How Donald Trump, with pizazz and bluster, took on the NFL

FILE - In this Aug. 2, 1985, file photo, Donald Trump, right, New York real estate magnates Stephen Ross, left, and USFL Commissioner Harry L. Usher, center, participate in a news conference in New York to discuss the agreement they have reached in principle to merge the Houston Gamblers and New Jersey Generals football franchises. The New Jersey Generals have been largely forgotten, but Trumpís ownership of the team was formative in his evolution as a public figure and peerless self-publicist. With money and swagger, he led a shaky and relatively low-budget spring football league, the USFL, into a showdown with the NFL. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 2, 1985, file photo, Donald Trump, right, New York real estate magnates Stephen Ross, left, and USFL Commissioner Harry L. Usher, center, participate in a news conference in New York to discuss the agreement they have reached in principle to merge the Houston Gamblers and New Jersey Generals football franchises. The New Jersey Generals have been largely forgotten, but Trumpís ownership of the team was formative in his evolution as a public figure and peerless self-publicist. With money and swagger, he led a shaky and relatively low-budget spring football league, the USFL, into a showdown with the NFL. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File) — Marty Lederhandler

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump was known in New York by 1984 as a flashy newcomer to Manhattan real estate. But football, not business, was what drew 60 young women to the Trump Tower in early January of that year.

The women had come to audition for the Brig-A-Dears, the cheerleading squad of the New Jersey Generals, part of the upstart United States Football League. Trump had recently bought the team.

Judged by a panel that included Andy Warhol, gossip columnist Cindy Adams and other celebrities, the event was a splashy media affair. But organizer Emily Magrish grew worried when some women who had been cut from consideration in earlier rounds showed up to picket outside.

"I was convinced Trump was going to fire me on the spot," Magrish said of the protest. "Instead, I got a bonus. He thought I'd done it on purpose."

The Generals have been largely forgotten, but Trump's ownership of the USFL team was formative in his evolution as a public figure and peerless self-publicist. With money and swagger, he led a shaky spring football league into an all-or-nothing showdown with the NFL, building an outsized reputation in the process.

Now a leading Republican presidential candidate, Trump has shown the same combativeness and showmanship in the campaign — and proved yet again that he will not hesitate to confront an established order.

But 30 years after the USFL's demise, whether Trump killed the league or nearly saved it remains contested among those involved.

One point of agreement: "Donald was the big, crazy-spending owner, and the NFL guys were scared to death of him," said Bill Tatham Jr., who owned the USFL's Arizona Outlaws along with his father and came to admire Trump's tactics. "But he wasn't the half-cocked guy his enemies try to portray him as."

Another similarity that USFL observers see to today: Trump set himself up to come out on top regardless of whether his presidential campaign succeeds.

Before the USFL, "I was well known, but not really well known," Trump told The Associated Press. "After taxes, I would say I lost $3 million. And I got a billion dollars of free publicity."

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A ROARING START

The USFL was founded with an explicit goal: avoid fights with the NFL. Games would be played in the spring. Each team could pick up a few stars. Rigorous salary caps would rule out an inter-league bidding war.

Though the new league sought to stay out of a duel, it was in a good position to capitalize on some of the NFL's weaknesses.

A 1982 players strike cut the NFL's season from 16 games to nine, owners were feuding over franchise locations and antiquated rules discouraged obvious crowd-pleasers such as post-touchdown celebrations.

Thanks to novelty and a few marquee players — most notably the Generals' Hershel Walker, a Heisman Trophy winner — the league got off to a promising start. But by the end of the inaugural season, the initial enthusiasm had ebbed and some cornerstone franchises were struggling.

The original owner of the Generals, an understated Oklahoma oilman named Walter Duncan, had enough of the league after just one year and sold the team to Trump.

To people who cared about sports — as opposed to New York development deals — Trump's name wasn't widely known at the time. But the team proved to be a perfect vehicle to carry him and his then-wife Ivana Trump into the public eye.

The tryouts for the Brig-A-Dears earned coverage in The New York Times, the New York Daily News and the New York Post, with a Post reporter even auditioning for the squad herself.

The cheerleading squad was just the beginning. During the first six months of his ownership, Trump's name appeared 161 times in newspapers tracked by the Factiva research service — more than it had appeared in the prior four years.

"He didn't want to be in the Daily News' real estate section," said Kevin MacConnell, the Generals' former director of public relations. Thanks to the Generals, he said, "he was on the front page of The New York Times and the Post."

Some of the publicity came from Trump's pricey acquisition of marquee players such as quarterback Doug Flutie. Yet much of the attention came at no cost. Shortly after buying the Generals, Trump began publicly courting legendary Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shula, insinuating that serious contract talks were under way.

Hiring away the NFL's top coach was never a serious possibility, those involved at the time said. But Trump stoked talk of a deal for weeks, "not thinking Shula would ever accept it," said Gary Croke, the Generals' assistant head of public relations.

Such sports-page dramas were good for the team's ticket sales, which surged after Trump bought the team. But many in the Generals' front office became convinced that Trump's interest in publicity did not always align with the team's interest.

