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Why does Vernon Davis love curling? ‘It just grows on you’

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SOCHI, Russia – Sunday provided a unique Olympic experience – watching curling with Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis.

Davis arrived for his second Winter Games as USA Curling’s honorary captain on Friday and has been taking in the U.S. men’s team games at the Ice Cube Curling Center.

He arrived about 20 minutes after bagpipers opened play Sunday night. Davis took a seat about 20 yards from the round-robin play action on an elevated press row. He stood out, of course, wearing a black San Francisco 49ers Foundation jacket, an official Olympic credential and several Olympic pins, including a Guatemalan one. He barely took his eyes off the ice.

“It’s like watching my kids play, watching my son play,” Davis said. “I’m not playing, but I have a relationship with these guys. I want them to win.”

The open-minded Davis learned about curling from a 49ers beat writer before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, gave it a try and took to it.

Within weeks, USA Curling found out and extended the honorary captain offer.

“I’m open to try new things and different things,” Davis said. “I find it fascinating.”

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Davis’ role the past four years has been to promote awareness for a sport that’s gained a cult following at the last four Winter Games, but still has plenty of room to grow in the U.S. (Hawaii became the 45th state to host a curling event in October.)

On Sunday, he played analyst for two reporters as U.S. skip John Shuster and his team faced Sweden. Davis was a natural.

He talked peels, guards and shoe covers for about 45 minutes. He peered across the ice and gestured just like the curlers about positioning.

A telestrator would have come in handy.

“You have to know when to use finesse and when to use strength,” Davis said. “It’s a thinking game. You have to be strategic and come with a good plan to execute to be able to dominate your opponent.”

His passion for curling was evident as he predicted how shots would be played.

VIDEO: U.S. men eliminated; Canada advances

“At first it took me a while to figure out the reason for the sport,” Davis said. “I’m like, ‘Is this really an Olympic sport?’ I needed some answers. I had a lot of questions, technical stuff.

“Once you find out what’s going on in this game, it just grows on you.”

He curls for fun in San Jose, joining “random people” for games. Davis has his own USA Curling jacket with “V. Davis” on the back. The V will keep people from confusing him for U.S. speed skater Shani Davis as they did at the 2010 Olympics.

“The only thing I don’t have is my own stone,” Davis said. “They said they’re going to send me one. They sent me two brooms.”

He sees plenty of parallels between his primary trade and his new hobby.

“[In football] you have to really use your mind, set your opponent up in a way that you can gain leverage and beat him and beat him easily,” Davis said. “That’s the way it is with curling, coming up with a plan, setting up your defense, curling your stone, knowing when to use strength and when not to.”

Davis said his 49ers teammates questioned how serious his commitment was. They asked: “Why curling?”

“There’s no NFL player that promotes curling but me, which is pretty cool,” said Davis, who thinks he can persuade Frank Gore to join him on the ice. “It shows that I’m different and am willing to open up and do something different.”

The Olympics and the Super Bowl, where Davis played last season, are very similar, he said.

“They’re both enormous, everyone’s there, everyone wants to be involved, whether it’s sponsorship or just coming to support,” said Davis, who watched 1996 Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes and 1992 Olympic bobsledder Herschel Walker growing up. “Tons of people there, entertainers, you name it. From a marketing standpoint, it’s huge.”

Davis’ early tour of Sochi included a visit to USA House, a photo in front of the Olympic cauldron and a mob scene when he ate a cafeteria and was swarmed by about 30 people. He also scored a ticket to the U.S.-Russia hockey game Saturday.

“I get a chance to go to [San Jose] Sharks games,” Davis said. “It’s nothing like what I saw yesterday.”

A highlight was talking shop with Shuster on Saturday, learning about how the curlers game plan. Again, it equates to football.

“At the snap of every ball, before I take off the line of scrimmage, I need to really think, I need to really focus,” Davis said. “Their focus is the same focus that I need to have before I release off the line of scrimmage.”

How committed is Davis to raising curling’s awareness?

He wants to go to a third Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018, and wouldn’t rule out becoming competitive in the sport once his football career ends.

“The Winter Olympics, when everyone hears curling, they’re thinking … oh, Vernon does that,” he said. “It makes people want to look at it. They want to get involved. They want to see what’s going on. They want to learn more about it. They’re on the Internet, Googling curling, trying to find out about it. Which is a pretty good thing.”

Jordan Burroughs’ son scores takedown (video)

Jordan Burroughs
NBC Sports
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Beacon Burroughs is getting an early start in wrestling, and performing in front of a crowd.

The 1-year-old son of U.S. Olympic freestyle champion Jordan Burroughs recently took down a bite-sized opponent on a stage.

Dad made sure it grab video of what could be the beginning of another decorated Burroughs career.

In Rio, Burroughs (the elder) will try to become the first American to win multiple Olympic wrestling titles since John Smith and Bruce Baumgartner in 1992.

MORE: Burroughs’ rival in doubt for Olympics

Michael Phelps eyes at least three events at Olympic Trials

Michael Phelps
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Michael Phelps expects to swim the 100m and 200m butterfly and the 200m individual medley at the U.S. Olympic Trials in four weeks, but he will be entered in more events, his coach, Bob Bowman, confirmed Tuesday.

Phelps plans to swim just those three events at the June 26-July 3 trials in Omaha, according to Sports Illustrated.

However, Phelps could also swim the 100m and 200m freestyles at the Olympic Trials to post a time fast enough not necessarily to make the Olympic team (top two at trials) but to earn a place on the 4x100m and 4x200m free relays for a fourth straight Games.

“I think he needs to put up a time, sometime, to let us know that he’s on that level [in the 100m and 200m freestyles],” Bowman, the head coach of the U.S. Olympic men’s team and thus an important relay selector, said two weeks ago.

Bowman said Tuesday that Phelps will be entered in more than the 100m and 200m fly and 200m IM at trials. But Phelps could scratch out of any event before finals or before preliminary heats.

Bowman said Phelps could theoretically try to make the Olympic team in more than three individual events.

As for those main three, it’s no surprise. Those are the three events Phelps focused on at his biggest meet of 2015, the U.S. Championships in August. Each time, he clocked the fastest time in the world for the year, making him the Olympic favorite in all three.

If Phelps intends to swim three individual events at the Rio Games, he’s looking at his thinnest Olympic slate since his debut at the Sydney 2000 Games at age 15 (one event, 200m butterfly, fifth place).

Phelps swam five individual events each in 2004 and 2008 and four in 2012, dropping the 200m freestyle for the London Games and the 400m individual medley altogether after finishing fourth in that event in London.

Phelps will race this weekend at what is expected to be his final pre-trials tune-up meet in Austin, Texas. He is entered in the 100m and 200m free, the 100m butterfly and the 200m IM.

MORE: U.S. swim stars spread across three Olympic Trials tune-up meets