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Super Bowl plus Mardi Gras? It's called Super Gras

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Super Bowl plus Mardi Gras? It's called Super Gras

NEW ORLEANS (AP) New Orleans is bracing for record crowds as the biggest sporting event of the year, the NFL Super Bowl, collides with Mardi Gras season in what many locals are calling ``Super Gras.''

Mardi Gras floats are getting finishing touches, including one float being touted as the biggest the city's Carnival has ever seen. Bakeries are hiring extra hands to decorate the thousands of king cakes, a traditional Mardi Gras treat, being pre-ordered for the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. Mardi Gras falls nine days later on Feb. 12.

The city's hotels are more than 90 percent occupied for the weeks before and after the big game, according to Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

``We are ready to give the world a show,'' said Perry.

Carnival season, with parades, parties and masked revelry in the weeks before Mardi Gras, is always one of the most expensive times of year to visit New Orleans. But Super Bowl weekend has driven prices higher than usual. Smaller boutique-style hotels that usually go for $300 to $500 a night during Carnival are as high as $800 during Super Bowl. Rooms at some major hotels are up to $2,000 a night, according to online listings.

Carnival parades will not be held downtown during Super Bowl weekend, but dozens will roll in the city on the weekends before and after the game. Some sports fans are extending their stays to take in the masked riders tossing beads, costumed marching groups and make-believe royalty. Parades normally held in the suburbs will take place as scheduled on game weekend.

``There will be so much energy in the street,'' Perry said. ``It's a very unique situation to have Super Bowl, which is truly an experience of a lifetime, coinciding with a unique cultural event like Mardi Gras.''

Tourism officials estimate 125,000 to 150,000 people will be in town for Super Bowl weekend, with 75,000 at the game and the rest taking in the fanfare. Another million typically visit New Orleans in the weeks leading up to and including Mardi Gras.

This will be New Orleans' 10th Super Bowl, tying Miami for the city that's hosted the most Super Bowls. It's also the seventh Super Bowl taking place in the Superdome, now named for its sponsor Mercedes-Benz. But more importantly, it will be the Superdome's first Super Bowl since Hurricane Katrina ripped off its roof and flooded surrounding streets when levees gave way in 2005. Thousands of evacuees were housed in filthy conditions in the damaged arena for days after the storm with no air conditioning or working bathrooms.

The dome has since undergone more than $336 million in renovations, including new suites, concession stands, and bathrooms, and new electrical, video and audio systems. All seats were cleaned or replaced, and club lounges got new windows with views of downtown.

The dome's outer shell - faded a dull gray by more than three decades of Louisiana sun and dented by flying storm debris - has also been replaced. The new siding restores the stadium to the champagne color it had in 1978 when it hosted its first Super Bowl.

Though there are no public tours of the dome, anyone can attend the Jan. 29 Super Bowl media day. For $25, fans can sit in the stands, listen to NFL Network coverage and player interviews with portable head-sets, and get a look at the newly-renovated space.

Also open to the public is the NFL Experience, a theme park for football lovers set up at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Jan. 30-Feb. 3. It's $25 to enter and includes interactive games and a regulation-size goal post where fans can kick field goals. Fans can also visit the NFL Experience's media area, where player and celebrity interviews are held.

``We opened the area to fans for the first time last year, and the feedback was incredible,'' said Mary Pat Augenthaler, the NFL's director of special events. She said the media area includes ``Radio Row'' and the NFL Network. ``Last year some fans spent hours just in that one section. Not everybody can go to the game, but in here you feel like you're a part of the central nervous system of the Super Bowl.''

As Super Bowl fans leave town, a new wave of revelers will arrive for Mardi Gras weekend. That's when some of the city's largest parade organizations, known as superkrewes, hold their glitzy balls and parades.

Parade groups have been working for months to make this year bigger and better than ever. The Krewe of Endymion is boasting it will have the largest float in city history for its Feb. 9 parade, led by pop singer Kelly Clarkson.

The Bacchus parade and its yet-to-be-named celebrity rider rolls on Feb. 10, and the Orpheus parade rolls on Feb. 11 - the eve of Fat Tuesday known as Lundi Gras - with actor Gary Sinise, Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress Mariska Hargitay and New Orleans musicians Troy ``Trombone Shorty'' Andrews and Harry Connick Jr.

Visitors who can't catch the parades in person may opt for a visit to Mardi Gras World, the enormous studio and warehouse where floats are made and stored. Tours include a stop in the prop shop, where artists create and paint float decorations and sculptures.

This year, Mardi Gras World is also the site of a Guinness World Record attempt by New Orleans artist Stephan Wanger to create the world's largest Mardi Gras bead mosaic. Visitors can help cut and place beads one by one onto a 42-foot-long, 8-foot-tall board etched with the New Orleans skyline.

``It's something we want hands from all over the world to be a part of,'' Wanger said. The first bead was placed in November, and the last will be placed on Feb. 13, the day after Mardi Gras known as Ash Wednesday.

One thing the city won't be short on is music. Super Bowl weekend kicks off with a gospel concert on Feb. 1 at the UNO Lakefront Arena with performances by Fantasia, Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Winans and Bishop Paul S. Morton of New Orleans. Dozens of local acts will be performing throughout the weekend on stages along the Mississippi River and in the French Quarter. On game day, Beyonce will be the half-time performer.

