AFC-NFC Spring Notes

BALTIMORE:  All-Star linebacker RAY LEWIS will enter his 14th season with the Ravens after recently signing a multi-year contract.  The deal will essentially keep Lewis in Baltimore for his career.  "To be with the same team with the same fans for an entire career, that doesn't happen in the NFL," says Lewis.  "I don't think an athlete can have a greater legacy than to be able to stay in one place for an entire career."……Pro Bowl special teamer BRENDAN AYANBADEJO, wide receiver MARCUS MAXWELL and linebackerJAMEEL MC CLAINjoined fellow NFL players, Falcons owner ARTHUR BLANK and congressional representatives on March 19 to lead a group of nearly 100 area school children in a series of fitness activities as part of NFL PLAY 60, which encourages kids to get 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
BUFFALO:  Bills newcomer TERRELL OWENS will receive the Young Champions Award at the sixth annual National Alzheimer's Association Gala at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. on March 25.  The veteran receiver will be recognized for his commitment to the Alzheimer's cause through philanthropy, volunteerism and advocacy……Bills starting right guard BRAD BUTLER visited several U.S. military bases in Afghanistan earlier this offseason.  Butler was inspired to visit the troops through his family's deep military ties. "My one grandfather was a Marine and my other grandfather was in the Army," says Butler. "My great uncle fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. He was a tank operator. I grew up hearing stories about the war. It showed me how selfless somebody could be to have so much respect for your country that you put it ahead of yourself."
CINCINNATI:  Linebacker DHANI JONES has ventured from the world of professional football into reality television.  Known as a "renaissance man," Jones recently kicked off his show, Dhani Tackles The Globe, on the Travel Channel.  In each episode, the 6-1, 240-pound linebacker competes in a variety of sports around the world.  "That's the beauty of it," says Jones.  "Not only do I get to experience the culture and the people, but for eight days, everywhere, I get to practice a sport before getting into competition.  It's cross training."
CLEVELAND:  After beginning his NFL career as a ball boy in 1994 with the Browns, ERIC MANGINI returns to Cleveland as head coach.  "I couldn't be happier to come home to Cleveland," says Mangini.  "I'm excited about getting to work and moving forward."……Browns quarterback BRADY QUINN enrolled in the NFL's Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program.  Quinn, who participated in the Kellogg School of Management program at Northwestern University, learned valuable lessons through the program, which prepares NFL players for their post-playing business careers.  "We watched a clip of President Obama's address and then talked about things that would stimulate our economy," says Quinn.  "One of the biggest things I learned is it's all up to us, the citizens of the U.S. It starts with creative, innovative ideas to help create jobs. I feel it's a little on my back too to start something up, to help people out who don't have jobs. I think down the road I see some entrepreneurial things in my future."
DENVER:  Broncos 32-year-old head coach JOSH MC DANIELS takes over the reigns in Denver after winning three Super Bowl titles in New England as an assistant.  "When the job came open, certainly it was something I had to look at very seriously – it's a great place with a great history and a great tradition," says McDaniels……The Broncos have taken an aggressive approach this offseason in free agency led by the acquisition of safety BRIAN DAWKINS, known around the league for his passionate play and leadership qualities.  Dawkins will join All-Star cornerback CHAMP BAILEY to form a formidable Broncos secondary.
HOUSTON:  The defensive side of the ball has been a focus for the Texans this offseason.  In January, head coach GARY KUBIAK named FRANK BUSH defensive coordinator.  Bush has spent more than 20 years in the NFL as a player, scout and assistant coach.  Bush will have an additional weapon in free agent defensive end ANTONIO SMITH from Arizona, who will line up opposite Pro Bowl defensive end MARIO WILLIAMS.  "I know that what I can bring to the table will help the people around me," says Smith.  "I'm going to play my heart out for them, and once they see how much I give for my teammates, I think we can feed off each other."
INDIANAPOLIS:  In an effort to empower people around the state of Indiana to create change and engage in random acts of kindness in the community, the Colts launched the "Help A Hoosier Campaign."  "The campaign is simply a way for Hoosiers to help each other at a time when we all need a helping and positive hand up," says Colts Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing TOM ZUPANCIC.   The campaign kicked off on March 20 with a canned food drive in Indianapolis and marked the start of a state-wide food collection campaign.  "This is a tough time for America.  But together, with everyone doing a little bit on a local level, we can overcome any challenge," says Colts Senior Vice President PETE WARD.
