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SUPER BOWL WATCH: NFL awards, real fun to come

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SUPER BOWL WATCH: NFL awards, real fun to come

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Around the Super Bowl and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of everything surrounding the game:

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REAL FUN TO COME

The NFL's best have been mingling with celebrities, signing autographs for adoring fans and enjoying all the festivities New Orleans has to offer during Super Bowl weekend. But make no mistake, they'd gladly give that all up.

They'd rather be on the field at the Superdome on Sunday.

Case in point, what New York Giants Eli Manning told Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP's global lifestyles and entertainment editor, on Saturday:

``I'm not enjoying it as much,'' he said.

Manning spent Saturday with his dad Archie and brother Peyton, first watching a celebrity flag football game featuring A-listers including Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Katharine McPhee, Deion Sanders, Neil Patrick Harris and more. The family then went to the ``2nd Annual NFL Honors'' awards Saturday night, where Peyton Manning won AP's NFL Comeback Player of the Year award during a show televised on CBS. The younger Manning said he likes being back in New Orleans, back where he grew up.

But this time last year, he was one night away from winning a Super Bowl and being crowned the game's MVP.

Where would you rather be?

``I'd rather be right now in the hotel room, looking at my playbook, trying to figure out how to win another championship,'' Eli Manning said.

- Oskar Garcia and Nekesa Mumbi Moody -http://twitter.com/oskargarcia andhttp://twitter.com/nekesamumbi

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1 HARBAUGH FAMILY WIN

The Harbaugh family got an early win on Saturday night well before the Super Bowl.

Tom Crean, coach of the No. 3 Indiana men's basketball team, knocked off No. 1 Michigan 81-73 at home. Crean is married to Joani Harbaugh, sister of San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

It's the third time in school history the Hoosiers have beaten the No. 1 team at home. When the new AP Top 25 poll comes out Monday, Indiana will likely take back the No. 1 ranking it held for the first seven weeks this season.

The Harbaugh family will finish the weekend with a 2-1 record.

- Michael Marot -http://twitter.com/apmarot

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5 KEY PLAYERS: SAN FRANCISCO

We asked AP pro football writer Barry Wilner to pick five key players for each team in this Super Bowl. You'll want to pay attention to these guys on Sunday.

For the Baltimore Ravens, it's Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams. Now, for the San Francisco 49ers:

Kaepernick, Crabtree, Gore, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis

-COLIN KAEPERNICK (QB, JERSEY NO. 7): Dynamic player who replaced injured Alex Smith in November and kept the job. Fast with long strides, strong arm, unafraid to throw into tight spots.

-MICHAEL CRABTREE (WR, JERSEY NO. 15): Matured this season and became a true No. 1 receiver. Led team with 85 catches, 1,105 yards and nine TDs. Good after catch, but needs to consider better ball security.

-FRANK GORE (RB, JERSEY NO. 21): Career rushing leader for franchise, as dependable as they come. Strong, can pound through line, but also has quick feet to cut to open space. Had 1,214 rushing yards and eight TDs during season.

-ALDON SMITH (OLB, JERSEY NO. 99): All-Pro sacks machine. Not as good as he needs to be in coverage, but is raw. Then again, why not rush him every play? Great burst off the line, big wingspan and maneuverability.

-PATRICK WILLIS (ILB, JERSEY NO. 52): With apologies to Ray Lewis, Willis is best linebacker in this Super Bowl - and probably best in entire league. Has been All-Pro in five of six seasons.

- Barry Wilner

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BROTHERLY ADVICE: THE MANNINGS

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh are hardly the only high-profile siblings who've squared off in their arena of expertise. The AP is asking some others who can relate how to handle going against a family member in the Super Bowl.

When NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning squared off during a regular season game, at least one parent didn't have too hard a time deciding who to root for.

``I knew my mom was going to root for me - I'm the baby of the family, so that was an easy one,'' Eli Manning said.

But sibling battles can be tough on parents, the New York Giants quarterback said.

``It's hard to be excited for one child winning a game and also disappointed for the other one that didn't,'' he said.

