Saturday, January 19, 2008

Obituary: Ernie Holmes / Rugged member of Steelers' Steel Curtain

Ernie Holmes played next to Joe Greene as the two defensive tackles in the famed Steel Curtain defense, and some believe he was his equal.
"Ernie was a tremendous football player," said Dwight White, who played right defensive end, next to Mr. Holmes. "Not taking anything away from Joe -- we know where he is -- Ernie was as good, and, in some cases, even better."
Mr. Holmes, who died at age 59 Thursday night in a one-vehicle wreck in his native Texas, made only two Pro Bowls and never was a serious candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But those who played with him for the Steelers of the 1970s knew how good he was.
"Joe Greene got a lot of attention and rightfully so,'' said Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, "but Ernie was a great football player. We all knew it on the team. Our teammates knew how important he was to the team and maybe didn't get the recognition he deserved."
Mr. Holmes, known affectionately as "Fats" because of his tremendous size for the times, was driving alone Thursday night when his SUV left the road and rolled several times near Lumberton, about 80 miles from Houston, a Texas Department of Public Safety dispatcher said. He was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the car and pronounced dead at the scene, the department said. Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said yesterday he was told Mr. Holmes fell asleep at the wheel.
Mr. Holmes, an ordained minister, lived on a ranch in Wiergate in Southeast Texas.
Mr. Greene, selected as the best player in franchise history as part of the Steelers' 75th anniversary season celebration last year, remained friends with Mr. Holmes and talked to him often, as did other teammates. Mr. Holmes last appeared publicly in Pittsburgh when he served as an honorary co-captain for the team's Nov. 11 game against Cleveland at Heinz Field.
"We're going to miss ol' Ernie," said a somber Mr. Greene, now a scout for the Steelers who lives in the Dallas area. "We'll miss him a lot."
Mr. Holmes was an eighth-round draft choice from Texas Southern in 1971 as part of what many consider the Steelers' second-best draft in their history, one that included Mr. Ham, Mr. White, Larry Brown, Frank Lewis, Mike Wagner and Gerry Mullins.
He helped form the most famous front four in pro football history -- L.C. Greenwood at left end, Mr. Greene at left tackle, Mr. Holmes at right tackle and Mr. White at right end.
That group dominated Oakland in the 1974 AFC championship, holding the Raiders to 29 yards rushing. In Super Bowl IX two weeks later, they limited the Minnesota Vikings to 17 yards rushing.
"That run we had in '74 and through the playoffs and our first Super Bowl, he just had a dominating performance, especially against Gene Upshaw and the Raiders in Oakland in the AFC championship game," Mr. Ham said. "I think they rushed for 29 yards in that game. It was the most dominating performance against a great offensive line. He's a big reason why we ended up winning that game.
"And what they did against Minnesota, the entire front four!"
The Raiders, with two Hall of Fame offensive linemen in Mr. Upshaw, a guard, and tackle Art Shell, were heavy favorites to beat the Steelers in Oakland in that title game of '74.
How good was Mr. Holmes that day?
"Ask Gene Upshaw, and Gene was good,'' said Mr. White, also a Texas native. "I had Shell, he had Upshaw and he made a long afternoon for Gene and that made it a much easier afternoon for me."
Mr. Holmes was listed at 6-3, 260 pounds, but really weighed much more. He constantly was trying to lose weight in training camps at a time in which there was little organized offseason training in pro football.
"He was really a good guy, played extremely well for us," said Dan Rooney. "He was one of those guys who really was important to the team and the Steel Curtain. He played in the middle and was really tough to get out of there, which gave Joe a chance and the other guys to get to the quarterback."
Mr. Holmes played through the 1977 season with the Steelers, earning two Super Bowl rings, but was released when his play fell off because of weight and other physical problems. He played for New England in 1978.
During his time with the Steelers, he developed a reputation for being "stone crazy," he told Time magazine in 1975. That came partly from a case early in his career when he pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon following a bizarre episode in which he fired a pistol at trucks and a police helicopter in nearby Ohio. He was sentenced to five years' probation.
He later was declared not guilty of possessing cocaine in a trial in Texas. During the 1974 season, he shaved his head in the form of an arrow before the Steelers played a game at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium. He kept it that way and told people it was to remind everyone to go forward toward the Super Bowl.
Mr. Rooney said yesterday that Mr. Holmes was out of sorts during the incident in Ohio because he took high doses of caffeine.
"He was hallucinating,'' Mr. Rooney said. "He was taking those No Doze pills and didn't even know where he was. He was released in my custody. I got him into a hospital, and he spent a number of weeks there. He came out OK."
Mr. Rooney and Mr. Holmes' teammates say that's precisely how his life turned out as well. They say he stopped drinking years ago, lost weight and was devoted to his ministry in a Baptist church.
"Ernie came through a lot of struggles, and it looked like he was out ahead of it and living the way he wanted to live his life," Mr. Greene said.
"Ever since I've known him, Ernie always was a guy who read the Bible and wanted to be close to God. In lieu of all of his actions that we've experienced with him, Ernie was always a good man.
"He overcame a lot of those life struggles. Just last year he had a knee replacement and was coming along good with that. He lost a lot of weight and looking good and feeling good about it."
Opponents and sometimes his own teammates feared him.
"Oh, Ernie was definitely an enforcer,'' Mr. Greene said. "I suspect that a lot of guys were kind of afraid of him, not so much what he did on the field but what they read about him off the field. He'd probably do anything to win."
Mr. Holmes, though, was mostly mild-mannered and thoughtful off the field.
"I just wish he could have gotten more recognition for the job he did,'' Mr. White said. "The positives far outweigh the negatives of Ernie Holmes. For all the things and stories and antics that went on 30 years ago, Ernie ended up being a very, very inspiring person, one you could respect and admire."
Mr. Greene remembers one Steelers Christmas party in which, on his own, Mr. Holmes bought presents for the kids, dressed up like Santa Claus and handed out the gifts while the kids sat on his lap.
"Everybody has an Ernie Holmes story,'' Mr. White said. "Obviously, Ernie was a very colorful person back in the day. He did have what I call distractions. But there's an old Texas saying, it's all about where you end up. I can honestly say over the last few years, Ernie made major changes in his life."

