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Category: NFL

From NFL to ESPN to Oscar? Ed Cunningham's 'Undefeated' a nominee

Undefeated_UNDEFEATED_POSTERFormer NFL player Ed Cunningham never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, but he's in the running for an Oscar as one of the producers of “Undefeated,” which is nominated for an Academy Award  in the category of documentary feature.

The 113-minute documentary follows the Memphis (Tenn.) Manassas High football team through the 2009 season, chronicling an inner-city school that has never won a playoff game since its founding in 1899.

For Cunningham, who has steered far clear of football in his previous critically acclaimed documentaries, this story was too compelling to ignore. “Undefeated,” which opens Friday in Los Angeles and New York, is directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, and produced by Cunningham, Seth Gordon, Rich Middlemas and Glen Zipper.

“Because of my day job, I’ve kind of shied away from direct sports material as a producer,” said Cunningham, 42, an ESPN college football analyst who spent five seasons as a center for the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks. “But I just kind of had a sense, along with my partners, that this would see beyond the field and really dive into the lives of these young men and the volunteer coach profiled in the film.

“It shows sports for what they should be about in the amateur level, which is learning how to be a better person through effort and failure, correction and criticism, and teamwork. I think that’s why we all aspire to be around sports so much. There’s so much more to it than just the on-field or on-court competition. And that’s what I’m so proud of with this film: You don’t have to be a fan of any sport, football or otherwise, to really engage with this story and the idea of people struggling and finding something in their lives positive and constructive to focus on.”

Continue reading »

Peyton Manning had surgery on neck four -- not three -- times

Peyton Manning

When Peyton Manning underwent neck fusion surgery back in September, the procedure was widely reported as the third time in two years that the Indianapolis Colts quarterback had underwent neck surgery.

But a report on SI.com, citing unnamed NFL sources, says Manning actually had neck surgery four times during that period. The additional procedure, which went unreported, is said to have taken place sometime between Manning's initial surgery to correct a bulging disk and the procedure in September.

The article also cites league sources who say that Manning has developed bone spurs just above where the September surgery took place and that the Colts believe it is very likely Manning will require further surgery, possibly even another fusion procedure, even if he does return to the field next season.

The only comment SI.com got from Manning's agent, Tom Condon, was: "I wouldn't have anything to say about all of that, one way or another.''

The article also describes Manning's efforts to convince team officials and coaches that he could return for the final two games of the season, specifically in red zone situations. He even took part in an organized and fully scripted 30-play practice session in front of then-team president Bill Polian and then-coach Jim Caldwell.

According to sources who attended the session, Manning threw nothing longer than 20-22 yards, and while his passes were accurate, they wobbled and had much less velocity than his usual throws. He is also said to have be visibly fatigued at times.

But team physician Hank Feuer ruled out clearing Manning for any on-field action soon after the workout, saying the quarterback's neck muscles were still atrophied from his long period of inactivity and he hadn't recovered his full range of motion.

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Peyton Manning: Is the decision to return to Colts his to make?

 -- Chuck Schilken

Photo: Peyton Manning in 2010. Credit: Darron Cummings / Associated Press

Peyton Manning: Is the decision to return to Colts his to make?

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning is welcome to return to the Indianapolis Colts -- as long as he is willing to restructure his contract. So said Colts owner Jim Irsay on Tuesday.

Writers from around the Tribune Co. discuss whether they believe Irsay when he says the decision is Manning's to make. Check back throughout the day for more responses and join the discussion with a comment of your own.

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times

I believe Jim Irsay is sincere when he says he wants Peyton Manning back, as long as it’s at a reasonable price –- one that would allow the Colts to draft Andrew Luck and stay out of salary-cap jail.

What we’re watching is a high-stakes, high-profile game of chicken, with each side -– the Colts and Peyton -– determined to come away looking like the good guy. If financially feasible, the Colts would accept the Brett Favre/Aaron Rodgers template of letting Luck learn at the elbow of Manning for a season rather than immediately plunging into the fire.

The question is, how willing is Manning to come off that $28-million number to finish his career in Indianapolis? The latest move by Irsay puts the ball back in the quarterback’s court.

Continue reading »

Kate Upton and Mark Sanchez rumors are heating up again

Kate Upton, Mark Sanchez

Kate Upton has had a great year. So has Mark Sanchez.

OK, so the New York Jets quarterback may have missed the playoffs for the first time in his career, but at least he can say he's dating a Victoria's Secret model who also happens to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

That's if you believe all the rumors swirling around the Internet linking the two romantically. All the speculation started back in December with a New York Post article about Sanchez's alleged visits to Upton's apartment and cranked into full gear again this week after Upton was revealed as SI's swimsuit covergirl, just a year after being named the issue's rookie of the year.

A TMZ video of Upton playfully avoiding questions about her love life and her relationship with Sanchez has served as confirmation enough for all those out there hoping for "Upchez" to join the ranks of celebrity couplehood.