As for the Harbaugh brothers: ``I think they're just both trying to figure out how to get a win.''

Eli's brother Peyton Manning says the Harbaughs have handled the week well, knowing one brother will be happy Sunday night while the other will be disappointed.

``Neither would be in this game if they weren't excellent coaches and no matter what happens tomorrow night, they're still excellent coaches. That's just a matter of fact,'' Peyton Manning said.

- Nekesa Mumbi Moody and Nancy Armour -http://twitter.com/nekesamumbi andhttp://twitter.com/nrarmour

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AWARDS OVER, TIME TO PARTY

Now that the NFL awards have ben doled out, it's time to bring on the celebrity-studded parties on Super Bowl eve.

Here are the headliners for Saturday night in New Orleans:

- Singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder headlines outdoor concert near Wyndham Riverfront Hotel that will also feature Texas guitarist Gary Clark Jr. Wonder's opening act: Grammy-nominated R&B and soul artist Janelle Monae. The closer: French electronic DJ Martin Solveig.

- Justin Timberlake takes stage for his first concert in more than four years during ``DIRECTV Super Saturday Night.'' It's invitation only.

- Chevel Johnson

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FANTASY CONSIDERATIONS

Many of the millions of Americans who play fantasy football will be watching Sunday's Super Bowl with an eye toward next season's drafts.

But as one fantasy expert warns, don't put too much stock into what you see in the game - good or bad.

Matthew Berry, an ESPN fantasy analyst nicknamed ``The Talented Mr. Roto,'' said there will be some interesting players on the field from a fantasy perspective, including 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith and San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

But barring major injury, fantasy owners shouldn't get caught up in how they perform in New Orleans, Berry said.

``I think fantasy owners are smart enough and savvy enough to know that the postseason is something different and it's a very small sample size,'' Berry says.

Simply put, it takes more games than a Super Bowl to judge whether someone's fantasy worthy.

But if you thought you could be sneaky and nab Kaepernick or Crabtree with a late draft pick next season, think again. The duo's performance throughout the last half of the regular season and the postseason mean they'll go in higher rounds, Berry says.

- Oskar Garcia -http://twitter.com/oskargarcia

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QUICKQUOTE: AP'S MVP SPEECH

Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson thanked God, his parents, teammates and coaches for propelling him to the Associated Press 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player award.

And he wants to win the hardware again.

``God willing, next year I'll be accepting this award again. Trying to get two or three like Peyton (Manning). Trying to get to your level ... But I won't be there to accept it because I'll be winning with my coach, the most important award, the team award, the Super Bowl.''

- Nancy Armour -http://twitter.com/nrarmour

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STAT OF THE DAY: HALF DON'T CARE WHO WINS

This Super Bowl stat of the day comes by way of Jennifer Agiesta, AP's director of polling: A Seton Hall poll shows 53 percent of Americans don't care who wins on Sunday.

The Seton Hall Sports Poll, conducted Jan. 28-30, shows 26 percent of people rooting for the San Francisco 49ers and 21 percent rooting for the Baltimore Ravens.

One-third of Americans plan to skip Sunday's game.

The poll of 894 randomly selected adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

- Jennifer Agiesta -http://twitter.com/jennagiesta

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AP TOPS PEYTON FOR MVP

Minnesota's Adrian Peterson is the NFL's Most Valuable Player as selected by an Associated Press vote.

The running back coming back from major knee surgery beat out Denver quarterback Peyton Manning on Saturday night.

It's Peterson's second award of the night after winning Offensive Player of the Year.

Peterson led the Vikings from a 3-13 mark to 10-6 and a wild-card playoff berth. He is the first running back to win MVP since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.

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PEYTON'S COMEBACK

NFL fans everywhere wondered if Peyton Manning could come back from four neck surgeries after 13 years in Indianapolis without missing a game.

Now he's AP's 2012 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

Manning sat out 2011, then made Denver one of the league's top teams, guiding the Broncos to the AFC's best record at 13-3.

