown man," Robinson said. "I don't tell him much. I think he knows what he's doing. He's got a good plan in place, and as long as he runs inside-outside zone on Sunday, I'm happy with that."

Lynch never has explained his beef with the media. He regularly spoke to reporters until late in the 2012 season. In March of that year, he signed a four-year contract worth $31 million, including a guaranteed $18 million. In July 2012, he was arrested for driving under the influence near his hometown of Oakland, Calif.

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AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this story.

Cowboys demote Kiffin, add Linehan as play-caller

IRVING, Texas (AP) The Dallas Cowboys decided one year with Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator and Bill Callahan as play-caller was enough.

Kiffin was demoted Tuesday in favor of defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, and Scott Linehan was hired as the passing game coordinator who will call plays.

The staff shuffling - the second in as many years - comes after the Cowboys gave up the most yards in franchise history and finished last in the NFL in total defense and had their worst offensive output in yardage since 2005.

"If you look at staffs around this league and rosters all around this league, there's change from year to year," Garrett told The Associated Press. "And the teams that embrace the change are the ones that have the most success and again we feel like from a system standpoint, the systems on offense and the systems on defense, remain in place."

Kiffin and Marinelli came to Dallas together last year after the Cowboys fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and decided to switch to a four-man front with three linebackers following nearly a decade in the 3-4 defense.

Quarterback Tony Romo will have his third play-caller in as many seasons after Garrett had that role in 2012. There was even a change in the middle of this past season when Garrett reinserted himself by relaying the calls from Callahan to Romo.

"It's not really a concern at all," Garrett said. "We've had the same offensive system in place here for seven years. We feel like the transition will be really relatively smooth for everybody."

Garrett is entering the final season of his contract and is coming off three consecutive 8-8 seasons that extended the club's playoff drought to four straight years.

Garrett said Callahan will remain on staff in 2014, also the final year of his contract. He will keep his titles of offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

"Just like you would with a player, guys are always in roles that tend to evolve and change," Garrett said. "If you have the right kind of guys on your team, they embrace those roles, understand the objective is to try to help our team first and foremost. Bill knows that."

Linehan, the former St. Louis coach who was Detroit's offensive coordinator the past five seasons, gave Garrett his first coaching job in the NFL in 2005 when he was offensive coordinator in Miami. Garrett was his quarterbacks coach that season.

"He and I have a real comfort level with each other," Garrett said. "Philosophically, we're on the same page. He has a comfort level with our system of football. The other thing he'll bring is some new blood and some freshness to it."

The Lions finished sixth or higher each of the past three years in total offense, while the Cowboys slipped to 16th, their lowest since 2002.

While improving dramatically in takeaways on defense under Kiffin, the Cowboys gave up the first two 600-yard games in franchise history and surrendered 40 first downs for the first time in league history. Their 6,645 yards allowed were almost 1,000 more than the previous club record from 2012.

Garrett said Kiffin, who will turn 74 next month, will serve more as a mentor who will "help coach coaches and coach players" after spearheading the transition to the 4-3 defense.

Marinelli was Chicago's defensive coordinator for three years under Lovie Smith before Smith was fired in 2012, when the Bears led the league in interceptions (24) and takeaways (44) and were third in points allowed.

"The success he had in Chicago as a coordinator speaks for itself," Garrett said. "To have him as a point person is exciting and to have Kiff in the overseeing role is again something we think is good for our team."

The Cowboys now have three former head coaches on the staff in Callahan, Marinelli and Linehan, who was 11-25 in two-plus seasons as coach of the Rams. He was fired after an 0-4 start in 2008 and joined the Lions a year later when Jim Schwartz was hired as head coach. Schwartz was fired last month.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Reckless driving charge against Puig dropped

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) Prosecutors have dropped a reckless driving charge against Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.

The state attorney's office in southwest Florida dropped the charge Tuesday. A memo from prosecutors explained that excessive speed wasn't sufficient to prosecute the case without other aggravating factors, such as weaving in and out of traffic, losing control of the vehicle or causing other motorists to brake or swerve.

The 23-year-old Cuban defector was arrested Dec. 28 at the western end of Alligator Alley near Naples after a Florida Highway Patrol trooper reported clocking him at 110 mph in a 70 mph zone. Puig lives in the Miami area during the offseason.

