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Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s bumper sticker phrases

Atlanta coach Dan Quinn has used a bunch of phrases this season to pull his Falcons closer together. Many could fit on a bumper sticker, and each has a purpose.

“The real reason behind it is to make sure our messaging stays the same,” Quinn said Tuesday. “So, when one person is talking to another, it’s not where it’s in different things. ‘Yeah, that’s just like this or just like that.’ e’d rather it be in terms taht when oen thing is said, it really clearly means something to you. They are important for us as our messaging goes.”

Not every phrase sticks around for an entire year. Quinn says some phrases work best for a particular game or time during the season.

“I’d say there’s probably somewhere between eight to 12 that are definitely ones that we stand by,” Quinn said.

The latest phrase in rotation with the Falcons as they prepare for the Super Bowl on Sunday against New England is “Ready to ride dog.”

“It pretty much just sets off what we do,” Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones said. “That’s our mentality. That’s how we play. It really exemplifies the character of this team. A lot of guys are playing ball, having fun and playing for one another.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Bill Belichick can’t stop talking when it comes to his father

Bill Belichick can be pretty tight-lipped around the media.

When it comes to his dad, he can’t stop talking.

The New England Patriots coach was asked about his late father’s influence during a news conference Tuesday at the team hotel.

The answer lasted 4 minutes, 37 seconds.

“A long answer to a short question,” Belichick said, managing a slight smile. “I’m famous for that.”

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Steve Belichick was a long-time assistant coach at the Naval Academy, where he was responsible for scouting the Midshipmen’s next opponent. He died in 2005, but his influence carries on to this day.

“To go to a game and watch him scout the game was, I mean, it was an unforgettable experience,” Belichick said. “There would be four or five other scouts in the press box scouting the game besides him. He would be there with his book, scouting it, and he would write down the substitutions, the play and would be ready to go for the next play.

“When it was all over, those plays _ again, this is back in the days when it took two days for film to come in _ those plays were the game. You had to wait two days before you could actually see the play on film. Meanwhile, the other guys would be scouting and they’d be like, ‘What happened on that play? Who caught that?’ He was just so good at it.”

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)  

Riding home from games, the father would share all that knowledge with his son.

“He saw every play, the blocking scheme, the defense, the pattern they ran, the coverage they were in, who blitzed. He had great vision,” Belichick recalled. “It was really impressive. But, again, I realized that it came not from just watching it, but preparing for it, knowing who the players were, knowing what the plays were going into the game, that type of thing.”

Clearly, young Bill learned his lessons well.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Tampa Bay Lightning finally win, beating Anaheim 3-2 in shootout

They won? Finally?

The Tampa Bay Lightning finally put up a winning scoreboard Saturday night, beating the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in a shootout.

The Lightning had lost six of its previous seven games (two in overtime), including two straight at home in which it managed only 21 shots per game in losses to Boston and Ottawa. This time, the Lightning outshot Anaheim by 21 shots (37-16).

The Bolts scored three goals in the shootout. Brayden Point started the scoring, Nikita Kucherov tied the extra period with a goal and Brian Boyle won it.

In regulation, Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn scored.

The Ducks were lucky to get to overtime. They got off only 16 shots, none in overtime. It was enough to help Ben Bishop win his 12th game against 12 losses.

“It’s a real proud group in there,” said coach Jon Cooper. “They were not going to be denied tonight.”

Tampa Bay is home Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

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Voters elect seven to Hall of Fame, but not the Bucs’ Lynch

Former Tampa Bay Buc great John Lynch is still short of immortality.

The NFL announced its new Hall of Fame class Saturday night, and Lynch was not among them.

LaDainian Tomlinson was named to the Hall. Kurt Warner, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, Jason Taylor, Morten Andersen and Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones also were elected.

Easley, the senior candidate, was a rare safety named to the Hall. Lynch and Brian Dawkins were left out. Ed Reed becomes eligible in two years and Troy Palumalo in three.

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Tom Brady hopes ill mother can attend Super Bowl

Tom Brady hopes his mother will be in the stands on Super Bowl Sunday despite dealing with an undisclosed health issue.

The New England Patriots quarterback acknowledged on Wednesday that his mother Galynn Brady has been ill. He didn’t provide any details.