Manning received 31 1/2 votes Saturday from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. He easily beat Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who got 17 1/2 votes.

- Barry Wilner

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QUICKQUOTE: RG3

One year in the NFL and Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is already an award winner.

He took home AP's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors on Saturday night and promptly warned the league he plans to improve.

``It's truly a blessing to be up there - to be able to stand, first and foremost,'' said Griffin, who underwent knee surgery last month.

Next season, ``you'll see a better Robert Griffin,'' he said.

- Barry Wilner

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PETERSON OFFENSIVE POY

Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson went from major knee surgery to dominating voting in The Associated Press 2012 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.

It helps that he rushed for 2,109 yards, 9 short of Eric Dickerson's record.

Peterson had 36 of 50 votes; Denver quarterback Peyton Manning had eight.

Peterson scored 12 touchdowns rushing and averaged 6.0 yards per carry.

- Barry Wilner

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WATT ALMOST SWEEPS

Houston end J.J. Watt just missed being a unanimous pick for AP's 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The final vote tally with 50 voters:

Watt, 49. Denver linebacker Von Miller, 1.

Watt is the first Texans player to win the award.

- Barry Wilner

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INTERIM TO TOP

Bruce Arians is the first interim coach to win the top NFL award from The Associated Press.

He won 2012 Coach of the Year honors Saturday night for his work with the Indianapolis Colts. Arians now is head coach in Arizona.

Arians took charge of the Colts in late September after head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. The Colts, 2-14 the previous season, went 9-3 under Arians and made the playoffs.

Pagano coached the final game of the regular season and a wild-card playoff match.

Arians earned 36 1/2 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Pagano finished second with 5 1/2.

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KUECHLY WINS DEFENSIVE ROY

Linebacker Luke Kuechly of Carolina has won the Associated Press 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Kuechly, a first-round pick from Boston College, led the league with 164 tackles.

He earned 28 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. That easily outdistanced Seattle LB Bobby Wagner with 11.

- Barry Wilner

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RG3 OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF YEAR

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has been voted the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Griffin beat out Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. He was selected by The Associated Press in balloting by a nationwide panel of the media.

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FIRED UP

Here's one way to spend your 37th birthday: Flag burning.

That's how Mike Libber of Baltimore showed his loyalty to the Ravens during Friday night festivities on Bourbon Street in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Libber and his friends filled the long but thin balcony at the Voodoo Vibe bar, and asked bar employees to remove a San Francisco 49ers flag dangling next to a Ravens flag.

``Yeah, take that away,'' Libber said. ``Otherwise, I'll burn it. In fact, let me burn it.''

Libber eventually scrounged up $60 from his friends and bought the San Francisco flag from a bar manager.

He took it out onto Bourbon Street and began to set it on fire. It didn't quickly light up.

A crowd gathered, some 49ers fans booed. Moments later, with a small part of the flag burning, New Orleans police officers arrived and stopped the shenanigans.

- Julio Cortez -http://twitter.com/JulioCortez-AP

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WHERE'S BRANGELINA?

New Orleans is crawling with celebrities for the Super Bowl, but Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie don't appear to be among them.

The windows at the star couple's house in the French Quarter are all closed tight, and there's no sign of their omnipresent security. In fact, the only activity at the house is tourists stopping to take photos.

- Nancy Armour -http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour

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7 TO HALL, INCLUDING PARCELLS

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will have seven new members.

Coach Bill Parcells, Warren Sapp, Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen have all made it to the 2013 class. So have two senior selections, Curley Culp and Dave Robinson.

Five players were eliminated in the final vote: Jerome Bettis, Charles Haley, Andre Reed, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams.

Earlier Saturday, the selection committee eliminated Tim Brown, Kevin Greene, Will Shields and former owners Edward DeBartolo Jr. and Art Modell.

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49ERS WALKTHROUGH

The next time the 49ers step onto the field at the Superdome, it'll be time for the Super Bowl.

San Francisco finished up on-field preparations on Saturday with a 15-minute walkthrough. The team has meetings Saturday night.

