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Manningham a Super Bowl spectator for 49ers

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Manningham a Super Bowl spectator for 49ers

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Mario Manningham hobbled into the Superdome stands on crutches and found an out-of-the-way seat to watch his San Francisco teammates go through media day frenzy on the field below, his emotions mixed.

It's been nearly two weeks since the 49ers wide receiver underwent reconstructive surgery on his left knee and almost a year since he made the catch of his life in the New York Giants' Super Bowl victory.

Manningham hoped to be playing on the New Orleans turf Sunday, when the 49ers face the Baltimore Ravens in the franchise's first Super Bowl in 18 years and with a perfect 5-0 championship record to protect. Instead, the soft-spoken wideout could win another ring, this time as a spectator.

``Possibility,'' he said of capturing back-to-back titles. ``This is different for me right now. I'm not down, I just wish I could help my team. You're never down. It's not bitterness. It's not like I did something for me not to be out there. I'm not out there because of injury.''

Yet this is hardly how Manningham envisioned it when he left the Giants and headed out West to play for Jim Harbaugh and the team he helped beat in last year's NFC championship game.

He did his very best not to sound glum. The crutches and bulky knee brace said it for him Tuesday morning.

As much as Manningham wants to be out there to help the NFC champion Niners (13-4-1) this weekend in the Big Easy, he realizes it's rare enough just to return to the NFL's showcase in consecutive years - with different teams.

That's something special to take from this unique Super Bowl experience.

``I don't think that's by coincidence,'' fellow injured wide receiver Kyle Williams said. ``Mario's a great player. Any team that he gets on he's instantly going to make better.''

While having the appreciation of his teammates sure helps, that doesn't make it easier now. Not after that spectacular over-the-shoulder 38-yard catch between two defenders in which he managed to stay inbounds to start the game-winning, 88-yard touchdown drive in last season's 21-17 Super Bowl victory against New England.

The reception highlighted a five-catch day for 73 yards. Manningham also caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning with 8:34 remaining in regulation of the NFC title game to help New York reach the Super Bowl - beating the 49ers 20-17 in overtime on their home field of Candlestick Park.

All the big plays from his memorable 2012 postseason are still plenty fresh.

``I think about it,'' Manningham said. ``Good thing I got a chance to come back. There aren't too many players who leave one team and go back the next year.''

The 26-year-old Manningham had 39 catches for 523 yards and four touchdowns last year before leaving New York. He made 42 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown in 12 games and 10 starts this season, his fifth in the NFL.

``Mario Manningham has his fingerprints all over our success, as do a lot of people,'' Harbaugh said. ``The players on our team, this is a shared thing. Everybody doing a little adds up to a lot.''

Manningham and Randy Moss joined the 49ers in the same week last March, significant upgrades by general manager Trent Baalke to a receiving corps that had just one catch for 3 yards in the 2012 NFC championship game.

His plan is to watch Sunday standing up, while keeping pressure off his knee. Manningham said there's no way could possibly sit down through a Super Bowl, even if his healing knee would be better for it.

``I'm going to be alright,'' he said. ``Injuries are part of the game, I'm not mad. I wish I was playing. Everything happens for a reason.''

Manningham hurt his knee in a 42-13 loss at Seattle on Dec. 23, tearing the anterior cruciate and posterior cruciate ligaments.

For now, he will offer up any insight he can for those teammates who haven't been to a Super Bowl - which is most of them.

``I know it's a big stage. We're going to treat it like it's just another game,'' Manningham said. ``I just tell them don't worry about the crowd. Don't worry about the crowd, because you are the only game that's going to be watched on Sunday, so there will be people watching and you're going to hear everything. You're going to see flashes and stuff. Just don't worry about it. Just go out there and play.''

For Manningham, getting back on the field - the goal is in time for the 2013 opener - is all about baby steps. Literally.

``It's going good. I started light walking on there a couple days ago,'' he said. ``Just trying to get stronger and come down here and root for my team.''

He typically uses just one crutch, but brought two for this trip considering how much he'll be moving around.

Next up in his rehab: wiggling his toes and doing quadriceps raises.

``That's the only thing I can right now,'' he said.

That, and hope for one more sparkly souvenir championship ring.

``I know that my team is going to win it,'' Manningham said. ``I would be wrong if I said they weren't.''

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I Am The Prospect: Capitals' prospect Alex Alexeyev is focused on one goal - making the roster

I Am The Prospect: Capitals' prospect Alex Alexeyev is focused on one goal - making the roster

Alex Alexeyev is the third Washington Capitals' prospect featured in NBC Sports Washington's I Am The Prospect series. Click here to check out more profiles from I am The Prospect.

Like most prospective NHL players, Alex Alexeyev dreams of the day he gets to lift the Stanley Cup over his head.

“It’s the best league in the world," Alexeyev said. "In childhood, they (are) always dreaming about raising that Stanley Cup. It’s my dream too.”

Standing at 6-foot, 3.5-inches tall, the 19-year-old from St. Petersburg, Russia, was the Capitals' last pick of the first round in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“He’s an untapped resource," Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said. "I was really impressed with him last year, seeing him for the first time."

Alexeyev's journey to the big leagues began three years ago when he made the move from Russia to North America, earning a spot on the top pair of the Red Deer Rebels' roster in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. It was there in March of this past year that he sustained a "scary" knee injury, almost certainly sidelining him for the time being.

