- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

From combined dispatches

Hines Ward is so certain his sprained knee won’t keep him out of the Super Bowl, he believes he could play this week if necessary.

The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver didn’t miss a game to injury all season, and he said Wednesday he’s not about to miss a Super Bowl. Especially one against his former practice field acquaintance, Larry Fitzgerald.

Ward became friends with the Arizona Cardinals’ All-Pro receiver when Fitzgerald played at the University of Pittsburgh, and the two have stayed in touch. When both teams won their conference championship games Sunday, they exchanged text messages.

“He texted me the other day, and it was like, ‘Let us win, you already have a ring,’” Ward said. “My response is, ‘I want two.’”

Ward went to several Pitt games when Fitzgerald played for the Panthers in 2002 and 2003, and he realized immediately how good the young receiver was.

“He was always asking me stuff,” said Ward, who regularly bumped into Fitzgerald in the practice facility the Steelers share with Pitt. “He asks me questions to this day. He’ll text me and ask me about certain defensive backs and what not. He’s a great student of the game, and he’s got tons of talent.”

Fitzgerald has set an NFL postseason record with 419 yards receiving in three games and the Super Bowl still to play.

“He’s very excited to be on the biggest stage in the Super Bowl,” Ward said of Fitzgerald, who predicted while in college he would play in the Super Bowl. “Hopefully we can contain him and not let him go wild.”

Ward isn’t the downfield threat Fitzgerald is, but he is one of the NFL’s most consistent receivers and was the Super Bowl MVP three years ago when the Steelers beat Seattle.

Ward’s injury - a sprained medial collateral ligament - can sideline a player for an extended period, with running back Willie Parker missing four games earlier this season. But with nearly two weeks to rest before the Feb. 1 game in Tampa, Fla., Ward is confident he will play.

“Just have to wait for the swelling to go down,” Ward said. “But [I] should be ready to go. I’ll be OK. It feels good, it feels better than it did yesterday.”

BEARS: Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli apologized for brushing off reporters at the Senior Bowl the day before by saying “Goodbye, ladies.”

Marinelli, recently fired as coach of the Lions after an 0-16 season, made the comment Tuesday when approached by members of the Detroit media in Mobile, Ala.

BROWNS: Feeling the pinch because of the country’s economic downturn, Cleveland laid off more than one dozen people in the past two days.

On Wednesday, the club released a member of their media relations staff, one of the club’s Web site writers and members of the operations team. Other layoffs included employees in the legal and marketing departments.

RATINGS: Sunday’s AFC championship game drew 40.6 million viewers, and the NFC game was watched by 38.4 million.

Fox’s broadcast of the Arizona Cardinals’ win against Philadelphia earned a 21.9 rating in the afternoon slot before the prime-time broadcast of Baltimore-Pittsburgh on CBS.

VICK: PETA has withdrawn an offer to shoot an anti-dogfighting public service announcement with Michael Vick after his release from prison.

The organization said an agreement was reached with Vick’s representatives to shoot the spot but that Vick’s attorneys sought assurance from PETA the group would support Vick’s return to the NFL.

“Saying sorry and getting his ball back after being caught enjoying killing dogs in hideously cruel ways for many years doesn’t cut it,” PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk said. “Commissioner [Roger] Goodell knows that he has an obligation to the league and to millions of fans, including children who look up to ballplayers as idols, to make sure that Michael Vick is mentally capable of remorse before he can touch, let alone wear, an NFL uniform again.”

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