Around the time of the Shula play, Trump began talking up moving the team to Manhattan — anathema to the New Jersey residents who were the team's fan base.

"I called him and said, 'What are you doing? People are trying to sell tickets here,'" said Kathy Fernandes, executive assistant to the team's president. "He said, 'I just sold five apartments in the Trump Tower this week.'"

The team provided Trump with a calling card of sorts for his other endeavors. When Trump's ambitions to build a casino empire in Atlantic City necessitated friends in New Jersey politics, the state's governor, Thomas Kean, declared a "New Jersey Generals Day" in 1985, appearing on field with Trump to give him an award.

State troopers in Kean's protection detail came out to meet Trump and his own security crew, Magrish said, "and, boy, did he love that."

"I think the Generals were very helpful in getting approvals I never would have gotten without them," Trump told the AP of his efforts to break into the New Jersey's regulated gaming industry. "Atlantic City sort of fueled my empire."

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TRUMP'S PUSH INTO THE FALL

The USFL bled money during its first two years. Owners overspent on talent and the league expanded at a rate that its audience could not justify. Whether fixing these mistakes would have been enough to make a spring league viable remains the subject of heated debate decades later.

An eventual study by consulting firm McKinsey and a poll of the league's fans both suggested that the USFL should stay in the spring. Had the league kept its head down and built up its spring operations, "it would've have had staying power," Croke said.

Former owners such as Tatham and Steve Ehrhart, who was also the USFL's general counsel, disagreed, citing the collapse of teams in major markets such as Los Angeles and Chicago.

"We couldn't make it work financially or break through the power of the NFL and baseball," Ehrhart said.

Trump came to the league already convinced of that conclusion. While one contingent of the owners had deep enough pockets to weather several more money-losing seasons, another group of owners was nearly bust. At one away game, Trump says, he had to pay $25,000 to cover his rival owner's unpaid stadium rental fees before the Generals could play.

But even if a spring football season were viable, Trump didn't have much interest in a league that was going to be "low class, all third-rate players" anyway. Just days after buying the Generals, Trump suggested the new league could start playing in the fall — and winning against NFL teams — within a few years.

"If God wanted football in the spring, he wouldn't have created baseball," Trump told ABC News.

Generals staff and fellow owners say Trump's strategy for the team was geared toward eventually forcing the NFL into a merger, or at least into picking up a few of the USFL's most successful franchises. Trump started lobbying other owners to switch to the fall season, cajoling and bludgeoning as needed, Tatham said.

"It was no different than the debate stage now," Tatham said, referring to the 2016 presidential campaign. "You're not going to embarrass him."

Trump, by his own admission, embarked on a campaign of humiliating the NFL. He signed a player from the Seahawks during the team's 1983 playoffs, guaranteeing that the raid would be the talk of NFL pregame shows.

When the New York Giants got into a public contract dispute with star Lawrence Taylor, Trump wired $1 million into the linebacker's bank account and signed Taylor to play with the Generals in 1988 — five years off.

The Giants had to pay Trump to nullify that contract just weeks later.

"They gave me a million dollars and hated me ever after," Trump recalls gleefully. "The Giants went nuts when I signed him — it was huge publicity."

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THE ART OF THE INSULT

With much of the league exhausted and in debt, Trump's advocacy for a frontal assault on the NFL paid off. Following the 1984 spring season, the owners voted to move the USFL to the fall in 1986, filing an October federal antitrust lawsuit against the NFL in New York. The lawyer handling the case for the USFL, combative showman Harvey Myerson, was Trump's pick.

Moving to the fall cost the USFL its spring television contract, leaving the league without vital support. After a lame-duck spring season in 1985, the USFL pinned its future on its case against the NFL.

One welcome outcome for the USFL would have been a legal settlement that brought a handful of new teams into the NFL. If any team were to make that cut, it was likely to be Trump's, based on Generals attendance and its strong roster of players.

"He had New York, he had the leverage," Tatham said.

But Trump himself — and his delight at getting under the NFL's skin — may have foiled prospects for a deal. Years after the USFL's failure, Croke said he asked Ralph Wilson, then owner of the Buffalo Bills, whether the NFL had considered a merger.

"He said, 'We actually thought about that, and your team was one that interested us. But Trump pissed us off so much that we didn't want him in the league,'" Croke recalled.

Trump says he's convinced that a merger would have ultimately happened if the USFL owners had enough money to bargain from a position of power. But with some USFL owners nearly broke, the NFL saw no need to bargain. The case went to a jury — where the NFL painted Trump as the villain.

Jurors unanimously upheld the USFL's contention that the NFL was a monopoly. But with the USFL asking for $1.3 billion in damages, the jurors split.

They awarded the USFL one dollar.

"What the NFL did was smart," Trump says now. "They purely said this is a Donald Trump thing, and he doesn't need the money."

While the USFL appealed the judgment, Tatham worked to put together a coalition of owners willing to keep their teams playing in the meantime, but Trump wouldn't bite.

"It was a very calm discussion, he was a very calm thinker," Tatham said. "If Donald was this emotional, crazy guy, we'd have played. But he really isn't."

In 1988, the appellate court refused to alter the jury's original $1 verdict. The league voted to disband.

