Patriots' Branch beaming about return to playoffs
Shola Branch cried when she heard her husband had been traded across the country. They were not tears of joy. They'd have to find a new home. The children would have to make new friends.
"She took it the hardest," Deion Branch said.
But it also would be a new start for him, a key role in the New England Patriots' offense after more than four years with the Seattle Seahawks. And he was excited.
"She's like, 'We have to up and move again? We've been here four years,' " Branch said Tuesday, his familiar smile creasing his face. "I'm like, 'Baby, we've got to go. It's time to go. I enjoyed my four years here, but it's time to go. I think we need to move on.' "
On the field, the adjustment has been smooth. Branch, a former Louisville standout and the 2005 Super Bowl MVP, was reunited with quarterback Tom Brady, his quarterback in his first four seasons before he was traded to Seattle after the first game in 2006 during a contract dispute. Branch finished the season with 48 receptions and six touchdowns in 11 games with New England.
"That would have been crazy" to be told when the season began that he'd be playing the New York Jets in a divisional playoff game Sunday, he said. "The opportunity that I had to come back here was just a blessing. ... I'm always thankful. I always think about what could have been. You always have those moments. I think the biggest thing is you can't dwell on it and you can't focus on it. The only thing you can do is take advantage of right now."
Branch was still in Seattle when the Jets beat the Patriots 28-14 on Sept. 19. In the rematch, a 45-3 New England win on Dec. 6, he caught three passes for 64 yards and a touchdown.
Panthers make Rivera their new coach
The Carolina Panthers have entrusted Ron Rivera with turning around the NFL's worst team, making the San Diego defensive coordinator the second Latino head coach in NFL history. Rivera replaces John Fox, who was let go earlier this month after Carolina went 2-14 in his ninth season. It's the first head coaching job for the 49-year-old Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage. He joins ex-Raiders and Seahawks boss Tom Flores as the only Latino head coaches.
It took a while for Rivera to get an opportunity to be a head coach. He interviewed for eight head coaching jobs in six years. He said that experience helped when the Panthers called.
"I'm thrilled to death for the opportunity. I almost want to say relief," said Rivera, a linebacker with the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears. "When you get into playing you strive for one thing, that's to be a Super Bowl champion. When you get into coaching, you strive to be a Super Bowl-winning head coach. That's what my goal is."
■ The Cleveland Browns interviewed New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to be their coach. Fewell is the third known candidate to formally meet with Browns President Mike Holmgren, who fired Eric Mangini last week. The Browns have also interviewed St. Louis offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
■ Denver Broncos star pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil will be tried April 5 on charges he allegedly assaulted a parking lot attendant at Invesco Field in October. Judge Johnny Barajas set a trial date in Denver County Court after Dumervil, a former Louisville star, pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and disturbing the peace. Dumervil led the league in sacks in 2009 but missed all of last season after tearing a chest muscle in training camp.
All-time saves leader Hoffman retires
Baseball's all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman threw his final changeup, deciding at age 43 to retire and return to the San Diego Padres in a front-office job. The Beverly Hills Sports Council, which represents Hoffman, confirmed Tuesday that Hoffman is done after recording 601 saves in 18 seasons.
Hoffman played the bulk of his career with San Diego after being acquired as a rookie from the Florida Marlins in 1993 during the Padres' infamous "Fire Sale" that stripped away most of their high-paid veterans. He left San Diego as a free agent following the 2008 season after contract talks abruptly ended, and pitched with the Milwaukee Brewers for two seasons.
Padres co-owner Jeff Moorad said Hoffman will spend the next year familiarizing himself with several departments, including baseball operations, and then the two sides will determine what area will be best for him.
"Clearly, Trevor is one of the most significant players that the organization has ever had and we felt it only appropriate for him to return to the Padres family," Moorad said. "We're thrilled that he was agreeable with coming back."
Known for his high leg kick, menacing glare and deceptive changeup, Hoffman became the career saves leader when he notched No. 479 at home on Sept. 24, 2006, breaking the previous mark of 478 by Lee Smith. The following June, Hoffman reached 500, also at home and against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. He had 552 saves with the Padres.
■ World Series MVP Edgar Renteria will receive $2.1 million under his one-year contract with the Cincinnati Reds. Renteria can earn an additional $850,000 in performance bonuses under Monday's agreement, starting with 300 plate appearances. He would earn the entire amount if he has 550 plate appearances. Renteria will back up Paul Janish at shortstop.
Drivers can race for only one title
NASCAR's competition applications for 2011 require drivers to select which series they will race for a championship in this season. The declaration will prevent Sprint Cup drivers from racing for championships in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, and presumably fill NASCAR's desire to give its second-tier series its own identity. NASCAR has declined to discuss the policy change because officials plan to make all their competition announcements over the next few weeks. The change will most likely only affect Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards, the only two drivers who had planned to run the full schedule in both series.
■ The Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., will be 400 miles and not 500 miles, track officials announced Tuesday. The Auto Club 400 on March 27 originally was announced as a 500-mile event last August. Auto Club Speedway hosted two Cup races in 2010 — a 500-mile race in February and a 400-miler in October — but NASCAR made changes to the 2011 schedule and Auto Club lost one of its races to Kansas Speedway.
Track and field
Bolt says he's back on target for 2011
Usain Bolt said he has recovered from his injuries and that his preparations for the world championships are on track. The Olympic champion, who missed the end of last year's outdoor track season because of back and Achilles' tendon problems, said "my preparations have gone really well — the injury problem I had during the summer is fully healed." Bolt, who holds the world records for the 100 and 200 meters, is expected to defend his world titles in Daegu, South Korea, in August.
The last word
Concerns about injuries and insurance make the NFL's push to switch to an 18-game regular season a major sticking point in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. The NFL wants to add two games to the current 16-game format for the regular season, and eliminate two of four pre-season games, saying fans would prefer that and more revenue could be generated. Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said.
"To me, right now, as things stand, 18 games, the way it's being proposed, is completely unacceptable. ... There are so many things now — with player health and safety, and the future of us and our families — that aren't even being considered. And for us, it's disappointing. It feels like a slap in the face."