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Some 49ers already played for a title in the dome

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Some 49ers already played for a title in the dome

NEW ORLEANS (AP) San Francisco defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois made one of his greatest football memories to date in the Superdome, where he won a national championship with LSU against Ohio State in January 2008.

Jean Francois also was voted MVP of that game, an honor that disrupted his celebration after he had climbed into the stands to see his family.

``They had to get a lot of the guys to grab me out of the stands to bring me back down, but it was a good moment when I got a chance to hold that crystal ball and see that confetti,'' Jean Francois said.

As it turns out, the 49ers also are staying in the same hotel and using some of the same meeting rooms that LSU used leading up to the Tigers' BCS triumph.

The memories are not so fond for a couple other 49ers who were in that same title game, but playing for the Buckeyes.

``I don't want to hear it,'' linebacker Larry Grant said when asked whether the sight of the Superdome brings back bad memories. ``All I'm thinking about is hoisting that Lombardi Trophy in a few days.''

Grant said Jean Francois had not said a word to him about the game recently.

``He doesn't want to bring that up with me,'' Grant said. ``I might slap him in the face.''

Niners offensive lineman Alex Boone, also a Buckeye back in 2007-08, said he did have some painful memories come back to him when he walked on the field against the Saints earlier this season. The 49ers won that game, 31-21.

``It was a little weird coming back. I just remember thinking about the championship game and I was happy this (past game against New Orleans) went differently,'' Boone said. ``Hopefully we can have success this Sunday.''

Boone acknowledged he somehow gets drawn into conversations with Jean Francois about their college title matchup, even though he has no interest in discussing it.

``We talk about it all the time, surprisingly, because I hate talking about it, but we always end up talking about it once a week,'' Boone said. ``It's weird.''

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FAREWELL, ALEX?: Alex Smith leaving the San Francisco 49ers after this season is a topic CEO Jed York isn't ready to address.

York made one thing clear Thursday: Smith hasn't requested his release after the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick.

Smith certainly hopes to remain a starter somewhere, and that doesn't seem likely anymore with San Francisco, his only NFL team.

While the 49ers would love to have two winning QBs, York realizes that might not be a realistic luxury as far as Smith is concerned.

``Alex and I started with the 49ers the same year in 2005 and I've known Alex for a long time. And that's part of the overall analysis you do at the end of the season, not just for one player but for everybody,'' York said.

``And you figure out what's best for guys, what's best for the team, and you figure out. Is there a spot for him on the team from a cap standpoint? Yeah, absolutely there's a spot for him on the team. From a need standpoint, it's pretty nice to have two quarterbacks that you feel that you can win with. Is there going to be a demand for a quarterback who's played as well as he had the last couple years? Yeah.''

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HALL OF FAME OWNERS? - An oddity for this Super Bowl has both teams' former owners as finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The late Art Modell, who owned the Cleveland Browns and then moved them to Baltimore to become the Ravens, and Ed DeBartolo Jr., of the San Francisco 49ers, could enter the hall on Saturday. They are among 15 modern-day finalists, of which as many as five can be elected.

Modell bought the Browns in 1961 and took them to Baltimore in 1996. He was president of the NFL under then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle from 1967-69 and played an instrumental role in negotiating television contracts for the league. Modell contributed to the creation of Monday night football, too.

``That is always one of those situations that you really try to stay out of, because you don't know how they vote,'' Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis said. ``You can only tell them about the man who I knew myself: a true legend in his own way, a real visionary who changed thousands and thousands of lives. For the impact he's had on this business and what he's done for so many in this business, for me - I am a little biased - I would say, `Why wouldn't he be in the Hall of Fame?'''

DeBartolo purchased the 49ers in 1977. Soon, they were winning championships: five Super Bowls in as many tries.

During DeBartolo's tenure, the team made 16 playoff appearances, won 13 division titles and played in 10 conference championship games.

But he also was suspended the 1999 season by the NFL after being found guilty of failing to report a bribe by a government official, a felony. He divested ownership of the 49ers to family members.

