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NFL notebook

Kicking off with a show

After getting the play call from Tony Dungy (left), Eddie George (center), and commissioner Roger Goodell (right), first lady Michelle Obama delivered a pass in New Orleans yesterday while helping the NFL encourage children to exercise daily. After getting the play call from Tony Dungy (left), Eddie George (center), and commissioner Roger Goodell (right), first lady Michelle Obama delivered a pass in New Orleans yesterday while helping the NFL encourage children to exercise daily. (Cheryl Gerber/Reuters)
Associated Press / September 9, 2010

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The Saints’ first Super Bowl title was so big in New Orleans that Mardi Gras, a revered local institution dating back well over a century, became popularly known as “Lombardi Gras.’’

And while Mardi Gras ended way back on Ash Wednesday, it seems as though Lombardi Gras still isn’t over quite yet — certainly not by the looks of the French Quarter, where a massive concert stage has been built on the riverfront, overlooking historic Jackson Square.

In the hours before the defending champs kick off the NFL season against the Minnesota Vikings tonight in the Louisiana Superdome, the Big Easy will host a concert featuring Dave Matthews and Taylor Swift, an NFL-sponsored parade, and a citywide bash for which a number of schools and businesses have already decided to shut down. First lady Michelle Obama joined commissioner Roger Goodell, former coach Tony Dungy, and former players yesterday to promote the NFL’s “Play 60’’ clinic, which encourages children to exercise.

“It’s like the Super Bowl all over again,’’ Saints running back Reggie Bush said.

After the festivities move inside the dome, the Saints will raise their 2009 championship banner before kickoff.

There is one considerable difference between tonight’s game and last season’s NFC Championship game, however, as Minnesota coach Brad Childress was quick to point out. When this game ends, both teams get to keep playing.

“We’ve got 15 games after that,’’ Childress stressed. “You beat New Orleans, Miami’s coming to town. You lose to New Orleans, Miami’s coming to town.’’

Spiller to get start
Bills coach Chan Gailey named rookie running back C.J. Spiller his starter against Miami Sunday. Gailey based his decision on the spark Spiller showed through much of the preseason while Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, who split the starting duties last year, missed much of the last month with injuries. Gailey said both Jackson and Lynch will get their share of playing time . . . Giants running back Brandon Jacobs stormed off from an interview session with reporters after being questioned about his role. Jacobs has been demoted to the No. 2 back behind Ahmad Bradshaw. He refused to answer questions about comments he made last week that he was unhappy with his role . . . Giants safety Kenny Phillips, who underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee last September, worked with the Giants’ first-team defense in preparation for the opener against Carolina Sunday. Deon Grant was bumped to second team, though there’s a chance the Giants may decide to rotate Phillips and Grant.

Colts part with Ugoh
The Colts placed Tony Ugoh, once projected as the team’s left tackle of the future, on the waived-injured list after he missed practice with an undisclosed foot injury. Ugoh’s future with the Colts had been in doubt since coach Jim Caldwell demoted Ugoh to backup during training camp last season. To fill the roster spot, the Colts claimed offensive lineman Joe Reitz off waivers from Miami . . . Jaguars right guard Uche Nwaneri signed a five-year extension reportedly worth $24 million. Nwaneri was a fifth-round pick in 2007. He has started 29 games, all at guard . . . Tony Romo might be without two main blockers Sunday night at Washington. Cowboys right tackle Marc Colombo and left guard Kyle Kosier missed practice again because of knee injuries suffered during training camp. Colombo was supposed to have been back a week ago, while Kosier is three weeks into a recovery that was expected to take 4-6 weeks . . . Bears linebacker Lance Briggs was in full pads for the first time since Aug. 28 and practiced on a limited basis. Briggs sprained his right ankle in the third preseason game against Arizona . . . The Raiders signed former Giants defensive lineman Jay Alford.

Freeman ‘on schedule’
The Buccaneers said quarterback Josh Freeman remains on course to start Sunday against Cleveland. A day after participating in his first full practice since breaking the thumb on his throwing hand in a preseason game, Freeman had a limited workout while wearing a wrap on his hand. Bucs coach Raheem Morris said Freeman will practice today and tomorrow and is “right on schedule’’ to start against the Browns . . . Released last week by the Cardinals, quarterback Matt Leinart practiced with the Texans for the first time since signing a one-year deal with the team Monday. Leinart spent about six hours with quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp, getting his first taste of the complex offense that led the NFL in yards passing in 2009.

He’s not shook up
Miami coach Tony Sparano doesn’t think the change in the team’s hierarchy will be a distraction as the Dolphins prepare for Sunday’s opener at Buffalo. The team announced Tuesday that Jeff Ireland will be in control as general manager, while Bill Parcells becomes a daily consultant. “It’s not something that’s a surprise,’’ Sparano said. “The first day I got here, I knew eventually this day would come. It’s business as usual. The guy I speak to several times a day is Jeff Ireland. For me it doesn’t change anything.’’ . . . The Dolphins signed former Pro Bowl kick returner Clifton Smith, who was released Sunday by Tampa Bay.

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