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NFL NOTEBOOK

Packers near deal for coach

49ers' McCarthy is top candidate

The Green Bay Packers and Mike McCarthy were nearing a deal last night to make him their next head coach, a person involved in the negotiations told the Associated Press.

The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal was not complete, expected the team to finalize an agreement with the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator today.

McCarthy, 42, was the Packers' quarterbacks coach in 1999, working with Brett Favre when the team went 8-8 under Ray Rhodes.

General manager Ted Thompson fired Mike Sherman Jan. 2 after the Packers' 4-12 season, the team's worst in 15 years.

Aikman tops Hall list

Reggie White dominated on defense while Troy Aikman was leading the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles. Now two of the best players of the 1990s could be entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame together.

Aikman and the late White were among the 15 finalists for the Hall of Fame, joining Thurman Thomas and Warren Moon as finalists in their first year of eligibility.

Tagliabue assures La.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue expects the New Orleans Saints to play all of their home games at the Superdome next season. Tagliabue also sought to reassure the community during a visit to the city that the NFL is not moving the Saints back for a single season to make the league appear sympathetic to victims of Hurricane Katrina . . . The Raiders will interview their first candidate to replace fired coach Norv Turner when they meet with Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders today. Saunders was interviewed by the Chiefs to replace Dick Vermeil, who retired after the season, but Kansas City hired Jets coach Herman Edwards . . . Browns offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon says the rebuilding process from Hurricane Katrina would not deter him from taking the Saints' head coaching job if it was offered to him. Carthon wrapped up formal interviews with New Orleans, which has had a coaching opening since firing Jim Haslett the day after the regular season.

Colts recovering

Colts right tackle Ryan Diem and defensive tackle Corey Simon both returned to practice. Diem, a starter, had been out since spraining a ligament in his left knee Dec. 18 against San Diego, and Simon, a former Pro Bowl player, is recovering from a sprained left foot. Both are listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Steelers . . . Chargers quarterback Drew Brees, discussing his shoulder surgery and rehab during a conference call with San Diego reporters, said the team would like to sign him to a long-term deal. ''We are going to try to long-term him," Chargers GM A.J. Smith said after originally denying that anyone from the front office told Brees that . . . Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer had surgery on knee ligaments and is expected to be ready for the start of the 2006 season . . . The Vikings added Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers to their staff to serve in the same capacity for new head coach Brad Childress.

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