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STATE OF THE NFL

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STATE OF THE NFL

Player safety, the New Orleans Saints bounty program, cold-weather Super Bowls, even his popularity among New Orleans restaurant owners - NFL commissioner Roger Goodell touched on a wide range of topics Friday during the annual ``State of the NFL.'' Among the highlights:

PLAYER SAFETY

Goodell defended the league, which has come under increasing scrutiny following new studies about the long-term effects of concussions as well as recent suicides by former NFL players. President Barack Obama recently said if he had a son, he's not sure he'd let him play football. And the NFL is being sued by thousands of former players.

Goodell says steps the league has taken in recent seasons have made the game safer, and more steps are likely going forward.

``We will not relent on this,'' he said.

Neurosurgeons will be part of gameday medical staffs beginning next season, he said. The league is also looking at eliminating certain low blocks and will continue to impose harsh punishments for illegal hits - particularly for players who are repeat offenders.

Proper tackling technique also needs to be emphasized, getting players to get away from using their heads and return to using their shoulders and arms.

``The No. 1 issue is, take the head out of the game,'' Goodell said.

Asked specifically about Obama's concerns, Goodell said ``I welcome'' the comments because it keeps attention on the dangers of head trauma.

``What we are doing is leading the way to try and make sure people understand you need to treat these injuries seriously,'' he said.

SAINTS BOUNTIES

Goodell refused to apologize for his harsh treatment of the Saints' bounty program, even if it means he's not the most popular man in New Orleans this week.

Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season, and four current or former Saints players were punished after an investigation found the club had had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.

``There's no question that there was a bounty program in place for three years. I think that is bad for the players, it's bad for the game,'' Goodell said. ``I don't believe bounties are going to be part of football going forward, and I think that's good for everybody.''

His only regret was not convincing teams, players and coaches that everyone shares in the responsibility of making the game safer.

``I wasn't able to make that point clearly enough with the union and with others,'' he said. ``But that is something we're going to be incredibly relentless on.''

ROONEY RULE

Despite eight coaching vacancies and openings for seven general managers, no minorities were hired for the NFL's most high-profile positions this off-season. Goodell says that's unacceptable.

``There was full compliance of the Rooney Rule. In fact, I believe there were a record number of interviews,'' Goodell said. ``But we didn't have the outcome we wanted. It's very important to the success of the league to do that, and we're committed to find that solution.''

Goodell said the league needs to look at whether the rule needs to be expanded or adapted.

COLD-WEATHER SUPER BOWLS

Next year's Super Bowl in New York is unlikely to be the last played outdoors in a cold-weather city, judging by Goodell's remarks.

``The game of football is made to be played in the elements,'' he said. ``Now, we hope they will not be extreme, but we will be prepared if that's the case. Some of the most classic games in history were played in extreme conditions.''

- Nancy Armour -http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour

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EDITOR'S NOTE - ``Super Bowl Watch'' shows you the Super Bowl and the events surrounding the game through the eyes of Associated Press journalists across New Orleans and around the world. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

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Caps Top 20 Goals Countdown - Goal 6 - Ovechkin opens Game 7 vs TB with a bang

Caps Top 20 Goals Countdown - Goal 6 - Ovechkin opens Game 7 vs TB with a bang

Always the emotional leader of the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin knew that when he woke up on May 23, 2018, that he had the chance to alter the course of his personal history and help push the Capitals to its first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1998.

Before the puck dropped on a win-or-go-home Game 7, the determination was painted on Ovechkin’s face and on his first shift in the game just 1:02 into the contest in Tampa Bay, the Capitals captain found the back of the net with a one-timer from the point to put his stamp on the game.

Number 6 on our countdown of the Top 20 Goals of the Stanley Cup run is Ovechkin’s opener in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final which catapulted the Capitals to a 4-0 win on the road.

After a strong backcheck and hit by Tom Wilson at center dislodged the puck from Chris Kunitz, he and Evgeny Kuznetsov turned the puck back towards the Lightning zone with Ovechkin trailing the play up the left wing. A drop pass from Wilson right after he crossed the blue line left Kuznetsov with the space needed to whip the puck across the zone to Ovechkin who wasted no time in firing past an unsuspecting Andrei Vasilevskiy for the opening goal of the pivotal game.

The site of one of Ovechkin’s iconic celebrations, the infamous “hot stick” celebration when the captain tallied his 50th goal of the season in 2009, Tampa has always treated the Great 8 kindly as the top line winger entered the 2018 postseason with 14 goals in 22 regular season games in the city. After the Caps finally clinched their spot back in the Stanley Cup Final, Tampa likely will always have a special place in the hearts of Capitals fans and Ovechkin alike.

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Bryce Harper on facing the Nationals: 'It's definitely going to be weird'

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Bryce Harper's felt the love in Philly from day one, he told reporters on Tuesday.

And when he comes to his old stomping grounds next week to face the Nationals, he knows it's going to be strange.

“The Nationals are a great team, and are gonna be a great team this year and everybody knows that," he said. "For me, I just want to focus on what we can as a team; as a clubhouse and control what we can.”

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"From day one, it felt right," he said. "I always talk about family and being a family and one unit. I get that from this team. Every guy has your back and vice versa. So, I'm very excited to go to battle with these guys.”

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