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Katrina's scars harder to see as Super Bowl looms

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Katrina's scars harder to see as Super Bowl looms

NEW ORLEANS (AP) New Orleans has celebrated plenty of milestones on its slow road to recovery from Hurricane Katrina, but arguably none is bigger than hosting its first Super Bowl since the 2005 storm left the city in shambles.

To see the remnants of Katrina's destruction, fans coming to town for Sunday's game will have to stray from the French Quarter and the downtown corridor where the Superdome is located. Even in the neighborhoods that bore the brunt of the storm, many of the most glaring scars have faded over time.

Billions of dollars in federal money has paid for repairing and replacing tens of thousands of homes wrecked by flooding. Gone are the ubiquitous FEMA trailers that once dotted the landscape. Levees that broke and flooded 80 percent of the city have been fortified with the intent of protecting the city from another epic hurricane.

The city's lifeblood tourism trade has thrived despite the double-barrel blow of Katrina and BP's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Seafood is plentiful as the harvest rebounds from effects of the oil spill.

Crowds at Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras, two of the city's signature events, have at least matched pre-storm levels. Lured by tax credits, filmmakers have flocked here in droves. And the hospitality industry has been an economic engine for the city, which has more restaurants now than it did when the storm made landfall.

``The restaurants opened lickety split, as fast as they could,'' said Tom Fitzmorris, publisher of The New Orleans Menu. ``Everybody is doing well. We have very few closings. I don't know anybody who is complaining.''

Sunday's Super Bowl is the city's first since 2002, but New Orleans already has hosted a BCS national championship game, a men's Final Four and other major sports and entertainment events in the past 18 months alone.

``That is an extraordinary run of events for a city that seven years ago was 15 feet under water and the last on every list in America that mattered,'' Mayor Mitch Landrieu said last week. ``Now we find ourselves in a city that's on the world stage.''

Yet, as far as the city has come, decades-old problems persist. New Orleans remains plagued by violent crime, political corruption, a troubled police department and poverty.

Crime rates briefly dipped after Katrina scattered residents all over the country but quickly soared again as people returned home. Landrieu has made crime reduction one of his top priorities, but the murder rate has remained stubbornly high since he took office in 2010.

After the storm, federal authorities launched a sweeping effort to clean up the police department. Several investigations yielded charges against 20 current or former officers, many of whom were linked to deadly shootings in Katrina's chaotic aftermath. The Justice Department also has negotiated ambitious plans to reform the police force and improve conditions at the city's jail.

Separate probes of City Hall corruption revealed that some officials enriched themselves while New Orleans struggled to rebound from the storm. The latest and most prominent target so far is former Mayor Ray Nagin, who was indicted earlier this month on charges he accepted bribes and payoffs in exchange for steering work to city contractors.

For the city's poorest residents, life hasn't gotten any easier since Katrina. Housing costs have skyrocketed while the region's unemployment rate has risen along with the rest of the country. A months-long moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf after the BP spill didn't help matters, either.

``A fresh coat of paint hasn't and won't drive away the poverty that has existed in our community,'' said Davida Finger, a Loyola University law professor who has helped low-income residents with Katrina-related housing problems. ``It didn't go away with the storm, and it can't go away overnight.''

Although the population hasn't returned to its pre-Katrina levels, New Orleans is one of the nation's fastest growing large cities. The population dropped from more than 484,000 in 2000 to an estimated 208,000 a year after Katrina before rising to an estimated 360,000 as of July 2011, according to census figures cited by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.

Allison Plyer, the center's deputy director and chief demographer, said Katrina gave the city a chance to fix problems that have spanned generations. For instance, notoriously dysfunctional public schools were replaced with privately run charter schools that have been credited with making slow but measurable improvements in student performance.

``Katrina and the levee failures caused a break in the status quo that sparked extensive citizen engagement and intensive reforms,'' Plyer said. ``For some, there has been a vast improvement. For others, things have gotten substantially worse.''