Coach Jim Harbaugh said the stadium lights are brighter than they were when the 49ers beat the New Orleans Saints here on Nov. 25, so getting his players adjusted to that was important.

Harbaugh invited family members and friends - 11 busloads of people - to attend the short session and come down to the field to pose for photographs.

One person hollered Harbaugh's signature chant from the stands: ``Who's got it better than us?''

The rest of the group replied: ``No-body!''

The coach smiled.

- Janie McCauley -http://twitter.com/JanieMcCAP

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RAVENS DONE PRACTICING

Baltimore is done practicing on the field for the Super Bowl.

Team officials, friends and family watched as the Ravens went through a short walkthrough at the Superdome on Saturday afternoon.

The 15-minute session was more of a pep rally than a workout.

Running back Ray Rice playfully tackled his mother on the sideline and guard Marshal Yanda had a video camera attached to the top of his Ravens cap.

John Harbaugh describes his team's work this week as ``effective.''

``We've gotten everything we've needed to get done, that's the No. 1 thing,'' Harbaugh said.

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GLORY, PLUS CASH

The Super Bowl isn't just about the glory - players for San Francisco and Baltimore both have decent paydays riding on the outcome.

The difference between winning and losing is $44,000, nearly $9,000 less than the median annual household income in the United States from 2007-2011, according to U.S. Census data.

Winning players get $88,000 each, losers get $44,000. That's just cash - it doesn't count the marketing clout gained by going from NFL player to Super Bowl champion.

Super Bowl paydays have gradually increased the last 30 years after doubling in 1983 to $36,000 for winners.

In the game's first 11 years, winners got $15,000 and losers got $7,500.

- Oskar Garcia -http://twitter.com/oskargarcia

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MACKIE COLD ON NY GAME

Add Anthony Mackie to the list of people cold on next year's Super Bowl at the home stadium of New York's teams.

Though the ``Gangster Squad'' actor now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., he's from New Orleans and thinks a city like his hometown should get the Super Bowl every year.

Mackie said Friday night at an ESPN Magazine party that he doesn't want to sit outside in 30 degree weather and watch the Super Bowl.

``I want to see the girls in their pretty dresses; I want to hang out with the players. I don't want to be outside in the cold in New Jersey,'' he continued, stressing that Met Life Stadium, where both the New York Giants and Jets play, is actually in East Rutherford, N.J. ``You're not in New York. I have to take a bus from Manhattan all the way to Jersey?''

Though Mackie's Saints didn't make it to the Super Bowl this year, Mackie is still passionate about who he wants to win - the Baltimore Ravens.

``I will do everything to not see San Francisco win another Super Bowl,'' he said, hoping for a bit of karma.

- Nekesa Mumbi Moody -http://twitter.com/nekesamumbi

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LEAVING HIS MARK

If there are some dents in the Superdome roof, blame San Francisco 49ers punter Andy Lee.

Lee bonked several punts off the roof this week as the 49ers practiced for Sunday's Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens. Lee finally lowered the trajectory of his kicks to make sure he got the ball downfield.

``I'm glad he didn't hit those lights,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.

- Nancy Armour -http://twitter.com/nrarmour

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PLAYING FOOTBALL, NOT FUTBOL, IN MEXICO

The NFL wants to return to Mexico, though Commissioner Roger Goodell won't say when.

Back in 2005, Azteca Stadium in Mexico City was the site of the league's first regular-season game outside the United States. But the league hasn't been back, despite playing in Toronto and - now regularly - in London.

Goodell says the league is perfecting things in England.

``We have to make sure that whenever we do come back to Mexico, and I expect we will, that we do it successfully, with the right kind of television support, fan support and sponsor involvement,'' Goodell said.

``I would expect if we are successful in the UK, where we thankfully are continuing to grow, that we'll have the opportunity to get back there,'' Goodell said. ``And the sooner, the better for me.''