In April last year, Puig was clocked going 97 in a 50 mph zone in Tennessee, though those charges were later dismissed.

Knicks avenge blowout loss to Celtics with a rout

NEW YORK (AP) Carmelo Anthony had 24 points and nine rebounds in just 28 minutes, and the New York Knicks avenged an embarrassing home loss with a rout of their own, beating the Boston Celtics 114-88 on Wednesday night for their third straight victory.

Jeremy Tyler added a career-high 17 points and fellow reserve J.R. Smith also scored 17 for the Knicks, who lost by 41 last time the Celtics came to Madison Square Garden but led this one by 35. New York evened its record at 3-3 on its eight-game homestand, with games remaining against Cleveland on Thursday and Miami on Saturday.

New York is headed in the right direction again since ending a five-game losing streak Friday behind Anthony's 62 points, and is only a half-game out of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot despite its 18-27 record

Jeff Green scored 14 points for the Celtics, who have lost three straight and six of seven. Rajon Rondo had seven points and five assists, shooting 3 of 13 in his sixth game of the season after returning from a torn ACL.

After finishing up their Super Bowl media day duties, the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and Golden Tate, and Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker of Denver were part of the sellout crowd of 19,812.

Hopefully their game Sunday will be better than this clunker.

Boston jumped to a 12-0 lead in its 114-73 victory here on Dec. 8, when it handed New York its worst home loss in 11 years. But it never really got much better this season for the Celtics, who led the Atlantic Division at 10-12 after that victory but are 5-20 since.

It was all Knicks in this one, as they jumped to a 21-5 lead helped by the Celtics' lack of execution (they missed 11 of their first 13 shots) and effort (6-foot-1 Raymond Felton grabbed an offensive rebound under the basket without even having to jump on one possession).

Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 16 points and Tyson Chandler had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Knicks.

New York led 31-15 after one and opened a 45-20 bulge when Chandler threw down an alley-oop pass from Smith midway through the second. The Celtics then appeared they would get into the game, scoring 11 straight to cut it to 14, but the Knicks outscored them 18-6 the remainder of the half to take a 63-37 lead.

Boston then shot just 7 of 19 in the third quarter while New York's lead grew to 78-43 on a pair of free throws by Hardaway with 5:24 to go.

The Knicks overcame the loss of Iman Shumpert to a sprained right shoulder just over 4 minutes into the game. Kenyon Martin left with a sprained left ankle in his first game after missing five games with the same injury, though the team said he was available to return.

New York also announced at halftime that reserve guard Beno Udrih was unavailable because of illness, but everyone else who was active scored. That included Metta World Peace, who played for the first time in a month after having a procedure on his left knee and made a 3-pointer.

And they gave a much-needed rest to Anthony, who leads the NBA in minutes per game with 39.2.

Notes: Jerryd Bayless was back for Boston after missing four games with a sprained left big toe. ... Chris Johnson scored 12 points for the Celtics on the day he was signed to a second 10-day contract. He had averaged 10 points in his first four games since being signed from Rio Grande Valley of the NBA Development League. ... There was a moment of silence before the game for Hall of Famer Tom Gola, an All-Star with the Knicks in the 1960s who died Sunday.

College athletes take step toward forming union

CHICAGO (AP) Calling the NCAA a dictatorship, Northwestern's quarterback and the United Steelworkers announced plans Tuesday to form the first labor union for college athletes - the latest salvo in the bruising fight over whether amateur players should be paid.

Quarterback Kain Colter detailed the College Athletes Players Association at a news conference in Chicago, flanked by leaders of Steelworkers union that has agreed to pay legal bills for the effort. The NCAA and the Big Ten Conference both criticized the move and insisted that college athletes cannot be considered employees.

Colter said the NCAA dictates terms to its hundreds of member schools and tens of thousands of college athletes, leaving players with little or no say about financial compensation questions or how to improve their own safety. That college football generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue only bolstered the argument for a union, he said.

"How can they call this amateur athletics when our jerseys are sold in stores and the money we generate turns coaches and commissioners into multimillionaires?" Colter asked.

"The current model represents a dictatorship," added Colter, who just finished his senior year with the Wildcats. "We just want a seat at the table."

