Today in sports: Penn State is struggling to recruit with new head coach Bill O'Brien still working for the New England Patriots, multiple sources say Peyton Manning's rehab from surgery isn't progressing fast enough, and a genuine piece of news emerges from Super Bowl media day.
For all the parrying and jousting last week over the future of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, two sources say that the nerves in the quarterback's right arm "are not healing as quickly as hoped and, worse, don’t appear to be progressing at enough of a rate to indicate that he will play again" While the vetebrae he had fused together during surgery last offseason have healed "as expected," Manning "hasn’t shown improvement in velocity on his passes, and the two sources fear he likely never will again." Yikes. On top of that, "two league-affiliated doctors with experience in spinal fusion surgery said it could take up to a year before Manning knows if he can return." (That would be another year, on top of the one he just sat out.) Manning's due a $28 million roster bonus if he's still with the team on March 8, and with a prognosis like that, it doesn't seem like there's any way Colts owner Jim Irsay could keep him around, even if he wanted Manning to mentor Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who the team will almost certainly select with the no. 1 overall pick in this spring's draft. For his part, Manning told ESPN's Trey Wingo in a lengthy sit-down interview that the feedback he's getting from his doctors "is encouraging," but stopped short of guaranteeing that he would compete for an NFL roster spot next season, repeatedly saying that it's "hard to say" how many more years he intends to play. [Yahoo Sports]
Super Bowl media day this year was not all men in capes, microphone wielding puppets. Something actually happened, which is to say, Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski walked in sneakers, without the protective boot he's been wearing since spraining his left ankle in the AFC Championship game. The injury kept Gronkowski, who caught 90 balls for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns during the regular season, out of practice last week, but he made a point of describing his condition as just "day to day," though he could end up being used primarily as a decoy [ESPN.com]
During the game Sunday, the NFL will run a minute-long segment featuring "detailed information about the history of the game and various rules changes." Friday Night Lights director Peter Berg is helming the spot, in which a leather helmet "peels back to reveal a more modern one made of plastic" and since-outlawed tactics like the flying wedge formation and horse-collar tackle are on display. At the close of the spot, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis appears and says, "Here’s to making the next century safer and more exciting. Forever forward. Forever football." The league is given 150 seconds of free advertising time during the Super Bowl telecast, and the idea of burning nearly half of that on an ad and accompanying Website that cost "several million dollars," according to The New York Times, was originally met with "skepticism and concern" by owners and executives. Two of the biggest supporters of the spot, apparently, were Robert Kraft and John Mara, whose teams are going to be on the field Sunday. [The New York Times]
Bill O'Brien's decision to accept the Penn State job while staying on as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots looks increasingly like a mistake in the final hours before National Signing Day. O'Brien is in Indianapolis preparing New England's gameplan to attack the Giants defense, hundreds of miles from his office in Happy Valley. College coaches traditionally spend Signing Day Eve pacing around their fax machines and waiting for prospects to send their letters of intent. Recruiting was always going to take a hit once Joe Paterno left, but the circumstances of his departure, and the looming possibility of NCAA penalties stemming from the school's handling of the allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, have made it an even tougher sell. Five top-tier recruits from the class of 2012 that were once committed to Penn State have abandoned ship in recent weeks. Three of those defections came after O'Brien was named head coach. Recruiting services Rivals and Scout.com currently have Penn State's incoming class ranked 46th and 36th in the nation respectively. O'Brien's trying to stay involved in the process by delegating to his assistants, getting into work extra early to handle Penn State business, and travelling to campus for three days last week. But the players they have landed have not been of the usual Penn State quality. "They've gotten eight or nine new commits [since O'Brien arrived]" says Scott Kennedy, director of scouting for Scout.com. "And not one is a [Top-300] guy." [NFL.com]
67 soccer players in Zimbabwe -- "including most of its national team" -- have been suspended following a match-fixing probe. Apparently, an "Asian betting syndicate" was paying players to throw exhibition games from 2007 to 2009. Zimbabwe's former captain, plus other former members of the national squad, and a former coach, all "made statements taking money." The current national team includes multiple players who were on those squads, and the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Football Association is taking the position that "implicated players must not be included in the national team unless they are cleared by the organization's ethics committee." [AP]