Trump says he has no regrets.

"I'm not a minor league kind of person," Trump said. "I came in on the basis that I wanted to challenge the NFL, and maybe there'd be a merger, maybe there wouldn't be."

___

LOOK FAMILIAR?

Thirty years after the USFL's collapse, many who participated in league see Trump's presidential campaign as a replay of his football days. Some in lower perches in the league say Trump suckered the league into self-destruction by supporting his attempt to break into the clubby world of the NFL.

Doug Allen, who was the players' union representative in contract talks with the USFL, says Trump's initial infusion of charisma and money into the league turned from blessing to curse.

"Even if the league wasn't going to make it, that wasn't the way to go out of business," Allen says. "He didn't care if he wrecked the league, or what happened to players in the long run."

But Tatham and Ehrhart — who supported the USFL's move to the fall — saw Trump's effort as a savvy gamble that brought the USFL within a hair's breadth of busting into the country's biggest sporting monopoly. They see a parallel in Trump's current campaign, with his unconventional strategy and ability to run circles around rival candidates.

"I said before the first debate that it was going to be Trump and the seven dwarfs," said Ehrhart.

Said Tatham: "I think Donald Trump looks at the United States like his franchise in the USFL." He added, "Don't ever think he doesn't know what he's doing."

Tweet from Marshawn Lynch indicates possible retirement

FILE - In a Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015 file photo, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) breaks through a tackle-attempt by Dallas Cowboys' Sean Lee (50) as Cowboys Byron Jones, left, comes over to help on the running play in the second half of an NFL football game, in Arlington, Texas. Lynch, the mercurial Seattle Seahawks running back, sent a tweet during the fourth quarter of Sunday's Super Bowl with a pair of cleats hanging from a power or telephone line, along with an emoji depicting a peace sign. It certainly wasn't a definitive statement that Lynch is ready to call it a career, but it would fit with a mounting stack of evidence that the bruising running back is ready to move on from football. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade, File)
FILE - In a Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015 file photo, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) breaks through a tackle-attempt by Dallas Cowboys' Sean Lee (50) as Cowboys Byron Jones, left, comes over to help on the running play in the second half of an NFL football game, in Arlington, Texas. Lynch, the mercurial Seattle Seahawks running back, sent a tweet during the fourth quarter of Sunday's Super Bowl with a pair of cleats hanging from a power or telephone line, along with an emoji depicting a peace sign. It certainly wasn't a definitive statement that Lynch is ready to call it a career, but it would fit with a mounting stack of evidence that the bruising running back is ready to move on from football. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade, File) — Brandon Wade

SEATTLE – Leave it to Marshawn Lynch to be at the center of attention in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.

Except this time, Lynch may have given the surest sign he's on the verge of retirement.

Lynch, the mercurial Seattle Seahawks running back, sent a tweet during the fourth quarter of Sunday's Super Bowl with a pair of cleats hanging from a power or telephone line, along with an emoji depicting a peace sign. It certainly wasn't a definitive statement that Lynch is ready to call it a career, but it would fit with a mounting stack of evidence that the bruising running back is ready to move on from football.

Lynch's teammates in Seattle were certainly taking his tweet as a statement of retirement. Doug Baldwin, Bruce Irvin, Paul Richardson and Richard Sherman were among the many teammates to pay tribute to Lynch on social media.

"Salute to my guy @MoneyLynch ... It was an honor sharing the field with you," Sherman wrote on Twitter.

"To one of the greatest teammates I've ever had the pleasure of suiting up with. Salute. #Beastmode," Baldwin posted on Instagram.

Messages left for Lynch's representatives were not immediately returned.

The tweet from Lynch also backed statements from Jan. 22 by Seattle general manager John Schneider in a pair of radio interviews that indicated Lynch was leaning toward retirement. Schneider said in separate interviews with two Seattle radio stations that he believes Lynch is leaning toward calling it a career after an injury-filled 2015 season.

Schneider first appeared on KIRO-AM, the team's flagship station, saying the team was going to give Lynch time and leeway to decide what he wants to do, but added he was "under the impression" Lynch was leaning toward retirement.

Later on KJR-AM, Schneider hedged his comments slightly, but reiterated that he thought Lynch was considering stepping away.

"I really, honestly don't know at this point," Schneider said on KJR. "If you put a gun to my head I would say he is leaning toward retirement. But I think with Marshawn you never really know. He's a fierce competitor. We just have to handle it the right way in terms of showing him as much respect as we possibly can for everything he's done for this organization."

ESPN reported earlier Sunday without identifying its sources that Lynch had been telling close friends he was planning to retire.

Lynch will turn 30 in April and is coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season where he was limited to just seven games in the regular season and one of Seattle's two playoff games. Lynch was bothered by hamstring and calf issues early in the season and later missed the final seven regular-season games with an abdominal injury that required surgery. Lynch returned for the NFC divisional playoff game at Carolina but was mostly a non-factor with the Seahawks falling behind 14-0 in the opening moments of the loss.

Lynch was limited to just 111 carries and 417 yards in the regular season, the first season of his career where injuries have been a significant factor.

