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Column: Could football end up killing itself?

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Column: Could football end up killing itself?

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The dustup over deer-antler spray didn't last long, which is probably just as well. No reason to ruin Ray Lewis' retirement, or the week-long spectacle of everything that is the National Football League in this party town.

On Sunday perhaps the biggest audience ever to see a Super Bowl will gather in front of televisions for parties of their own. The game has become America's unofficial national holiday, its tradition of chip eating, beer drinking and commercial watching as deeply ingrained in the country's fabric as turkey and stuffing.

We celebrate the game even as it takes a brutal toll on those who play it. Football is a hurt business, and the biggest cheers on Sunday will be for those who deliver the biggest hits.

So remember when you jump and down and holler and scream that former players, some of whom entertained us in Super Bowls past, are suffering in the worst possible ways because of the beating their brains took on the playing field.

That the NFL is finally waking up to the crisis is commendable. That it took this long is deplorable.

It's hard to comprehend, and it may be the ultimate paradox. But football itself could be the one thing that kills the NFL.

Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard suggested the other day that it just might, calling the on-field violence ``a car accident every play'' and expressing fear that one day a player might die on the field. This, from a player who was fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Patriots receiver Wes Welker in the AFC championship game and is considered one of the hardest hitters out there.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, says if he had a son he would ``have to think long and hard'' about letting him play football.

And if commissioner Roger Goodell didn't get it before, he seems to get it now. In recent months, he floated the idea of eliminating kickoffs to cut down on concussions, and used much of his state of the NFL appearance Friday to talk about improving player safety.

``The No. 1 issue is: Take the head out of the game,'' Goodell said. ``I think we've seen in the last several decades that players are using their head more than they had when you go back several decades.''

It's too late for former players, some of whom suffer from debilitating brain damage caused by hits to the head. Some 3,500 of them are suing the NFL for not doing enough to protect them, including the family of star linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself to death last May. Medical researchers who studied his brain said findings were similar to autopsies of people ``with exposure to repetitive head injuries.''

While the league celebrates its new Hall of Fame inductees and fetes former stars who can still walk and talk, it fights every inch of the way in court on fears the claims of injured players can hit owners where it hurts the most - their wallets.

If anything, the game has become more brutal since the first Super Bowl 46 years ago. The players are bigger and faster, and better equipment gives them the false confidence to go head-to-head with each other.

No sport worth playing should need neurologists on the sidelines to protect participants. But that's precisely what the NFL will have next year as it belatedly tries to contain the fallout from the concussion issue.

Count former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison among those who worry. He was fined repeatedly in his long career for helmet-to-helmet hits, and estimates he suffered 20 concussions on the field. Today he works as a television analyst and seems healthy, but said on the ``Costas Tonight'' Super Bowl special that he gets headaches from bright lights and playing golf and has some anxiety issues he believes were caused by concussions.

``I'm scared to death,'' he said. ``I have four kids, I have a beautiful wife, and I'm scared to death what may happen to me 10, 15 years from now.''

The issue was big this week as members of the 49ers and Ravens were asked repeatedly about the safety of the game they make their living from. Most players dismissed fears about their safety, saying they knew what they were in for when they signed up to play football. But, at the same time, the players' union released a survey showing eight out of 10 players don't trust team doctors.

Understandable, when they serve at the pleasure of their employers. Even more understandable if you play in San Diego, where the team doctor lost a malpractice lawsuit last summer and the Medical Board of California wants to revoke his medical license.

These are all serious issues that deserve serious attention. The game will never be totally safe, but it can be safer.

Enjoy the Super Bowl. Celebrate the unofficial national holiday.

And hope that Goodell is as serious as he claims in finding a way to keep players safer than they are today.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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A Norwegian soccer player turned kicker, Kaare Vedvik fighting for chance on Ravens roster

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A Norwegian soccer player turned kicker, Kaare Vedvik fighting for chance on Ravens roster

Twenty-four-year-old Kaare Vedvik didn't watch his first football game until seven years ago, and now he's fighting for a spot on the Ravens' special teams roster.

Raised in Norway, Vedvik got his first glance at the game when the Super Bowl was being broadcast on Norwegian television for the first time. 

"It seemed like a really, really interesting sport," Vedvik said via The Baltimore Sun. "It was a sport I was never able to try growing up. I loved any sport that was fun, and football seemed really, really fun."

Fun enough to get the competitive soccer player to be an exchange student in the United States during his junior year of high school to test out the game of football. Vedvik returned to Norway for his senior year but impressed college recruiters enough at a Kohl's Kicking Camp in Texas that he was eventually recruited to play at Marshall University in West Virginia.

Staying in Norway would have meant giving up on sports entirely as school becomes more difficult and sports are no longer offered. Vedvik wasn't ready for that.

While at Marshall, Vedvik played in 38 games in four years as both a punter and kicker. He punted 59 times for 2,597 yards — averaging 44 yards — with 26 of them inside the 20-yard line. Vedvik once punted a 92-yarder, making it the seventh-longest punt in FBS history and the longest in 45 years. He ranked in the Top 10 for fewest punt return yards and averaged 63.6 yards-per-kickoff. 

After a private workout with Ravens special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg, Vedvik became one of 14 Ravens undrafted free agents and has impressed thus far hitting 70 and 67-yard field goals in training camp practices. And in Thursday's preseason game vs. the Rams, Vedvik hit a 56-yard field goal.