Colter said "nearly 100 percent" of his teammates backed the drive to unionize. But only he spoke publicly, saying the others wanted to keep a low profile.

CAPA's president, former UCLA football player Ramogi Huma, said a union would help ensure that scholarships, at minimum, cover all living expenses as well as tuition. Currently, he said, scholarship athletes come up thousands of dollars short each year. A union would also push for full medical coverage that could carry over past college.

While the effort to form a union among college athletes appears without precedent, there is a recent case that may help their cause. More than 600 graduate teaching and research assistants at New York University voted to form a union in December and to affiliate with the United Auto Workers. It was the first such union in the country to win recognition by a private university.

For now, the push is to unionize college athletes is focused only on private schools like Northwestern - though large public universities, which are subject to different sets of regulations, could follow, said Huma, who is also the head of the National College Players Association he founded in 2001 to lobby for the interests of college athletes.

"This will be the first domino," Huma said.

If the players succeed, a union could fundamentally change college sports, said Brian Rauch, a New York-based labor attorney. He said it could raise the prospect of strike by disgruntled players or lockouts by schools.

The NCAA has been under increasing scrutiny over its amateurism rules and is currently in court, fighting a class-action federal lawsuit filed by former players seeking a cut of the billions of dollars earned from live broadcasts and memorabilia sales, along with video games, and multiple lawsuits filed by players who say the organization failed to adequately protect them from debilitating head injuries.

NCAA President Mark Emmert and others have pushed for a $2,000-per-player stipend to help athletes defray some of their expenses, but critics say that isn't nearly enough, considering players help bring in millions of dollars to their schools and conferences.

Last season, Colter and football players from Georgia and Georgia Tech had the letters APU - All Players United - written on their gear during games as a show of solidarity in an effort organized by the NCPA. At the time, the NCAA said it welcomed an "open and civil debate regarding all aspects of college athletics."

The NCAA issued a statement Tuesday making clear where it stands on the athletes' quest to form a union.

"Student-athletes are not employees," NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said. "We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes."

He added: "This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education."

A statement from the Big Ten Conference echoed that, saying it "does not believe that full-time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees."

"That said, the Big Ten Conference has the utmost respect for both the legal system and the rights of students to pursue their beliefs through that system," the league said.

Northwestern backed the NCAA stance as well, but expressed pride in the students' leadership and independent thinking.

"However, we agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration," said Jim Phillips, Northwestern's vice president of athletics and recreation.

"Kain and our student-athletes have followed their beliefs with great passion and courage," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald tweeted. "I'm incredibly proud of our young men! GO CATS!"

NLRB spokesman Gregory King confirmed that a petition by the players to form a union was filed at the board on Tuesday. King said the board would likely conduct a hearing within the next 10 days.

The key issue the board must resolve is whether the football players are employees as defined by federal labor law, said United Steelworkers official Tim Waters. If they're deemed employees, he said, they would have the legal right to organize.

"It's crystal clear that college football players are employees," he said, arguing most put in a 40-hour work week and create revenue, though not for themselves. He and the Steelworkers president, Leo W. Gerard, said the relationship between colleges and athletes amounted to "pay for play."

William B. Gould IV, a Stanford Law School professor emeritus and former NLRB chairman, predicted the board will rule for the players.

"The major obstacle is the Brown University decision of a decade ago," he said, referring to a 2004 decision under a George W. Bush-era board that removed the right of graduate students at private universities to unionize.

The NLRB said in 2012 that it will reconsider Brown, and Gould thinks it will be reversed.

"I think these guys are employees because their compensation is unrelated to education, unlike the teaching assistants in Brown University, and they are supervised not by faculty, but by coaches," Gould said. "Their program for which they receive compensation does not have a fundamentally component. So given the direction and control that supervisory authorities have over them, I think they are easily employees within the meaning of the act."

Rauch, the labor attorney, said he thought union-minded athletes will have a tough time demonstrating they are employees, and he thought their chances of prevailing were slim.

"They have high hurdles to jump," he said.

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AP writers Ron Blum and Sam Hananel contributed to this report.