``I'm hoping Eddie gets into the hall because any time you can accomplish winning five Super Bowls and what he brought to the game of football, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,'' said Jerry Rice, the most accomplished receiver in NFL history and a Canton enshrinee. ``I think this society's supposed to be about forgiveness and stuff like that. It's time for Eddie DeBartolo to get into the hall.''

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ADRIAN'S AID: Adrian Peterson believes his quick recovery from major knee surgery is an inspiration not only to his teammates and other football players, but to all athletes. And, especially, to all kids.

Peterson always has prided himself on being in top shape, and attributes his conditioning to coming back less than nine months after the surgery, then nearly setting the NFL rushing record, gaining 2,097 yards in Minnesota's wild-card playoff season.

He wants to make sure the youth of America is in tune with staying fit.

``Me being an athlete, I know how important it is to be active and keep your body in shape, and it is hard to get a kid outside to do that,'' said Peterson, who was in New Orleans to promote Kinect for Xbox 360's affiliation with NFL Play 60 to help kids have fun while achieving healthy, active lifestyles. The program also is designed to fight childhood obesity.

``Get off the couch and get active.''

That's exactly what Peterson said he did during his rehab. He chose the Xbox golf game.

``I played the golf game and that got my body burning,'' he said. ``They have the more active games like the track and the NFL, but the golf, it's different. It's cool and I think kids will like it.''

Peterson also is eager to promote nutrition and a healthy diet. He had a sweet tooth as a child and said he was fortunate that he could simply go outdoors and play sports to work off the calories.

``Kids today definitely get a lot of fast foods in their body and that's not good for you,'' he said. ``And now that I am older, I understand. I want young people to understand they need to eat healthy and be active. They don't have to play football, but they need to do something.''

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SUPER LEMONADE: Donald Driver is making a quick transition from the gridiron to the business world.

The Green Bay Packers' career leading receiver announced his retirement Thursday morning, then helped kids from Junior Achievement sell lemonade at a pop-up stand in the Super Bowl media center.

Not only did Driver help behind the counter, he loaded up four carrying cases and he and his three new friends set out to find customers. Their cases were empty when they returned.

``All the money they've raised will stay here in New Orleans,'' Driver said. ``What they're starting to do is learn how to run their own business, become entrepreneurs by themselves.

``I'm just here to raise as much money so maybe they can open up their own lemonade stand the next couple of years.''

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MUM'S THE WORD: Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti says linebacker Ray Lewis decided to retire after this season several weeks before sharing the news with his team and the rest of the world.

Lewis was working to return from a torn right triceps when coach John Harbaugh told the owner that Lewis wanted to talk to him.

``He just said, `I talked to John and I talked to (general manager) Ozzie Newsome and I'm done after this,''' Bisciotti recalled Thursday. ``We spoke for a few minutes. I just said, mum's the word until you decide to announce it or tell the team. That lasted, I think, a month.''

The formal announcement from Lewis came on Jan. 2. He has resolved to make the Super Bowl his final game.

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$100 MILLION FOR HARVARD: The NFL Players Association discussed the $100 million medical research fund it is establishing at Harvard, with the money coming out of the players' portion of league revenues from the collective bargaining agreement.

About 1,000 former players are expected to be involved in the research, which will focus on repetitive brain trauma, aging and cardiovascular disease, medical ethics and sports medicine.

``What we're going to do is transformative,'' NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth said at a news conference Thursday.

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AP Sports Writers Nancy Armour, David Ginsburg, Howard Fendrich, Janie McCauley and Barry Wilner contributed to this report.

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NFL Mock Draft 4.0: Combine Primer And Sleepers

NFL Mock Draft 4.0: Combine Primer And Sleepers

The annual NFL Combine kicks of Wednesday in Indianapolis. Whatever happens there -- receivers run fast, quarterbacks flash arm strength, defenders lack pop -- projections will change and in some cases significantly. Therefore here's my last look at the situation before all the sprints and lifts via mock draft 4.0 plus some other thoughts below.

* League sources offered up names of several prospects currently ranked all over the big boards with the chance to make a big splash during the combine. They include:

Alabama TE O.J. Howard -- Everybody already knows the 6-foot-6 Howard is a two-way monster. His Senior Bowl dominance certainly confirmed that. Rocking the Combine could alter his mid-to-late first round projection into 10-13 range where teams like New Orleans, Cleveland and Arizona have TE needs. Call me crazy, but if Howard is there when the Redskins pick at 17, I can imagine Washington thinkng long and hard about two-TE sets wth Jordan Reed. 