DAVID GARRARDwill serve as the Honorary Chair of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation "Take Steps Walk" on May 14.  The two-mile walk will raise awareness and funds for the foundation.  Garrard suffered from Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis prior to the 2004 season before consulting a doctor and beginning a treatment program……Free agent acquisitionTRA THOMASfrom the Eagles will protect Garrard's blind side at left tackle in 2009.  The DeLand, Fla. native enters his 12th year in the NFL and is coming off a season in which he allowed only two regular-season sacks.  "The signing worked out big for me," says Thomas.  "Once I visited here, I knew this was a perfect fit for me."
KANSAS CITY: The NFL's youngest team on kickoff weekend last year will be led by new general managerSCOTT PIOLIand head coachTODD HALEY.  One of Pioli's first key transactions was trading for quarterbackMATT CASSEL *from the Patriots.  "I have a great relationship with Scott Pioli," says Cassel.  "He was one of my biggest supporters throughout the year.  He was always very encouraging and anytime I needed some advice, I'd usually go to him as one of the guys who was always willing to open his office door."……LinebackerDERRICK JOHNSON lost hisfather in December 2007 to diabetes.  Recently, Johnson served as a spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) at a Kansas City elementary school.  Johnson discussed the benefits of eating right and exercising to help avoid high-blood pressure and diabetes, which can lead to kidney disease.
MIAMI: In his new role as the Dolphins majority owner,STEPHEN ROSSco-chaired the first Fin Cup Pro-Am, which kicked off the The Honda Golf Classic.  Ross and second-year quarterbackCHAD HENNEhit the links with Pro Football Hall of FamerDAN MARINO.  Proceeds of the event benefited local and national youth charities……Head coachTONY SPARANOrecently took a brief recess from draft preparations.  The West Haven, Conn. native, who pitched and played shortstop as a youngster, recently threw out the first pitch for a New York Mets spring training game.  "I grew up a Mets fan, so it was nice to be there and involved in that atmosphere," says Sparano.  "I was more nervous heading out to the mound than I have ever been heading out to the (football) field."
NEW ENGLAND: Patriots quarterbackTOM BRADYis focused on making a full recovery from a knee injury he suffered last season, but that has not slowed his community involvement.  Brady donated 1,000 laptops to "One Laptop per Child" to be distributed to children by organizations in 31 participating countries and Boys and Girls Clubs in each of the six New England states.  "I've been blessed with many opportunities to have traveled around the world.  I've been to Africa, been to some impoverished places around the world, and to give children the hope and the opportunity to learn and to expand their vision of the world is extremely important," says Brady.
NEW YORK*In an effort to fight hunger in the New York metropolitan area, Pro BowlersNICK MANGOLD,DARRELLE REVISandLEON WASHINGTON will be on hand for the seventh annual New York Jets Taste of the NFL on May 5.  Guests will have the chance to mingle with the players and taste food from a variety of New York City restaurants.  "I've had a blast in the past," says Mangold of the event. "The people there are great and the atmosphere is fun. It's a great night out where you get to enjoy some of the fantastic food of the New York area and you get to mingle a little bit with a whole bunch of different people and it's for a great cause. You add those three together and you've got a pretty good mixture."  Proceeds of the event will benefit the New York Jets Foundation.
OAKLAND: The Raiders officially namedTOM CABLEtheir 17th head coach in franchise history last month and re-signed All-Star cornerbackNNAMDI ASOMUGHAto a long-term deal this offseason.  Asomugha is regarded as one of the NFL's top cornerbacks and is held in the same class off the field for his philanthropic efforts.  For the third consecutive year, Asomugha will organize an all-expense-paid college tour for aspiring students.  This year the group will descend on New York City on April 15-19 for visits to Columbia University, Fordham University, The Julliard School and New York University.  "I've always felt that I'm successful for a reason," says Asomugha.  "So I can help, whether that's one individual or a group of people."