Bobby Fischer dies at 64

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) -- "Chess," Bobby Fischer once said, "is life."
It was the chess master's tragedy that the messy, tawdry details of his life often overshadowed the sublime genius of his game.
Fischer, who has died at the age of 64, was a child prodigy, a teenage grandmaster and -- before age 30 -- a world champion who triumphed in a Cold War showdown with Soviet champion Boris Spassky.
But the last three decades of his life were spent in seclusion, broken periodically by erratic and often anti-Semitic comments and by an absurd legal battle with his homeland, the United States.
"He was the pride and sorrow of chess," said Raymond Keene, a British grandmaster and chess correspondent for The Times of London. "It's tragic that such a great man descended into madness and anti-Semitism."
Fischer died Thursday of kidney failure in Reykjavik after a long illness, friend and spokesman Gardar Sverrisson said Friday.
"A giant of the chess world is gone," said Fridrik Olafsson, an Icelandic grandmaster and former president of the World Chess Federation.
Noted French chess expert Olivier Tridon: "Bobby Fischer has died at age 64. Like the 64 squares of a chess board."
In another bit of symmetry, his death occurred in the city where he had his greatest triumph -- the historic encounter with Spassky.
Chicago-born and Brooklyn-bred, Fischer moved to Iceland in 2005 in a bid to avoid extradition to the U.S., where he was wanted for playing a 1992 match in Yugoslavia in defiance of international sanctions.
At his peak, Fischer was a figure of mystery and glamour who drew millions of new fans to chess.
Russian former world chess champion Garry Kasparov said Fischer's ascent of the chess world in the 1960s was "a revolutionary breakthrough" for the game.
"The tragedy is that he left this world too early, and his extravagant life and scandalous statements did not contribute to the popularity of chess," Kasparov told The Associated Press.
Rival and friend Spassky, reached at his home in France, said in a brief telephone interview that he was "very sorry" to hear of Fischer's death.
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the World Chess Federation, called Fischer "a phenomenon and an epoch in chess history, and an intellectual giant I would rank next to Newton and Einstein."
An American chess champion at 14 and a grand master at 15, Fischer vanquished Spassky in 1972 in a series of games in Reykjavik to become the first officially recognized world champion born in the United States.
The Fischer-Spassky match, at the height of the Cold War, took on mythic dimensions as a clash between the world's two superpowers.
It was a myth Fischer was happy to fuel. "It's really the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians," he said.
But Fischer's reputation as a chess genius was eclipsed, in the eyes of many, by his volatility and often bizarre behavior.
He lost his world title in 1975 after refusing to defend it against Anatoly Karpov. He dropped out of competitive chess and largely out of view, spending time in Hungary and the Philippines and emerging occasionally to make outspoken and often outrageous comments.
He praised the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying, "I want to see the U.S. wiped out," and described Jews as "thieving, lying bastards." Fischer's mother was Jewish.
In 2004, Fischer was arrested at Japan's Narita airport for traveling on a revoked U.S. passport. He was threatened with extradition to the United States to face charges of violating sanctions imposed to punish Slobodan Milosevic, then leader of Yugoslavia, by playing a 1992 rematch against Spassky in the country.
Fischer renounced his U.S. citizenship and spent nine months in custody before the dispute was resolved when Iceland -- a chess-mad nation of 300,000 -- granted him citizenship.
"They talk about the 'axis of evil,"' Fischer said when he arrived in Iceland. "What about the allies of evil ... the United States, England, Japan, Australia? These are the evildoers."
In his final years, Fischer railed against the chess establishment, claiming that the outcomes of many top-level chess matches were decided in advance.
Instead, he championed his concept of "Fischerandom," or random chess, in which pieces are shuffled at the beginning of each match in a bid to reinvigorate the game.
"I don't play the old chess," he told reporters when he arrived in Iceland in 2005. "But obviously if I did, I would be the best."
Born in Chicago on March 9, 1943, Robert James Fischer was a child prodigy, playing competitively from age 8.
At 13, he became the youngest player to win the United States Junior Championship. At 14, he won the United States Open Championship for the first of eight times.
At 15, he became an international grand master, the youngest person to hold the title.
Tall and striking-looking, he was a chess star -- but already gaining a reputation for erratic behavior.
He turned up late for tournaments, walked out of matches, refused to play unless the lighting suited him and was intolerant of photographers and cartoonists. He was convinced of his own superiority and called the Soviets "commie cheats."
"Chess is war on a board," he once said. "The object is to crush the other man's mind."
His behavior often unsettled opponents -- to Fischer's advantage.
This was seen most famously in the championship match with Spassky in Reykjavik between July and September 1972. Having agreed to play Spassky in Yugoslavia, Fischer raised one objection after another to the arrangements and they wound up playing in Iceland.
Fischer then demanded more money and, urged by no less than Henry Kissinger, he went to Iceland after a British financier, Jim Slater, enriched the prize pot.
"Fischer is known to be graceless, rude, possibly insane. I really don't worry about that, because I didn't do it for that reason," Slater has said.
"I did it because he was going to challenge the Russian supremacy, and it was good for chess," he added.
When play got under way, days late, Fischer lost the first game with an elementary blunder after discovering that the TV cameras he had reluctantly accepted were not unseen and unheard, but right behind the players' chairs.
He boycotted the second game and the referee awarded the point to Spassky, putting the Russian ahead 2-0.
But then Spassky agreed to Fischer's demand that the games be played in a back room away from cameras. Fischer went on to beat Spassky, 12.5 points to 8.5 points in 21 games.
In the recent book "White King and Red Queen," British author Daniel Johnson said the match was "an abstract antagonism on an abstract battleground using abstract weapons ... yet their struggle embraced all human life."
"In Spassky's submission to his fate and Fischer's fierce exultant triumph, the Cold War's denouement was already foreshadowed."
Funeral details were not immediately available. Fischer moved to Iceland with his longtime companion, Japanese chess player Miyoko Watai. She survives him.

Jones sentenced to six months in prison

White Plains, New York (Sports Network) - Disgraced Olympic track and field star Marion Jones was sentenced to six months in prison Friday for lying to federal prosecutors.
U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Karas handed down the sentence after Jones pleaded guilty to two charges last October. The second charge is in connection with her knowledge of a check-fraud scam involving her ex- boyfriend, former sprinter Tim Montgomery. . Jones, 32, was sentenced to six months for lying about her steroid use, and two months for the check-fraud case. Judge Karas allowed Jones to serve the sentences concurrently.
"As everyone could imagine, I am extremely disappointed today, but as I stood in front of all of you for years in victory, I stand in front of you today, I stand for what is right," Jones said in a statement outside the courthouse after her sentencing. "I respect the judge's orders and I truly hope that people will learn from my mistakes. Thank you for your time."
The sentence completes a fall from grace for Jones, who was once regarded as one of the greatest female athletes in the world. She must report to prison by March 11, and also has two years of probation and 400 hours of community service tacked on to her prison term.
"Today's sentencing is illustrative of just how far-reaching and serious the consequences of cheating can be," United States Olympic Committee chief executive officer Jim Scherr. "The fact that an athlete with so much talent and promise, who so many people looked up to, made the decision to cheat is a terrible disappointment. This unfortunate situation does, however, offer a lesson to young people about the importance of making good choices and honoring the value of clean competition."
In the past, Jones denied the use of any steroids, including to federal prosecutors when questioned in 2003. However, she finally admitted last October, in an emotional and tearful public statement to her family, friends, and fans, to using the steroid "the clear," produced by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative -- also known as BALCO -- that was given to her by her trainer Trevor Graham.
Jones admitted to taking the steroids leading up the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Jones was named Athlete of the Year by several organizations in 2000 for her accomplishments at the Sydney Games when she became the only female track and field athlete to win five medals -- three of them gold -- at a single Olympics. She has been stripped of all of those medals as a result of her admitted steroid use.
"Today's sentencing concludes a sad series of events," USA Track & Field president Bill Roe and CEO Craig Masback said in a joint statement. "The revelation that one of the sport's biggest stars took performance-enhancing drugs and repeatedly lied about it, in addition to being a party to fraud, has no silver lining.
"But, it is a vivid morality play that graphically illustrates the wages of cheating in any facet of life, on or off the track. We hope that all Americans will take to heart those lessons. The sport of track and field in the United States has moved on since Marion Jones competed, reaching even higher levels of success, as a team, than when she was at her peak. No one wanted to see this happen, and we hope that Marion and her family can move on as well."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Minnesota 76, Penn State 73

