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Team flag waves as 49ers arrive for Super Bowl

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Team flag waves as 49ers arrive for Super Bowl

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Jim Harbaugh stepped to the podium, smirked a bit, and greeted his first news conference as a Super Bowl coach.

``We're super happy to be here,'' he said Sunday night as his NFC champion San Francisco 49ers arrived in the Big Easy for the big game.

``I think this team has the best focus on unity and winning I've ever been a part of.''

Considering that Harbaugh was an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons and a successful college coach before joining the 49ers, he knows something about winning.

Under Harbaugh, San Francisco has been to two NFC title games and, now, to its first Super Bowl in 18 years. The Niners (13-4-1) will play Baltimore (13-6), coached by Harbaugh's older brother, John, in next Sunday's Super Bowl.

He is certain his team is ready for the task as the 49ers seek their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy; they are 5-0 in Super Bowls.

``These are uncharted waters for a rookie Super Bowl coach,'' Harbaugh said. ``But that's exciting. It's a great thrill, and we have a desire to be in uncharted waters. We always strive for that kind of challenge.''

Earlier in the evening, with a team flag waving from an open window of their chartered plane, the 49ers arrived in a businesslike manner. The players calmly walked off the airplane - no video recorders or cameras, no waves to onlookers.

Most of the team's veteran players disembarked first, including center Jonathan Goodwin, who won a Super Bowl three years ago with the Saints.

``You get to go to the Super Bowl with your childhood team, so that's something special to me,'' he said. ``So hopefully I can find a way to win the Super Bowl with my childhood team.''

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, wearing a red wool cap sporting ``49ers'' on it, mouthed the words to a song on his headphones as he walked on the tarmac.

He seemed just as relaxed 90 minutes later as he met the media.

``Pressure comes from a lack of preparation,'' said Kaepernick, who took over as the starter when Alex Smith got a concussion in November and has been sensational in keeping the job. ``This is not a pressure situation. It's a matter of going out and performing.''

Harbaugh said the 49ers came to New Orleans on Sunday to simulate a normal week. He likened their trip to his strategy the last two seasons when the 49ers spent a week in Youngstown, Ohio, between Eastern games rather than return to the Bay Area.

He liked the way the players and coaches bonded during that experience.

``Same approach,'' Harbaugh said. ``Enjoy the moment and the preparation. I think our team enjoys that the most: the meetings, the preparation and then, especially, the competition.''

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John Wall on what he's learned sitting out due to his Achilles injury

John Wall on what he's learned sitting out due to his Achilles injury

It has been 419 days since John Wall last played in an NBA game. That is nearly 14 months of rehabbing injuries; first from surgery to remove bone spurs in his heel, then surgery to repair a ruptured left Achilles.

That has given Wall plenty of time to take a step back, watch the game of basketball and ponder what it will be like when he finally returns to the court, which right now looks like it will be in October to begin next season. During this time off, Wall has had some realizations about basketball and its role in his life. He shared them in an in-depth conversation with NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller on the 'Wizards Talk podcast.'

"Now you understand how quickly and easily things can be taken away," Wall said.

Wall has also learned the value of patience. Since going viral with a series of dunks before games, he keeps hearing from others that he should be playing in games for the Wizards.

"Everybody was like ‘if he is doing these types of dunks, he can play.’ Well, there’s a lot more to basketball than just dunking," he said. "That’s not playing 38-to-40 minutes and then seeing how your body reacts the next day. You won’t know that until you play in a game. So, that’s why I’m not rushing the process and trying to re-injure anything. I’m just taking my time."

Wall said he has been pleased with his progress and that those videos going viral have been a reward for the time and effort he has put into his rehab. He also said he has been able to do even more behind closed doors, including a practice where he threw down a windmill dunk off his left, surgically-repaired leg.

Wall has long been a left-handed dunker because he would get more lift off his right leg due to injuries to the left. But after surgery, he is feeling better jumping off that leg.

If Wall can jump higher off his left leg, that should help him when he returns. But don't expect too many changes to the way he approaches the game.

Miller asked Wall if he would change the way he plays — if he would deviate from the same aggressive player who attacks the rim consistently.

"Nope," he said. "That’s all I know."

Wall spoke with Miller on a long list of topics including how Bradley Beal's game has changed, his respect for Davis Bertans' shooting ability and how he has dealt with the passing of his mother. You can listen to the full podcast here.

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Former Oriole Nick Markakis has rough words for Astros after cheating scandal

Former Oriole Nick Markakis has rough words for Astros after cheating scandal

Since the start of spring training, players all over Major League Baseball have given their thoughts on the Astros' cheating scandal and how commissioner Rob Manfred handled the situation. The consensus has been predominantly negative. 

Former Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis joined in Tuesday morning with some very strongly-worded comments regarding the commissioner's ruling and his feelings toward current Astros players. 

"I feel like every single guy over there needs a beating," Markakis said in a video posted by 680 The Fan. "It's wrong, they're messing with people's careers."

Markakis didn't specify what a "beating" would include, though multiple pitchers, including the Dodgers' Ross Stripling, have said publicly that they would consider throwing at Astros hitters during the season. 

"I know how hard this game is, I know how hard preparing for this game is," Markakis said. "To see something like that, it's damaging to baseball."

After the investigation concluded, the Astros were fined $5 million and were stripped of their first and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 draft. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were both suspended from baseball for a year and subsequentially fired for their involvement in the scheme. No Astros player was punished. 

"I think [Astros players] got off pretty easy," he said. "They're going to be able to go out there and compete with no ramifications at all, which is wrong. I think the commissioner handled it the wrong way, but that's the way he did it and that's the way we got to live with it. But I know a lot of people disagree with him and the way he handled the situation, he should be embarrassed of himself."

Houston's new manager, Dusty Baker was informed of Markakis' comments later that day and didn't appear too concerned with what the outfielder had to say. 

However, Baker has taken the threat of pitchers throwing at his players seriously. Last week he told the Houston Chronicle he hopes "the league puts a stop to this before somebody gets hurt."

The Astros will begin their spring training slate of games with a World Series rematch with the Nationals on Saturday. 

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