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POSTED January 24, 2012 5:24 p.m.

FOOTBALL

GIANTS-49ERS' NFC GAME SCORES BIG RATINGS FOR FOX:NEW YORK (AP) — Maybe Fox should try Eli Manning on its next edition of "American Idol."

Manning's New York Giants swept their way into the Super Bowl on Sunday in a game that was a ratings smash, good news for Fox that likely took the sting out of a lackluster return by "Idol."

The Giants' victory over the San Francisco 49ers attracted an average of 57.6 million viewers, the second most-watched NFC title game since 1982 and third most ever, the Nielsen Co. said. During the game's peak from 10 to 10:30 p.m. ET, 69 million people were watching. Only 2010's Minnesota-New Orleans game and the 1982 Dallas-San Francisco game had larger NFC championship audiences.

On Sunday afternoon, an estimated 48.7 million people watched the New England Patriots earn their way into the Super Bowl by beating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship.

Television's most popular show, "American Idol," returned in front of 21.9 million people on Wednesday and 18 million on Thursday, Nielsen said.

BASEBALL

RETIRED MANAGER LA RUSSA TO MANAGE NL ALL-STARS: ST. LOUIS (AP) — Tony La Russa will become the second retired manager to lead an All-Star team next summer, joining Hall of Famer John McGraw.

La Russa concluded a 16-season run in St. Louis with the team's second World Series title in five years last October, stepping down after 33 seasons overall. Commissioner Bud Selig announced Tuesday that the 67-year-old La Russa will manage the National League in this year's game July 10 in Kansas City.

McGraw retired after the 1932 season and managed the National League in the first All-Star Game the following year.

This will be La Russa's sixth time managing an All-Star team, three times in each league.

Two managers led All-Star teams after moving to new teams, Dick Williams in 1974 after switching from the Athletics to the Angels and Dusty Baker in 2003 after switching from the Giants to the Cubs.

GYMNASTICS

US GYMNASTICS CHAMP JOINS ROSTER FOR AMERICAN CUP: INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — U.S. gymnastics champ Danell Leyva won't have to wait for the London Olympics to see how he measures up against the rest of the world.

Leyva was added to the American Cup roster Tuesday. The March 3 meet at Madison Square Garden will feature six of the top nine gymnasts from last year's world championships, including two-time silver medalist Philipp Boy of Germany and Britain's Daniel Purvis, who was fourth at worlds. USA Gymnastics already had announced that John Orozco, who was fifth at worlds, would be competing at American Cup.

World champion Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman, fourth at worlds, lead the women's field, which also will include promising Romanian Larisa Iordache. The 15-year-old won six medals at last year's European Youth Olympic Festival, including the all-around title and golds on floor exercise and balance beam.

Leyva and Orozco were second and third in qualifying at the world championships in Tokyo last fall. Orozco rallied from a poor start to finish fifth, just .268 behind Purvis and about a half-point from the bronze medal. A scary fall on high bar left Leyva in last place in the all-around finals, but he came back two days later to win the parallel bars title. It was the first gold at worlds for a U.S. man in eight years and also gave the Americans multiple medals for the first time since 2003.

HOCKEY

CAPITALS LW OVECHKIN SKIPPING NHL ALL-STAR GAME: ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Alex Ovechkin is skipping the NHL All-Star game, a decision he announced a day after getting a three-game suspension from the league for a hit on an opponent.

"My heart is not there. I got suspended, so why (do) I have to go there?" the Washington Capitals' captain and a two-time league MVP said Tuesday. "I love the (All-Star) game. It's a great event. I love to be there."

But Ovechkin added: "I feel I'm not deserving to be there right now. If I'm suspended, I have to be suspended."

Capitals general manager George McPhee said he supported Ovechkin's decision to back out of the All-Star game.

"Because he's a suspended player, he doesn't feel like he deserves to be there, doesn't want to be a distraction," McPhee said.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement emailed by a league spokesman: "In light of yesterday's suspension, we informed the Capitals that, while Alex Ovechkin was still welcome to participate in this weekend's All Star festivities in Ottawa, we would not be insisting that he do so. We now understand that Alex has decided to withdraw from this weekend's events. Given the circumstances involved, we understand Mr. Ovechkin's decision in this regard and have no intention of pursuing this matter further."

AUTO RACING

FORD UNVEILS 2013 FORD FUSION: CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Ford on Tuesday became the first manufacturer in NASCAR to unveil its 2013 car, rolling out a Fusion that closely resembles what fans can buy off the showroom floor.

"The NASCAR Nation is made up of car enthusiasts, and NASCAR fans certainly love to pull for a brand or make of car second only to being able to pull for their favorite driver," said NASCAR President Mike Helton. "Today is a very significant landmark for us. It brings back the relevancy of NASCAR on the race track to what fans have in their homes and in their parking lots and garages and at their parking spots at work."

NASCAR officials worked with representatives of its four auto manufacturers to try to make the Sprint Cup car more closely resemble each manufacturer's production cars.

Ford's Fusion was a joint project between the Ford Design Center and Ford Racing.

"We wanted Fusion to be the car that helped return 'stock car' to NASCAR," said Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing. "I think fans, when they see the car, are just going to smile and cheer. It is going to re-engage them with the sport and make the sport better because there is just something natural about seeing race cars that look like cars in their driveways."

The 2013 Ford Fusion mirrors its production car. It is the third time Ford simultaneously launched production and NASCAR versions of a new model. The first dual launch came in 1968 with the Torino, the second was in 2006 with the newly introduced Fusion.

 

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