UNIVERSITY PARK — Tubby Smith added insult to injury without even realizing it. Minnesota’s basketball coach peered at the stat sheet, his eyes drifting from Penn State’s free-throw column to Minnesota’s free-throw column, which showed 19 Golden Gopher makes in 25 attempts.
“This is the best I think we’ve shot maybe this year,” he said, glancing up at Minnesota’s sports information director for confirmation and receiving a nod in return.
Minnesota’s proficiency at the line only underscored how bad the Nittany Lions were there during the Golden Gophers’ 76-73 win Saturday in the Bryce Jordan Center.
Penn State (10-5, 2-1 Big Ten) let a 16-point lead slip away by missing 13 of its 21 free-throw attempts in the second half, including nine of its final 10. The Nittany Lions, who have struggled all season from the free-throw line, were 17-of-36 (47.2 percent) for the afternoon in a game that threatened to throw a promising season off-course.
“It’s a mental thing,” said star forward Geary Claxton, who made only five of his 12 free-throw attempts and is now shooting 55 percent from the line on the season. “We’ve just got to go up there and shoot em. That’s it.”

The bricks at the line were just about the only mistakes made Saturday by the 6-foot-5 senior, who finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high six assists against a defense that doubled him for the majority of his 36 minutes. The other came in the final seconds, with the score locked at 73-73.
Penn State wanted to get the ball to Claxton in the low post, and did, but the Golden Gophers (12-3, 3-1) swarmed him and he passed the ball out toward the elbow and cutting forward Jamelle Cornley (11 points, seven rebounds). But Minnesota’s freshman point guard, Al Nolen, read the play and picked it off. Cornley grabbed Nolen’s jersey as he broke into the open court and was whistled for an intentional foul.
Nolen calmly made both shots, then one of two on the extra possession with just under five seconds left. Penn State’s Talor Battle's desperation three in time to beat the buzzer was well short.
With his former high school team sitting among a crowd of more than 10,000 fans, Battle played the best game of his three-month Penn State career.
The 5-11 point guard scored a career-high 19 points and had just one turnover in 36 minutes against a bouncy Minnesota defense that forced 16 other turnovers. But, after making four of his first five free throws Saturday, Battle missed his final two during a wild sequence in the final seconds.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Top 10 College Football Moments Of 2007

By Chris Dufresne
Los Angeles Times

From A (Appalachian State) to Z (Zook, Ron), the 2007 college football season will be remembered as the year everything happened. So many things,in fact, that when Times reporter Chris Dufresne compiled his top 10moments, some great ones didn't make the final cut, including Kansas' rise from a hayseed program to Orange Bowl glory and Trinity University's 15-lateral, miracle win over Millsaps College.

Dufresne's list:

1. The Appalachian upset: The boys from Boone, N.C., kicked off the season Sept. 1 with an almost inexplicable, 34-32 victory over No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor. The stunner was sealed when Corey Lynch blocked a 37-yard field-goal attempt on the final play. Appalachian State became the first lower division team to beat atop 10 team and the shock waves set the tone for a season of unexpected twists and turns. The win prompted the Associated Press to change its rules and allow pollsters to cast votes for lower-division schools.

2. Stanford 24, USC 23: Date: Oct. 6. Backup quarterback Tavita Pritchard's 10-yard scoring pass to Mark Bradford with 49 seconds left at the Coliseum lifted Stanford to a win that matched Appalachian State's on the improbability meter. News of the upset nearly stopped play miles away at the Rose Bowl, where USC rivals UCLA and Notre Dame were playing. For the second straight year, a loss to an inferior team kept USC from playing for the national championship. In 2006, UCLA shocked USC, 13-9, at the Rose Bowl, which denied USC a title-game match up against Ohio State.

3. Louisiana State wins: LSU spotted Ohio State an early 10-0 lead and then scored the next 31 points on its way to a 38-24 win in the Bowl Championship Series title game. LSU became the first school to win two BCS national titles and the first two-loss team to do it. LSU and Ohio State were the last teams standing Dec. 2 after a wild weekend that saw No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia lose. Ohio State moved from No. 3 to No. 1 and LSU jumped from No. 7 to No. 2.

4. Hell meets almost Heaven: Almost as shocking as Appalachian State over Michigan and Stanford over USC:West Virginia, a 28-point favorite, needed only to beat lowly Pittsburgh at home Dec. 1 to earn a trip to the national title game. But the Panthers prevailed, 13-9 (what is it about shocking upsets, USC, and that score?).That started a chain reaction that led to Coach Rich Rodriguez leaving Morgantown for Michigan. Bill Stewart was named West Virginia's interim coach and led the Mountaineers to a Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, after which Stewart was named head coach.

5. Dennis Dixon's injury: One-loss Oregon's very real chances of winning the national title and crowning its first Heisman Trophy winner were crushed Nov. 15 in Tucson when superstar quarterback Dennis Dixon was lost to a season-ending knee injury against Arizona. Dixon, a senior, had injured his knee in Oregon's previous game against Arizona State, but he asked the school to keep the news secret in an effort to continue playing. Despite wearing a knee brace, Dixon's left knee buckled when he made a cut with 6:01 left in the first quarter. Oregon finished 9-4.

6. Flynn to Byrd: It may have been the play that best defined the tenuous nature of this year's race to the national title. Louisiana State needed only a field goal to beat Auburn on Oct. 20 in Baton Rouge but tempted fate (and the clock)with a bold, if not insane, call in which Matt Flynn hit receiver Demetrius Byrd for the game-winning touchdown pass with one second left. Had Flynn not been able to get off the pass in time, or taken a sack, LSU would have lost and never played in the national title game.

7. Navy beats Notre Dame: Well, it couldn't last forever. Notre Dame had defeated Navy an NCAA-record43 straight times before the Midshipmen righted the ship with a triple-overtime win over the Irish in South Bend on Nov. 3. How long had it been? Roger Staubach, in 1963, was the Navy quarterback the last time Navy had prevailed. The loss dropped Notre Dame to 1-8. Navy had a winning season again under Paul Johnson, who was hired to succeed Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech.

8. Hawai'i arrives; Jones leaves: Hawai'i spent the whole season trying to prove it was worthy of a BCS bidand earned it by finishing the regular season as the nation's only unbeaten team. The Warriors finished 12-0 and No. 10 in the final BCS standings toearn a Sugar Bowl bid, but the fun ended there. Georgia crushed Hawai'i, 41-10, in New Orleans and then Coach June Jones crushed Hawai'i fans by taking the job at Southern Methodist.

9. UCLA fires and hires: This was supposed to be Karl Dorrell's statement year, as the Bruins returned 20 starters on a squad that was ranked No. 14 in the AP preseason poll. But ugly losses to Utah and Notre Dame, plus a rash of injuries, ledto a 6-6 finish and Dorrell's firing Dec. 3. After an extended search, UCLA hired Rick Neuheisel, who once threw passes to Dorrell when they were Bruins teammates in Westwood.