Lynch would cost the Seahawks $11.5 million against the salary cap for the 2016 season, a massive number for a running back of his age, but Schneider had indicated changes would be needed if Lynch wanted to return.

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller earns Super Bowl 50 MVP honors

Denver Broncos' Von Miller (58) breaks up a pass intended for Carolina Panthersí Jerricho Cotchery (82) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Denver Broncos' Von Miller (58) breaks up a pass intended for Carolina Panthersí Jerricho Cotchery (82) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) — Charlie Riedel

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Von Miller was second-to-none in the Super Bowl.

Five years after being drafted No. 2 behind Cam Newton, Denver linebacker Miller harassed Carolina's quarterback from start to finish Sunday, forcing two fumbles, compiling 2½ sacks and earning MVP honors while helping the Broncos beat the Panthers 24-10 in a showdown between a couple of shutdown defenses.

"I'm so proud of my guys," Miller said, clutching the silver Lombardi Trophy. "It's been every last one of you guys in the locker room that's gotten us to this moment right here."

Miller really was everywhere — and he did a bit of everything.

He created Denver's first touchdown by zooming past right tackle Mike Remmers and breaking in on Newton to rip the football away from the QB, who was honored as the regular-season MVP on Saturday night.

The fumble bounced into the end zone, where defensive end Malik Jackson landed on it to put the Broncos ahead 10-0 about 8 1/2 minutes into the game.

With 4 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Miller set up Denver's only other TD, too. Again, he got past Remmers and, as the offensive lineman grabbed a fistful of his white jersey, Miller reached out with his left hand to grab Newton's right arm as the quarterback brought the ball back to throw.

This one was recovered by safety T.J. Ward at the Carolina 4, and soon thereafter, C.J. Anderson's 2-yard run sealed the victory for Denver (15-4).

Earlier, Miller laid a big hit on Newton near the sideline. He also shared a third-down sack with Derek Wolfe to get Denver the ball back at the end of the third quarter.

And, showing his versatility, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Miller even made plays in pass coverage, dropping back to force an incompletion from Newton to Jerricho Cotchery at one point.

It was all part of quite a display by Miller and the rest of Denver's defense, making the NFC champion Panthers (17-2) and their No. 1-ranked offense look mediocre at best.

Thanks to Miller and Co., Peyton Manning did not need to do much with Denver's offense: The Broncos' 194 total yards were the fewest ever for a Super Bowl winner.

Denver's defense wound up with a Super Bowl record-tying seven sacks, showing off the rush that led the NFL with 52 sacks this season and knocked around New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady so frequently two weeks ago in the AFC championship game. Miller had 2½ sacks in that one, too.

Two years ago, when Manning directed the NFL's best offense, Denver got walloped 43-8 in the Super Bowl by the Seattle Seahawks, owners of the league's best defense. General manager John Elway set out to build the Broncos' D, adding players such as DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib.

But Miller, who missed that loss to Seattle because of a knee injury, already was in place, set to pair with Ware as a dangerous duo.

Now comes the offseason and contract negotiations for Miller, someone the Broncos would probably love to lock up for the long term.

Why the Denver Broncos will win Super Bowl 50

Denver brings dominant defense into Super Bowl 50

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) speaks to reporters in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) speaks to reporters in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) — Jeff Chiu

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Peyton Manning wanted to make one thing perfectly clear when he arrived in the Golden Gate City for the golden anniversary of the Super Bowl: "Our defense is what got us here."

Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe, all sideline spectators last time, leading the way.

His boss, John Elway, said something similar 17 years ago before riding off into that orange sunset with a second Super Bowl ring. Manning can do the same Sunday if he musters one more magical performance out of his 39-year-old body and that quick mind.

Two years ago, Manning brought along the league's top offense — in fact, the highest-scoring team in NFL history — and things didn't work out. This time, he's tagging along with the league's No. 1 defense.

The "Orange Rush" finished first in the NFL in sacks, yards per play, pass defense and total defense. But to earn their place atop or even alongside the '85 Bears or '00 Ravens, Denver's fearsome front-seven and star-studded secondary will have to corral Cam Newton and beat the favored Carolina Panthers.

"We got goal boards in our locker room and we see everything that we've done this year," cornerback Aqib Talib said. "But everything will be forgotten by next season if we don't come home with that trophy. So, the most important stat is winning this game."

They're very capable of doing just that.

This is a defense that knocked Aaron Rodgers silly, limiting him to 77 yards in the worst game of his career, sent Andrew Luck into the hospital and ushered Tom Brady into the offseason with a 23-hit beat-down.

The players say that it's hard for them to study film of how other defenses played the Panthers.

"Nobody's really playing like how we play and it makes it kind of hard to watch the film because you see these other teams and they're not as good. They're nowhere close," Harris said. "They have a great offense, so it's going to be a tough battle. But I don't think they've seen anybody with the speed we have."

What the Broncos (14-4) need to do is keep things close and not let the Panthers (17-1) get off to a fast start — they've outscored their opponents 55-7 in the first half in the playoffs.

Denver knows how a punch to the gut can ruin great game plans.

