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Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos and Richard Sherman's Seattle Seahawks were the NFL's best all season, so it's fitting that they'll meet in the Super Bowl.
Nobody scored as many points or gained as many yards as the Broncos.
Nobody allowed as few points or gave up as few yards as the Seahawks.
And nobody won as many games as those clubs, either.
What a way to finish the season. When the AFC champion Broncos (15-3) play the NFC champion Seahawks (15-3) on Feb. 2 at what could be a chilly MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., it will be the first Super Bowl since 1991 pitting the league's highest-scoring team in the regular season against the team that was scored on the least, according to STATS.
It's also only the second time in the last 20 Super Bowls that the No. 1 seed in each conference reached the NFL championship game.
"It will be a great matchup," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I think it's an extraordinary opportunity to go against a guy that set all the records in the history of the game."
That, of course, would be Manning, the 37-year-old quarterback who is the only four-time NFL MVP - and no one would be surprised if No. 5 arrives the night before the Super Bowl. He established marks by throwing for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards, helping Denver lead the league with 37.9 points and 457.3 yards per game. Manning is an inescapable pitchman, too, seen Sunday after Sunday during TV commercials. Hey, there he was selling cars during breaks in the broadcast of the NFC title game. Expect even more face time now.
Manning's oft-told tale, certain to be repeated a million times in the coming days, includes his comeback from a series of surgical procedures to his neck, attempts to cure problems that led him to sit out the entire 2011 season. That also led the Indianapolis Colts to send him packing despite two Super Bowl appearances with that club, including a title in 2007.
"It's certainly well-documented what my journey the past 2 1/2 years has been," said Manning, who could become the first starting QB to lead two franchises to titles, "but this team's overcome a lot of obstacles this year."
None more serious, perhaps, than coach John Fox's absence for about a month because of a heart operation. Other issues included the fax faux pas that precipitated the departure of pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, star linebacker Von Miller's drug-testing suspension and season-ending knee injury, and the losses of a handful of other starters on defense.
"Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl - I know how hard it is to get there," Manning said.
He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-16 victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday. Manning's offense scored on six consecutive possessions, accounted for more than 500 yards, had zero turnovers and zero sacks.
Ol' No. 18's opposite number in two weeks, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, provides a real contrast as he seeks his - and the Seahawks' - first Super Bowl trophy.
Wilson is 6 inches shorter, 12 years younger, a skilled scrambler in only his second pro season after slipping to the third round of the draft; he's a guy who had to transfer colleges to get playing time and thought about pursuing a baseball career instead.
"Any time you get to the Super Bowl," Wilson said after Seattle beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 on Sunday, "it's a special time."
Other members of the Seahawks getting the chance to introduce themselves to a wide audience include rugged running back Marshawn Lynch - fans tossed packs of his favorite candy, Skittles, onto the field after a 40-yard TD run in the third quarter - and Carroll, a rah-rah sort who was a title-winning college coach at Southern California.
And maybe, just maybe, some of Manning's less-heralded defensive teammates - the ones who clamped down on New England's running game Sunday and limited Brady much of the afternoon - will get their chance to shine, too.
Seattle's defense, led by Sherman, allowed an average of 14.4 points and 273.6 yards, and topped the NFL in takeaways.
On Sunday, the Seahawks forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, including a victory-sealing interception by Malcolm Smith after Sherman stretched his left hand to tip Colin Kaepernick's pass away from receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone.
"I'm the best corner in the game," said Sherman, an All-Pro. "When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get."
Seattle's only other trip to the big game ended with a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006. Denver will be playing in its seventh Super Bowl and eyeing a third title, to go with those from 1998 and 1999, when current executive John Elway was the QB.
In addition to Elway, Manning can match his younger brother Eli with a second Super Bowl crown. Eli, a spectator on Sunday in Denver, won two trophies with the New York Giants, whose stadium hosts this year's Super Bowl, the first to be played outdoors at a cold-weather site.
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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Clayton Kershaw agreed Wednesday to a $215 million, seven-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press, a deal that makes the two-time Cy Young Award winner baseball's first player with a $30 million average salary.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not yet been announced.
Kershaw receives the most lucrative deal for a pitcher, breaking the mark of $180 million set by Justin Verlander last March for his seven-year contract with Detroit.
Kershaw would have been eligible for free agency after the upcoming season if the new deal hadn't been reached. He was eligible for salary arbitration, and those figures were set to be exchanged on Friday. He was coming off a two-year, $20 million deal that included $200,000 in bonuses in 2012, a $500,000 escalator to his 2013 base salary, and $300,000 in bonuses last year.