PITTSBURGH*The honors are still pouring in for the Super Bowl XLIII Champions.  On St. Patrick's Day, Steelers ownerDAN ROONEYwas selected by President Barack Obama to be the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.  Obama says that he has confidence that Rooney and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "will ensure America's continued close and unique partnership with Ireland in the years ahead."….Texas nativeCASEY HAMPTON will be honored in his hometown of Galveston with a benefit dinner on March 27 for helping the Steelers capture a Super Bowl title.  Proceeds of the event will support Hurricane Ike relief efforts.  The next day Hampton will have his jersey retired at Ball High School. * *
CornerbackCLETIS GORDON, linebackerSHAUN PHILLIPSand defensive tackleJAMAL WILLIAMSrecently welcomed home 4,000 Marines who returned from oversees deployment.  "Whenever we can show some love to the troops and let them know how much we appreciate what they do, it's something I'm glad to be a part of," says Phillips. "It was a special day and I had fun being there."  The threesome enjoyed their afternoon by signing autographs and posing for pictures with the Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.  "It's humbling," says Gordon. "You've got these guys that are younger than me telling me about things they went through in Iraq and Afghanistan. It makes you appreciate them even more." 
TENNESSEE: Starting April 13, Titans players will hit the road for Titans Caravan XII.  The journey around Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama will make numerous school and public stops.  Players will speak to youth about the importance of getting 60 minutes of physical activity a day as part of NFL PLAY 60 and greet fans along the way by signing autographs and posing for pictures……Pro Bowl cornerbackCORTLAND FINNEGANwill host his second annual Karaoke For A Cure event on April 1 in Nashville.  Proceeds will benefit the 2009 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's (LLS) Man and Woman of the Year Campaign.  For each tackle he made last season, Finnegan donated $50 to LLS and the Special Olympics.
ARIZONA: Coming off the team's first-ever Super Bowl appearance, Cardinals presidentMICHAEL BIDWILLwas invited by the Navy to visit the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier with 5,000 crew members.  "It was truly one of the more exciting things I have done in my life," says Bidwill.  "It was rewarding as an American to see what these young sailors were doing."  As a sign of his appreciation, Bidwill presented a Cardinals Pat Tillman No. 40 jersey to the ship's commanding officer, Captain Michael Manazir.  "The Pat Tillman jersey is a specific and very special example of Americans honoring soldiers' sacrifice," says Manazir.  "What is most impressive about Pat Tillman's sacrifice is that he took what can be considered as a value lifestyle, something that others aspire to, and gave up fame and fortune and sacrificed his life.  That's why it was so touching to me when Michael Bidwill presented the jersey to the ship.  We are going to recognize the Tillman jersey as an example of selfless sacrifice."
ATLANTA: Third-year fullbackJASON SNELLING, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 15, is raising awareness of the disease by speaking publicly and delivering the message that with proper medical care and medication, it doesn't have to control their lives.  "I realized that by me speaking about it, it would shine a light on the misunderstood condition which is epilepsy," says Snelling.  "I also knew it would help other kids who develop epilepsy or find out at a young age that they have it like I did.  I can show them that they can do all the things they aspire to do without having to worry about the seizures and just dealing with the problem on a day-to-day basis."  Snelling is taking part in the National Walk for Epilepsy on March 28 in Washington, DC and has started a team, fittingly named "Rush to Support Epilepsy."  He hopes to help raise money for epilepsy programs to search for a cure.
CAROLINA*Three Panthers – linebackerTHOMAS DAVIS, wide receiverKENNETH MOOREand guardTRAVELLEWHARTON – helped commemorate Read Across America Day by reading to students at First Ward Elementary School in Charlotte.  "It felt great to come here, help these kids out and show them that there are things they can do to lead them to bigger things," said Moore.  "It means a lot to be able to show the kids that we care about them."  After reading to the students and emphasizing the importance of getting a good education, the Panthers donated autographed copies of Dr. Seuss books as well as six volumes of the *Harry Potter series to the school's library. 
CHICAGO:  On April 7, Bears cornerback CHARLES TILLMAN will be honored at Maryville Academy as the team's recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award.  The prestigious award is given to one player on each of the 32 NFL teams who best exemplifies a commitment to sportsmanship and courage and serves as an inspiration in the locker room.  Tillman was chosen by his teammates for symbolizing professionalism, great strength and dedication.  During 2008, his infant daughter Tiana was suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy and needed a heart transplant to survive.  "When I look at her, I see a miracle," says Tillman.  After the experience, he changed the focus of his foundation, the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, to improving the lives of critically and chronically ill children by providing daily support and life-changing experiences. 