10. Sophomore wins the Heisman: Florida quarterback Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win college football's most coveted award after a season in which he became the first major college player to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns. Tebow then became the third straight Heisman winner to lose his bowl game, following Reggie Bush in 2005 and Troy Smith in 2006.

Bail Revoked for O.J. Simpson

In his latest dumb stunt, O.J. Simpson bought himself a ticket back to jail by trying to contact a co-defendant in the Las Vegas armed robbery case, prosecutors said.
The disgraced football great was taken into custody Friday by his bail bondsman in Miami for allegedly violating the terms of his release.
The pair then flew to Sin City, where cops took Simpson in handcuffs from the airport to the Clark County Detention Center.
Police said Simpson, 60, would be kept apart from the other 3,300 inmates until a hearing Wednesday, when District Attorney David Roger plans to ask a judge to revoke Simpson's $125,000 bail and keep him in jail until the trial starts in April.
Prosecutors described in court papers how Simpson flagrantly violated his bail terms by reaching out to accused accomplice Clarence (C.J.) Stewart.
In a secretly recorded voicemail message, the Juice spewed profanity as he seemingly urged the bondsman, Miguel Pereira to get a message to Stewart.
"Hey Miguel, it's me - I just want C.J. to know that the whole thing all the time he was tellin' me that [stuff], ya know, I hope he was telling me the truth," Simpson supposedly said.
"Don't be tryin' to change the [expletives] now . . . but I'm tired of this . . . fed up with [expletive] changing what they told me. All right?"
Prosecutors claim that Simpson's goal was to dissuade Stewart from "testifying and cooperating with law enforcement" as some suspects in the case have.
Simpson refused to comment on the charges before he boarded a westbound plane.
"I can't talk to you guys. I cannot talk to you guys," he said.
News cameras captured Simpson as he walked through the Miami airport - looking considerably less relaxed than he did in his old ads for Hertz rental cars.
Wearing a golf shirt and visor, he chatted on a cell phone and asked for directions with agitation, at one point elbowing a young woman out of his way.
Simpson is charged with robbery and kidnapping in connection with the Sept. 13 gunpoint raid on two sports memorabilia dealers at a casino hotel. He has pleaded not guilty.
After he posted bond, he promised a judge he would have no contact with his co-defendants or witnesses - even through a third party or a "carrier pigeon."
Two days after a preliminary hearing - which ended with a judge ruling that he should stand trial - Simpson violated the court order, authorities said.
It was unclear if Pereira, who runs You Ring We Spring Bail Bonds, played any role in tipping off investigators to the call.
Pereira chauffeured Simpson and his relatives to court dates - and said he was confident the athlete wouldn't skip out.
"He's not a flight risk. I have a gut feeling and I'm good at my job," Pereira told reporters after O.J.'s release in September.
Simpson, who was acquitted in the 1994 murder of his wife and her friend, faces up to life in prison if convicted in the heist case.
Three buddies who said they burst in on the memorabilia dealers at the Palace Station have cut deals to testify against Simpson.
Stewart and Charles Ehrlich didn't flip and are still slated to face trial with him.

Garnett drops 20 as Celtics race to 30th win - Match Best Start in Franchise History

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The Boston Celtics' big three all had big nights against the New Jersey Nets.
In the end, it was the Celtics' reserves that came up big in the fourth quarter in Boston's 86-77 win, the 30th of the season for the NBA's top team.
"We got down on the road and our starters needed some rest," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "The bench was able to dig it out and get us the win. They were huge for us. Every game, we try to get our big guys rest because its a long season and were trying to give the bench more confidence."
Kevin Garnett had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Paul Pierce added 18 points and Ray Allen scored 16 as Boston (30-4) matched the 1959-60 champion Celtics for the best start in franchise history.
Boston scored 13 consecutive points without Garnett or Pierce on the floor to take a 76-70 lead with 6:12 remaining. The Celtics went ahead for good at 71-70 on a fast-break layup by Glen Davis with 7:55 left. Following a Nets turnover on their possession, Eddie House had another fastbreak basket and Allen followed with a 3-pointer to close out the run.
"The defense started the offense and we did a good job all around," Davis said. "Our bench brought up the tempo in the fourth quarter and pumped up the energy. It was really big. Some nights, the big players are real factors and other nights, we have to step it up. Thats what the bench is for. We were able to get the lead with the other guys not on the floor. We stepped up at the right time."
Richard Jefferson led the Nets with 17 points, Vince Carter had 16 and Josh Boone added 14 and a career-high 16 rebounds. Jason Kidd just missed another triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.
The Nets left a lot of points on the free-throw line where they were 9-for-24. New Jersey also struggled from the floor in the final quarter, going 3-for-19. Boston outscored New Jersey 23-9 in the fourth.
"We kept it close and we had a chance of winning," Carter said. "We just couldn't get anything going. We were right there in the fourth. We've got to get it done against the good teams. There are no excuses."
Nets coach Lawrence Frank felt his team simply ran out of steam.

"It was a combination of their defense and our shots that we couldn't make," Frank said. "There were a couple of poor possessions. We wore down. We exerted a lot of energy in the game."
It was the first meeting between the teams since the Celtics routed the Nets 91-69 on Nov. 14 in Boston. New Jersey, determined to put that embarrassment behind them, started strong, leading 30-22 after one period. Kidd was the dominant force in the period with six points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Nets extended their lead to 39-30 in the second before the Celtics started to find the offensive range. Boston closed out the half on a 17-5 run for a 47-44 advantage. Garnett paced the attack with nine points as Boston was 10-for-13 from the field in the quarter while the Nets made only 5-of-19.
The Nets hung tough with the NBA's top team, taking a 68-63 lead after three quarters. New Jersey got key 3-pointers late in the period from Carter and Nachbar.