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Online:

NCPA: http://www.ncpanow.org/

NCAA: http://www.ncaa.org/

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Follow Michael Tarm at https://twitter.com/mtarm

Davis dominant with 30 points, 8 blocks to lift Pelicans

CLEVELAND (AP) Anthony Davis scored 30 points with eight blocks and seven rebounds and Eric Gordon scored 20, leading the New Orleans Pelicans to a 100-89 win over the puzzling Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

Davis, one of three No. 1 overall picks in the game, was dominant at both ends of the floor as the Pelicans won their third straight. He injured fingers on his left hand in the final minutes, but got taped up during a timeout and stayed in.

New Orleans scored 16 straight points to close the first half and opened a 22-point lead in the third, causing some fans to boo the listless Cavaliers.

Kyrie Irving scored 23 and Dion Waiters 21 for the Cavs, who had a 1-4 homestand after a 3-2 trip out West.

Cavs rookie Anthony Bennett, the first pick in last year's draft, scored a season-high 15.

Martin: Dolphins' language made him feel trapped

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Tackle Jonathan Martin says the persistence of vulgar language around the Miami Dolphins made him feel trapped, so he left the team before lodging allegations at the root of a bullying scandal.

Owner Stephen Ross said he's proud of the way the franchise responded to the case.

Martin's comments, which aired Tuesday on "NBC Nightly News," came in his first interview since the scandal broke. He left the Dolphins in October and alleged he was harassed daily by teammates, including guard Richie Incognito, who was suspended for the final eight games.

"I'm a grown man," said Martin, 24. "I've been in locker rooms. There's vulgar language used in locker rooms. One instance doesn't bother me. It's the persistence of it. I wish I would have had more tools to solve my situation. I felt trapped, like I didn't have a way to make it right. It came down to a point where I thought it was best to remove myself from the situation."

New York attorney Ted Wells began a league investigation in November, and his report will be released after the Super Bowl.

Ross, speaking at a news conference to introduce the Dolphins' new general manager, said he spoke with the NFL and Wells to get a sense of what will be included in the report.

"I have an idea what will be in it," Ross said Tuesday. "I haven't seen the report. I don't know exactly what his conclusion is. When it comes out, we'll do what has to be done. In my mind, I know what direction we're going. ... The respect that we gained by how we handled the situation that took place here says a lot about this organization and the people that are running it."

Following an 8-8 season tainted by the scandal, Ross decided to keep coach Joe Philbin and part with general manager Jeff Ireland. Dennis Hickey was introduced as Ireland's replacement Tuesday, and Ross talked briefly about the case that rocked the franchise at midseason.

Incognito becomes a free agent this winter. When asked if he or the 6-foot-5, 312-pound Martin will play for the Dolphins again, Ross equivocated.

"I don't believe so - well, I can't say that," Ross said, adding with a chuckle, "Therefore I retract that."

Wells' report is expected to address the roles of Philbin, his staff and Miami management in the case. One issue is whether anyone on the coaching staff ordered Incognito to toughen up Martin.

The case inspired a national debate about workplace bullying.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine

Jimmie Johnson supports overhauled Chase format

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson was stunned by the proposed changes to the championship format that NASCAR chairman Brian France laid out in a phone call two weeks ago.

The six-time champion did not believe he was being picked on by NASCAR executives grasping for any way possible to end his dominance of the Sprint Cup Series.

Instead, Johnson was taken aback because he had not heard the proposal before in multiple discussions with NASCAR.

"It just caught me off guard and shocked me, and I told Brian when he called me, `Just give me a minute to adjust, because I'm on my heels,"' Johnson said Tuesday.

NASCAR will officially announce its Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format on Thursday. All signs point to a 16-driver field whittled down through eliminations to four drivers and a winner-take-all season finale.

It's the fourth significant change to either the points or championship format since the Chase debuted in 2004. Johnson has won six titles, five consecutive from 2006 through 2010 and then last season, in that span.

Johnson's not opposed to change. But based on conversations with NASCAR, he expected something closer to heat races over a four-hour television window leading into a condensed feature event.

"That's the discussion that's been going on for a few years, so I was shocked because I hadn't heard a word about this idea or concept," Johnson said. "I don't think NASCAR is picking on me or trying to keep me from winning the championship. In conversations I've had with Brian and other NASCAR executives ... they like history, they like those big monumental moments. I by no means think this is an attack on the 48.

"I think NASCAR, they probably do care who wins the championship, but they are not laying awake at night wondering how to keep the 48 from winning."