DALLAS:  The 2009 NFL season will see the opening of a new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington.  The stadium, which will be finished this offseason, will seat approximately 80,000 but can expand up to 100,000 for major events such as Super Bowl XLV, which will be held there in 2011.  The stadium will also feature a retractable roof, which will incorporate some of the historical features of Texas Stadium, and a video board – measuring 180 feet in length and 50 feet in height – that will be suspended 110 feet directly over the field, the largest video board installation in the world.  "The challenge for us with this new stadium was to innovate, but at the same time never forget to acknowledge tradition," says Cowboys owner and president JERRY JONES.  "This new stadium embodies the spirit of the Dallas Cowboys.  What we have designed is a building we believe is both architecturally significant and also reflects the emotion and competition that goes on inside."
DETROIT:  Members of the Lions took time this offseason to visit pediatric patients at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.  Among the players in attendance were kicker JASON HANSON, linebacker ALEX LEWIS, cornerback KEITH SMITH and quarterback DREW STANTON.  The players made personal visits with the children, signing autographs, taking photographs, telling stories and making friends.  In addition, the team recently announced that Detroit Lions Charities has awarded 87 grants totaling nearly $400,000 to non-profit agencies in 2008-09.  This year's awards bring Detroit Lions Charities' total donations to more than $5.2 million in its 19-year history.  "We are pleased to once again assist a number of outstanding charitable organizations that are making an impact in our community," says Lions vice chairman WILLIAM CLAY FORD, JR.  "It is an honor to partner with these organizations that mean so much to so many."
GREEN BAY:  During the Packers annual Fan Fest, assistant head coach and inside linebackers coach WINSTON MOSS educated several hundred fans about the team's new 3-4 defense as part of his "Defense 101" session.  Held in the Lambeau Field Atrium, Moss showed fans the basics of the new defensive scheme the team will employ in 2009, highlighting two positions that are critical to the scheme's success – the nose tackle and the outside linebackers.  Moss used a slide and video presentation to illustrate the 3-4 and then answered questions from fans.  "We didn't rise to the occasion last year as a team," Moss told those in attendance, "but we're going to have answers and we're going to be able to respond to adversity."
MINNESOTA: *Pro Bowl defensive endJARED ALLENjoined New York Giants linebacker Danny Clark, Arizona Cardinals All-Star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and St. Louis Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon on a weeklong NFL-USO tour to U.S. military bases in Iraq and Kuwait, continuing the NFL's legacy of more than 40 years of sending players overseas to visit with troops.  "It was one of the best experiences of my life," says Allen, whose youngest brother, Ronald Jr. recently enlisted in the Marine Corps.  "It's something I'll never forget.  We as players probably get more out of this than the soldiers."  Allen told the troops that the experience would help him as he prepares for the 2009 NFL season.  "I'm going to think of all of you when I'm in training camp this summer and struggling to get through a tough drill.  The sacrifices that you make are so much greater than anything we do.  And the work that you put in and the discipline that you show is off the charts."
NEW ORLEANS:  The Field of Dreams project at Carver High School, a determined effort to restore sports facilities in the Ninth Ward, received a $200,000 grant from the New Orleans Saints as part of the NFL's Grassroots Program.  The grant will help reach a goal for a synthetic turf football field and a running track at the 65-acre Carver campus, which suffered major damage during Hurricane Katrina.  "The opportunity for our youth to participate in football and other sports has always been very important to our family and the entire Saints organization," says Saints owner and executive vice president RITA BENSON LE BLANC.  "We're proud to support this project that will continue the recovery of the Upper Ninth Ward while providing yet another world-class field in which our local high school athletes may compete."