Marion Jones Sentenced to Prison

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Marion Jones said she was scared. She said she was sorry. With a catch in her voice, she said her young sons needed her.
"I ask you to be as merciful as a human being can be," she implored the judge.
To no avail.
The former Olympic track gold medalist was sentenced to six months in prison Friday for lying to investigators about using performance-enhancing drugs and her role in a check-fraud scam.
And so ended a long fall from grace for the one-time fastest woman on earth.
She leaned over the courtroom railing and softly cried into her husband's shoulder.
Jones' speed, along with a dazzling smile, pleasant personality and unmatched style, made her an international superstar even before she won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The medals and her riches are gone now, and she has been "put through humiliation with great fanfare," said U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas, who sentenced her.
He said Jones damaged two federal investigations with lies that came years apart, so "I don't think the criminal conduct can be written off as a momentary lapse of judgment or a one-time mistake, but instead a repetition of an attempt to break the law."
The check-fraud scheme was a major crime and the wide use of steroids "affects the integrity of athletic competition," he said. If Jones had told the truth from the start, he said, it would have been a great help to the ongoing BALCO investigation.
Later Friday, the judge sentenced Jones' former coach, Olympic champion Steve Riddick, to 5 years and 3 months in prison for his role in the check-fraud scam. Riddick also was given three years' probation and must pay back $375,000.
Riddick's lawyer, Bryan Hoss, said Riddick would appeal.
Jones pleaded with the judge not to separate her from her sons "even for a short period of time," saying she was still nursing the younger one. Although she is happily married now to Olympic sprinter Obadele Thompson, she said she knew from experience the problems of bringing up children in a one-parent household.
Karas acknowledged the children were victims, but said criminals "have to realize the consequences of their actions on others."
"We wouldn't be here today talking about the possibility of incarceration if Ms. Jones-Thompson had told the truth," he said.
A prison sentence, he said, might make others "think twice before lying. It might make them realize that no one is above the obligation to tell the truth."
The judge said he stayed within the six-month maximum suggested by prosecutors because of Jones' sons, her eventual acceptance of responsibility and the good she "can do to debunk the worldwide lie" perpetrated by performance-enhancing drugs.
He said 400 hours of community service in each of the two years following her release would "take advantage of Ms. Jones-Thompson's eloquence, strength and her ability to work with kids." He suggested she teach children that "it's wrong to cheat and to lie about the cheating."
Karas sentenced Jones to six months on the steroids case and two months on the check fraud case but said the sentences could be served at the same time. He imposed no fine, he said, because Jones can't afford to pay one.
After long denying she ever had used performance-enhancing drugs, Jones admitted last October she lied to federal investigators in November 2003, acknowledging she took the designer steroid "the clear" from September 2000 to July 2001. "The clear" has been linked to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, the lab at the center of the steroids scandal in professional sports.
She also admitted lying about her knowledge of the involvement of Olympic sprinter Tim Montgomery, the father of her older son, in a scheme to cash millions of dollars worth of stolen or forged checks. Montgomery and several others have been convicted in that scam.
Karas said he was still not sure Jones was telling the truth when she said she was unaware she had been taking steroids until she stopped. An athlete of her caliber knows "the razor-thin difference" between being good and being great, and she would have noticed right away, he suggested.
The use of performance-enhancing drugs "sends all the wrong messages to all who follow the athlete's every move," Karas said. "Athletes in society have an elevated status. They entertain, they inspire and perhaps most important they serve as role models."
BALCO founder Victor Conte, who served four months in prison after pleading guilty to operating a steroids distribution ring, said Jones "did make some very poor choices, and she does deserve serious consequences. I certainly don't condone her repeated lies."
USA Track & Field president Bill Roe and CEO Craig Masback called the Jones saga "a vivid morality play that graphically illustrates the wages of cheating in any facet of life, on or off the track."
John Fahey, the new president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said "it is an example of how the work of WADA is making it more likely than ever that those who cheat in sport will be caught."
Jones expressed an interest in beginning her sentence as soon as possible. Karas gave her until March 11 to surrender. Her lawyers asked that she be sent to a prison near her Austin, Texas, home.
"I'm very disappointed today," Jones told reporters outside court. "But as I stood in front of all of you for years in victory, I stand in front of you today. I stand for what is right. I respect the judge's order and I truly hope that people will learn from my mistakes."

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

One team doesn't define Gossage

NEW YORK -- Rich "Goose" Gossage will be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of the New York Yankees, it was revealed at a press conference to introduce Gossage as a member of baseball's most elite fraternity on Wednesday.
And just to accentuate the point, Hall officials produced a plastic, long-necked white goose wearing a Hall of Fame jersey. Jane Forbes Clark, the chairman of the Hall, topped it off with a mini dark-blue Yankees batting helmet, replete with the silver interlocking NY on the front.
The stunt was the brainchild of Jeff Idelson, the Hall's vice president of communications, Clark said.
"I've never gotten so many instructions," Clark added with a laugh after the 33-minute presser had ended. "Put the helmet on straight. Get the strap under the chin just right."
Clark executed the directions to perfection, leaving a beaming Gossage at the podium, where he was then joined by former Yankees teammate Reggie Jackson, circa 1978-81.
Gossage played for nine teams, including the Yankees twice. But even though the argument can be made that he had more of an impact in San Diego, where he took a formally moribund franchise to respectability during his four years playing for the Padres (1984-87), Goose said he was tickled to join the even more select fraternity of players in the Hall who have played at least part of their careers in the Bronx.
Seventeen players now, including Jackson, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, sport Yankees caps on their Hall of Fame plaques. Thirty-three former Yankees are in the Hall, including Yogi Berra, who is not wearing a cap. Twenty-five of them, like Gossage, played at least some significant portion of their careers for the Yankees.
These are all Hall records for the most players inducted from any single franchise.
"This is from my heart," said Gossage, now 56, who was elected with nearly 86 percent of the vote on his ninth attempt on the ballot. "I had the privilege and the honor to play for nine different teams in the big leagues, and I loved every moment on every team. Playing in San Diego and turning around baseball in that city for the first time holds a warm spot in my heart. We turned that city on.
"But I grew up in Colorado and [members of] my family were huge Yankees fans. And then getting to play for the Yankees was kind of an out-of-body experience. Putting on the pinstripes did something for me that no other team did. I don't mean to take anything at all away from all the other ballclubs, but getting to play for them and the success we enjoyed there both personally and as a team [was outstanding]."
Gossage signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 1978, and he spent six seasons there in his first tour. He came back late in the '89 season for 11 cameo appearances.
For a number of years now, Hall officials have chosen the cap an inductee will wear on his plaque. Last month, when Dick Williams was elected to the Hall by a Veterans Committee reviewing managers and umpires, it was determined that Williams would go in representing the Oakland A's.
Williams and Gossage were on the 1984 Padres team that won the first National League pennant in franchise history. And Williams managed the 1967 Red Sox team that won the American League pennant on the final day of the regular season to make their first World Series visit since 1946. But neither of those teams won the Fall Classic.
Williams won the World Series with the A's in 1972 and '73, thus it was a no-brainer to put him in the Hall wearing his Oakland cap.
Likewise, Gossage won the World Series with the Yankees over the Dodgers in 1978, winning Game 4 after closing the regular-season-ending one-game playoff for the AL East title at Boston's Fenway Park with a very shaky 2 2/3 innings. He was back in the World Series against the Dodgers in 1981, but that fall, his performance was marred when he hit Ron Cey in the head with a pitch during a critical Game 5 at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers won that series in six games.
Along the way, Gossage served up a critical homer in Game 3 of the 1980 AL Championship Series at Yankee Stadium to Kansas City's George Brett. The upper-deck shot iced the game and the Royals' first pennant.
That season, too, Gossage recorded a personal, career single-season high of 33 saves. Along with his six victories, Gossage made a major contribution to the team's 103-win campaign.
In all, Gossage recorded 151 of his 310 saves and 518 of his 1,502 strikeouts for the Yankees. This despite missing about half of the 1979 season after hurting his thumb in a shower-room scuffle with teammate Cliff Johnson and a good portion of the '81 season because of the players' strike.
"This is a wonderful day for everyone who is close to Goose," said Jackson, who was a first-time electee in 1993. "I remember from his early days with the White Sox. You'd stand in the on-deck circle, talking to the guy hitting behind you and say, 'I'd rather eat flies than hit off this guy.' That's how ugly it was. It was a great time [playing together with the Yankees]. It was a great experience."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Flynn leads LSU with 4 TDs as Tigers Win BCS Championship

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Les Miles unleashed an ear-piercing whoop, then leaned back and exhaled as if he had been holding his breath all night.
"I just had to do that," the LSU coach said.