Few residents are dwelling on the negative, however, as they prepare for the big game, the legions of celebrities it will bring and the annual Carnival parades that culminate with Mardi Gras on Feb. 12.

The matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens will be the seventh Super Bowl at the Superdome and 10th overall in New Orleans since the NFL awarded the city a franchise in 1966. The dome became a symbol of suffering after thousands of residents were stranded there for days without food or water in Katrina's aftermath. Hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations helped make the Saints' home a suitable Super Bowl venue again.

Marisol Canedo, whose love for New Orleans inspired her to rebuild after her family's home was inundated by 11 feet of water, said the Super Bowl's return shows the world that New Orleans is ``open for business.'' But that doesn't mean the city is close to completely recovering, she cautions.

``It's a struggle to get where we were,'' she said. ``Everything is not up and running. Everything is not back to what it was pre-Katrina.''

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Isaiah Thomas wants to make it clear that Marcus Smart flops

Isaiah Thomas wants to make it clear that Marcus Smart flops

When you know, you know.

Washington Wizards starting point guard Isaiah Thomas gave his take on former teammate Marcus Smart's reputation for flopping. Spoilers: he flops.

Thomas, who is returning to Boston on Wednesday for the first time as a starter, was teammates with Smart during his run with the Celtics from 2014-17. He didn't hold back from interrupting reporters to make sure everyone knows that Smart flops. (See the entire sequence play out in the video above.)

Despite being familiar with Smart, don't expect Thomas to know everything about how the Celtics will prepare for the Wizards. Thomas pointed out that only two of his former teammates are still with the team.

His history with Boston means a lot to Thomas, but his only focus on Wednesday will be earning the victory.

"The love is genuine between me and the city," Thomas said. "Hopefully we can just win the game. That's the most important." 

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Lamar Jackson’s play this season has begun to make some analysts and fans backtrack 

Lamar Jackson’s play this season has begun to make some analysts and fans backtrack 

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson is starting to make people reconsider what they think of him. 

After the Ravens’ 49-13 win over the Bengals on Sunday, the rest of the NFL is starting to take notice about Lamar Jackson’s status in the NFL. Especially considering his spin move through the Bengals defense.

Hall of Fame NFL general manager Bill Polian recently admitted that he was wrong when he said that Jackson should be an NFL wide receiver during his draft process in 2018.

“I was wrong, because I used the old, traditional quarterback standard with him, which is clearly why John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome were more prescient than I was,” Polian told USA TODAY Sports. 

Jackson is currently building an MVP case for himself and is on-pace for over 30 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards of total offense. 

It’s a nice change of pace for the 22-year-old quarterback in his second year as a pro. Jackson had to face heavy criticism after he left Louisville for a variety of reasons headed into the draft. Even after he took over as the Ravens quarterback, those evaluations persisted. 

“We always knew what he was about,” Ravens center Matt Skura said. “We always knew his ability to make plays and all that stuff. I think it’s just people right now seeing it on a much larger scale and it’s just getting the attention now.”

At this point, however, it’s clear that not only is Jackson a quarterback, he might even be the MVP of the league.

Of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the 2018 Draft, only four are starting and just two have led their teams to a winning record. Jackson leads all of his draft counterparts in total yards and total touchdowns. 

But as anyone in the Ravens’ locker room will say, the accolades don’t concern Jackson — only the record does.

“I think he’s more concerned with winning than anything,” Orlando Brown Jr. said. “As individuals, we’ve all got people to prove wrong and things that we used to put a chip on our shoulder. At the end of the day, I know he’s more concerned with winning more than anything.”

Still, it’s noteworthy that it only took Jackson a complete season of starts, through two partial seasons, to begin the backtracking across the NFL landscape.

“If you watch ESPN or you watch TV, it’s going to come up no matter what,” Skura said. “Even on your Instagram feed it’s going to come up. I think for a lot of us, just in one ear and out the other as far as people pumping us up. You’ve kind of got to stay level-headed and ride the rollercoaster, so to say.”

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