“It’s personal with my family, and I’m just hoping everyone’s here on Sunday to share in a great experience. But it has been a tough year. Every family goes through different things and you know my family has always been a great support system for me and hopefully we can make everyone happy on Sunday.”

Brady got choked up talking about his father during media night on Monday, and he said Tuesday that his mother had not been able to attend any games this season. On Wednesday, he confirmed that his mother has been ill.

Though he isn’t sure if she’ll be able to make the game, he acknowledged how much it will mean to him if she is in the stands as the Patriots face the Atlanta Falcons.

“It’s (will be) a special moment,” Brady said. “It’s always been that way. I think this year is — it will be as special as it’s ever been.”

The 39-year-old Brady said it’s important to him to have his family at the game as small way to thank them for everything they do for him throughout the year.

“It’s a great game because it’s the final game of the year and it’s a culmination of a lot of things,” he said. “It’s the Super Bowl and it’s great for your team, but there’s also a lot of people who have made an investment in you … and you want to be able to reward them as well.”

When he gets tickets for his family away from Gillette Stadium he always scopes out where they are so he can acknowledge them before he gets to work. He said he’ll do that again on Sunday.

“When I go out in pregame and look around I kind of know where they’re going to be and I try to make some eye contact and let them know I’m looking at them,” he said. “You like to know where they’re at, too. It’s going to be great.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Officials tell fans how to spot fake Super Bowl tickets

NFL and law enforcement officials say fans can tell if they are buying real Super Bowl tickets by checking for the heat-sensitive logos.

On the front of each ticket is a full polymer graphic that is raised and the back features a true color security label with Houston’s skyline and the Super Bowl logo. The final security feature is a graphic on the lower portion of the back of each ticket which is printed with thermochromic ink. The HTX logo and the NRG Stadium image will fade when heat is applied and will return when the heat source is removed.

“Every year we see fans arrive at the stadium on game day only to be turned away at the gate having bought counterfeit tickets,” NFL senior counsel Michael Buchwald said Thursday. “The quality of counterfeit tickets can be quite sophisticated but no matter how real the tickets may look a fake ticket will not get you into the game on Sunday. That’s why we strongly discourage fans from buying tickets from any suspicious sources.”

The league and law enforcement officials announced Thursday that a yearlong effort called Operation Team Player had netted more than 260,000 counterfeit sports items worth about $20 million. They urged fans to be on the lookout for criminals passing off fake items and tickets in the days leading up to Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons.

Buchwald urged fans to only buy tickets from reputable sources and described several security features they can look for the make sure the tickets they are buying are real.

Local law enforcement officials have already seized about $500,000 in counterfeit Super Bowl merchandise and will continue to work undercover with NFL brand experts to stop the sale of other fake items. As the officials spoke on Thursday morning they stood behind a table filled with some of the counterfeit items they’d already collected. There was a powder blue Earl Campbell jersey, a jersey of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and a couple of Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins. There were also Super Bowl T-shirts, winter caps and baseball caps that had been seized.

“The message should be pretty clear to the public, if you are buying something from the NFL that you want to give to your child as a keepsake long-term, buy an NFL product,” said Houston precinct one constable Alan Rosen. “Because the garbage that you see up here is going to fall apart and it’s not going to be worth anything either.”

Rosen said they’ve seen far more counterfeit merchandise than tickets so far, but he expects to start finding more people selling fake tickets as the game gets closer. He also warned that those who counterfeit tickets have gotten so good that fans might not be able to tell they aren’t real.

“If you’re not trained on it I would say it would be very difficult for you to do that,” Rosen said. “So that’s why it’s so important to buy it from a reputable source because you could be spending money for nothing.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Super Bowl serves at peacemaker between Uber and Houston

Anybody using Uber in Houston during Super Bowl week can thank the big game for their ride.

Up until a couple of months ago, it was unclear if the popular ride-hailing service would be helping shuttle many of the more than 1 million people expected to take part in Super Bowl-related activities in the host city.

Uber had threatened to leave Houston ahead of the festivities, insisting various city regulations, including fingerprint background checks of drivers, were too burdensome and prevented drivers from working.

