- Created on 04 February 2013
NEW ORLEANS — From blowout to blackout to shootout, Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens had just enough power to survive one of the most electric Super Bowls ever.
The outage flipped a switch for the San Francisco 49ers, but the Ravens used a last-gasp defensive stand to hold on Sunday night, 34-31.
America's biggest sporting event came to a half-hour standstill in the third quarter when most of the Superdome lights and the scoreboards went dark. By then, the Ravens had a 22-point lead.
Everything changed after that, though, and the 49ers staged a sensational rally before Ray Lewis and Co. shut it down. But there were plenty of white-knuckle moments and the Ravens (14-6) had to make four stops inside their 7 at the end.
For a Super Bowl with so many subplots, it almost had to end this way.
Flacco's arrival as a championship quarterback coincides with Lewis' retirement — with a second Super Bowl ring no less. The win capped a sensational month since the star linebacker announced he was leaving the game after 17 Hall of Fame-caliber years.
The sibling rivalry between the coaching Harbaughs went to John, older than Jim by 15 months.
"How could it be any other way? It's never pretty. It's never perfect. But it's us," John Harbaugh said. "It was us today."
The loss of power delayed the game 34 minutes and left players from both sides stretching and chatting with each other. It also cost Baltimore whatever momentum it built, and that was considerable after Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return and game MVP Flacco's three touchdown passes made it 28-6.
Back came San Francisco (13-5-1) in search of its sixth Lombardi Trophy in as many tries.
Michael Crabtree's 31-yard touchdown reception on which he broke two tackles made it 28-13. A couple minutes later, Frank Gore's 6-yard run followed a 32-yard punt return by Ted Ginn Jr., and the 49ers were within eight.
Ray Rice's fumble at his 24 led to David Akers' 34-yard field goal, but Baltimore woke up for a long drive leading to rookie Justin Tucker's 19-yard field goal.
San Francisco wasn't done challenging, though, and Colin Kaepernick's 15-yard TD run, the longest for a quarterback in a Super Bowl, made it 31-29. A 2-point conversion pass failed when the Ravens blitzed.
Tucker added a 38-yarder with 4:19 remaining, setting up the frantic finish.
Kaepernick couldn't get the Ravens into the end zone on the final three plays — there was contact on Crabtree on the final pass that appeared incidental — and Ravens punter Sam Koch took a safety for the final score.
- Created on 17 January 2013
(CNN) -- Nine women, a bold proposal and a $1 bill. That was what it took for women's tennis to begin a 40-year journey of self-empowerment that has created a generation of sporting millionaires.
Back in 1971, the total prize money on offer for the first women's tour was $309,000 spread over 19 tournaments.
In 2012, including the purse from the four grand slams, it cracked $100 million for the first time -- this year it is projected to hit $107 million.
"I forecast to the athletes in my first player meeting that we would get to $100 million in 2014. To be able to reach that milestone two years ahead of that is testament to the commercial success of women's tennis," says Stacey Allaster, who has been chief executive of the WTA since 2009.
When Serena Williams, the modern queen of the WTA Tour, won the U.S. Open last September her $2 million prize haul matched the entire career earnings of Billie Jean King -- one of the pioneering nine and a dedicated fighter in the cause of women's equality.
"I think they're truly proud of how far women's tennis has come from the $1 contract to the $100 million generation," Allaster told CNN.
"Meeting the original nine and spending time with them this past April in Charleston was inspirational.
"To hear their stories and what they had to go through to stand up to the establishment and take the risk for something they believed in was amazing."
King was one of the players frustrated by a lack of parity with the men's game in her era, when women struggled to find enough tournaments to play in -- let alone be paid on equal terms.
Defying the U.S. Tennis Association, she set up a rebel tour with the help of publisher Gladys Heldman, who proffered the symbolic $1 contracts for the players.
It was a schism that led to the formation of the establishment-approved Women's Tennis Association in 1973 -- which will be marked this year by the WTA's "40 Love" commemorative campaign, a celebration of four decades of progress in the women's game.
It was the start of a circuit that now covers the globe. This year's schedule began with simultaneous events in China, Australia and New Zealand, and will climax with the season-ending championships in Turkey in late October.
The 2012 Istanbul showpiece attracted the event's biggest crowds for 12 years, in a country not known for its tennis heritage, while China will host a fifth WTA tournament from 2014.