"Learning how to kick field goals, the biggest thing for me was to stop swiping across and trying to kick a straighter ball," Vedcik said. "That’s the biggest difference: In soccer, you’re trying to curve balls around a defender."

While Vedvik's chances of dethroning the most accurate kicker in NFL history in Justin Tucker and 12-year veteran punter Sam Koch are slim, he could very well make an impact elsewhere. 

“The guys who are able to do that, they’re just good athletes in general, and Kaare is a good athlete,” Tucker said of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Norwegian. “He hasn’t played a lot of football. He has plenty of ability.”

“When he came in, he’s got such a strong leg," Koch added. "You’ve got to have a strong leg in order to get looked at. He’s got a lot of talent. It’s one of those things — bringing him in, honing his skills and seeing what he can do from here.”

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What we learned from the Baltimore Ravens' 33-7 win vs. the Los Angeles Rams

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What we learned from the Baltimore Ravens' 33-7 win vs. the Los Angeles Rams

The Ravens returned to M&T Bank Stadium for their second game on the 2018 NFL preseason schedule and gave us a lot of reasons to be excited.

Joe Flacco and his new core of receivers only needed one drive to show off, Lamar Jackson put his speed on display and Robert Griffin III gave Breshad Perriman a much-needed confidence boost.

Here's what we learned from their 33-7 win over the Los Angeles Rams. 

1. First teamers make it count

It took Joe Flacco and the first-team offense all of 4 minutes and 46 seconds to get themselves on the board. During the 10-play, 70-yard drive, Flacco connected with rookie tight end Hayden Hurst, Javorius Allen, John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and finally, Patrick Ricard for a six-yard touchdown. During the impressive drive, Flacco showed his own mobility by getting out of the pocket for a three-yard gain and a classic Flacco slide. 

Flacco connecting with three of his newest receivers is what we've been waiting to see all offseason. Even though it was just one preseason drive, it's a step in the right direction after the Ravens' 2017 offense ranked 29th in the league in passing. 

"Listen, our guys are really showing up," Flacco said at halftime. "We've had a great camp, and it was good to come out here and see it carry over into a game."

"I think once the regular season starts, this isn't going to mean anything," said Flacco postgame. "But what it does for our confidence as a group, our confidence as a team, that will carry us pretty far into the season."

2. A lot of room to grow for Lamar Jackson

Jackson followed up the Ravens' successful first drive with one of his own. The rookie hit Chris Moore for a 36-yard gain before putting his footwork on display faking out several Rams defenders en route to a 9-yard touchdown run. 

While he made improvements from his Hall of Fame Game appearance, Jackson showed he still has a lot to learn, finishing the night 7-18 for 119 yards. With two preseason games under his belt, Jackson received high praise from his head coach John Harbaugh and Flacco on which he carries himself. 

"He does seem poised for a rookie," coach John Harbaugh said. "Even on the sideline, he may not know everything ... but he comes off the field and knows exactly what he did. I think he's really going to continue to blossom for that reason. He handles situations very well."

Flacco followed up on Harbaugh's comments by calling his touchdown run "pretty impressive" and said it's been good getting to talk to him on the sideline and that "he's a confident young kid... [that's been] handling himself really well."


3. A much-needed confidence boost for Perriman

The Ravens showed their former first-round pick they still have faith in him after picking up his $649K roster bonus included in the final year of his rookie contract earlier this offseason.

During last week's Hall of Fame Game, Perriman dropped a pass from RGIII that turned into an interception. However, the duo redeemed themselves against the Rams when Griffin III threw a 32-yard bomb to the back left corner of the end zone to Perriman. 

A smiling Perriman could be found in the Ravens' locker room after the win saying the play was "definitely a confidence boost" and is just thankful to finally be healthy during the preseason for pretty much the first time in his career. 

He will have to continue to fight for his spot on the 53-man roster with the additions of Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown. 

4. Williams continues to be a threat

The 2017 third-round pick followed up his strong performance at the Hall of Fame Game – where he had a total of 41 pass-rushing snaps resulting in six hurries, one QB hit and a pass rush productivity of 17.1 according to Pro Football Focus – with another stellar performance.

During Thursday's matchup, the edge rusher out of Alabama had multiple hurries and a strip sack in the third for the first sack of the preseason.

Williams was following in the footsteps of the Ravens' first-team defense who finished their opening drive with a sack from Matthew Judon on third down to force the punt and an interception in the second from Maurice Canady. 

Ravens vs. Rams Notes

— The competition at right tackle between James Hurst and Orlando Brown Jr. is heating up. Brown Jr. played into the third quarter Thursday after getting in 60 snaps during the Hall of Fame Game. Quarterback Joe Flacco praised the third-round pick saying, "You can't ignore the fact that he's got the ability. He's just so big. He swallows people up. He has the natural ability to play that position and be a really good football player, so it's just exciting to see." 

— The Ravens got two W's last night when John Harbaugh quoted THE Michael Scott when asked about avoiding the injury bug during the preseason. Harbaugh said, "I'm not superstitious, but I am a little stitious." Classic. 

— While the preseason record does not matter whatsoever, the Ravens haven't lost a preseason game since Sept. 3, 2015. They now have ten days until they head to Indianapolis to face the Colts. 

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