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New Orleans: A tale of 2 cities since Katrina

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New Orleans: A tale of 2 cities since Katrina

NEW ORLEANS (AP) While a blimp hovers not too far in the distance, circling over tens of thousands of Super Bowl revelers, Christopher Weaver looks around at the neighborhood where he was born and raised and almost died.

He loves this place, probably more now than he did back in 2005, before Hurricane Katrina tried to wash it all away.

But it's not much to look at, that's for sure.

``You can see it for yourself,'' Weaver moaned to a reporter, staring Friday at all the vacant lots, overrun with weeds that are taller than he is, at all the abandoned shells of former homes, many of them still marked with the spray-painted ``X'' that became the grim symbol of a great American city nearly wiped off the map.

``I'm going to be honest with you,'' he went on. ``It sucks here. Just look across the street. Nothing. Look over there. Nothing.''

In many ways, New Orleans has come back stronger than ever since Katrina. The restaurant scene is thriving. The hotels are packed. The Superdome has received a glamorous makeover. The French Quarter rocks into the wee hours night after night.

But, as the Big Easy prepares to host the party-slash-national holiday it does like no other, Super Bowl Sunday, it's worth remembering that life has not yet returned to normal for everyone here.

Not even close.

``It's like a tale of two cities,'' said Mike Miller, who works with the homeless group Unity of Greater New Orleans. ``It's hard to believe that seven years later, it still looks like this.''

Just a short ride from the French Quarter, in historic neighborhoods such as Treme and the Ninth Ward, it's not hard to find a virtual time capsule from the days when Katrina roared ashore. On block after block, there are structures that look pretty much the same as they did after the water receded.

There are the telltale markings that show just how high it climbed when the levees cracked - 3 feet on this crumbling house, 5 feet on those remains of a shopping mall, 7 feet on that ghostly apartment complex. Those Xs still mark the date many of them were searched, who did the searching and how many bodies, if any, were found inside.

Where kids once played and neighbors used to hang out together, now all that remains could easily pass for a former war zone.

``It's just hard to believe that every abandoned house, every abandoned apartment, represents a family that never came back,'' Miller said, shaking his head.

Even after all these years, it all looks so familiar to anyone who remembers those horrific images of people clinging to rooftops and huddled on bridges, waiting desperately for help to arrive.

``You can still see,'' said Travers Kurr, also with Unity of Greater New Orleans, pointing toward the roof of a boarded-up house, ``where people busted out of their attics so they could be rescued.''

Weaver was one of those who barely got out alive.

When Katrina struck, he was looking out a window toward the levee about a block away, the one that was supposed to keep him safe. Instead, he watched it tear apart right before his eyes - and the water come rushing through.

He tried to escape the conventional way, but the pressure from winds howling at well over 100 mph prevented him from opening the door. He busted a window and climbed out, only to get pinned against the wall of his house by the rapidly rising waters. Finally, he went under, sure he was going to die. He held his breath and remembered what his grandmother told him, to always pray to God to forgive his sins.

``Suddenly, something shot me away from that house,'' Weaver said, convinced beyond any doubt that he's still alive today only because of a higher power.

A neighbor pulled him to safety using a strand of Christmas lights. After 2 1/2 days on a rooftop, they were finally rescued. Weaver still has a nasty scar of his right leg from a cut he got while being tossed about in the turbulent waters.

Despite the unthinkable carnage in the Lower Ninth Ward, Weaver never had any doubt he would return and rebuild, even if it's now clear that so many of his former neighbors and fellow survivors won't be following his lead.

``I was born and raised right here,'' he said. ``If Katrina comes back again, I'm still not leaving.''

Miller estimates there are more than 10,000 - and maybe as many as 15,000 - abandoned structures in the New Orleans metro area. Many of them have been commandeered by the city's large homeless population, who slip away in the light of day but leave behind evidence of their existence - dirty clothes scattered about, a bedroll where they slept, empty cans and plastic foam containers from what passed for a meal.

As he drives around the areas that won't be found in any tourism brochures, another member of his team, New Orleans native Clarence White, rattles off what used to be here, what used to be there.

``That was a popular bar room over there,'' White said, turning to his left. ``There used to be a drug store over there,'' he said, shifting his gaze to the right.

The NFL, as it now does in all Super Bowl cities, has set aside Saturday as a day of service, in which volunteers will take part in the renovation of five local playgrounds and their surrounding communities. That gesture will surely be more poignant in New Orleans than any other place where the championship game is held.

But Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, a native of nearby St. Rose, is keenly aware that it will take far more than a few hours to get this city - this entire city - back on its feet.

``When I get home, I drive around the city, go to some of my old spots, just hang out with people,'' he said. ``You see the city is rebuilding, but we've still got a long way to go. It's just different, man. You have so many people that were lost. The spirit was kind of broken for a second. But New Orleans people, we've been through a lot. We love our city, man. We love to have a good time. We love for people to come have a great time with us.''

Even amid the lingering devastation, there are hopeful signs of progress. In the Lower Ninth Ward, for instance, construction workers were on the scene Friday at several odd-shaped, energy-efficient homes going up with funding from a group led by actor Brad Pitt.