General manager Ned Colletti said last week that both sides had been negotiating.
"It's our desire to sign him here for a very long time," Colletti said.
The average salary of $30.7 million tops the previous high of $27.5 million, set by the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez as part of a 10-year agreement from December 2007. While Roger Clemens had a contract with a listed salary of $28 million with the Yankees in 2007, he joined the team in June and actually made $17.4 million.
The Dodgers had baseball's second-highest payroll at the end of the regular season last fall - more than $236 million.
Kershaw's agreement, first reported by ESPN.com, is baseball's seventh of $200 million or more. Among current contracts, it trails only the agreements of Rodriguez, Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto ($251.5 million over 12 years), Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols ($240 million over 10 years) and Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano ($240 million over 10 years).
A left-hander who turns 26 in March, Kershaw won NL Cy Young Awards in 2011 and 2013. He was 16-9 for the NL West champion Dodgers last year and led the league with 232 strikeouts, and his 1.83 ERA was the best in the major leagues since Pedro Martinez's 1.74 for Boston in 2000. He has led the NL in ERA in each of the last three years.
Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis tweeted: "Big winner today......me. I am blessed to catch best in the game for foreseeable future God willing. Congrats Kersh!"
Teammate Matt Kemp chimed in, tweeting, "Congrats 2 the best pitcher in baseball and great teammate (at)ClaytonKersh22 on his deal!"
Kershaw has been a powerful, yet low-key, presence on the team. In the offseason, the Dallas native has worked to build a charitable legacy alongside his wife, Ellen. The couple has made yearly trips to Africa, where his foundation that focuses on helping at-risk children built an orphanage.
The deal signifies further stability for a club that was in turmoil under former owner Frank McCourt, who sold the team to a group that includes Magic Johnson in 2012. The Dodgers signed manager Don Mattingly to a three-year deal last week and now have locked up their ace.
Last year, Kershaw pitched a career-high 259 innings between the regular season and the playoffs. The season ended on a sour note when he pitched a rare clunker in the Dodgers' 9-0 loss to St. Louis in the NL championship series that eliminated them.
Still up for discussion this winter is a new deal for Hanley Ramirez, who hit a team-leading .345 and played hurt during the NLCS. He has one year left on his contract.
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this story.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Alex Rodriguez sued Major League Baseball and its players' union Monday, seeking to overturn a season-long suspension imposed by an arbitrator who ruled there was "clear and convincing evidence" the New York Yankees star used three banned substances and twice tried to obstruct the sport's drug investigation.
As part of the complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan, Rodriguez's lawyers made public Saturday's 34-page decision by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, who shortened a penalty originally set at 211 games last August by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for violations of the sport's drug agreement and labor contract.
Horowitz, a 65-year-old making his second decision as baseball's independent arbitrator, trimmed the discipline to 162 games, plus all postseason games in 2014.
"While this length of suspension may be unprecedented for a MLB player, so is the misconduct he committed," Horowitz wrote.
Horowitz concluded Rodriguez used testosterone, human growth hormone and Insulin-like growth factor-1 in 2010, 2011 and 2012 in violation of baseball's Joint Drug Agreement. He relied on evidence provided by the founder of the now-closed Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic in Florida.
"Direct evidence of those violations was supplied by the testimony of Anthony Bosch and corroborated with excerpts from Bosch's personal composition notebooks, BBMs (Blackberry messages) exchanged between Bosch and Rodriguez, and reasonable inferences drawn from the entire record of evidence," Horowitz wrote. "The testimony was direct, credible and squarely corroborated by excerpts from several of the hundreds of pages of his composition notebooks."
While the original notebooks were stolen, Horowitz allowed copies into evidence.
Rodriguez's suit accused the Major League Baseball Players Association of "bad faith," said its representation during the hearing was "perfunctory at best" and accused it of failing to attack a civil suit filed by MLB in Florida state court as part of its Biogenesis investigation.
His lawyers criticized Michael Weiner, the union head who died from a brain tumor in November, for saying last summer he recommended Rodriguez settle for a lesser penalty if MLB were to offer an acceptable length.
"His claim is completely without merit, and we will aggressively defend ourselves and our members from these baseless charges," new union head Tony Clark said in a statement. "The players' association has vigorously defended Mr. Rodriguez's rights throughout the Biogenesis investigation, and indeed throughout his career. Mr. Rodriguez's allegation that the association has failed to fairly represent him is outrageous, and his gratuitous attacks on our former executive director, Michael Weiner, are inexcusable."
