As Brady, Gronk know, pre-Super Bowl injury talk always big

Perhaps already annoyed by the attention to his left elbow ahead of the Super Bowl, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman used a quip to answer one reporter's question about that joint's range of motion.

''If I had to slap my brother,'' Sherman replied, ''I'd be able to do it.''

Seattle's other All-Pro defensive back, safety Earl Thomas, is dealing with a bum shoulder and not only missed practices but also avoided the media, which is one way to avoid the question that so often becomes a big part of the buildup to the big game: How hurt are you?

Ever since Sherman was injured in the NFC championship game, he has maintained he expects to play against the New England Patriots on Feb. 1. He's been practicing and called the elbow ''a little sore, but not too bad.''

Thomas' status is less certain.

Whenever either is near a microphone or notepad over the next week, updates will be sought.

While the NFL's investigation of the underinflated footballs used by the Patriots in the AFC championship game has been getting a ton of attention, there will be room for other topics. Fans of both teams want to know about injuries, as does anyone planning to place a wager on Super Sunday's outcome.

Over the years, key injuries to key players - including a couple of guys still with the Patriots - have been breathlessly charted in the days before kickoff.

Here's a look at some famous examples, including a few involving Super Bowl MVPs:

ROB GRONKOWSKI, PATRIOTS, 2012: After catching 17 touchdown passes, a record for a tight end, he sprained his left ankle in the AFC title game. The appetite for information was not helped by New England coach Bill Belichick's general reluctance to provide details on injuries. A Buffalo TV station cited Gronkowski's father as saying Rob would be fine. ''The only reason it's getting so blown up is because it's the Super Bowl,'' Gronk said at Media Day. THE GAME: He had only two catches for 26 yards in New England's 21-17 loss to the New York Giants; a desperation heave on the final play fell just out of a lunging Gronkowski's reach.

TOM BRADY, PATRIOTS, 2002: In his first season as an NFL starting quarterback, Brady sprained his left ankle in the AFC championship game. It wasn't until the Wednesday before the Super Bowl that Belichick announced the youngster would start over Drew Bledsoe. Belichick even went so far as to ask a pool reporter not to identify who took the most snaps at QB in practice. THE GAME: Brady was voted MVP. He went 16 for 27 for just 145 yards but didn't throw an interception and led the drive to the winning field goal in New England's 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

EMMITT SMITH, COWBOYS, 1994: The league's career leading rusher separated his right shoulder in the last game of the regular season; he wound up having offseason surgery. After the NFC title game, Smith was asked about his shoulder, and he joked that Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson ''said it's healed, so I guess it's healed.'' THE GAME: Smith was voted MVP. He ran for 132 yards and two second-half touchdowns in the Cowboys' 30-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

JERRY RICE, 49ERS, 1989: The man with by far the most yards receiving in NFL history sprained his right ankle during practice the Monday before the Super Bowl. After he showed up for interviews the next day with that ankle taped, folks starting discussion whether someone such as Mike Wilson would be able to fill in capably. THE GAME: Rice was voted MVP. He had 11 catches for 215 yards and one TD, and had three grabs for 51 yards on the winning drive in a 20-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

DON MAYNARD, JETS, 1969: Maynard - like Smith and Rice, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame - injured his hamstring in the AFL championship game. But it was, of course, a different era, without Twitter and 24-hour TV channels. According to lore, the Jets' Super Bowl opponent didn't even know Maynard was hurt. THE GAME: Maynard was used as a decoy and wound up with zero catches, but Joe Namath and the Jets beat the NFL's Baltimore Colts 16-7.

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AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writers Tim Booth and Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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