"We are obviously seeing extensive growth in our Asia-Pacific territory and in China. We are looking at how we take the next quantum leap," said Allaster.
"We are making sure that at the end of the day we have a circuit structure that can consistently deliver to our top events, because that's how we're going to drive the business, to deliver to sponsors and broadcasters."
And it is becoming a very big business.
King was the first woman to earn six figures in a season, back in 1971. Last year world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and Williams both became the first to break the $7 million barrier.
In the men's game, only Novak Djokovic ($12.8 million) and Roger Federer ($8.6 million) earned more on court.
The brand of women's tennis has been driven by the WTA's "Strong is Beautiful" campaign, which depicts the players both as athletes and style icons -- along with celebrity endorsers such as singers Aretha Franklin and Kelly Rowland, actress Susan Sarandon and businessmen Donald Trump and Richard Branson.
"We're marketing the players as the world's strongest female athletes," Allaster said. "We do have this duality of the off-court lifestyle and entertainment part of it, premium and glamorous. Strong confident women who have endured intense battles to be at the top of their game and be the best in the world."
While other women's sports, such as golf, have struggled to maintain lucrative sponsorships, tennis is bucking the trend.
"It is very important to stress that women, both in terms of prize money and in terms of commercial incomes in tennis and other sports, are the poor relations compared to men," says sports business expert Simon Chadwick.
"The women who earn significant revenue often fit a specific sociocultural stereotype."
Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Britain's Coventry University Business School, cites the examples of Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova -- Russians who capitalized on both their good looks and playing skills to become two of the most wealthy and high-profile women's players.
Chadwick says that while the gap between men's and women's pay is closing in tennis, the sport is also becoming more global -- which increases its value for sponsors and commercial partners.
"Further, I think female tennis player brands embody a particular set of qualities, such as strength, power, beauty, success, that some brands find appealing because it enables them to target specific consumer groups, thus strengthening perceptions of their brands -- for which corporations are prepared to pay," he told CNN.
"The fact that some of the recently successful players, such as Li Na, are from growing or strong economies, has been helpful in drawing in new revenue streams to the sport from sponsors and commercial partners that previously may not have had an involvement in tennis."
While Sharapova and the Williams sisters have their own off-court business empires, the WTA actively helps players establish their own brands.
"One of our competitive advantages is that we have so many compelling individual stories," Allaster said.
"Our team is there to help develop their brand plans. Some of them have agents who do that, others don't -- that's where the campaign helps. What's most important is that they be themselves."
The WTA Tour has not always been in such a healthy situation.
When Allaster joined in 2006, having made her name at Tennis Canada as a reviver of struggling tournaments, she faced a situation where players were complaining of burnout.
"We needed radical change. The bottom line was at the top tournaments players weren't consistently showing up, and that was impacting our credibility -- media were talking about it, sponsors were questioning 'are they really going to show?' " she said.
As part of its "Roadmap reform," the WTA cut the number of top-level events players had to enter from 26 to 20. It's now 22, and prize money is up 51%.
"We had grown and grown and grown, there was no shortage of people wanting to do WTA tournaments -- if anyone raised a hand, we said come on. But there's only so many top-10 players," Allaster said.
"The intensity of their play through that period just escalated and their bodies were breaking down. We knew we had a commitment system that couldn't work."
In the 1990s the women's game was invaded by girls in their early teens, such as Martina Hingis and Kournikova, whose stars burned brightly but comparatively briefly.
More recently top players such as Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin retired twice each before they were 30. Both battled with injuries at the end of their careers.
In view of these issues, the WTA's emphasis is now on prolonging the careers of marquee players such as the Williams sisters.
Both have been selective about their playing schedule as they have battled back from injuries and serious illnesses, though Serena has not opted out of the tournament commitment system -- which, under WTA rules, she could do as a top-10 player over the age of 30.
"We've been able to take the average career length from 12 years to now 15 years. I'd rather have 15 years of a superstar than a couple of great years then injured," Allaster said.
"Both Serena and Venus are a gift to women's tennis. Venus is thinking long term and I know Serena is, along with others."
The WTA's pressing business goal is to find a replacement for main sponsor Sony, which concluded an eight-year partnership at the end of 2012.
"We'll get through that. I'd like to have it for 2013 but usually a sales cycle for a global multimillion-dollar sponsorship is 18-24 months, and we are 10 months into this," Allaster said.
And if there is ever any hint of complacency about continuing the WTA's success, Allaster will remind the players of the words of that pioneering nine.