Houston officials and Uber reached a compromise in November, keeping the service in the city through at least the Super Bowl. But the dispute highlights the ongoing debate many cities across the country have had with the app over how to balance sufficient regulation and public safety.

Kyle Chank, director of transportation and operations with the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, said organizers are “definitely glad” Uber will be one of transportation choices for people.

“The clientele that’s coming to the Super Bowl, they expect to use their Uber app to help get them around the city,” he said. “It represents a much-needed (transportation) alternative.”

Kevin DePaola, one of the many Uber drivers in Houston expecting to see a boost in their incomes thanks to the Super Bowl, said he had been concerned about Uber’s departure. He depends on his driving to help supplement his income since losing his job in seismic imaging in October 2015. Many in Houston have lost jobs as oil prices have dropped.

He said it will be difficult for Houston to drive off a transportation option like Uber from a city that — while it has made great strides in its mass transit system — is still very much a place where a car is a necessity.

“It’s already begun to build up a consumer base. If Houston chases them out, I think they are going to hear it,” said DePaola, 50, who has also worked as an aerospace engineer with NASA.

Since it began operating in Houston in 2014, Uber and the city have been at odds over regulation. While Uber criticized many of the city’s requirements, including a drug test and a physical for drivers, the main sticking point has been the fingerprint background check. Last year’s compromise eliminated the drug test and physical and reduced licensing costs but kept the fingerprint check.

Uber has pulled out of cities that have required a fingerprint background check, including Austin, which voted in May to keep rules requiring ride-hailing company drivers to undergo such checks. Last year, Chicago dropped a proposed fingerprinting requirement when Uber threatened to leave.

Ginger Goodin, director of the policy research center at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, said while 38 states have laws regulating ride-hailing services like Uber, none of these states require fingerprint background checks for drivers. Texas is not one of those states, but it’s an issue that is being reviewed during the current legislative session.

Sarfraz Maredia, Uber’s general manager for Texas, said Houston’s regulations have prevented more than 25,000 people who had been qualified by Uber to be drivers from being licensed by Houston. Maredia said Uber’s background screening of drivers is thorough and covers a person’s driving history. He criticized fingerprint background checks as relying on incomplete databases and possibly being discriminatory.

“We were proud to work with the mayor and the city council to reach a compromise that allowed us to continue operating through this important week. We want to be a partner to the city for these major events,” Maredia said.

Lara Cottingham, deputy assistant director of Houston’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department, which handles licensing procedures for vehicles for hire, said the city has continued to insist on having fingerprint background checks, believing it’s the best way to ensure public safety.

“It was important to put this issue to rest because with the Super Bowl, all eyes (will) be on the city of Houston,” she said. “You don’t want transportation to be a problem.”

Maredia said he continues to work with local officials on the fingerprint requirement but is optimistic Uber will be in Houston “for decades to come.”

Josh Weekly, an Uber driver working this week, said while he supports efforts to ensure drivers are properly vetted, he also doesn’t want the city to make the licensing process so burdensome that the ride-hailing service leaves.

“If you want to use Uber, use it. If you think Uber is unsafe, then don’t use it,” said Weekly, 35, who lives in Beaumont but drives for Uber in Houston.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Lady Gaga says Super Bowl halftime show is ‘for everyone’

Lady Gaga said she hopes her Super Bowl halftime show will celebrate “inclusion” and the “spirit of equality” during a time of national division.

“This performance is for everyone. I want to, more than anything, create a moment that everyone that’s watching will never forget,” she said in a press conference Thursday in Houston.

Gaga wouldn’t reveal what songs she would sing, how many costumes she’ll wear or any staging details, but promised a “tremendously athletic” show and no reappearance of her infamous meat dress.

She also said there wouldn’t be any wardrobe malfunctions — like Janet Jackson‘s infamous moment when she performed at the last Super Bowl held in Houston in 2004.

“Everything is going to be nice and tight,” Gaga said. “I wouldn’t worry about that.”

When Gaga debuted in 2008, her sound was a mix of electronic, dance and pop sounds, including the hits “Poker Face” and “Just Dance.” Her latest album though, “Joanne,” delves into country and acoustic rock territory, and she said she plans to perform songs from her entire catalog.