Easy for him to say, now that he has the BCS national championship trophy.
The second-ranked Tigers danced, dodged and darted their way into the end zone Monday night for a 38-24 victory, turning the title game into a horrible replay for No. 1 Ohio State.
They made it look easy with Matt Flynn throwing four touchdown passes. Now the debate begins: Are they the best?
In a season of surprises, this was hardly an upset: Ohio State once again fell apart in college football's biggest game. A year after the Buckeyes were routed by Florida 41-14, they barely did better.
But this was unprecedented. Playing at their home-away-from-home in the Big Easy, the Tigers (12-2) became the first two-loss team to compete for the title.
Still, LSU was a runaway No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll. The Tigers received 60 of 65 first-place votes from a national media panel. Georgia, Southern California, Missouri and Ohio State rounded out the top five. Georgia had three first-place votes while Southern Cal and No. 7 Kansas each had one.
And while Miles got to hoist the $30,000 crystal prize, surely many fans around the country were wondering if someone else was equally worthy.
Southern California, Georgia, West Virginia, Kansas and Missouri all put on impressive shows in bowl games, and will be among the favorites in 2008.
"Certainly there will be some argument as to who's the best team. But I think the national champion has been crowned tonight," Miles said. "I have to give great credit to some divine intervention that allows us to be in this position."
The final Associated Press poll was to be released early Tuesday.
Shouts of "SEC! SEC!" bounced around the Superdome as the Tigers won their second BCS crown in five seasons. They are the first school to win a second title since BCS rankings began with the 1998 season.
"My team is the No. 1 team in the land," said All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who passed up the NFL draft to return for his senior season.
LSU rallied from an early 10-0 deficit, taking a 24-10 halftime lead that held up.
"We just didn't do the things you need to do to win a ballgame of this nature. We're very aware that LSU's a deserving champion," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
Jacob Hester bulled for a short touchdown, Early Doucet wiggled loose for a touchdown and Dorsey led a unit that outplayed the top-ranked defense in the nation.

Ohio State (11-2) had little to celebrate after Chris "Beanie" Wells broke loose for a 65-yard TD run on the fourth play of the game.
"It's unbelievable to know you've failed two years in a row," Wells said.
LSU, whose two losses both came in triple overtime, became just the fourth favorite to win in 10 BCS championship games. The Tigers added to the crown they won in 2003 -- their other national championship came in 1958.
"We came out here with the right frame of mind. We kept hanging in there," Flynn said.
Miles probably got a little extra satisfaction, too. Though he turned down a chance to return home to Michigan, he did something his alma mater hasn't done recently -- beat the Buckeyes.
The loss left Ohio State at 0-9 overall in bowl games against teams from the Southeastern Conference. The SEC delights in whipping Big Ten teams in what's become a rivalry that steams up fans on both sides.
Better on offense and defense, the Tigers got two big plays on special teams -- Ricky Jean-Francois blocked a field goal, and LSU took advantage of a roughing-the-kicker penalty.
Flynn hit Doucet with a 4-yard toss with 9:04 left for a 31-10 lead and the celebration was on in earnest. The Buckeyes made the score more respectable on Todd Boeckman's 5-yard TD pass on fourth down to Brian Robiskie, only to have Flynn come back and throw his second TD pass to Richard Dickson.
Flynn finished 19-for-27 for 174 yards and was picked the game's most outstanding offensive player.
As the clock ticked down, Boeckman threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Brian Hartline.
Ohio State was trying to win its second BCS title in six years, and add to the one that Tressel captured by upsetting Miami 31-24 in double overtime for the 2002 championship.
For sure, the Buckeyes were perhaps the most-maligned No. 1 team in recent memory, with critics attacking them all season. Tressel gave his players a 10-minute DVD filled with insults hurled at them by television and radio announcers, hoping it would motivate his team.
Instead, the Tigers ravaged the nation's best defense and showed that maybe all those naysayers were right.
"I worry about disappointment because of how hard the kids work. I don't worry about criticism," Tressel said. "If you struggle taking criticism, you better not be at Ohio State and better not be playing football."
Known as a punishing runner, Wells got the game off to a quick start. On the fourth play from scrimmage, the Buckeyes' bruising back started left, made a nifty cut right and burst through the middle.
Wells was gone, off on the longest run of his career. And so much for SEC speed -- Wells outran All-America safety Craig Steltz for a 65-yard TD.
Wells was welcomed by a familiar face once he got back to the sideline. Miami Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn Jr., wearing scarlet and gray Mardi Gras beads, knew all about early strikes. He provided Ohio State's only highlight in last year's BCS title game, returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

This time, Ohio State made it 10-0 on its next possession. Boeckman hit a wide-open Brandon Saine for 44 yards, setting up Ryan Pretorius' 25-yard field goal.
Only five minutes into the game, Ohio State and its all-brass band was blowing away the Tigers. LSU looked dazed and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini -- who now becomes Nebraska's full-time coach -- had few answers.
Fortunately for the Tigers, their offense started clicking. On a team full of flash, it was the reliable ol' Hester who settled down LSU.
First, he barreled into All-America linebacker James Laurinaitis for a short gain. Both players are the rugged type and in a nice show of sportsmanship, Laurinaitis -- whose dad, Joe, once starred as "Animal" in the "Legion of Doom" wrestling tag team -- helped up Hester.
Hester broke off a 20-yard run on the next play, and LSU eventually got a 32-yard field goal from Colt David that made it 10-3.
That score late in the first quarter seemed to jazz everyone in purple and gold. The Tigers zoomed into fast motion, the band's Golden Girls suddenly put more bounce in their step and thousands of fans started screaming even louder.
Flynn also seemed to recognize exactly what Ohio State was trying to do. LSU quarterbacks spend a lot of time with an Xbox, playing a custom-made video game to read defenses. Apparently, what worked on the screen did even better on the field.
Two big penalties against Ohio State helped set up Flynn's 13-yard touchdown pass to Dickson, who somehow found himself uncovered. Flynn punctuated the strike by hollering, giving a wild fist pump and putting up both hands to signal TD.
Tied at 10, the Buckeyes counted on Wells. He delivered one of the season's best stiff-arms on a 29-yard romp, and Ohio State seemed poised to retake the lead.
Instead, Jean-Francois crashed through the middle, swung his big right arm and blocked Pretorius' 38-yard field goal try.
As Ohio State trudged off the field and LSU ran on, it was all over. It only took a while to confirm it.
"We had a chance early and a chance later. LSU just made too many plays," Laurinaitis said.
LSU turned to another of its five dangerous tailbacks, and NCAA sprint star Trindon Holliday zigzagged closer to the goal line. Flynn's perfect pass to Brandon LaFell in the back left corner of the end zone put the Tigers ahead 17-10.
Then, it was time for LSU's defense to make the big play. Cornerback Chevis Jackson intercepted Boeckman's loss toss and streaked 34 yards down the right sideline.
The Tigers moved to a first-and-goal at 1. On third down, Hester plunged up the middle and it was 24-10.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Clemens Files Suit Against Ex-Trainer