"They're proud of women's tennis and proud of our success. A couple of them looked at me poignantly and said 'Don't let them catch us.' We didn't work this hard for women's tennis not to be No. 1."
- Created on 15 January 2013
(AP) — Tom Thibodeau sent a strong wake-up message to his team at a heated shootaround Monday morning. He got the response he was looking for.
Carlos Boozer had 20 points and 13 rebounds, Luol Deng scored 18 points and the Chicago Bulls held Atlanta to a franchise-low 20 points in the first half of a 97-58 victory over the Hawks on Monday night.
"Early this morning, Tibs was going crazy on us at shootaround. Just waking up early in the morning and having Tibs just screaming at you and screaming at you and screaming at you," center Joakim Noah said, "we didn't want that to happen to us again.
"We were ready for this one. We had the right mindset, played with the edge and we rebounded the ball really well. Everyone came in and stepped up."
Reserve forward Mike Scott scored 10 points to lead Atlanta as none of the starters reached double figures. Josh Smith and Kyle Korver had nine points each.
Jeff Teague had a layup with 7.9 seconds left to prevent the Hawks' lowest scoring total in franchise history.
Atlanta has lost five straight on the road and six of seven overall.
"This was very, very embarrassing," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "From where we were as a team to where we're at right now, we have lost all sense of team on both ends of the floor. And why that's happened I really can't put my finger on it."
The Bulls held the Hawks to just five points in the second quarter and led 48-20 at the break. Ivan Johnson had a basket for the Hawks with 2:54 left in the first quarter, and Atlanta did not score again until Al Horford's tip with 5:15 left in the second. The Hawks missed 17 consecutive shots during the drought while getting outscored 14-0.
They finished the 2 for 21 from the field in the second quarter, with Smith making a free throw and a jumper for Atlanta's other points. The Hawks shot 20.5 percent on 8-of-39 shooting in the first half. Josh Smith was 3 for 10 and Horford 2 for 8 in the opening two periods.
"The disturbing thing is the effort part. I shouldn't have to come out and coach effort every single night. Effort is what your being paid, to bring effort every single night. Maybe it's the chemistry right now," Drew said. "I'm going to have to do something to kind of jump-start us again.
"Right now we've flatlined. Not just from a physical standpoint. Mentally we have flattened. I've got to find a way to resuscitate this team."
Boozer had 14 points and Deng eight to help the Bulls to their halftime lead. Noah had 12 rebounds in the half and finished with 16 boards and nine points.
The Bulls set a record for the fewest points allowed, eclipsing the previous mark of 59 by Orlando last March 19. Atlanta's 20 points in the first half also set a Chicago record for the fewest allowed in a half, bettering the 22 scored by the Knicks in 1999. The Bulls also limited New York to five points in the second quarter of that game.
"We have to play a certain way," Thibodeau said. "When we came out I thought Joakim and Carlos set the tone."
The Hawks' previous scoring lows were six points in a quarter (at Minnesota) in 1994, and 25 in a half — accomplished three times, most recently against New Orleans in 2011.
Noah wasn't surprise by the defensive performance.
"I wasn't shocked, but our mindset was more be ready for the first 5 or 6 minutes of that third quarter. We had been in positions where we were up by 25, 26 points and lost before. So we feel no lead is big enough," Noah said.
Tensions heated up in the third quarter. After Hamilton was called for an offensive foul on Devin Harris, Harris pushed Hinrich hard to the floor as he was attempting a layup. Hinrich had to be restrained by teammates after he rushed toward Harris, who was called for a flagrant one. In separate incidents, Teague and Smith were called for technicals in the third quarter.
"We just couldn't buy a bucket and we weren't getting any calls going to the basket. I guess we've got to grind a little harder when it's more adversity hitting us in the face," Smith said.
Taj Gibson, who had five blocks, got fans on their feet with a thunderous dunk over Anthony Tolliver to put the Bulls up 79-47 with 7:13 left.
- Created on 16 January 2013
(AP) — The Bears hired Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman on Wednesday to replace the fired Lovie Smith, hoping he can get the most out of quarterback Jay Cutler and make Chicago a playoff team on a consistent basis.
It's the first head coaching job in the NFL for Trestman, a long-time assistant in the league who spent the past five seasons coaching the CFL's Alouettes and led them to two Grey Cup titles.
Trestman was an offensive coordinator with Cleveland, San Francisco, Arizona and Oakland.