The Hendrick Motorsports camp seemed to be in favor of the proposed Chase changes, in part because it knows everyone will have to play by NASCAR's rules in the end, anyway.

"Everything changes. Look at the Pro Bowl this year - they said if we can't make it better we won't have it anymore," said team owner Rick Hendrick. "Whenever changes come we have to be ready to adapt. It's a lot to go through at one time. But the people that accept it and don't get caught up in (complaining) about it, you know, they will be the ones that come out ahead in the long run because they will be more prepared."

Hendrick also thinks a winner-take-all season finale - or any format that puts a greater importance on winning - may favor his drivers. He thinks it particularly suits four-time champion Jeff Gordon's style. Gordon's last title was in 2001.

"He's kind of one of those guys that you get him in sight of the checkered flag ... he doesn't need any motivation," Hendrick said.

For Johnson, he's on board because NASCAR needed something radical to re-ignite the fan base.

"I am really trying hard not to look at specific scenarios and just trying hard to look at what's best for our sport," he said. "We needed something big, and I don't know if this is the bullet. I really hope it is, because it is a huge change."

Seahawks' Harvin 'absolutely' a go for Super Bowl

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Percy Harvin is tired of sitting through games and just watching.

The Seattle Seahawks wide receiver is ready to play a full game while healthy for the first time this season. And, if he had to pick one, well, the Super Bowl might as well be it.

"I'm not really worrying about the past games that I missed and the time I missed," Harvin said at media day on Tuesday. "I'm here now, I'm healthy and I'm ready to go."

Harvin returned to practice last Wednesday after passing the NFL's concussion protocol following a head injury suffered in Seattle's NFC divisional playoff game against New Orleans. It was the latest in what has been a lost season - so far - for the playmaking receiver.

He missed the first 10 games after needing hip surgery, and played sparingly when he returned because of complications. Harvin came back for the playoffs, but hit his head on the turf in Seattle's win over New Orleans.

"I don't know if a player can ever actually say that he is 100 percent, but I feel really good," Harvin said. "I haven't had any problems or anything."

Harvin was then asked if he thought he'd be at full strength Sunday against the Denver Broncos.

"I am absolutely playing," he said without hesitation.

Seattle paid a significant price in the offseason to bring in Harvin, dealing three draft picks, including a first-rounder, to Minnesota and then signing him to a six-year, $67 million contract.

The Seahawks envisioned him as a difference-maker not only on offense, but also special teams as a game-breaking returner. Instead, Harvin has spent a lot of time on the sideline and in the trainer's room while Seattle has been winning without him.

"It was definitely a trying year for me," Harvin said, also using the word "frustrated" to describe his season.

Harvin had just one catch for 17 yards in the regular season, and had three receptions for 21 yards and a 9-yard rush against the Saints before banging his head on the turf and leaving that game.

"I'm feeling really good now," he said. "I have no restrictions."

That could make Harvin a player to keep an eye on during the Super Bowl. After all, when he's healthy, he's one of the league's most dynamic players with his tantalizing mix of speed and elusiveness.

"I've been hearing `X-factor' and this kind of talk," Harvin said. "This is not my first rodeo. I've played in a lot of football games and I've been effective at doing that. I'm not worried about anything other than what I've always done, and that is go out there and play football the way I know how."

The Broncos are certainly expecting Harvin to play an integral part of the offense - whether he's lined up on the outside, in the slot or returning kicks.

"He's quick and every time he has that ball in his hands, he could be a threat," Denver linebacker Danny Trevathon said. "You want to minimize every opportunity he has."

With Harvin having played so few snaps this season, defensive end Shaun Phillips and the rest of the Broncos plan to study film from his Vikings days. In four seasons with Minnesota, he had 280 receptions for 3,302 yards and 20 touchdowns, rushed for 683 yards and four scores and also returned five kickoffs for TDs.

"Even though he's going through injuries, you can't let that fool you," Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "You have to go back and look at what he did before."

Harvin won't think about the past or this season's disappointments, especially if he walks off the MetLife Stadium field a champion.

"It means everything," Harvin said. "This is what every professional athlete strives for, since I was 6 years old, to play at the Super Bowl, to be around this atmosphere, to be around the fans. When we took off from Seattle, all the way down our sidewalks and highways, fans were blowing horns.