The Broncos were ill-prepared for the noise and the nerves two years ago, as the first snap sailed into the end zone for a safety 12 seconds into the Super Bowl.

Denver never recovered in a 35-point shellacking by the Seahawks that prompted Elway to spend more than $100 million to sign DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Talib, then draft cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Shane Ray.

Even-keeled Gary Kubiak pumped up the jams at practice to prepare for noise.

"The goal is don't let them get off to a fast start. Let it be a boxing match, let them keep punching back and forth," running back C.J. Anderson said.

Should the Broncos find themselves behind, though, they're not going to freak out, Anderson said.

They're the only team in NFL history to overcome two-touchdown deficits to beat three playoff-bound teams in a season. They did it against the Chiefs in Week 2, the Patriots in Week 12 and the Bengals in Week 16.

"Us being down 14 to some very, very good teams, it lets us know we're battle tested. We've been there before. We know what we have to do to get back in the games," Anderson said.

The Broncos have won an NFL record 11 games by seven points or less, and they went 7-2 against playoff teams while facing the toughest schedule in the league.

Still, old man Manning faces his doubters and some think the Panthers defense is just as good as Denver's.

"Every time we turn on the TV people are just talking about how we're going to get dogged this game, we're going to get blown out," Harris said with a laugh. "We love that, it just makes us hungrier."

Prediction:

Denver 24, Carolina 14

Why the Panthers will win Super Bowl 50

Panthers too good, versatile for Broncos No. 1 defense

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2016 file photo, Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton celebrates after the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals in Charlotte, N.C. Newton is wearing Lokai silicone bead bracelets with a bit of water from Mount Everest in one of the beads and a dab of mud from the Dead Sea in another, aimed at achieving the lofty goal of inner balance by honoring the highs and lows of life. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2016 file photo, Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton celebrates after the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals in Charlotte, N.C. Newton is wearing Lokai silicone bead bracelets with a bit of water from Mount Everest in one of the beads and a dab of mud from the Dead Sea in another, aimed at achieving the lofty goal of inner balance by honoring the highs and lows of life. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File) — David J. Phillip

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Denver Broncos and their top defense haven't seen anything quite like Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, the No. 1 scoring offense in the league.

The Panthers (17-1) are on a roll, jumping on playoff opponents early. The primary question on Sunday might not be whether they'll win the franchise's first Vince Lombardi Trophy, but if they'll hand the Broncos another Super Bowl blowout.

"I think it's his moment," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Newton, "as well as it's our moment,"

Although Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware said he's "not really worried about (Carolina's) offense," the potential is there for this one to get away, especially if the Panthers get off to another hot start like they have in their two previous postseason games and force Peyton Manning to become one-dimensional.

The Panthers have feasted on pocket passers all season, the latest example being Carson Palmer, who committed six turnovers in Carolina's 49-15 win over Arizona in the NFC championship.

Carolina's defense, which led the league in takeaways, quickly shifts from good to great when the offense gives them a lead.

They have nine takeaways and eight sacks in the postseason.

Luke Kuechly, one of three All-Pro players on defense, has two interception returns for touchdowns in the playoffs.

But the trigger for Carolina is establishing the running game.

"Mike Tolbert and Stew (Jonathan Stewart) make their play-action game go," said Broncos defensive back T.J. Ward. "So if we stop the run, we stop the beginning of what they do, that helps the rest of their offense."

That's a good plan, but executing it has proven to be a little more difficult.

The Panthers have run for at least 100 yards in 31 straight games, including the playoffs. To put that in perspective, no other team has a streak longer than six games.

Newton is a big part of that, rushing for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns, tying Steve Young's record for career TDs by a quarterback.

The game's most versatile player, Newton shattered the myth that he's just a running quarterback long ago. But he's taken his passing to a whole different level this season, improving his accuracy and throwing for a career-high 35 touchdowns.

He's been lights out in the red zone, throwing 24 touchdowns with no interceptions.

"He's like a combination of two quarterbacks that were great quarterbacks in this league," said Broncos defensive end Antonio Smith. "He's got the escape ability of a Michael Vick and a body frame like Ben Roethlisberger where people are bouncing off of you left and right."

Carolina's passing game ranks near the bottom of the league, but that's more a reflection of the team's balance on offense. The Panthers are the only team that runs the ball more than they throw it.

"Cam transitioned this year where he's not going anywhere until he has to," said Young. "It's a whole mindset that the mastery of the pocket, the mastery of the data. Now he can enter in and say I don't need to run. I can. I can run over you. But I don't have to. I think he's starting to see just the possibilities of what you can do from the pocket."

The Panthers may be a small market team and unfamiliar to some, but make no doubt it — they're no fluke.

They've won 22 of their last 24 games, including a 3-1 mark in the post season.

In those 24 games Carolina has outscored its opponent by a whopping margin of 735-427 — or by an average score of 31-18.

So why not play the odds?

Prediction: Panthers 31, Broncos 18.