- Nancy Armour -http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour

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EDITOR'S NOTE - ``Super Bowl Watch'' shows you the Super Bowl and the events surrounding the game through the eyes of Associated Press journalists across New Orleans and around the world. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

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Why Ravens could have a strong December

Why Ravens could have a strong December

In four of John Harbaugh’s first eight seasons as head coach, the Ravens won at least three games in December. They will likely need another solid December to make the playoffs. Here are five reasons why the Ravens could be ready for a strong finishing kick, heading into Sunday’s key home game against the Dolphins:

1. The return of outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil.

After missing most of this season with a foot injury, Dumervil finally looked like himself in Week 12 with a key strip sack against the Bengals. Adding Dumervil’s pass rushing to an already strong defense makes that defense even better.

 2. The Ravens’ December schedule doesn’t look as imposing as it once did.

When the Ravens visit the Patriots on Dec. 12, they won’t have star tight end Rob Gronkowski (back surgery). The Eagles (5-6), who visit Baltimore on Dec. 18, have cooled off after a strong start. Don’t sleep on the Dolphins (7-4), who have won six straight and have the potential to beat the Ravens on Sunday. But the Ravens (6-5) will reach at least nine wins if they beat the Dolphins and Eagles at home and beat the banged-up Bengals (3-7-1) in the regular-season finale. Nine wins could be enough to win the AFC North.

3. The infusion of rookie Kenneth Dixon into the running game.

Dixon is trending up after an early-season knee injury, and third-year running back Terrance West has not been overworked. Having two young runners with fresh legs gives the Ravens an advantage some teams don’t have in December, if the Ravens are wise enough to stay committed to the running game.

4. Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley is healthy.

Consider the Ravens are 6-1 with Stanley in the lineup, and 0-4 without him. When Stanley missed four games with a foot injury, quarterback Joe Flacco’s blindside protection was not as good. Now with Stanley playing next to Marshal Yanda, who has moved from right guard to left guard, Flacco should have secure blindside pass protection in December.

5. Money time means it is Flacco time.

This hasn’t been a good year for Flacco. But his 10-5 postseason record and his 17-12 record in December both suggest that Flacco plays his best when the stakes are highest. The Ravens aren’t going anywhere if Flacco plays poorly in December, but he has completed 69.6 percent of his passes over the last three games, compared to just 63.3 percent for the entire season. Flacco looks like he’s getting more comfortable with the tweaks offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has made offensively. For the Ravens, that’s a good sign.

MORE RAVENS: How the Ravens jumped through a loophole

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Jerry Rosburg: Ravens did 'great job' with intentional holding

Jerry Rosburg: Ravens did 'great job' with intentional holding

Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg seemed to have a sly grin on his face on Thursday as he recalled how his punt team "understood the concept really well" on the final safety against the Bengals.

The concept, of course, was blatant holding, some involving takedowns that would please a wrestling coach. That allowed punter Sam Koch to wander around near the goal line and burn off the final seconds of the game clock before taking a safety for a 19-14 win.

"The guys did a great job," Rosburg said at his Thursday news conference, saying each player was "really impressive and using different techniques with their hold, some around the neck, some hanging on to a leg, some on a shoulder pad, but they all understood the concept really well."

Penalties have been a problem for the Ravens all season, but on this play, they were openly encouraged and embraced. The Ravens Web site even put together a short clip of the best takedowns on the play.

Rosburg, who has been a special teams coach in the NFL for 15 years, said he had no doubt the play would be officiated exactly as it was: Yes, it was a penalty — or, really, about eight of them — but since they occurred in the field of play and not in the end zone, the game would not be extended. Clock at 0:00, game over.

Rosburg said that after the play, as the officials huddled and discussed it, "Guys kept asking me on the sideline, but I was confident they’d get it right."

The next day, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino told NFL Network that the Ravens found "kind of a loophole" in using intentional holding, and said, "I think you'll see the Competition Committee review this."

The Competition Committee addresses potential rules changes.        

For his part, Rosburg said the Ravens simply played by the rules.

"The rule is what it is now, and we just played it that way," Rosburg said. "It’s up to them. If they change the rule, then we’ll do something different.”

MORE RAVENS: Mike Wallace insists he doesn't hold a grudge against the Dolphins