Other local attractions include steamboat cruises - many with live jazz - on the Mississippi, the recently-expanded World War II Museum, Audubon Zoo, Aquarium of the Americas and New Orleans Museum of Art by City Park. Just outside the city, options include airboat tours of Louisiana swamps and bayous and plantation home tours.

Foodies can indulge in charbroiled oysters, seafood gumbo, fried softshell crab po-boys and shrimp and grits. The city has 52 more restaurants than it did in 2002 - the last time New Orleans hosted a Super Bowl. Newer restaurants include Susan Spicer's Mondo and Donald Link's Cochon. Chef John Besh, who owned two restaurants before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, now owns eight - including Luke, Domenica and Borgne.

But with the two major events bringing thousands of people in, reservations are going fast at old favorites like Commander's Palace, Galatoire's and Brennan's.

``We had one party book the entire restaurant for the Friday before Super Bowl, so we have no tables that night,'' said Regina Keever, co-owner of Bayona, a Spicer restaurant in the French Quarter.

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John Harbaugh defends Lamar Jackson's playoff performance

John Harbaugh defends Lamar Jackson's playoff performance

Coach John Harbaugh, just six days after his team’s disappointing 28-12 loss to the Titans in the AFC playoffs, has already had to defend his quarterback.

Faced with some criticism after Jackson finished 31-of-59 passing, and three total turnovers, Harbaugh mentioned how far Jackson has come in the last year — which also ended in an early playoff loss at home.

“It’s really interesting to look at Lamar Jackson, because look at the progress he made in the last year,” Harbaugh said Friday. “Because the same question, I think you might have asked it last year, how is he going to get better going forward? And he did a good job, right? He’s 23 years old. He’s younger than Joe Burrow. So, he has a pretty good head start right now.”

Jackson is now 0-2 in the playoffs with a 19-3 regular season record. 



He’s likely the MVP this season after he passed for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 yards, setting the single-season rushing record for a quarterback along the way. He led the NFL in passing touchdowns and carried the most prolific offense in the league to a league-best 14-2. 

Harbaugh isn’t worried that his quarterback, who is just 23-years-old, hasn’t found his playoff success yet.

“The Manning brothers combined to, they had five losses in their first five playoff games before they won one,” Harbaugh explained. (Joe) Montana, (Steve) Young and (Brett) Favre didn’t start a playoff game until their third season, (Drew) Brees and (Troy) Aikman, until their fourth season, and (Aaron) Rodgers until his fifth season.”

After the season ended, Harbaugh added that Jackson went to his office to discuss the offseason and what he needed to do to improve. 

While Harbaugh and the offensive coaching staff had a plan for Jackson to improve, Jackson “nailed” each and every single critique that the coaches had laid out for him.

“I’m really confident in Lamar and his understanding the things he needs to do to get better, and that he’s going to work really hard to keep building himself up as a player,” Harbaugh said.

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DeAngelo Hall defends cornerback Josh Norman, but believes Redskins should move on

DeAngelo Hall defends cornerback Josh Norman, but believes Redskins should move on

Redskins cornerback Josh Norman has drawn criticism because of his performance in D.C. during his 5-year, $75 million contract he signed in April 2016. Former Redskins defensive back DeAngelo Hall came to Norman’s defense during a radio appearance with Craig Hoffman on 106.7 The Fan on Friday.

“He does compete, he’s a competitor. And if I have a football player on my roster who’s a competitor, who wants to be out there, who fights hard and plays hard, I’m [going to] find a way to put him in position to make plays,” Hall said. “I think we could’ve done a much, much better job of putting Josh in position to make plays.”

In November, then-interim head coach Bill Callahan benched Norman, and the 32-year-old cornerback played just 10 defensive snaps over the last six games of the season. Should Washington choose to cut ties with Norman this offseason before June 1, the team would save $12.5 million of cap space.

Hall, who interviewed for the Redskins’ defensive backs’ coaching position last January, said Norman wasn’t given the chance to be the leader of the defense. Hall said some of that was self-inflicted because of Norman’s habits and preparation, but a portion of that was because of schematics. 

“I always told those coaches ‘If you want Josh to be a leader — because Josh wants to be a leader — you’ve got to put him in a position to make plays, the same way Carolina put him in a position to make plays,” Hall said. 

The peak of Norman’s career came in 2015 under the direction of Washington’s newly hired head coach Ron Rivera. In that all-pro season, Norman recorded 56 tackles, 18 passes defended, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and two touchdowns. 

Hall believes Norman still possesses that all-pro ability; it just needs to be tapped with the right defensive scheme. Hall compared the situation to Richard Sherman, who has revitalized his career in San Francisco after battling injuries. 

“It’s not because [Sherman] is the best lockdown man-to-man corner. It’s because they play Sherm in a system that he’s able to succeed and shine, and they put players around him so that he can make plays,” he said. “If we [would’ve] done the same thing to Josh Norman, he could’ve been an all-pro player here, too, just like he was in Carolina.”

Despite Hall’s belief in Norman’s ability, and the presumption that Rivera and new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will run a similar system to what Norman played in with the Panthers, the former Redskins defensive back doesn’t think the $15 million price tag is worth it for a franchise that has other holes to fill.

“I, as a fan, would love to have Josh back on this team, in this defense that I feel will be similar to Carolina,” Hall said. “But to me, it doesn’t make sense to bring Josh back for $15 million. It’s just a big pill to swallow when you can do a lot with that money on a team that needs a lot of help.”

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