Johnny Manziel's father worried quarterback self-destructing

FILE - In this May 8, 2014, file photo, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reacts after being selected by the Cleveland Browns as the 22nd pick during the first round of the NFL Draft in New York. The Browns indicated Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, that theyíve finally had enough of Manzielís bad-boy behavior and intend to release the quarterback in March when the league begins its next calendar year. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)
FILE - In this May 8, 2014, file photo, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reacts after being selected by the Cleveland Browns as the 22nd pick during the first round of the NFL Draft in New York. The Browns indicated Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, that theyíve finally had enough of Manzielís bad-boy behavior and intend to release the quarterback in March when the league begins its next calendar year. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File) — Frank Franklin II

CLEVELAND – With Johnny Manziel's professional career in doubt and his personal life crumbling, his father fears for his safety.

The troubled quarterback was under investigation by two police departments following allegations that he hit his former girlfriend last weekend in Texas. Manziel will be released by the Cleveland Browns next month after two tumultuous seasons.

"I truly believe if they can't get him help, he won't live to see his 24th birthday," Paul Manziel told The Dallas Morning News.

Manziel's father said the family has made two unsuccessful attempts in the past week to get the player into a rehab clinic.

Manziel agreed to go to the Enterhealth Ranch addiction facility in Van Alstyne, Texas, but he would not stay, Paul Manziel told the Morning News. He tried to have his son admitted Tuesday to Carrollton Springs Hospital, but Manziel was allowed to leave. Paul Manziel said he told a Denton County Sheriff officer he believed his son to be suicidal.

Paul Manziel did not immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, who entered the NFL with a party-boy reputation, spent 73 days last winter in a Pennsylvania treatment center specializing in care for alcohol and drug dependency.

The disturbing portrait of Manziel comes as his agent dropped the 23-year-old quarterback as a client Friday.

Erik Burkhardt said that with "deep regret" he has ended the business relationship. He added that he made his decision after "several emotional and very personal discussions with his family, his doctors, and my client himself."

"Though I will remain a friend and Johnny supporter, and he knows I have worked tirelessly to arrange a number of professional options for him to continue to pursue, it has become painfully obvious that his future rests solely in his own hands," the agent said in a statement.

"His family and I have gone to great lengths to outline the steps we feel he must take to get his life in order. Accountability is the foundation of any relationship, and without it the function of my work is counterproductive. I truly wish the best for Johnny and sincerely hope he can, and will, find the kind of peace and happiness he deserves."

Manziel was under police investigation for allegedly hitting ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley. She told police the former Texas A&M star struck her "several times" at a Dallas hotel and later when they drove back to her apartment in Fort Worth. The police departments in both cities said Thursday their investigations are closed.

Burkhardt isn't the first to cut business ties with Manziel. LeBron James' marketing agency ended its association with him last month. The Cleveland Cavaliers star did not want to discuss Manziel following a morning shootaround.

"I've already voiced my opinion on his situation," James said. "I'm not going to do it again. I think that's the last thing I need to be talking about is his incidents. That doesn't make it any better. I wasn't there. I don't know what happened, so who am I to say he was right or he was wrong? I wasn't there."

On Tuesday, the Browns released a strong statement in which the team indicated it will release Manziel as early as March 9, when the league begins its new calendar year.

Also, the league is looking into whether Manziel violated its personal-conduct policy. League spokesman Greg Aiello said Thursday the inquiry is "ongoing." Manziel was cleared of any wrongdoing last year after he and Crowley got into a heated roadside argument near the player's home.

Roger Goodell to require NFL teams to interview women for executive jobs

Goodell to implement a "Rooney Rule" for women

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gestures while speaking before the NFL Womenís Summit Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gestures while speaking before the NFL Womenís Summit Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) — Ben Margot

SAN FRANCISCO – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will implement a "Rooney Rule" requiring that women be interviewed for executive positions with teams around the league.

Goodell made the announcement Thursday in his opening remarks at the first NFL Women's Summit, part of Super Bowl 50.

Goodell says, "You can see that progress is being made."

The Bills hired the NFL's first full-time assistant coach last month, Kathryn Smith, as special teams quality control coach.

That move comes after Jen Welter coached the Cardinals' inside linebackers during Arizona's training camp last summer, while Sarah Thomas became the league's first female official this past season.

"I think this should be the Al Davis rule," former Oakland CEO Amy Trask, the NFL's first female CEO, said on Twitter of the late Raiders owner. "Hope my reasoning is clear."

The List: Greatest Super Bowl champion teams ever

The greatest Super Bowl team of all-time?

Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka is carried off the field by Steve McMichael, left, and William Perry after the Bears win Super Bowl XX in New Orleans, La., on Jan. 26, 1986.  The Bears' Willie Gault (83) and Maury Buford (8) join in celebrating their 46-10 victory over the New England Patriots.  (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka is carried off the field by Steve McMichael, left, and William Perry after the Bears win Super Bowl XX in New Orleans, La., on Jan. 26, 1986. The Bears' Willie Gault (83) and Maury Buford (8) join in celebrating their 46-10 victory over the New England Patriots. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin) — PHIL SANDLIN

Whittling down the top five Super Bowl era teams is subjective, of course, but also complicated. For instance, how can the undefeated 1972 Dolphins or transformative 1968 Jets miss the cut?