The suit also claimed MLB engaged in "ethically challenged behavior" and was the source of media leaks in violation of baseball's confidentiality rules.
Rodriguez's lawyers said Horowitz acted "with evident partiality" and "refused to entertain evidence that was pertinent and material." They faulted Horowitz for denying Rodriguez's request to have a different arbitrator hear the case, for not ordering Selig to testify and for allowing Bosch to claim Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in refusing to answer questions during cross-examination.
They also said Horowitz let the league introduce "unauthenticated documents and hearsay evidence ... obtained by theft, coercion or payment," wouldn't allow them to examine Blackberry devices introduced by MLB and was fearful he would be fired if he didn't side with management.
Rodriguez asked the court to throw out Horowitz's decision and find the league violated its agreements with the union and that the union breached its duty to represent him. The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos.
Supreme Court decisions have set narrow grounds for judges to vacate arbitration decisions, instances such as corruption or not following the rules agreed to by the parties.
The three-time AL MVP admitted five years ago he used performance-enhancing substances while with Texas from 2001-03, but the third baseman has denied using them since. MLB's Biogenesis investigation was sparked after the publication of documents last January by Miami New Times.
Bosch agreed in June to cooperate with MLB and testified during the hearing, which ran from September until November. Rodriguez's lawyers attacked his credibility because of that deal, which included reimbursement by MLB for costs of lawyers, up to $2,400 daily for security, insulation from civil suits and a promise to tell law enforcement he was cooperative.
"The benefits accorded to Bosch under that arrangement did not involve inducements that the panel considers to be improper," wrote Horowitz, who chaired a three-man panel that included MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred and union General Counsel David Prouty.
Horowitz cited the credibility of Bosch's "unrebutted testimony - testimony which was corroborated by substantial documentary evidence," and he described how Bosch and Rodriguez communicated in code, referring to banned substances as "food."
"Once when Bosch sent a message telling Rodriguez that he was going to pick up Rodriguez's `meds,' Rodriguez replied `Not meds dude. Food,'" the arbitrator wrote.
Rodriguez did not testify in the grievance, walking out after Horowitz refused to order Selig to testify.
At a brief hearing Monday, MLB said it would not discipline Rodriguez for including the decision in his lawsuit. U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III brushed aside concerns from the union about confidentiality concerns.
"Given the intense public interest in this matter and Commissioner Selig's disclosures last night on `60 Minutes,' it's difficult to imagine that any portion of this proceeding should be under seal," Pauley said.
The arbitrator noted Bosch and Rodriguez exchanged 556 text messages and had 53 telephone calls in 2012. He said all records of text messages were produced by Bosch, while lawyers for Rodriguez said the Blackberry he used to communicate with Bosch was deactivated last March and Rodriguez no longer had it.
The arbitrator said Rodriguez instructed Bosch in one message to "erase all these messages."
Horowitz recounted how Rodriguez was introduced to Bosch after a Yankees game in Tampa, Fla., in July 2010 by A-Rod's cousin, Yuri Sucart, who knew Bosch through Jorge "Oggi" Velazquez.
Horowitz wrote MLB was justified in citing violations of the collective bargaining agreement because Rodriguez "played an active role in inducing Bosch to issue his own public denial on Jan. 29" and "attempted to induce Bosch to sign a sworn statement on May 31" saying he never supplied the player.
In determining the length of the penalty, Horowitz cited a 2008 decision in a grievance involving Neifi Perez in which arbitrator Shyam Das ruled "separate uses are subject to separate disciplines." He said under the discipline system for positive tests, Rodriguez would be subject to at least 150 games for three violations of 50 games. Still, Horowitz thought Selig's initial penalty was too severe.
"A suspension of one season satisfies the structures of just cause as commensurate with the severity of his violations," he wrote.
Rodriguez's lawyers claimed at worst the case should involve one first violation with a penalty of 50 games, and they said including the 2014 postseason was beyond the scope of Selig's original discipline. Horowitz rejected Rodriguez's argument that the lack of a positive test was proof of innocence.
"It is recognized Rodriguez passed 11 drug tests administered by MLB from 2010 through 2012. The assertion that Rodriguez would have failed those tests had he consumed those PES as alleged is not persuasive. As advanced as MLB's program has become, no drug-testing program will catch every player," Horowitz wrote.
In Selig's notice of discipline to Rodriguez on Aug. 5, he said MLB actively is investigating allegations he received banned substances in 2009 from Dr. Anthony Galea, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to a federal charge of bringing unapproved drugs into the United States from Canada.
Lawsuit and arbitrator's decision: