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BUCHANAN, SHARPE FINE-TUNE THEIR TALKING GAMES WITH PLENTY OF TRASH

And then he said . . .

"Shannon looks like a horse. I'll tell you, that's an ugly dude . . . You can't tell me he doesn't look like Mr. Ed." -- Atlanta Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan, firing the first salvo at Denver Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe on Thursday in the Super Bowl War of Words.

"Ray said that? Well, I think he's ugly, but did I ever call him that? No. Tell Ray to put the eyeliner, the lipstick and the high heels away. I'm not saying he's a cross-dresser; that's just what I heard." -- Sharpe.

Your turn, Ray.

"Shannon just runs his mouth saying anything, so we don't need to pay attention to him. He'd better watch out for himself, because he might get knocked out like he did that last game."

Go ahead, Shannon.

"I'm not hard to find -- I'm No. 84, and I've got the biggest mouth on the field. Tell Ray I'll be looking for him also."
The Falcons haven't decided if Ronnie Bradford or Michael Booker will start atdefensive back.

Bradford started 10 games during the regular season, while Booker started six times when Bradford was hampered by a knee injury.

Bradford suffered a separated shoulder in the last regular-season game, putting Booker back into a starting role for the two playoff victories. Now, with Bradford ready to play again, the Falcons have a decision to make.

"I think Ronnie is getting better," secondary coach Ron Meeks said. "He'll be healthy enough where I think he'll play. Hopefully, in an increased role."

Bernie Kukar, a 15-year veteran, will referee his first Super Bowl on Sunday.

Kukar will head a seven-man crew with 96 combined years of experience. The other officials are umpire Jim Daopoulos, head linesman Sanford Rivers, line judge Ron Baynes, field judge Tim Millis, side judge Gary Lane and back judge Don Hakes. Referee Gerry Austin and umpire Chad Brown will be alternates.

Baynes, Millis, Lane and Hakes have officiated in previous Super Bowls.
Pro football supremacy is not the only thing up for grabs in the Super Bowl. Georgia peanuts and Colorado buffalo steaks will also be on the line, thanks to a bet between the mayors of Atlanta and Denver.

Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell is betting some of his city's treasures such as peanuts, spare ribs and a case of Coca-Cola. Denver Mayor is was willing to put up Colorado buffalo steaks and a football autographed by Broncos players.
The price tag for an NFL expansion franchise might be nearing $1 billion.

Three ownership groups, each prepared to lay out approximately that amount, presented their cases to the league's expansion and stadium committees. Two of the groups want a team for Los Angeles, which has been without a franchise since the Raiders returned to Oakland and the Rams left for St. Louis, both in 1995. The third group wants to put a team in Houston to replace the Oilers, who left for Tennessee in 1997.

The NFL has 31 teams with the addition of the expansion Cleveland Browns, set to play next season after paying a $530 million entry fee. That number is unwieldy for scheduling purposes, forcing at least one team to be off every week during the season. The league has said it would like to go to 32 teams by 2002.

There was some indication the NFL might be leaning toward Los Angeles.

"I think we're more comfortable now that this thing is going to happen (in L.A.)," said Denver owner Pat Bowlen, one of the few owners to go on the record with his comments. "The L.A. groups moved much closer to the Houston guys."

A decision is expected in March.
The NFL's salary cap is expected to go up about $5 million next season to $57.5 million per team, according to an estimate Thursday by Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association.

This season's salary cap is $52.388 million, about $10 million more than it was in 1997. The increase was due to the $18 billion, eight-year television contract that took effect at the beginning of this season.

Upshaw stressed that his figure, which league officials agree were accurate, was an estimate, as are all salary cap figures at this time of year. The final figure usually isn't set until league and union officials sit down to work out final details.
The Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears filled offensive coordinator positions.

Baltimore coach Brian Billick announced that Matt Cavanaugh picked the Ravens over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Cavanaugh directed the Bears offense last season.

Cavanaugh picked the Ravens even though Billick will call the offensive plays.

"I know the quarterback situation here has to be settled, and I wanted that challenge," Cavanaugh said. "I wanted to come to a place that isn't established. I wanted to help the team build something. It's a fresh start."

Meanwhile, Bears coach Dick Jauron hired Louisiana Tech head coach Gary Crowton, whose team had the No. 2 passing offense in the nation last season.

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