Roger Clemens filed a defamation lawsuit against his former trainer saying Brian McNamee falsely accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs only after he was "threatened with criminal prosecution if he did not implicate Clemens" to federal investigators.
But an attorney for McNamee said Monday that his client was not pressured by federal investigators to name Clemens but that McNamee told Clemens’s people that he was pressured.
"He lied to them and tried to say, ’Well, they pressured me,’ because he wanted to continue to stay in the good graces of Roger," the attorney Earl Ward said in a telephone interview.
Ward was present during the day of questioning by federal investigators in June, which was described in a lawsuit Clemens filed Sunday. Ward said McNamee will also say, under oath, he was not pressured.
On Friday, Clemens and McNamee were invited to appear before a Congressional committee and testify under oath about the incidents detailed in former Senator George J. Mitchell’s report on performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.
Ward said the questioning by a federal investigator and assistant United States attorney was polite, nothing was thrown, and no threats were made. His account contradicted a statement McNamee had made to investigators for Clemens, which was quoted in the Clemens lawsuit.
"That’s far from what happened, far from what happened," Ward said in a phone interview. "It’s just Brian trying to stay in Roger’s good graces. He’s just blowing smoke."
Clemens’s defamation suit was filed Sunday in Harris County, Tex., the same day an interview with Clemens aired on the CBS program “60 Minutes” in which Clemens denied ever using steroids or human growth hormone. The suit alleges that McNamee was pressured by federal prosecutors to provide information to Mitchell’s investigators after he initially said Clemens had never used banned substances. The suit lists 15 statements McNamee made to Mitchell that the suit contends are “untrue and defamatory.”
"They injured Clemens’ reputation and exposed him to public hatred, contempt, ridicule and financial injury," the suit says of McNamee’s allegations. "McNamee made the allegations with actual malice, knowing they were false."
"The Mitchell Commission republished McNamee’s allegations," it says. "At the time he made the false accusations to the Mitchell Commission, McNamee did not recognize, and a reasonable person in McNamee’s position should have recognized, that they would be communicated to other persons."
Richard D. Emery, a lawyer working for McNamee who specializes in defamation cases, said the Clemens complaint "reads like a press release."
Emery also said Clemens’s suit shows Clemens was not truthful on "60 Minutes" because he had hired an attorney and his investigators had interviewed McNamee before the Mitchell report was released.
During the interview with Mike Wallace, Clemens said he did not know ahead of time what was going to be in the Mitchell report.
"Did Brian McNamee tell you what he was going to say to-", Wallace started.
"Didn’t tell me a word," Clemens interrupted.
In a phone interview Monday, Emery said he will move to bring the suit to federal court or a New York state court, instead of a Texas court.
It is the latest maneuver in the battle that has erupted between Clemens and McNamee’s lawyers since it was first revealed last month in the Mitchell report that McNamee injected Clemens on numerous occasions.
McNamee’s lawyers had threatened to sue Clemens if he and his lawyers continued to say that McNamee was lying about Clemens’s use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The suit says that McNamee initially told federal prosecutors that Clemens never used performance-enhancing drugs. But after he was pressured by I.R.S. special agent Jeff Novitzky and assistant United States attorney Matt Parrella, he said he had injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone in 1998, 2000 and 2001. The proffer agreement between McNamee and prosecutors said anything McNamee said in interviews with the agent would not be used against him in criminal proceedings.
McNamee’s lawyer said his client named Clemens as an illegal drug user in his first day of questioning by federal investigators.
"I wasn’t there the first day but Roger’s name came up," Ward said. "The second day, they had a discussion with him and they said, ’Look, we like what you said, but you’ve got to give us everything.’ There were no angry words. It was spoken in a perfectly normal manner.”
The suit alleges that after his interrogation, McNamee told others he was again approached by federal authorities and asked to talk to Mitchell’s investigators.
“McNamee has contended that when he initially refused to do so, he was told by the federal government that he would be moved from his ‘witness’ status back to ‘target status’ and fully prosecuted,” the suit says. “McNamee has stated that when faced again with the threat of federal prosecution, he agreed to speak with Mitchell.”
McNamee’s lawyer said:” They gave him a speech and said you’ve got to be honest.”
Ward also said the timing of the interview with McNamee by investigators for Clemens’s lawyer proved Clemens did not tell the truth on "60 Minutes" when he said he did not know what was going to be in the Mitchell report. "That’s an outright lie," Ward said.
He said the Clemens’s investigators talked to McNamee about two days before the release of the Mitchell report. The investigators worked for Rusty Hardin, Clemens’s attorney, who was also representing Andy Pettitte at that time.
Ward said the investigators told McNamee their conversation was not being taped, but the lawsuit shows it was taped. Ward said McNamee was consistent in everything else he said, other than being pressured.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Jaguars relinquish 18-point lead but stun Steelers at end