The 30-year-old singer, who sang the national anthem at last year’s Super Bowl, was nominated for the best original song Oscar last year and won a Golden Globe for her role on the FX series “American Horror Story.” Gaga said she considers being asked to be the halftime headliner is due to her fans, affectionately known as “little monsters.”

“Essentially, that kid that couldn’t get a seat at the cool kids table and that kid who was kicked out of the house because his mom and dad didn’t accept him for who he was? That kid is going to have the stage for 13 minutes,” she said. “And I’m excited to give it to them.”

The performance at the NRG Stadium will also feature Tony Bennett, who Gaga called a “tremendously wise man.” Gaga and Bennett, 90, recorded the 2014 album of duets, “Cheek to Cheek,” which won a Grammy — the sixth for Gaga. They also launched a successful tour.

The showdown between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons airs Sunday on Fox. Gaga, who said many of her relatives are Pittsburgh Steelers fans, wouldn’t reveal whom she’s rooting for. “I’m going to keep that one to myself,” she said.

In addition to Gaga, three original cast members of the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit “Hamilton” will sing “America the Beautiful” during pregame festivities and Luke Bryan will perform the national anthem.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Hero of the Super Bowl might turn out to be a ‘Who’s he?’ guy

It won’t be a quarterback. It won’t be a star receiver. It probably won’t even be the star pass-rushing defensive end.

But sometime during Sunday night’s Super Bowl, a guy you’ve barely heard of might take over. A run-of-mill, blue collar guy from somewhere in the team photo.

Hey, it happens in the Super Bowl. Despite all the millionaires cavorting beneath the stadium lights, there might be a guy or two emerge to be a star. Odds are, he won’t follow up it up with stardom. Hey, there are reasons that guys are unsung; most of the time, they can’t sing.

Remember David Tyree’s catch off-of-the-helmet as the Giants upset the unbeaten New England Patriots after a four-catch season? Remember Timmy Smith of Washington running for 204 yards, and then running to oblivion. There was the Packers’ Max McGee (138 yards receiving) and the Raiders’ Rod Martin (three interceptions) and the Bucs’ Dexter Jackson (two interceptions). There was Dallas’ Larry Brown (two interceptions) and the Rams’ Mike Jones (game-saving tackle) and the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler (game-saving interception).

Hey, they can’t all eat pizza and go to Disney World.

So who will it be this year? How about Atlanta’s Mohammad Sanu as he takes advantage of the double-team that Julio Jones is sure to get? How about the Falcons’ rookie Keanu Neal? How about New England’s LeGarrett Blount. Or Chris Long?

Yeah, yeah. The smart money is still on Tom Brady or Matt Ryan.

But sometime during the game, someone’s going to make a play. You’re going to have to check your roster to find out who he is.

And that’s kind of cool.

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Former Buc John Lynch hopes to get into Hall of Fame despite position

His interception total (26) is kind of low. If you’re looking to knock John Lynch, you can begin there.

His teams won only one Super Bowl. That keeps him from being a slam dunk of a candidate.

He already has two teammates from his defense into the Hall. Other teams have more, but voters lose interest the more players a team has in.

But if you want to know the challenge that Lynch, the great of the Tampa Bay Bucs, faces in today’s Hall of Fame vote, it’s easy. He’s a safety. And most years, safeties need not apply.

It has been 19 years now since the Vikings’ Paul Krause made it to the Hall as a pure safety, and his election came after 19 years in the voting. The knock persists that safeties are really slow corners — never mind that coaches will tell you it’s a whole different skill set. Only kickers have it harder than safeties.

Oh, other players have gotten in — Ronnie Lott and Mel Renfro and Rod Woodson, but those guys all started their careers as cornerbacks. But guys who have played only safety have vanished from Canton.

Of course, it’s hard to quantify. Receivers have catches and quarterbacks have passes, and running backs have yards. But safeties are more of a challenge.

This year, a logjam has begun at the position. Brian Dawkins has joined the race with Lynch and former Broncos Steve Atwater, and former Seahawk Kenny Easley is the senior candidate.

In upcoming years, Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed will join the list.

For Lynch, a heavy hitter and sure tackler in the Bucs’ great defensive run, this might be the best chance he has to get into the Hall.

In Tampa, not many doubt he belongs.

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