“I was scared and I felt like something (was) definitely wrong with my knee but after some time where I figured out, everyone figured out that it’s not that scary,” Alexeyev said.

Alexeyev rebounded quickly, rehabbing his injury with the Capitals' AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears.

“The injuries, it’s too bad, but players do get injured and that’s something that can’t be helped, Capitals assistant general manager, Ross Mahoney said. "But he had a really good first half of the season with the Red Deer and exceptional World Junior Tournament, the under-20 tournament.” 

Since then, Alexeyev was a standout at the Caps' Developmental Camp in June.

“He just looks like he’s at a different level than the rest of the kids both physically and ability to play," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. "He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got a good skill level, he moves the puck well, he seems to have a good attitude a good work ethic, I’m excited to see him in training camp and see his progression here as the year goes on.

With the loss of Capitals' veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, Alexeyev is focused on making the Caps' 2019-20 roster.

“Alex is a really intelligent player," Mahoney said. "I think he’s got great vision on the ice. He has that ability also to be very patient with the puck.” 

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The Las Vegas Aces have no answer for the Mystics ‘missing piece’ Emma Meesseman

The Las Vegas Aces have no answer for the Mystics ‘missing piece’ Emma Meesseman

WASHINGTON – A year ago the Washington Mystics made it to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Top-to-bottom they were a loaded team that finally made the jump led by one of the most talented women’s basketball players in the world in Elena Delle Donne. 

But Delle Donne was hindered, battling through a knee injury throughout the entire playoffs. There was no one to give her relief, which resulted in the Seattle Storm sweeping the Mystics in the Finals. 

A full 365 days and some change have passed. Nearly everyone returned to the Mystics for another go at a championship. The younger players added a year of experience. Expectations are just as high. This year though they believe that they already have what it takes to win a championship; Emma Meesseman came back to the team.

“Emma is the missing piece for us,” Natasha Cloud said after Game 2. “From last year’s to this year’s team she the difference-maker in making us a championship team. She’s putting us on her back… Emma is an All-Star of her own. I’m extremely proud of the player she’s grown into.”

The first leg of the WNBA Semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces in Washington saw different ways Meesseman can be the reason why the Mystics lift the trophy at the end of the season. 

Game 1 she led all scorers with a season-high 27 points. Thirteen of those came in a 26-point third quarter that erased a seven-point lead for Las Vegas. Her explosion allowed the Mystics to surge back into the game. Complementary to Delle Donne’s 25 points, they were a dynamic duo. Las Vegas couldn’t hone in on one of them when they were both on the court. Washington won by two.

Game 2 the Belgian matched that performance. Meesseman tied a career-high with 30 points going 11-for-19 from the field and 5-for-7 from 3-point range. A majority of those (22) came in the second and third quarters to take firm control of the game. Each time the Aces attempted to come back, Meesseman would hit another dagger. Washington won by 12.

“She ain’t missing any shots. That’s the main thing,” Aces’ Liz Cambage said on how they’ve been unable to stop Meesseman. “She came out tonight – [the Mystics] all shot so well tonight.”

Put her in the paint and the flex player posted up and drove against the 6-8 Cambage, or forced her out to clear the lane for other Mystics. Stretch Meesseman out to the arc and she knocked down threes over shorter guards. She’s a Swiss army knife for the Mystics, versatility that is similar to the 2019 MVP Delle Donne.

That comparison is drawn from her own teammates, including Cloud. One that Meesseman believes to be a big honor.

Last year Meesseman missed the season to take a break and work on her game. She was winded after the 2017 season and the toll that it took on her. While away from the WNBA, a lot of her time on the court was with the Belgium national team. There she had to be the team's primary scorer. 

This year in Washington, she’s applied that mentality and aggressiveness to her play. While she’s come off the bench for essentially the whole season, Meesseman has been a huge asset. Now, she’s starting with a big line-up for Washington.

“You can’t just have one or two [go-to players]. We need three or four to win a championship and [Messeeman has] embraced that this last part of the season,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. “She was aggressive, she was looking for the ball, just there is a whole different body language to her about this right now.”

Only twice this season had the 6-4 forward reached 20 points for the Mystics. One was in the penultimate game in the regular season. Granted, she missed 11 games for her national team obligations, but it has been rare to see this explosion. 

"Emma has got a chip on her shoulder. She clearly was watching last year and wasn't happy with the result,” Delle Donne told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. “Emma is playing unreal basketball. She is so good, one of the greatest in the world. To add a piece like that and for her to step up like this has been so big for us."

But Meesseman doesn’t see herself as being the difference-maker. She’s just playing basketball and trying to contribute to an already established championship-level team. 

During Game 1’s postgame press conference Meesseman shut down being labeled as the “missing piece.”

“I’m not sure I agree with that-“ 

“Emma, stop it,” Delle Donne said. “We didn’t win Emma. We need you. I’ll take your 27 and 10 any night.”

She still isn't embracing that title after Game 2. Although if you ask the rest of the Mystics, Meesseman is alone in that regard.

Whether she likes it or not, Meesseman is the clear difference in the Mystics roster as opposed to the team that fell short in the WNBA Finals. When league historians look back at the 2018 and 2019 Mystics teams, she will stick out. 

The only question is will the “missing piece” push the Mystics to where they want to go. 

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