When asked if she's single, Upton replies, "Uh, what do you think?" Then Sanchez's name is mentioned, causing Upton to exclaim, "I don't know!" Finally, as she walks away Upton adds, "Whatever you think."

So there you have it. If it's whatever we think, and we're all thinking that they're a couple, well then that makes them a couple. Right?

Good for Sanchez. The fans in New York may have turned against him, but we here in Southern California still have a soft spot in our hearts for the former USC quarterback. It's just nice to know that after a hard day of throwing interceptions with the Jets, Sanchez has someone who can cheer him up with a spirited performance of the Dougie dance.

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-- Chuck Schilken

Left photo: Kate Upton. Credit: Michael Loccisano / Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Right photo: Mark Sanchez. Credit: Lynne Sladky / Associated Press

Should the Pittsburgh Steelers part ways with Hines Ward?

Hines Ward

Hines Ward has played his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but that may change if recent rumors that the team is ready to cut ties with their all-time leading receiver are true.

Writers from around Tribune Co. discuss whether the Steelers should part ways with the two-time Super Bowl winner and MVP of Super Bowl XL. Please check back throughout the day for more responses and join the discussion by voting in the poll and leaving a comment of your own.

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times

Although Hines Ward is not productive enough to merit the annual $4 million on the remaining two years of his deal, he’s shown a willingness to renegotiate to stay with the Steelers. Simply discarding him would be a mistake.

New offensive coordinator Todd Haley needs to turn his attention to cultivating a relationship with Ben Roethlisberger, who was very close to former OC Bruce Arians, and the young receiving trio of Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown still have room to grow. Each would benefit from the tutelage of the more physical Ward, who -– for the right price -– could have a Charlie Batch-type role of elder statesman, giving Haley and Roethlisberger time to bond. Aside from Ben and Hines, the Steelers are young on that side of the ball.

Yes, the Steelers would be giving up something more than money in keeping Ward -– typically, a team wants its fourth or fifth receiver to play special teams, and the soon-to-be-36-year-old Ward probably isn’t suited for that. But for, say, $1 million a year, he would still be a worthy investment.

Continue reading »

Is Randy Moss the best aging receiver available this off-season?

Randy Moss
Randy Moss announced Monday he's ready to play football again. In doing so, he entered what could be a rather crowded field of one-time-great wide receivers now near the end of their careers in search of a team for the 2012 season.

Moss is now 35 years old and has spent a year out of the NFL. He is one of the league's all-time great receivers -- he's tied with Terrell Owens for second all-time touchdown receptions -- but has a questionable work ethic and attitude. He played for three teams in 2010 alone and four overall, so he may be running out of teams willing to overlook all the baggage.

The same can be said for Owens, who is 38 but still in top physical condition and eager to get back in the game. After wearing out his welcome just about everywhere he has played, Owens has now been unemployed as an NFL receiver for one season and counting.

Hines Ward is not on the market -- yet. Although the Super Bowl XL MVP has said he is willing to do anything he can to retire as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, rumors have been flying that the team is ready to cut ties with its all-time receiving leader after his worst statistical season since his rookie year in 1998. The Steelers have said they haven't made any decision regarding the 35-year-old Ward's future with the team.

Chad Ochocinco is still a member of the New England Patriots. But chances are he won't be for much longer, seeing that he is coming off a 15-catch, 276-yard season and is due a base salary of $3 million in 2012. Still, at age 34 he's the baby of this group.

Which one of these receivers would you like to see on your team's roster next season? Vote, then leave a comment letting us know why you voted the way you did.

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For the pro athlete, it's just a job

Whitney Houston's contribution to a classic Super Bowl [Video]

With Super Bowl over, NFL's focus returns to that other Manning

-- Chuck Schilken

Photo: Randy Moss in 2009. Credit: Jim Rogash / Getty Images

Randy Moss says he wants to play football again. Any takers?

Randy Moss

Randy Moss has been busy taking care of personal issues lately, so he may not have been able to keep up with the Terrell Owens saga. But now it appears we have another onetime great wide receiver looking to return to the NFL.

Moss celebrated his 35th birthday Monday with a live chat on UStream, announcing his intention to return to the league next season after taking off all of 2011.

"I wanna play football," Moss said. "Your boy is going to come back here and play some football, so I'm really excited."

After a crazy 2010 season — during which he was traded from New England to Minnesota, then cut by the Vikings and eventually landed in Tennessee — Moss suddenly announced his retirement in August. "I had some things I had to adjust in my life," he said Monday morning.

But now he has his family's approval to return to the field — "It's fine, whatever you wanna do," he says they told him.

"Faith, family, and football, that's my M.O., bro," he added.

Moss is tied with Owens for second on the all-time list with 153 touchdown receptions. He's also fifth in receiving yards (14,858) and ninth in receptions (954).

But like Owens, whose comeback attempt at age 38 has been met with little interest, Moss carries a lot of baggage with him and may be running out of teams willing to look past that, although Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has said he would welcome Moss back to the team.