Chicago general manager Phil Emery cast a wide net in his search, meeting with at least 13 candidates. Besides Trestman, he also brought back Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and the Indianapolis Colts' Bruce Arians for second interviews.
Smith was let go after nine years, ending a run that included a trip to the Super Bowl but also saw Chicago miss the playoffs five out of the past six seasons.
The Bears, who have scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m., are turning to the 57-year-old Trestman in part because of his background with quarterbacks.
He worked with Bernie Kosar as an assistant at the University of Miami and again when he was on the Browns' staff in the 1980s. Trestman helped the Raiders reach the Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season with an offense he geared for QB Rich Gannon, the league's MVP that year.
In recent years, Trestman has worked as a consultant in the NFL and in the offseason helped develop quarterbacks entering the league — including Cutler. His biggest task will be maximizing the man behind center and getting the offense to click.
That's something that never really happened under Smith, who helped build a top defense around stars such as Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, but never could solve the issues on the other side of the ball. The Bears' offense never ranked higher than 15th under Smith, and the problems in that area along with the postseason misses ultimately led to his dismissal.
The Bears have big holes on the offensive line and at tight end, but the No. 1 task is connecting with Cutler. As gifted as he is, questions remain about his makeup and demeanor.
He has one year left on his contract, and the Bears have to figure out if he can lead them to the top. In Chicago, the deck at times has been stacked against him.
His relationship with former offensive coordinator Ron Turner seemed icy, and he took a beating in Mike Martz's system. The offense sputtered this year with Mike Tice calling the plays, and now Cutler will be working in his fourth system since the Bears acquired him from Denver in 2009.
Besides the issues on the line the past few years, Cutler also lacked a go-to receiver his first three years in Chicago, but that changed in a big way before this season. The Bears hired Emery to replace the fired Jerry Angelo as GM after a late collapse last year, and although he was given a mandate to work with Smith for at least a year, he was able to retool the roster.
The biggest move? That was the trade with Miami for Brandon Marshall, Cutler's favorite target in Denver.
Marshall set club records for catches and yards, but the Bears still ranked 28th on offense.
It didn't help that receivers Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett missed time with injuries or that running back Matt Forte was banged up and uninvolved at times, whether it was in the run or passing game.
The Bears also have an aging core on defense and a big question at middle linebacker. Urlacher has an expiring contract and missed the last four games with a hamstring injury after being limited by a knee problem, and the eight-time Pro Bowler might have played his final down for Chicago.
Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman, star defensive end Julius Peppers and linebacker Lance Briggs all are in their 30s.
Despite having some aging stars, the Bears' defense ranked fifth overall and picked off a league-leading 24 passes while returning and NFL-best eight interceptions for touchdowns.
Their special teams remain a strong point, too, even if Devin Hester failed to return a kickoff or punt for a touchdown.
- Created on 14 January 2013
(AP) — Kobe and Vanessa Bryant are staying together.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar and his wife both announced they've called off their divorce Friday on social media.
Shortly after Vanessa posted the news on Instagram, Kobe confirmed it on Facebook less than an hour before the Lakers hosted the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"I am happy to say that Vanessa and I are moving on with our lives together as a family," Bryant wrote. "When the show ends and the music stops, the journey is made beautiful by having that someone to share it with. Thank you all for your support and prayers!"
Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce in December 2011, seeking to end a marriage that began in April 2001 and survived a sexual assault accusation against the five-time NBA champion guard. The Bryants have two daughters, Natalia and Gianna.
But Kobe and Vanessa haven't acted much like a divorcing couple in the past year. Vanessa and the Bryant daughters have attended many Lakers home games, waiting for Bryant to emerge from the Lakers' locker room and leaving Staples Center together.
"We are pleased to announce that we have reconciled," Vanessa posted on Instagram. "Our divorce action will be dismissed. We are looking forward to our future together."
Vanessa Bryant stood by her husband when he was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in Colorado in 2003, saying Kobe Bryant was only guilty of "the mistake of adultery." A year after the accusation, prosecutors dropped the charges because the woman did not want to go ahead with a trial.
Bryant is the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history in his 17th season with the Lakers, who drafted him in 1996. He is leading the NBA in scoring this season, and is very likely to play in his 15th NBA All-Star game next month in Houston.
Bryant met his wife at a music video shoot in 1999, when Vanessa Laine was 18 years old. They became engaged six months later.