15-year-old with cancer inspires Giants to rout

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15-year-old with cancer inspires Giants to rout

From Comcast SportsNetEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Adam Merchant had a wish and a command for the New York Giants.The 15-year-old fan from Barre, Vt., attended practice and then Sunday's game with the Packers thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He wanted the Giants to snap their two-game slide and get out of their offensive funk.So he ordered the Giants to "play like world champions," and they delivered a 38-10 rout of the Green Bay Packers."That was the theme of our meetings," coach Tom Coughlin said.Eli Manning came back from the bye week with a rested arm, and that offensive slump was tossed aside. The Giants (7-4) said they turned things around for themselves, and for Merchant, who has cancer."They have one wish," Manning said after throwing for three scores to set a team record with 200 TD passes for his career. "It is sad when you think about it -- they have one wish, what you want to do, and he wanted to come to Giants practice ... and to a game."He said, Go show everybody you are the world champions and why you are the world champions and play that way.' Everybody got fired up and played the way we know we can."The Packers (7-4) certainly did not. The showcase game was decided early as the Giants outscored the Packers 31-10 in the opening half to end Green Bay's five-game winning streak. While New York took a two-game lead in the NFC East, Green Bay fell out of a tie with Chicago atop the NFC North.The Packers were missing such key starters as linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive back Charles Woodson and receiver Greg Jennings, and it showed. After being manhandled in last season's playoffs by the Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl, the Packers weren't much more competitive this time. Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times, including twice by Mathias Kiwanuka, who spent much of the game at defensive tackle rather than in his usual linebacker spot."When your quarterback is under pressure like that, it affected me tonight," coach Mike McCarthy said of his play-calling. "I probably didn't call the best game I've called. You have to protect your quarterback. It's your No. 1 responsibility. That's not what we're looking for."New York's balanced attack was guided by Manning, who had his first strong game in a month with 249 yards passing."I never thought my arm was tired, never felt like it," Manning said. "After a week off, you come back to practice, it felt good, alive, balls coming out with a little pop on it."After 10 weeks, it definitely needed a little rest."Coughlin knew Manning would return with some extra verve."There was no doubt he was going to come back and play well," Coughlin said. "I think the rest really helped him. ... Eli said he felt as if he was coming back for the start of the season. I was very confident he would come back and be Eli."Ahmad Bradshaw gained a combined 119 yards and scored a touchdown. He had the first big play of the night to begin the offensive onslaught.New York struck early with a brilliantly conceived screen pass to Bradshaw off a fake reverse to Victor Cruz. Bradshaw sped down the field before being caught at the Green Bay 2, a 59-yard pickup that led to Andre Brown's scoring run.Brown later broke his leg; Coughlin did not say which leg after the game."It will be a tough loss, he is an important player," Manning said.Green Bay didn't flinch, with Jordy Nelson getting behind Corey Webster in single coverage down the right sideline for a 61-yard TD reception from Rodgers.The scoring flurry went back in the Giants' favor -- and pretty much stayed there -- when Manning hit Rueben Randle in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard TD. It was the first score for the rookie and Manning's first touchdown throw in four games, and he set it up with, of all things, a scramble in which he laid his shoulder into Packers cornerback Tramon Williams for a 13-yard gain."It sparked our sideline," Coughlin said. "It would not be the recommended way. To see him do that kind of sent the message to the rest of our team: Whatever you have to do to succeed, do it."Webster's interception led to Lawrence Tynes' 43-yard field goal late in the first quarter for a 17-7 lead, and the Giants weren't nearly done. Manning's 9-yard connection with Cruz tied him for the club record with 199 TD passes, and after Osi Umenyiora's strip-sack of Rodgers was recovered by Jason Pierre-Paul at the Green Bay 23, Bradshaw scored from the 13.The 31 points were the most New York scored in a half all season and nearly equaled the 33 it scored in its two losses before the bye.And the Giants had more offense in them. Manning threw his 200th TD pass to move ahead of Phil Simms, a 13-yarder over the middle to Hakeem Nicks, who stretched the ball over the goal line as he was tackled."There was a different enthusiasm in practices," Manning said, "and I think that paid off in the game."It paid off for the Giants, and for their young fan."It kind of hit home," Justin Tuck said. "You got this kid that don't know us from James and watches us on TV every Sunday and it's so profound."NOTES; The Giants lost safety Kenny Phillips with a knee injury in the third quarter. He was making his first appearance since Week 4, when he was sidelined with a knee problem. ... Giants right tackle David Diehl sustained a stinger in the first half. ... Green Bay lost safety M.D. Jennings (rib), DE C.J. Wilson (knee), and RB Johnny White (concussion). ... Rodgers was 14 of 25 for 219 yards, one TD, one interception and one lost fumble.