Oklahoma DT Charles Walker -- The Redskins have shown interest in Walker, according to a league source, though his draft range is all over the map. The interior force's redshirt junior season ended early due to a concussion followed by a decision to leave the Sooners early with draft preparation in mind. Was a second-team All-Big 12 selection as a junior thanks to six sacks. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Walker ninth among defensive tackles while WalterFootball.com projects the 304-pounder as a Day 2 pick.

<<CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL NFL MOCK DRAFT 4.0>>

Pittsburgh OT Adam Bisnowaty -- Considered underrated despite starting four seasons for the Panthers. The left tackle helped key a resurgent season for the Panthers. Lack of wow prospects at the position means the order outside of Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin), Cam Robinson (Alabama) and Garrett Bolles (Utah) is in flux.

Ashland TE Adam Shaheen -- The D2 prospect is early candidate for the "Who is that guy?" award. Expect raves about Shaheen's size and athleticism. CBS Sports already has Day 2 projection on the 6-foot-6, 277-pounder who can run routes like a wide receiever. Could he move all the way into round 1?

Tulsa WR Keevan Lucas -- What the 5-foot-10 receiver lacks in height he makes up for with speed and production. Caught 81 passes for 1,180 yards and 15 touchdowns during his senior season with the Golden Hurricanes. Certain analytics show Lucas' production stood out  and put him in the same statistical company as future NFL receivers Stefon Diggs and Marqise Lee. Day 3 sleeper.

Other to watch: QB Pat Mahomes (Texas Tech), TE David Nkoju (Miami, Fl.), DT Ryan Glasgow (Michigan), CB Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson)

* Look at Scot McCloughan's draft history and one theme emerges: The man likes seniors, especially in round one. Brandon Scherff and Josh Doctson were both four-year players. The bulk of first round selections during his time at Seattle and San Francisco. That doesn't mean McCloughan will go that way with the 17th overall pick; Of the top 19 ranked prospects according to ESPN analyst Todd McShay, 14 are underclassmen. But keep a close on seniors with early round projections like Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, Temple inside linebacker Haason Reddick, Indiana guard Dan Feeney, LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White, Washington wide receiver John Ross and Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson.

<<CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL NFL MOCK DRAFT 4.0>>

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Report: Ravens mulling cutting Dennis Pitta to create more cap space

Report: Ravens mulling cutting Dennis Pitta to create more cap space

A decision on whether to cut or keep Dennis Pitta is one of many issues facing the Ravens this offseason.

According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, the Ravens “may balk” at the $5.5 million salary Pitta is due next season. That makes sense, considering Pitta was just 28th in the NFL among tight ends in yards per catch (8.5) despite leading all tight ends with 86 catches. Pitta only had two touchdown catches, and there is concern he no longer has the speed to make explosive plays after two major hip surgeries.

Free agency begins March 9, but cutting Pitta with a June 1 designation would create the most cap space for the Ravens - $5.5 million.

However, if the Ravens release Pitta, they would turn the tight end position over to a question-filled group that includes:

Ben Watson – He is 36 years old, and missed all of the 2016 season with an Achilles injury. Cutting Watson and saving $3 million in cap space might make more sense than cutting Pitta. Especially if Pitta agrees to a pay reduction, as he did before last season.

Nick Boyle – He missed 10 games last season due to his second suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. Another suspension could lead to the end of Boyle’s career.

Crockett Gillmore – He must prove he can still healthy after missing seven games in 2016, and 15 games over the past two seasons.

Darren Waller – He was suspended four games in 2016 for his first PED violation, and he has caught just 12 passes in his first two seasons.

Maxx Williams – He is coming off major knee surgery.

Pitta remains a favorite target of quarterback Joe Flacco, and even if Pitta struggles to make splash plays, he is still a chain-mover as a possession receiver. You can make a case for cutting or keeping Pitta. The Ravens will soon make their verdict.

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