"To experience those types of things is a dream come true."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Welker on whether he'd miss Super Bowl due to concussion: 'What do you think?'

NEWARK – Wes Welker is precisely the kind of player that makes the NFL’s crusade for concussion awareness so difficult.

Tuesday, when asked if he’d allow a concussion to keep him out of the Super Bowl, Welker answered, “What do you think? I mean, you want to be out there. The Super Bowl, this is what you dream about. You're going to be there, I don't care what it takes, you’re going to be out there in this game."

More: Welker talks about Talib hit | Sights and sounds of Media Day

That singlemindedness and willingness to put his body in harm’s way is what’s made the greatest slot receiver to ever play. It’s also a mindset that flies directly in the face of what the league is trying to legislate away. Some people would call it a “macho” mindset the NFL fosters but really, it’s a mentality no different from the one displayed by Kerri Strug in the 1996 Olympics. Strug, performing on a badly injured ankle, competed despite the pain and stuck her vault landing helping the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team to a gold medal.

Strug is an Olympic icon. Nobody called her “macho.” They called her tough and a brave competitor and lauded her performance while dealing with pain – though just 19-years-old.

The desire to play on through physical risk has to do with competitive instinct and reaching a pinnacle, not testosterone.

I asked Welker about the two concussions he dealt with this season that cost him three games.

“It was tough,” he acknowledged. “You wanna be out there but at the same time you want to make sure that you’re good to go. I was at a point where I was wanting to get to the playoffs. I wanted to make sure I was at a point where I could play in the playoffs and do what I can to help the team win.”

Did he consider his own football mortality a bit?

“A little bit but not really,” he admitted. “I enjoy the game so much and enjoy being out there with my teammates and having fun. I really don’t think about it.”

Asked if it’s something that’s best blocked out, Welker answered, “Yes. Exactly.”

Tom E. Curran is the Patriots insider for CSN New England.

Richard Sherman: Confrontation with Michael Crabtree was 'good-natured'

Richard Sherman has spent the past week apologizing for his postgame outburst, but the famously-outspoken Seahawks cornerback says people are completely misreading his on-field confrontation with Michael Crabtree moments before.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that aired Monday night, Sherman explained his run-in with the 49ers wide receiver.

"It’s one of those things where the game’s gonna be over in 22 seconds and if the guy walks to the locker room then I don’t get a chance to say ‘good game,’ " Sherman said of NFL Films footage that showed Sherman running up to Crabtree after an interception effectively sealed the win for Seattle. "I guess it’s as good-natured as you can do in a football game."

In the footage, Sherman is seen chasing after Crabtree following the interception and patting him on the butt before extending his hand toward his on-field, and occasionally off-field, rival. Crabtree then pushed Sherman in the facemask. Only seconds later, Sherman would call Crabtree "sorry" in postgame interview with FOX Sports’ Erin Andrews.

While the sports world debated whether Sherman was taunting Crabtree, Sherman said Monday he was only trying tell Crabtree "great job" and admitted being "surprised" by Crabtree’s reaction.

"If he didn’t wanna shake all he had to do was just wave it off and I would’ve turned around and went and celebrated with my teammates," Sherman told Hayes.

When asked whether Crabtree’s shove was what sparked the Andrews rant, Sherman said that was caused by "a lot of other factors."

Sherman, who grew up in the gang- and crime-filled area of Compton, California, also talked to Hayes about his transition to attending school at Stanford.

"I’ve kinda had to be a chameleon of sorts because you drive from Compton to Stanford and you have to be able to flip the switch," Sherman said of adjusting to the difference in sub-cultures. "The culture’s too different to treat them both the same. It’s not right to treat them both the same."

Sherman also laughed off the idea that he dropped a gang reference during the Andrews segment, noting it was actually an acronym for the Seahawks’ defensive backs self-proclaimed nickname.

"Somebody said I was talking about a gang. And I was like, ‘LOB? Legion of Boom.’ That doesn’t make sense to anyone?" Sherman said.

Arizona, Syracuse top AP poll for 8th week in row

Arizona and Syracuse are 1-2 in The Associated Press college basketball poll for the eighth consecutive week.

The Wildcats (20-0) are again a runaway No. 1, receiving 63 first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel. The Orange (19-0) got the other No. 1 votes.

