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McGRATH: Don’t let football’s toll spoil the Super Bowl party

Jahvid Best who’s out football after series concussions is wheeled off field Nov. 7 2009 after brutal hit while scoring

Jahvid Best, who’s out of football after a series of concussions, is wheeled off the field on Nov. 7, 2009, after a brutal hit while scoring a touchdown for California. | Ben Margot/AP

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Updated: March 3, 2014 5:35PM



Marshawn Lynch received far more attention for what he didn’t say on Tuesday than Jahvid Best got for what he said, but that‘s how it goes when one former California Golden Bear has the Super Bowl as his platform and another is about to begin a coaching career as a humble graduate assistant.

Lynch, the Seattle Seahawks’ ‘‘Beast Mode’’ running back, became a story by blowing off a few hundred reporters during a six-minute cameo at Super Bowl Media Day. Most scribes probably didn’t notice that Best, Lynch’s successor as Cal’s featured back seven years ago, chose that day to join the parade of litigants suing the NFL and other entities over head injuries that cut short his pro career.

In Chicago, meanwhile, in a possibly related development, Kain Colter and some Northwestern football teammates were launching a drive to form a labor union, with post-playing-career medical care mentioned as a benefit they will be seeking.

Interesting. Best’s suit names the usual suspects but spares his school, its conference and the NCAA. Knowing what we now know about the cumulative effect of concussions, isn’t it possible that the collisions Best endured during 458 ‘‘touches’’ over three seasons at Cal — 364 carries, 62 receptions, 32 kick returns — contributed to the condition that forced him out of pro football after two years? Best left the field on a stretcher during a 2009 game against Oregon State, victim of a frightful mid-air hit that knocked his helmet off as he landed on it.

College players lay their bodies on the line just as zealously as their NFL counterparts do, and only a handful of them ever will get paid for the practice. A $250,000 Northwestern scholarship is hardly slave labor, but athletes who don’t turn pro should have somewhere to go for assistance if the knee they damaged on behalf of ol’ State U. requires surgery down the road, or if the dreaded headaches and/or memory loss they’re experiencing portends something more ominous.

Maybe one of those zeroes from Nick Saban’s $6 million paycheck could be converted into seed money to start a fund.

Overshadowed by Lynch’s reticence, Peyton Manning’s legacy and the fate of the extra point, player safety has been a back-burner issue during Super Bowl week. The chronic traumatic encephalopathy researchers from the Sports Legacy Institute would have been wise to set up a table at Media Day as a reminder that the problem isn’t going away, but the NFL would have frowned on it as an unseemly intrusion, like baseball outcast Pete Rose selling Hit King memorabilia down the street from the Hall of Fame on induction weekend.

So as we mull the cloudy future of the extra point, let’s put the hype to rest and play the game.

I know, Trent Dilfer and Jeff Hostetler have Super Bowl rings and Jim Kelly and Dan Marino do not, but it’s usually safe to back the team with the better quarterback. Think of the Bears’ last Super Bowl appearance — XLI in MMVII. ‘‘Rex,’’ as in Grossman, was ‘‘our quarterback,’’ as Lovie Smith kept reminding us, and Manning was the Colts’. Mostly for that reason, the Bears never were in any danger of winning in that Miami monsoon, even after Devin Hester brought the opening kickoff back for a touchdown.

Marino made the Dolphins the sexy Super Bowl XIX pick after throwing for a million yards and a thousand touchdowns in just his second season, but Joe Montana had been there before and acted like it.

I was a San Francisco newshound then, and the game was played at Stanford Stadium, so every story had a local angle, including the diary that 49ers guard Randy Cross did for us. As a rule, those player offerings are about as lame as what you’re reading now, but Cross is a bright, insightful guy who put some thought into it and gave us good stuff.

I spoke to him the day before the game to arrange the final installment and, in the interest of providing informed coverage, asked him what he thought.

‘‘Bill [Walsh] says we’re going to score five touchdowns,’’ Cross said, ‘‘so in order to beat us, Miami has to score more than five touchdowns. They can’t do that on our defense, so I think we’ll win pretty easy.’’

Final: 49ers 38, Dolphins  16. Moral: Go with the proven quarterback, especially if he has been there before.

Pick: Broncos 24, Seahawks 23. A second ring for Manning, as classy a competitor as has ever laced ’em up.

And the extra point lives, by acclamation.



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