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SWATS co-owner: 'Not some quack' peddling products

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SWATS co-owner: 'Not some quack' peddling products

FULTONDALE, Ala. (AP) The owners of the little company that stirred up the Super Bowl controversy with deer antler spray and other performance-enhancing products don't like being labeled snake oil salesmen.

There was plenty of activity Thursday at the modest, one-story building that houses Sports With Alternatives to Steroids after a Sports Illustrated article linked the company to college and pro athletes - including Baltimore's Ray Lewis. At the facility located in suburban Birmingham, phones were buzzing in one room while muscular young men were pumping iron in another.

SWATS co-owners Christopher Key and Mitch Ross bristled at the magazine's depiction of them.

``I'm not just this quack peddling these stickers,'' said Key, who received a bachelor of science degree from Alabama in 1996. ``This was my life work.''

His work - and his aggressive way of promoting it - has been in the spotlight before.

Ross' email signature ends with:

``If you ain't chippin, you must be trippin''

``If you're still cheatin, you ain't competin''

Auburn's Dr. Frederick Kam, director of the AU medical clinic, Michael Goodlett, team doctor for the Tigers' football squad, and David Pascoe, a professor of the university's kinesiology department, gathered for a meeting requested by Key to demonstrate SWATS products about two years ago.

Goodlett and Pascoe weren't interested in the products.

Kam, who said he has no scientific evidence that SWATS' products work, described Key as ``very fast-talking, salesy.''

``One of my clinicians says he is the P.T. Barnum of the present time,'' Kam said, while adding he knows people who have claimed benefit from similar products.

Key's tactics are working - for SWATS at least.

His phone goes off frequently during Thursday's 45-minute interview with The Associated Press and while Key doesn't give specifics, it's pretty clear the attention this week has been good for business.

``It's been good crazy,'' Key said. ``It's been the best thing that could have happened. It's been fabulous.''

Just not for everybody.

The apparent link to the company has led Lewis to spend part of the week leading to the final game of a brilliant 17-year NFL career addressing questions about SWATS. He denied ever using any of the company's products.

Key and Ross declined to discuss Lewis in the interview. Ross said he planned to hold a news conference in New Orleans on Friday, two days before the city hosts the Super Bowl.

Still, Lewis' poster is among those lining the walls in the front room with apparent testimonials promoting SWATS beneath the pictures. The message on Lewis's poster contends that pain in his lower back disappeared after he used one of the company's chips in 2008.

``I will never compete without them,'' it says.

Key said the company has had dealings with players from five Southeastern Conference football programs - at least three of which have asked them to stay away. Ross said players from LSU, Mississippi and in the SEC championship game wore the chips during their games with Alabama.

He said he provided the chips for free to four Alabama players who went on to the NFL during the 2008 season. The two have said 20-plus Alabama players used it during the 2009 national title season and others from Auburn used it en route to the championship a year later.

While there may be legitimate questions about their products, Key and Ross say they're just passionate about products that he believes work. He angrily holds up the magazine page with the words ``Snake Oil Salesmen.''

While Key acknowledges the company is benefiting from all the publicity, Ross said this ``this is different'' and vows he'll explain why on Friday.

``I've been working with professional athletes since 2006. Reggie Bush. Terrell Owens. We can go on and on,'' said Ross, a former male stripper who frequently cites his religious faith. ``But I signed up for this? Really? Who would do that? I signed up for my company to be what's out there. This is all about helping people. God just put me in a sports world and everything that's happened this week and every bit of this story, God knew it was going to happen.

``And He allowed it to happen the way it happened.''

The two maintain that the deer antler spray is natural and won't lead players to fail drug tests.

Ross, 45, has had at least one prominently dissatisfied client.

St. Louis Rams linebacker David Vobora was awarded $5.4 million in June 2011 against Ross's former company, Anti-Steroid Program LLC of Key Largo, Fla. Vobora was suspended for four games in 2009 after testing positive for methyltestosterone, a banned substance, after using the company's ``Ultimate Sports Spray.''

Ross's take is ``that clown spiked my bottle of spray. That bottle went through four hands in three states.''

Nowadays, Key isn't complaining about claiming some of the spotlight ahead of a game featuring coaching brothers Jim and John Harbaugh and Lewis's finale.

``Right now, we have what's supposed to be the biggest game ever,'' Key said. ``You've got two brothers playing each other, you've got the guy who's about to retire and right now, what are they talking about? They're talking about SWATS.''

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Harbaugh calls for changes to NFL preseason format

Harbaugh calls for changes to NFL preseason format

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh believes the NFL preseason needs to be shortened, and perhaps even eliminated.

This is more than a knee-jerk reaction to tight end Ben Watson suffering a season-ending torn Achilles injury Saturday night, or running back Kenneth Dixon suffering a knee injury, or Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffering a back injury Friday night. Harbaugh had already concluded that a four-game preseason schedule preseason was no longer worth the risk for players.

“It’s not a reaction to any injuries we had tonight, or anybody else had,” Harbaugh said, following Saturday night’s 30-9 victory over the Lions. “I know the league and the (NFL) Players Association is working very hard and trying to figure out ideas to work out the preseason.

“These guys playing in these preseason games – it’s tough and they’re not meaningful games. They are important to get better, and they improve us. But we football coaches can find ways to get our guys ready and get our players evaluated without the kind of risk that a game necessarily entails. I’m really hopeful that the union and the league can get together and do something that’s good for everybody – especially what’s good for the players and for the fans.”

Harbaugh indicated he would be in favor of expanding rosters, lengthening the regular season, and shortening the preseason.

“If you go more games, fewer preseason games, and bigger rosters, that’s good for everybody,” Harbaugh said.

Asked how many preseason games he would like to see, Harbaugh gave a definite answer.

“If I had my choice, I’d go none,” Harbaugh said. “That might be an extreme point, but we could run scrimmages, or we could run practices against other teams and figure it out. We’d all be in the same boat. That’s for people higher up than me to decide.”

RELATED: Ravens win game, but lose TE Watson for season

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Gillmore: No panic despite thinning TE ranks

Gillmore: No panic despite thinning TE ranks

When the Ravens entered training camp, tight end was considered the deepest position on the team after the signing of veteran Ben Watson and the return of Dennis Pitta from two serious hip injuries.

But now, the Ravens are staring at the prospect of having just one healthy tight end for their Week 1 game against the Bills.

Watson suffered what is believed to be a season-ending Achilles injury on the first play of the Ravens preseason game Saturday night against the Lions, and Dennis Pitta (broken finger) and Maxx Williams (undisclosed) remain sidelined with injuries. Two other tight ends, Darren Waller and Nick Boyle must begin serving suspensions when the regular season starts – Waller four games and Boyle 10.

So of the top six tight ends on the depth chart, Crockett Gillmore is the only healthy one who will be on the roster for the Sept. 11 opener.

But Gillmore, who had one catch for 2 yards in the Ravens 30-9 win Saturday night, said no one is in panic mode.

MORE RAVENS: 3 OBSERVATIONS FROM FLACCO'S PRESEASON DEBUT

“This is an organization that has dealt with those kinds of things since I’ve been here, and we’ve always had guys step up,” Gillmore said.

Watson’s injury does have a painful ring of familiarity; the Ravens lost veterans Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith to season-ending Achilles injuries last year.

“It’s not like we’re sweating bullets around here,” Gillmore said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can play.”

The problem is, at least two of them – Waller and Boyle – can’t play early in the season. Pitta has been out with a broken finger sustained in a scuffle with Kamalei Correa in a stadium practice earlier this month, and Wiliams has missed the past two preseason games. Their availability for Week 1 remains uncertain.

Watson’s injury could open the door for Daniel Brown to make the team, at least until Waller’s suspension is over, depending on the progress of Pitta and Williams.

Another option might be to look to utilize fullback Kyle Juszczyk more often in a hybrid role.

 “That’s a versatile guy that can do everything,” Gillmore said.

“We’re not sweating,” Gillmore said. “We’ve got a bunch of receivers, too. We’ll make it work.”

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Ravens win preseason game vs. Lions, but lose Watson for season

Ravens win preseason game vs. Lions, but lose Watson for season

BALTIMORE – Five instant observations from the Ravens’ 30-9 preseason win over the Lions, which made the Ravens 3-0 this preseason:

1. Ben Watson’s season-ending Achilles injury made this victory hollow:

The veteran tight end was lost on the first play from scrimmage, and his season was lost before he ever played a regular season game for the Ravens. Football can be cruel.

2.  Rookie running back Kenneth Dixon’s knee injury could be another blow.

It was announced that Dixon had a sprained left knee, but he was helped off the field, and no timetable was given for his return. It would not be surprising if an MRI is forthcoming. If so, many people will be holding their breath.

MORE RAVENS: DEEPER LOOK AT FLACCO'S PRESEASON DEBUT

3. Rookie pass rusher Matt Judon looks ready to have an immediate impact.

Judon had a strip-sack on another active night. At the very least, Judon looks like could have an immediate role as a situational pass rusher.

4. Linebacker-safety Anthony Levine could be the Ravens’ most improved player.

Levine had an athletic interception, and he has made a successful transition to playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Last week, Levine picked off a pass on a two-point conversion attempt against the Colts and took it to the house. Levine’s ability to line up in multiple spots, and to make plays, could make the Ravens’ defense more versatile and less predictable.

5.  Wide receiver Jeremy Butler keeps making plays.

I know it’s preseason, and I know the Ravens are deep at wide receiver. But I think they have to keep Jeremy Butler. He had his second touchdown catch of the preseason, he can contribute on special teams, and he caught 31 passes last season. I see the Ravens keeping seven receivers - Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore, and Butler.