Florida jumped from sixth to third while Wichita State (21-0), the other undefeated Division I team, moved up one spot to fourth.

San Diego State and Kansas both moved up two places to fifth and sixth. They were followed by Michigan State, which dropped from third, Oklahoma State, Villanova and Michigan. The Wolverines jumped from 21st to 10th after beating Michigan State.

No. 20 Creighton moved back into the rankings after being out for one week. No. 25 Texas moves into the poll for the first time since 2010-11. The Longhorns have beaten three straight ranked opponents for the first time in school history.

Click here for the entire AP Poll.

Here are CollegeBasketballTalk's latest rankings, in which Michigan jumped 13 places.

A Super Bowl economic boom for NYC? No so much...

NEW YORK (AP) Will the snowy New York City area really reap an estimated $600 million economic boost from the Super Bowl? Probably not.

Despite such lofty predictions, sports economists say the financial impact of the Super Bowl could fall far below expectations, in part because visitors often spend their cash at NFL-sponsored or corporate events rather than at tourist attractions. Some hotels say Super Bowl bookings are running behind what they hoped for, prompting them to ease demands for minimum stays and room deposits. And academic studies show that at best, past Super Bowls generated tens of millions, not hundreds of millions.

"Move the decimal point one place to the left," said Robert Baade, a professor at Lake Forest College in Illinois, who has studied the Super Bowl's impact on local economies. "The NFL says $500 or $600 million? I think $50 to $60 million would be a generous appraisal of what the Super Bowl generates."

The NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee, which has worked closely with the NFL to prepare for the Feb. 2 game, has claimed in the yearslong run-up that it would generate $500 to $600 million for the region, but it refused to provide any information on how it tabulated that estimate. An NFL spokesman said the league does not conduct economic impact studies on the Super Bowl.

A study Baade conducted in 2000 showed that the average Super Bowl from the 1970s through the late `90s only accounted for about $32 million each in increased economic activity at the most. The study, which examined tax revenue and other economic factors before and after the Super Bowl, concluded that the 1999 Super Bowl in Miami, for example, only contributed about $37 million to the South Florida economy.

The NFL, by comparison, claimed that 1999 game between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons generated $396 million, the study said.

County sales tax data in Jacksonville showed hardly any increase in 2005 when it hosted the Super Bowl compared to non-Super Bowl years, according to a study conducted by Philip Porter, an economics professor at the University of South Florida.

"No one's ever been able to find a footprint that an event occurred," he said.

Porter found that visitors spend money at NFL-funded events and buy NFL-branded memorabilia during Super Bowl week instead of frequenting local establishments.

Die-hard Denver or Seattle fans won't necessarily attend a Broadway show or visit the Statue of Liberty during their stay, as tourist attractions often report lower attendance than usual during major sporting events. They're more likely to visit Super Bowl Boulevard in Times Square, which is filled with NFL-sponsored activities that funnel money directly back to the league.

Economic impact studies commissioned by past Super Bowl host committees - based largely on spending surveys distributed among fans at the game - claimed that the 2008 Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., generated a record $500 million and the 2006 game in Detroit brought in about $274 million. But those studies, which aren't made publicly available, are widely disputed by economists.

"Here's how the NFL gets the huge numbers that they get. They ask the people, `How much are you spending while you're here?"' Porter said. "They ought to be asking: `How much did we sell you while you were here?"'

The Super Bowl is a weeklong business bonanza for people who work in marketing, advertising, product development and sales, said Robert Boland, a professor of sports management at New York University.

"The Super Bowl has a life of its own as a trade show apart from a football game," Boland said. "It's about 10 days of celebration, trade show and tourist event, and then it's a game. And not necessarily the same people attend both."

Experts note that the pre-game madness may also deter tourists or business travelers who might ordinarily plan a visit to the host city.

In New York, some hotels realized by mid-autumn that the expected surge in bookings had not materialized, so they began to scale back, in some cases reducing required minimum stays from four nights to two and ending demands for non-refundable room deposits. Rates for the week leading up to the game, which had been at a premium, were dropped back to normal pricing.

Kate Martin, general manager of the Hotel Chandler in midtown Manhattan, said the hotel was only 50 percent booked during Super Bowl weekend, with fewer than usual bookings lined up for the week preceding the game.