Report: Harbaugh, Michigan to spend final week of spring practice in Italy

Report: Harbaugh, Michigan to spend final week of spring practice in Italy

Undeterred by recent NCAA legislation, Jim Harbaugh is reportedly going international.

As noted by the Detroit Free Press, a post on Rivals affiliate TheWolverine.com reports that Michigan is planning to spend the final week of football spring practice in Rome, Italy. The team would not only practice several times on Italian soil, but would allow the team to visit the sights in the area and even leave players in Europe to study abroad for a semester.

The move would no doubt ruffle even more feathers in the football and NCAA communities after Harbaugh famously took the Wolverines to the IMG Academy down in Florida for spring practice last March. That prompted recent legislation that was passed at the NCAA convention in Nashville this week — a Harbaugh Rule if you will — that prohibited off-campus practice during a vacation period outside of a playing season.

While it would seem that would rule out trips away from Ann Arbor for spring football practices, it appears the Michigan athletic department is going to push forward by exploiting a slight loophole in the language of the rule. While vacation periods may be off limits like spring break, it appears the Wolverines would be looking to leave town at the end of April, which would be after the semester ends  and does not fall into any scheduled vacation time.

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LeBron considering return to Team USA under 'great mastermind' Popovich

LeBron considering return to Team USA under 'great mastermind' Popovich

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- LeBron James might make another run at Olympic gold with Gregg Popovich.

James, who already has two gold medals, said that Popovich taking over as coach of the U.S. team will influence his decision on whether to play in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

"It factors a lot," James said Saturday as the Cavaliers prepared to host Popovich's San Antonio Spurs. "I've said that before. He's just a great mastermind of the game of basketball."

James skipped last summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to get rest after leading Cleveland to an NBA championship. But he's still connected with Team USA and Popovich replacing outgoing coach Mike Krzyzewski could be enough to draw James back to the Olympics.

James will be 36 in 2020, but his game is showing no signs of decay and the three-time NBA champ has relished his previous Olympic appearances. He was a key member of the American teams that captured gold in Beijing (2008) and (2012), performances that helped him and the U.S. squad erase some of the disappointment from taking bronze in Athens (2004).

Krzyzewski, the Duke coach who led the U.S. team to three consecutive gold medals, had a hand in naming Popovich as his successor.

For James, the pick was perfect.

"Team USA is in good hands with him," James told The Associated Press in 2015. "It was in good hands with Coach K. It's almost like 'The Godfather.' We hand it off to Michael Corleone now."

Earlier this week, James said he considers Popovich, who has led the Spurs to five NBA titles, "the greatest coach of all time. I've said that over and over and over. You have to be sharp, mentally and physically, when you go against his ballclub. If you were an NFL player, it's probably the same as going against a (Bill) Belichick team.

"What they're going to do, they're going to do and you have to try to figure it out."

James has lost twice to teams coached by Popovich in the NBA Finals - in 2007 with Cleveland and in 2014 with Miami. He admires the way the 67-year-old coach has adjusted and adapted over the years.

"A guy that's been able to do what he's done in an era of basketball where it's changed so much and he's been able to have a growth mindset and be able to change with the game," James said. "Obviously Tim Duncan was a huge part of that because Timmy was allowed to change with the game as well, but he's just continued to build around Timmy and Manu (Ginobili) and Tony (Parker) and bring pieces in and out throughout his whole tenure."

On Saturday, the Spurs will play their first game without center Pau Gasol, sidelined indefinitely with a broken left hand.

James said that won't change San Antonio much - because of Popovich.

"It doesn't matter who is in the lineup for the Spurs," James said. "They'll play Spurs basketball and Pop will have them ready. I mean, what's their record, 33-9, I believe? And if you asked me how things would change without Timmy D., they still pushing forward, man. It's just nothing out of the ordinary."