They’re the best teams ever for their respective franchises, but they don’t stack up with the listed clubs. Buffalo is the only team to reach four consecutive Super Bowls, but without a Lombardi, we can’t build a case for them here.

The 2000 Ravens have their supporters of boasting a defense better than the 1985 Bears, but led by Trent Dilfer, the offense was flawed. To be clear: our subjective list is the five greatest teams to win Super Bowls in a given season – not the one responsible for the most Super Bowl titles. Agree or disagree, here it is:

1985 Bears:

Hall of Fame coach Mike Ditka’s “Monsters of the Midway” featured arguably the most feared defense ever, Buddy Ryan’s dominating “46,” with three Hall of Famers helping generate an unfathomable 61 takeaways while permitting an NFL-low 12.4 points per game.

Walter Payton, arguably the greatest running back of all time, finished No. 3 in rushing (1,551 yards) and totaled 11 touchdowns for the league’s second-most prolific offense. Chicago’s point differential of plus-258 is the widest on this list.

No team had more swagger and star power. And their 36-point blowout of New England in Super Bowl XX is the second-largest ever, the culmination of a postseason in which the Bears allowed just 10 points in three victories.

1978 Steelers: Pittsburgh won four Super Bowls from 1975-80, but this group, anchored by “The Steel Curtain” defense surrendering the fewest points in the league, and Terry Bradshaw tossing 28 touchdowns for the most powerful Pittsburgh offense of this era, went 14-2 while dismantling opponents.

Chuck Noll’s club was the first to three Super Bowl victories after topping Dallas 35-31 in Super Bowl XII. This club boasted nine Hall of Famers.

1984 49ers:

The first team to go 15-1, one year before the Bears, Bill Walsh’s group shut out Chicago in the NFC championship game. Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon propelled the passing game, with Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler forming a versatile backfield behind an O-line with three Pro Bowlers.

Feared Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott spearheaded the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense, which sent four defensive backs to the Pro Bowl. Montana piled up 390 total yards and four touchdowns en route to a 38-16 Super Bowl XIX triumph versus Dan Marino’s Dolphins and his second Super Bowl MVP trophy.

1993 Cowboys:

Jimmy Johnson’s second consecutive and final Super Bowl victory with the Cowboys punctuated a 12-4 season, in which Dallas overcame a two-week holdout by league and Super Bowl XXVIII MVP Emmitt Smith to begin the season; Troy Aikman missing two-and-a-half games with injuries, including exiting the NFC Championship game early; and Leon Lett’s infamous botched fumble recovery that wrestled defeat from the jaws of victory.

Hall of Famers Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin, and vertical threat Alvin Harper led a high-flying offense, and LB Ken Norton and DT Russell Maryland anchored the defense, both units finishing No. 2 in the NFL in scoring.

2013 Seahawks and 1966 Packers (TIE):

We couldn’t overlook the first or last great team of this era. Led by Vince Lombardi and Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, Green Bay finished 12-2 in the regular season, with Starr earning his only MVP award for overcoming the NFL’s worst rushing offense with a league-leading 2,257 passing yards and career-high 105.0 passer rating. Linebacker Ray Nitschke was the face of the league’s best scoring ‘D,’ holding opponents to just 11.6 points per game.

Green Bay toppled Dallas in the NFL championship, two weeks before destroying the Chiefs in the inaugural Super Bowl two weeks later.

Pete Carroll’s “Legion of Boom” defense yielded a league-low 14.4 points and 172 passing yards per game while tallying the most interceptions (28) and budding star Russell Wilson piloted the offense en route to a 13-3 mark and 43-8 throttling of the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Former NFL quarterback Ken Stabler had brain disease CTE

FILE - In this Dec. 27, 1976, file photo, Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler stands on the sidelines during the second half of AFC championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Oakland, Calif. Boston researchers say Stabler had the brain disease CTE. Boston University confirmed the diagnosis Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016.  Stabler, who died of colon cancer at 69 in July 2015, had Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Dr. Ann McKee told The Associated Press. McKee said the disease was widespread throughout his brain, with "severe" damage to the regions involving learning, memory and regulation of emotion. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - In this Dec. 27, 1976, file photo, Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler stands on the sidelines during the second half of AFC championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Oakland, Calif. Boston researchers say Stabler had the brain disease CTE. Boston University confirmed the diagnosis Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Stabler, who died of colon cancer at 69 in July 2015, had Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Dr. Ann McKee told The Associated Press. McKee said the disease was widespread throughout his brain, with "severe" damage to the regions involving learning, memory and regulation of emotion. (AP Photo/File) — Anonymous

BOSTON – Former Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, the late NFL and Super Bowl MVP who is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has been diagnosed with the brain disease CTE, Boston University researchers said Wednesday.

Stabler, who died of colon cancer at 69 in July, had Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Dr. Ann McKee told The Associated Press. McKee said the disease was widespread throughout his brain, with "quite severe" damage to the regions involving learning, memory and regulation of emotion.

"We've now found CTE in former NFL players who played every position except kicker," said McKee, a professor of neurology at Boston University. "While we know on average that certain positions experience more repetitive head impacts and are more likely at greater risk for CTE, no position is immune."

