QB’s beard good-luck charm for surging Jets

Samson‘s strength was in his hair. It appears Mark Sanchez‘s success is in his scruffy beard.

Sanchez, the New York Jets rookie quarterback, has not shaved since Dec. 20, when he threw two interceptions in a regular-season loss to Atlanta.

Since sprouting facial hair, he has led the Jets to four straight wins and into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis.

He sees nothing wrong with superstition.

“Why change now?” Sanchez said.

Jets fullback Tony Richardson sees the look as symbolic.

“He doesn’t look like a kid anymore,” Richardson said. “He looks like a grown man now. He’s not playing like a rookie, either, so more power to the beard.”

• NO-STAR GAME — The revamped Pro Bowl will look more like the Back-Up Bowl.

This year the NFL all-star game will be played Jan. 31 — one week before the Super Bowl — in Miami. The meaningless game has been played after the Super Bowl and in Hawaii for the past 30 years.

The new format prevents players from this year’s Super Bowl teams from playing in it. Twenty-four players from the four teams left in the playoffs — Colts, Jets, Vikings and Saints — who were selected for the Pro Bowl have withdrawn before they know if they’re in the Super Bowl.

“In the past, some players always decided to rest their aching bodies or attend to personal matters, rather than suit up for a game that doesn’t count,” writes Edgar Thompson of palmbeachpost.com. “But a trip to Honolulu was enough for players to suck it up one more time for the Pro Bowl.”

At least it heads back to Hawaii next year.

• LET’S GET PHYSICAL, BOYS — NASCAR chairman and chief executive officer Brian France said Thursday that he plans to relax some rules and encourage drivers to be more aggressive during races in his premier Sprint Cup series.

One step toward achieving France’s goal is to have drivers “mixing it up” and to permit bump-drafting at superspeedways in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Talladega, Ala. The practice of tapping a car’s rear bumper at 200 mph provides added momentum for both on tracks where restrictor plates choke horsepower and frequently cause big wrecks.

NASCAR wants to shift more control of track behavior back to the drivers.

Keeping in line with France’s new philosophy, NBA commissioner David Stern said his players will begin calling their own fouls.

• LOSING GOVERNOR FLAGGED — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley lost the battle but won the war.

He and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels agreed to a wager before the Jan. 16 playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts.

The governor of the losing team was to display the opposing team’s flag on his vehicle.

O’Malley, whose Ravens lost to Indianapolis, attached a Colts pennant to his car. But the flag sported an old Baltimore Colts logo.

COMPILED BY JEFF WOLF LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

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