NEW YORK:  March 10 was MANNING Day in Mississippi as state legislators honored the family at the Capitol.  The Senate passed resolutions honoring the family and spent time with the two Mannings in attendance – father Archie and youngest son ELI – during a reception.  Both Archie and Eli were All-American quarterbacks at Ole Miss.  The Mannings received standing ovations and Eli was congratulated for his recent move to Oxford.  "This is what adults ought to be like and what all kids ought to aspire to," said Representative David Norquist.  Archie and Eli were each presented with a framed copy of the Senate resolution, although Eli's was twice the size of his father's.  "I guess I had better stats because mine's a little bigger than dad's," quipped Eli.
PHILADELPHIA: *In celebration of Black History Month, wide receiver *JASON AVANT took 20 students from William Dick School to tour the America I am: The African Imprint exhibit at the National Constitution Center.  The exhibit covered nearly 500 years of African American history and included artifacts from different periods of America's history such as Malcolm X's journal and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.  "It's an opportunity to learn about past events and hear about what our ancestors went through in order for us to stand here today so that we can be free, liberated and have the opportunities to become what we want to become," says Avant.  "It's important to learn your history and know where you came from."
LinebackerCHRIS DRAFTand the Chris Draft Family Foundation brought the Missouri Asthma Team, a coalition of individuals and agencies who seek to promote awareness and education, together for a special day of events to support the American Lung Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of St. Louis.  "As a team, we will not accept where we are," says Draft, who is a 12-year NFL veteran living with asthma.  "We will work together with the Missouri Asthma Team to tackle asthma and lung disease across the state."  The Chris Draft Family Foundation, which was established in 2006, stresses the importance of education, healthy lifestyles, character development, personal responsibility, self-discipline and physical fitness.

SAN FRANCISCO*Tight endVERNON DAVISspent National Health-through-Fitness Day in meetings with members of Congress lobbying for assistance to fight the increasing issue of obesity in America.  Davis, along with other athletes and celebrities and the Sports Goods Manufacturers Association, met with U.S. Representatives, Senators and key Congressional aides to propose programs that will enable our society to be more physically active and address the increasing problem of obesity.  "I understand the severity of this issue," says Davis.  "I think the programs will help and the more you can do, the better.  We need more physical education classes to get these kids going because they are not as physically active these days."
SEATTLE: CornerbackJOSH WILSONspent Super Bowl Sunday watching Super Bowl XLIII in Kuwait with 500 members of the U.S. military.  "There's a huge time difference, so we were watching the game at 3:00 in the morning," says Wilson.  "The troops were great, we had fun."  Wilson traveled to Kuwait and Iraq as part of the Pro Sports Super Sunday Tour.  "I have a greater appreciation than ever for the men and women serving in the military," says Wilson.  "At first I hesitated about taking the trip, but now I'm glad I went.  It was my first time out of the United States.  I'm thankful for the nation we live in.  We have freedoms that a lot of other nations don't have.  Our military takes good care of us."
TAMPA BAY*In January, the Buccaneers namedRAHEEM MORRISthe team's new head coach, becoming the youngest head coach in the NFL.  Recently, Morris addressed a packed auditorium of ninth and 10th grade students at Middleton High School about the importance of academics.  Speaking on the eve of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), a required statewide test for all public school students in grades 3-11, Morris encouraged the students with motivational messages.  "Any time you get a chance to help today's youth and point out the importance of an education, that's great for our community," says Morris.  "We're just trying to develop more positive people, and that's important to all of us.  We're tested every day, and right now these students are going through the FCATs.  I'm facing the biggest test I've had in my life to this point, and it's great.  It's a challenge for all of us.  It's a challenge for them just like it's a challenge for me.  The thing that you learn from these situations is that you go into them every day with a level head and you make them make sense for you."
WASHINGTON:  Cornerbacks DE ANGELO HALL and FRED SMOOT were among a group of NFL players that led nearly 100 schoolchildren in a series of fitness activities at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC as part of NFL PLAY 60, the league's initiative to encourage kids to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.  "Nowadays, kids aren't out playing in the streets and hanging out and having a good time," says Hall.  "They're sitting in front of video games and eating a lot of fast food.  Even my own kids, I'm trying to get them away from that too."  The Redskins players, joined by Falcons owner Arthur Blank and five Baltimore Ravens, teamed up with members of Congress and representatives from the American Heart Association and National Association for Sport and Physical Education to support the passage of the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act, legislation that would support quality physical education for all public school children through grade 12 and ensure that they receive important health and nutritional information. 

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