The diagnosis was first reported by The New York Times.

The disease, which can only be diagnosed after death, is linked to repeated brain trauma and associated with symptoms such as memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. CTE has been found in the brains of dozens of former football players.

According to Chris Nowinski, the founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Stabler told his family he wanted to have his brain studied after learning that former NFL linebacker Junior Seau had been diagnosed with the disease. In 2012, Seau shot himself in the chest at the age of 43.

"What is interesting about Ken Stabler is that he anticipated his diagnosis years in advance," Nowinski told the AP. "And even though he's a football icon he began actively distancing himself from game in his final years, expressing hope that his grandsons would choose not to play."

McKee said the extent of the damage to Stabler's brain was surprising because he was relatively young when he died and because he was a quarterback and thought to be less exposed to repeated head trauma.

"There was no evidence of any other brain disorder to explain the difficulties he experienced during life," McKee said.

The left-handed Stabler, nicknamed the "Snake" for his ability to escape from defenders, led Alabama to an undefeated season in 1966. A second-round draft pick by Oakland, he was the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1974, and he was named Super Bowl MVP in 1977 after leading the Raiders to victory.

In all, Stabler threw for 27,938 career yards and a .661 winning percentage over 15 seasons, which also included stints with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints. He was selected as a finalist for the Hall of Fame by its Seniors Committee; the inductees will be announced on Saturday.

Vernon Davis hopes to play a role in Super Bowl with Broncos

Denver Broncos' Vernon Davis is interviewed during Opening Night for the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Denver Broncos' Vernon Davis is interviewed during Opening Night for the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) — Jeff Chiu

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Vernon Davis got to sleep at home for a night in the Bay Area, stay in the same hotel where he lived during 49ers training camp last summer, and the equipment staff even promised him his old locker at Levi's Stadium this weekend.

No matter that he might play a bit part in this Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos, Davis is back where he has made a home for more than a decade and ready to win a championship ring after coming up just short three years ago with San Francisco.

It just so happened he arrived Sunday for Super Bowl week on his 32nd birthday, too.

"It hasn't been that long since I left here, so it kind of seems like I was just here," said Davis, who was traded from the 49ers to the Broncos on Nov. 2. "I'll look around a little bit and get a gauge on things and I'll come to the realization that I'm actually playing in the Super Bowl at Levi's Stadium."

The veteran tight end has had discussions with many a teammate already on the importance that they "just stay together, just stay in this moment, and don't get caught up on the outside because the moment you do there's a lot of risk."

Davis didn't even have plans to stop by the Jamba Juice store he owns.

He would love nothing more than to leave his mark on this Super Bowl, somehow. Even if he has played all of 11 snaps this postseason with one target and no catches.

"You haven't seen me but there's a chance that you could see me," he said. "I don't know. I'm all about faith, anything could happen just like that. The moment it does, I have to take advantage of my opportunities. They will come. ... I'm a patient guy and I'm ready whenever the opportunity presents itself."

Davis' short time in the offense — and playing with two different quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and backup Brock Osweiler — made for a challenging transition to his new team.

According to Football Perspective, Davis is one of just four players to have competed in home games on the Super Bowl field during the regular season then return for the championship game with a different team.

For Davis, that three-point loss to Baltimore in the Super Bowl following the 2012 season has stuck with him — just as it has for many of his former 49ers teammates.

"It just weighs heavy on you when you make it to the Super Bowl and you can't pull off the victory," Davis said. "It's not a good feeling at all. I stressed that to some of my teammates, I wanted to make them aware of what it can feel like if things didn't go our way — just give them that fire and that motivation."

He has watched Manning so intently the past couple of months to learn whatever he can from the five-time NFL MVP, noting, "I even picked the seat beside him in the team meeting room just to get his energy."

Davis matched his career high with 13 touchdown receptions in 2013, and believes he can still be that dominant again. He has had tough stretches before when he didn't get as many chances as he'd like.

When someone suggested that Sunday might be his final game, Davis chuckled, "Oh, come on, man, no way, no way."

"As long as I can run a 4.3 or a 4.4 I'm going to continue to play the game. When that leaves, then I'll stop playing," said Davis, who is still running a 4.3-second 40-yard dash. "I'm leaving on my own terms, most definitely."

Davis' experience in big games and athleticism is a big reason Denver acquired him.

"He's brought that," general manager John Elway said. "Obviously, the play time's been up and down, but he's made some big catches for us. He came in in a short window, too, so trying to get him comfortable with the offense, what we're doing, and also it was right around the time that Brock started and came in. He's always there, he's always a threat and the defense always has to worry about him."

Davis has been providing his share of insight already about how it felt to come so close and lose on the NFL's biggest stage. His versatility also has allowed the Broncos to run more two- and three-tight end sets.

"Vernon's a heck of a player. We came in together '06 class, so 10 years in the game for him," Broncos tight end Owen Daniels said. "A ton of playoff experience, Super Bowl experience, that can't be overlooked in terms of being able to relay that to guys and kind of alert us to what might be going on during the week. He lives around the corner from here. He's great for this week specifically. He's been a great addition to our team."

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