Moss seems confident all that will sort itself out.

"I just wanna go to a team and play some football," he said.

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For the pro athlete, it's just a job

Whitney Houston's contribution to a classic Super Bowl [Video]

With Super Bowl over, NFL's focus returns to that other Manning

— Chuck Schilken

Photo: Randy Moss in 2008. Credit: Stephan Savoia / Associated Press

USC football: Lane Kiffin fills 2 of 3 assistant-coach openings

Lane-kiffin_600

USC Coach Lane Kiffin, who had three openings on his coaching staff, now has only one.

Scottie Hazelton, the defensive coordinator at North Dakota State, will replace Joe Barry as linebackers coach, and Marvin Sanders, a former assistant at Nebraska, will coach defensive backs.

Barry left the Trojans to become linebackers coach with the San Diego Chargers. USC has been without a full-time defensive backs coach since Willie Mack Garza resigned on the eve of the 2011 season.

Graduate assistant Sammy Knight coached the defensive backs last season.

The hirings were first reported by uscfootball.com.

Kiffin must still hire a receivers coach to replace Ted Gilmore, who left to join the Oakland Raiders staff.

More later at latimes.com/sports.

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Trojans lose another assistant coach, Ted Gilmore

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-- Gary Klein

Photo: USC Coach Lane Kiffin. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Whitney Houston's contribution to a classic Super Bowl [Video]

Whitney Houston made countless musical contributions in her way-too-short life, one of which came on football's biggest stage.

Super Bowl XXV in January 1991 will always be remembered for its classic ending, when Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood missed a potential game-winning field goal on the final play, giving the New York Giants a 20-19 victory.

But it also had an unforgettable beginning thanks to an amazing performance by Houston, who died Saturday at age 48. Her rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" before the game set a standard for our national anthem that few performers, if any, have been able to live up to.

And it was just what our country needed at the time,  days into the Persian Gulf War. I remember several songs on the radio being dedicated to the troops, mainly sentimental ballads with lyrics that seemed to fit the mood of the country. Some of those songs even had war-related sound bites added to them just in case we didn't make the association ourselves.

Houston's rendition went on to become a hit single, but it was different from those others. It was meaningful. Even though she was singing words we had heard hundreds of times, she seemed to be speaking for all of us right at that moment.

And that smile that stayed on her face the entire time conveyed a bit of optimism during a scary time in our country.

I was in college at the time and considered myself way too cool to be a Whitney Houston fan. But even I got chills watching her that day -- and did again when I viewed it again Saturday, more than 20 years later.

Take a moment to appreciate that classic performance one more time.

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-- Chuck Schilken

Hines Ward wants to 'finish my career' with Steelers

Ward3

Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward said Saturday he's willing to restructure his contract in order to remain with the team after a report said the Steelers are planning to cut the 14-year NFL veteran.

Ward posted on his Facebook page that he wants to "finish my career with the Pittsburgh Steelers" and said he's told the team he's willing to make changes to his contract.

Ward's comments come on the heels of an NFL Network report that said the Steelers are looking to cut Ward in an effort to get under the salary cap. The Steelers' all-time leading receiver is coming off his worst statistical season since his rookie year in 1998, finishing with 46 receptions, 381 yards and two touchdowns.

After the Steelers' wild-card playoff loss to the Denver Broncos, Ward denied speculation that he was thinking about retiring. However, it marked the first time in his career that he failed to catch a pass during a postseason game.

Despite this, the 35-year-old Ward is the only player other than NFL great Jerry Rice to record 1,000 career receptions and win multiple Super Bowls. He also provides a strong, veteran presence for Pittsburgh's young receiving corps.

“He sets the tone in the room,” Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown said of Ward. “We definitely want to help a guy like him win.”

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-- Austin Knoblauch

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo: Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward, left, talks with running back Isaac Redman during a game against the Cleveland Browns on Jan. 1. Credit: Mark Duncan / Associated Press

Steelers reportedly plan to cut Hines Ward

Ward3

It appears Hines Ward and the Pittsburgh Steelers may be parting ways in the near future.

The Steelers plan to cut the 35-year-old wide receiver and not bring him back for the 2012 season, according to the NFL Network's Jason La Canfora, who cites unnamed sources familiar with the situation.

Ward's declining play coupled with the Steelers' need to stay below the salary cap were listed as the primary reasons for the team's decision not to bring him back. Pittsburgh is roughly $10 million over the salary cap and Ward is owed $4 million next season.

Ward finished the past season fourth in team receiving behind Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. He averaged 8.3 yards per catch and scored two touchdowns on 46 receptions.

Ward, who has played his entire NFL career with the Steelers since joining the team in 1998, is a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He's won two Super Bowls with the team (2006, 2009) and was named MVP of Super Bowl XL.

So will Ward look to continue his career somewhere else or will he hang up the helmet and retire as a Steeler?

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-- Austin Knoblauch

Photo: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Credit: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press

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