``I appreciate everything he's doing,'' Weaver said, though he quickly added that the remnants of Katrina are far, far more prevalent in this part of New Orleans.

Through all the hardship, Weaver doesn't seem the least bit bitter about his plight. He's proud the Super Bowl has returned to his hometown for the first time since Katrina, and he'll be pulling hard for the Ravens to beat the San Francisco 49ers. This being New Orleans, the occasion will be marked with adult beverages and plenty of food - gumbo, red beans and rice, a big pot of crawfish.

But, for all those Super Bowl revelers who might think everything has returned to normal in the Big Easy, Weaver has this message:

``Come on over here where I'm at.''

It's not far away at all.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/super-bowl-watch andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Ravens' Lamar Jackson aspiring to become the Tom Brady of Baltimore

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USA TODAY Sports

Ravens' Lamar Jackson aspiring to become the Tom Brady of Baltimore

It only took Lamar Jackson seven weeks to get the city of Baltimore behind him. 

Since becoming the Ravens' starter in Week 11, Jackson pulled his team out of a three-game losing streak, going 6-1 down the stretch, and earned the franchise their first playoff appearance in three season.

That's quite impressive for a rookie, but the 22-year-old wants his time in Baltimore to resemble arguably the greatest to ever do it. 

"Ain't no ceiling," Jackson said on his limitations in an interview with Ray Lewis for Showtime's 'Inside the NFL.' "I already said it, when I got drafted, I want to bring a Super Bowl to Baltimore, so I'm going to try to bring as much as I can. I want to bring a Super Bowl here. I want to be the Brady. Bring multiple if I could."

Through 19 seasons, Tom Brady has brought five Lombardi Trophy's to the city of Boston and is currently in the race for a sixth. It's a feat that may never be repeated, but Jackson sure wants to try.

The young quarterback's speed is something that separates him from the 41-year-old veteran. In just seven games, Jackson rushed for more yards (695) than every other quarterback in 2018, and his 119 rushing yards against the Cincinnati Bengals was the most ever by a QB in their starting debut. 

“Probably when, like, I'm playing football with my older cousins,” Jackson told Lewis on when he realized he was the fastest kid on the block. “I used to play with all the older guys. I never played with, really, my age group when I was younger. ... There would be a new kid come on the block, and they'd be like, 'Oh, this kid, he's good,' this and that. So I get jealous, because I'm like, 'Man, I'm the best kid over here,' so I'm going to outperform him.”

His speed is such a threat that the Ravens have already begun shaping their future around it, while accuracy and ball security remain a work in progress. Jackson finished his rookie campaign completing 99 of 170 passes for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns. 

While reaching Brady-type success will be an uphill battle, the good news is he's got 18 or more seasons to hit his goal. Jackson will get his first taste of Brady in 2019 when the Ravens host the Patriots. 

You can watch Jackson and Lewis' full interview Tuesday at 9 p.m..

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Lamar Jackson finishes rookie campaign with the most quarterback rushing yards

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Lamar Jackson finishes rookie campaign with the most quarterback rushing yards

You couldn't have predicted Lamar Jackson's rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens if you tried.

After trading up in the 2018 NFL Draft to select Jackson with the 32nd overall pick, the 22-year-old came in and earned the starting job from an injured Joe Flacco, while leading the Ravens to their first playoff appearance in three seasons.

Jackson had a record-breaking rookie campaign, but also left room to build off of as he becomes the Ravens' leader for the foreseeable future.

Here are 13 key numbers behind his rookie season. 

6-1: Jackson's record as a starter during the regular season. His only defeat was a 27-24 OT loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14. Ben Roethlisberger (7-0) and Dak Prescott (6-1) were the only other rookie QBs with at least six wins in their first seven starts.

1,201: Jackson completed 99 of 170 passes for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns in 2018.

695: The rookie's 695 rushing yards is the most by all NFL quarterbacks in 2018. It also ranks 11th most by a quarterback in NFL single-season-history and third by a rookie quarterback behind Robert Griffin III (815) and Cam Newton (706).

204: Career-high passing yards against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 16. 

119: Jackson's 119 rushing yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11 was the most by a QB in their starting debut. 

84.5: The rookie finished the 2018 season with a 84.5 QB rating. 

68: Jackson connected with tight end Mark Andrews for a 68-yard touchdown Week 16 against the Chargers for the teams longest offensive score of the season. 

21: How old Jackson was in the Ravens' Wild Card loss to the Chargers, making him the youngest QB to start a playoff game in the history of the NFL. The Ravens played the Chargers on Jan. 6, and Jackson turned 22 on Jan. 7. 

16: The number of times Jackson was sacked this season.

12: The number of fumbles Jackson had in 2018, but only four were recovered by the opposing team.

6.81: Jackson averaged 6.81 passing yards-per-attempt through 12 games.

5: The QB produced five of the Ravens' 19 rushing touchdowns in 2018.

3: Number of interceptions Jackson had through 12 games.

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