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Column: Could football end up killing itself?

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Column: Could football end up killing itself?

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The dustup over deer-antler spray didn't last long, which is probably just as well. No reason to ruin Ray Lewis' retirement, or the week-long spectacle of everything that is the National Football League in this party town.

On Sunday perhaps the biggest audience ever to see a Super Bowl will gather in front of televisions for parties of their own. The game has become America's unofficial national holiday, its tradition of chip eating, beer drinking and commercial watching as deeply ingrained in the country's fabric as turkey and stuffing.

We celebrate the game even as it takes a brutal toll on those who play it. Football is a hurt business, and the biggest cheers on Sunday will be for those who deliver the biggest hits.

So remember when you jump and down and holler and scream that former players, some of whom entertained us in Super Bowls past, are suffering in the worst possible ways because of the beating their brains took on the playing field.

That the NFL is finally waking up to the crisis is commendable. That it took this long is deplorable.

It's hard to comprehend, and it may be the ultimate paradox. But football itself could be the one thing that kills the NFL.

Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard suggested the other day that it just might, calling the on-field violence ``a car accident every play'' and expressing fear that one day a player might die on the field. This, from a player who was fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Patriots receiver Wes Welker in the AFC championship game and is considered one of the hardest hitters out there.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, says if he had a son he would ``have to think long and hard'' about letting him play football.

And if commissioner Roger Goodell didn't get it before, he seems to get it now. In recent months, he floated the idea of eliminating kickoffs to cut down on concussions, and used much of his state of the NFL appearance Friday to talk about improving player safety.

``The No. 1 issue is: Take the head out of the game,'' Goodell said. ``I think we've seen in the last several decades that players are using their head more than they had when you go back several decades.''

It's too late for former players, some of whom suffer from debilitating brain damage caused by hits to the head. Some 3,500 of them are suing the NFL for not doing enough to protect them, including the family of star linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself to death last May. Medical researchers who studied his brain said findings were similar to autopsies of people ``with exposure to repetitive head injuries.''

While the league celebrates its new Hall of Fame inductees and fetes former stars who can still walk and talk, it fights every inch of the way in court on fears the claims of injured players can hit owners where it hurts the most - their wallets.

If anything, the game has become more brutal since the first Super Bowl 46 years ago. The players are bigger and faster, and better equipment gives them the false confidence to go head-to-head with each other.

No sport worth playing should need neurologists on the sidelines to protect participants. But that's precisely what the NFL will have next year as it belatedly tries to contain the fallout from the concussion issue.

Count former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison among those who worry. He was fined repeatedly in his long career for helmet-to-helmet hits, and estimates he suffered 20 concussions on the field. Today he works as a television analyst and seems healthy, but said on the ``Costas Tonight'' Super Bowl special that he gets headaches from bright lights and playing golf and has some anxiety issues he believes were caused by concussions.

``I'm scared to death,'' he said. ``I have four kids, I have a beautiful wife, and I'm scared to death what may happen to me 10, 15 years from now.''

The issue was big this week as members of the 49ers and Ravens were asked repeatedly about the safety of the game they make their living from. Most players dismissed fears about their safety, saying they knew what they were in for when they signed up to play football. But, at the same time, the players' union released a survey showing eight out of 10 players don't trust team doctors.

Understandable, when they serve at the pleasure of their employers. Even more understandable if you play in San Diego, where the team doctor lost a malpractice lawsuit last summer and the Medical Board of California wants to revoke his medical license.

These are all serious issues that deserve serious attention. The game will never be totally safe, but it can be safer.

Enjoy the Super Bowl. Celebrate the unofficial national holiday.

And hope that Goodell is as serious as he claims in finding a way to keep players safer than they are today.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh says he's interested in bringing Anquan Boldin back

Ravens coach John Harbaugh says he's interested in bringing Anquan Boldin back

By: Lisa Redmond (@LisaARedmond) 

John Harbaugh would like to be reunited with one of his star players from Super Bowl XLVII.

During a presser at the NFL owners meeting in Arizona, coach Harbaugh mentioned that he would love to have former Ravens wide reciever Anquan Boldin back on the team. The two requirements to make this happen: Boldin having an interest and GM Ozzie Newsome making it work. 

Via ESPN 

"I know he loved it in Baltimore, and I loved him in Baltimore," Harbaugh said. "Didn't want him to have to leave when it happened. That's just the way it all worked out. But I'd be for it."

Boldin is currently an unrestricted free agent after signing only a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions this past year. The 36-year-old played with the Ravens for three seasons and was a staple in them bringing the Lombardy Trophy back to Baltimore during the 2012-2013 season. He was ultimately traded to John's brother, Jim, and the 49ers because he did not want to take a pay cut. 

Even though he is 36-years-old, Harbaugh feels he could still be a contending player.

"I will say this: I do believe he can still play at the highest level. I think his ability and skills are such that he's not going to drop off the edge just because of how he plays."

With Steve Smtih Sr. retiring this past season, they are looking to add one more veteran receiver to the likes of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman.

"I've got to be careful in how I answer that because, of course, we are. Of course, I am. I'm thinking about it every day. Just like I'm thinking about [several other open spots on the roster]," Harbaugh said. 

The team has several options when it comes to finding another wide receiver. There is, of course, the draft which will bring top prospects, a trade with another team or signing who've been cut. 

If a reunion with Boldin were to happen, it most likely wouldn't take place until after May 9. Boldin is an unrestricted free agent, but signing with the Ravens means they would lose a compensatory pick during the next draft and both coach Harbaugh and Ravens president Dick Cass have acknowledged that. 

When it comes to having chemistry with your QB, that shouldn't be a problem for Boldin and Flacco. While he was with the Ravens, Boldin had 186 receptions, 2,645 total yards, and 14 touchdowns.

MORE RAVENS: RAVENS WANTED TORREY SMITH BACK 

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Ravens wanted to bring back wide receiver Torrey Smith this off-season

Ravens wanted to bring back wide receiver Torrey Smith this off-season

BY TYLER BYRUM - @theTylerByrum

For years, Torrey Smith was a fan favorite wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens. He is a local player that not only helped the Ravens win their Super Bowl in 2012, but went to Maryland to play college ball.

This past off-season the Baltimore Ravens were interested in bringing him back. 

On Tuesday morning at the AFC coaches breakfast, John Harbaugh revealed the team's plan of bringing back the wide receiver who accumulated over 3,500 receiving yards in four seasons with the team. Instead, Smith signed with the Philadelphia Eagles for a middle tier contract. 

Last season, the 28-year-old only brought in 267 yards in the 12 games that he played with the San Francisco 49ers. Smith left the Ravens after the 49ers offered him a five-year deal that he could not turn down.

With Steve Smith Sr. retiring at the end of this season, it almost felt like a perfect fit as the Ravens best option at the No. 2 wide receiver position is Breshad Perriman.

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