"All of the anticipation and the hype about what this was going to bring for hotels in New York City has not materialized," she said.

Part of the problem lies in the tri-state area's large hotel room inventory, which at 150,000 rooms is at least triple the inventory seen in the past 10 Super Bowl host cities, said Adam Jones, a director at consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. That leaves more lodging options for visitors and makes it harder for hotels to jack up rates.

Still, some hoteliers are more sanguine about the prospect of a football-fueled revenue jump. Langham Place Hotel, a luxury hotel on Fifth Avenue, is approaching the Super Bowl like another holiday, with prices on par with New Year's Eve at about 20 percent higher than normal. As of two weeks before the big game, the hotel was not yet sold out, with 70 percent occupancy for the days leading up to the game.

"For us, it's a bit like another holiday," general manager Francois-Olivier Luiggi said. "Suddenly you throw another Thanksgiving in the middle of a cold winter."

Economists say that's the one bright spot for New York City: The months of January and February are usually the most sluggish tourism months of the year, so it's possible the game might provide a boost.

Another potential benefit - exposure - could also be muted. While prior host cities in less populated cities, such Indianapolis and Jacksonville, have been enticed by the chance to showcase themselves on a worldwide stage, there's no evidence that the game has any lasting brand impact for any city, said Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist.

And in any case, more exposure isn't exactly something New York City needs.

"You can't say that a Super Bowl is going to put New York on the map," he said.

Rangers top Devils outside at Yankee Stadium

NEW YORK (AP) Rick Nash scored for the fifth straight game, and the New York Rangers used a four-goal second period to beat the New Jersey Devils 7-3 on a cold and snowy Sunday outside at Yankee Stadium.

The Devils led 1-0 and 3-1 in the first, but New York got within one before intermission and then swarmed future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur.

After Dominic Moore and Marc Staal had goals in the first for the Rangers, Mats Zuccarello scored two straight to put New York ahead for the first time. Carl Hagelin and Nash found the net, too, behind the beleaguered Brodeur, who angrily swatted the puck away after one of the tallies.

Nash has seven goals in his streak and 18 this season.

Henrik Lundqvist, who sported stylish pinstriped pads for the occasion, stumbled through a difficult first but settled down and made 19 saves.

Brewers sign Garza to four-year deal

MILWAUKEE (AP) Free agent pitcher Matt Garza signed a four-year contract with Milwaukee on Sunday, strengthening the top of the rotation and boosting the Brewers' hopes following a disappointing season.

The Brewers made the announcement, saying the contract included a vesting option for the 2018 season. Earlier in the afternoon, team owner Mark Attanasio was on stage during a question-and-answer session at a fan event and said a deal was in place.

"Matt is an established top-of-the-rotation pitcher who provides our staff with experience and quality depth," general manager Doug Melvin said.

A person familiar with the negotiations, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the contract, told The Associated Press the four-year deal was worth $50 million with an extra $1 million per year in reachable performance bonuses for a starter.

The 30-year-old righty went 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA last season for the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. He missed most of the first two months while recovering from an injury that affected his side and back.

Garza will join Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse as Milwaukee's top starters. He is 67-67 with a 3.84 ERA in eight seasons with Minnesota, Tampa Bay, the Cubs and Texas.

Garza was looking forward to pitching - and hitting - back in the NL Central.

"It's fun. I like the Central, I like pitching in the Central," Garza said in a conference call. "I like swinging the bat in the big parks."

The move also adds depth to the staff and puts less pressure on young pitcher such as Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg in the back end of the rotation.

"We've said now for a couple of years that we're focusing on pitching and pitching depth," Attanasio told reporters. "You can never have enough pitching depth, and I would argue we have as much pitching depth as we've had (in) my 10 seasons of ownership."

Garza was the MVP of the 2008 AL championship series, beating Boston twice while with Tampa Bay. He also has thrown the only no-hitter in Rays' history, on July 26, 2010, against Detroit.

His signing had been rumored for days, though the Brewers were seemingly a surprise suitor for Garza's services. The team issued a statement Thursday that they were in talks with Garza but hadn't reached a deal then.

"These deals can go to the 11th hour and then not come together," Attanasio said. "So you don't know until you know."

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