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The past means nothing to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Pittsburgh, and neither does a frantic Steelers fourth-quarter rally. The Jaguars overcame both obstacles there for the second time in three weeks, and next up might be another date with history.
Josh Scobee saved the game by kicking a 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining and the Jaguars came back after squandering an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter to beat the Steelers 31-29 on Saturday night in an AFC wild-card game that was wild in every sense of the word.
Jacksonville, becoming the first opponent to win twice in Pittsburgh in the same season in the Steelers' 75-season history, appeared to be done after Najeh Davenport's second 1-yard TD run of the game gave the Steelers a 29-28 lead with about six minutes remaining. But quarterback David Garrard, not an exceptional runner, found a seam on a convert-or-else fourth-and-2 play and rambled 32 yards to the Steelers 11 with 1:56 left.
"Right before we went out, I pulled the guys together and said, 'Guys, you got to love it, this is what we're here for,' " coach Jack Del Rio said. "Now let's go out and make some plays and win it."
The Jaguars will play unbeaten New England in Foxborough on Saturday night, unless the Titans upset the Chargers in the other AFC wild-card game Sunday. If that happens, Jacksonville will play next Sunday at Indianapolis.
Garrard aided the Steelers' comeback by throwing two interceptions -- one less than he had all season -- only to come up with the play that may have saved the Jaguars' season.
"They kind of lost their gaps, they thought pass, I was able to get through there," Garrard said. "I just wanted to get a first down. I did enough to get into field-goal range and that was all I was thinking about."
Steelers linebacker Larry Foote argued emphatically that Jacksonville's offensive line held on Garrard's run.
"I don't want to get fined, but watch the long quarterback sneak," Foote said. "Watch the middle of the defensive line and you'll see. You'll see it. Watch what happens in the middle of the field. ... You see a big old hole open up and you'll see the reason why."
Ben Roethlisberger (29-of-42, 337 yards) put the Steelers into a deep hole himself by throwing three interceptions before halftime, then got rolling after he began lining up in a shotgun formation and threw touchdown passes to Santonio Holmes (37 yards) and Heath Miller (14 yards) in 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter to get Pittsburgh within 28-23.
"Ben is our leader, he's always going to be our leader. I'll ride or die with him any day," right tackle Willie Colon said in a subdued Steelers locker room, one filled with disappointment but no screaming or angry words. "He's tremendous and I love him to death and he led us back."
The Steelers rallied from 15 points down to tie Jacksonville late in the Jaguars' 29-22 win at Heinz Field on Dec. 16, but couldn't close the deal. They couldn't this time, either, even though Roethlisberger, shouldering the Steelers' offense virtually by himself with no running game, was 17-of-23 for 263 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. Hines Ward made 10 catches for 135 yards, but the Willie Parker-less Steelers ran for only 43 yards on 26 carries.
Pittsburgh also came up two points short by gambling, perhaps unwisely, for 2-point conversions after each of its final two touchdowns and getting neither. If the Steelers had kicked both times, Scobee's field goal would have only tied it.
"It's very disappointing, everyone's fired up," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "We fought hard. We came up short. It was a play here, a play there."
The Jaguars have beaten Pittsburgh four times in the last three seasons, including that Dec. 16 win, and they appeared ready to do easily by building a 28-10 lead behind backup running back Maurice Jones-Drew's playmaking and Rashean Mathis' two important interceptions.
Then, in less than only about eight minutes, they almost gave away their season.
"I was very proud of our guys for responding after watching that 18-point lead evaporate," Del Rio said. "Certainly, getting this experience will benefit our football team. We wanted to stay calm, stay poised and understand that that's what you need to do, make some plays. We needed every bit of them."
Jones-Drew, in a performance filled with big plays, scored on a 43-yard swing pass after one of Roethlisberger's interceptions and a 10-yard run that provided the 18-point lead. Jones-Drew's 96-yard kickoff return the first time Jacksonville touched the ball set up Fred Taylor's 1-yard touchdown run and immediately answered the Steelers' opening-possession 80-yard touchdown drive.
Taylor, who ran for 147 yards in Pittsburgh last month and had 381 yards in his last two games there, was held to 48 yards on 16 carries and, but it didn't matter.
"It was a tough way to get a win and we got one," Jones-Drew said.
The Jaguars came in off six wins in their last eight games, while the Steelers -- missing five starters, including star running back Parker -- limped into the postseason with three losses in four games and four in seven.
With no Parker, the NFL's leading rusher until he broke his right leg Dec. 20 against St. Louis, the Steelers needed to be creative offensively and Roethlisberger was exactly that on the opening possession. Using rollouts and swing passes to gain the yardage they normally get on Parker's running, the Steelers drove 80 yards for Davenport's 1-yard TD run and a 7-0 lead.
That efficient, creative Steelers offense disappeared the rest of the half, replaced by the familiar mistake-a-minute style so common when they ended five seasons with home playoff losses under former coach Bill Cower from 1992-2004. Cowher, coincidentally, resigned as coach after 15 seasons a year to the day Saturday.
Mathis, who decided Jacksonville's 23-17 overtime win at Heinz Field in 2005 with an interception return touchdown in overtime, jumped on a slant pattern by Holmes early in the second quarter for his 63-yard interception return. Two plays before, the Steelers appeared to get a big break when a tipped pass intended for Miller deflected to Ward for a 33-yard gain, a mini-Immaculate Reception 35 years and two weeks after the original.
Roethlisberger, perhaps attempting to prove he wasn't discouraged by that interception, went right back at Mathis on Pittsburgh's next possession -- and was intercepted by him again. The Jaguars promptly scored two plays later, on a 43-yard swing pass to Jones-Drew that made it 21-7.
With the Steelers driving late in the half, after Scobee's missed 46-yard field goal attempt, Roethlisberger was intercepted yet again by rookie backup lineman Derek Landri.
Despite the comeback, the Steelers ended their first season under new coach Mike Tomlin the same way they did their first under Cowher in 1992, with a first-game playoff loss on their home field.
"We fell short," Tomlin said. "Nothing really soothes the feeling we have right now."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Brady takes 49 of 50 votes in MVP voting

NEW YORK -- Add Most Valuable Player to all the other accolades Tom Brady has been collecting.
Tom Brady rewrote the NFL record book in 2007 and earned all but one MVP vote.
The New England Patriots' record-setting quarterback drew all but one vote Saturday in romping to The Associated Press 2007 NFL MVP award in the same manner his team romped through its schedule, going 16-0. On the way to the first unbeaten regular season since Miami went 14-0 in 1972, Brady put on a performance for the ages.
"I have always been a huge football fan and will always have great respect for the history of this game," Brady said. "I am grateful to all of the voters for any consideration I was given. It is a tremendous honor and I am sure it is one that my family will one day look back on with great pride."
The eight-year veteran who already has won three Super Bowls helped the Patriots tear through the record books by throwing for 50 touchdowns. He beat Peyton Manning's league mark by one, and also threw 23 of those TD passes to Randy Moss, which lifted the receiver past Jerry Rice's record of 22.
New England scored 589 points, another record, as was the Patriots' 75 touchdowns. Brady led the NFL with a 117.2 passer rating -- no, not another record, but close to Manning's 121.1 in 2004. Only one full-time AFC starter, Jacksonville's David Garrard, had fewer than Brady's eight interceptions. And Brady threw 253 more passes than Garrard.
Brady also was tops with a 68.9 completion percentage, and his 4,806 yards were 383 more than runner-up Drew Brees of New Orleans.
Brady joins a roster of AP MVPs that includes quarterbacks John Unitas, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway and Steve Young -- all Hall of Famers.
"I am flattered to join such an esteemed list of players, many of whom I consider the greatest of all time," he said. "I hope that I can set as great of an example for kids around the world as the previous MVPs did for me."
There also was plenty of praise to go around from teammates, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick.
"To be honest, I'm surprised it took so long for him to get this recognition because he's sort of been our MVP since he stepped on the field in '01, in my mind, and the way he just took over," Kraft said. "He treats everyone in that locker room the same way he treats me or the coaches.
"And the thing that I've found most interesting is if you talk to role players or backups how he talks to them and motivates them. He treats them like they're going to the Pro Bowl, with that kind of respect."
Added Mike Vrabel, who has gone from a role player to a Pro Bowl linebacker over the years:
"He's our MVP. I think we've known that for quite some time. "I think his work ethic day in and day out (is most impressive). We get to practice against him so I think that makes us better. I think it makes us a better defense. He puts a lot of time into it. It's important to him. Going out there every week and then trying to play his absolute best is a priority for him."
Brady is the first Patriot selected NFL MVP. He drew 49 of the 50 votes from a nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the NFL. Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, the only three-time MVP, got the other vote.
"He deserves it," Belichick said. "I have thought for a long time that there is no past or present quarterback I'd rather coach than Tom Brady, and I am more certain of that every year he plays."
Only in one game, a 20-10 win over the Jets, did Brady not throw for a touchdown. He had 12 games with at least three TD passes.
Those are great stats, but they hardly tell the entire story. Brady's leadership skills overshadow just about everything.
"Tom's one of those guys that goes out there and tries to perform and compete every week," center Dan Koppen said. "He gives maximum effort on every play and every game. What he did was outstanding, but I know he wants more than that. That's what you need in your quarterback."
The last two MVP awards went to running backs LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) and Shaun Alexander (2005). Before that, quarterbacks won four in a row: Peyton Manning in 2004 and in 2003, when he shared it with Steve McNair; Rich Gannon in 2002; and Kurt Warner in 2001.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Odds, and history, don't bode well for Clemens' denials

Great expectations lie upon Mike Wallace, whose interview of Roger Clemens that airs Sunday night on "60 Minutes" could be another defining moment of the steroid era. Similar to Bud Selig's approach in selecting George Mitchell to lead his steroid investigation, the Clemens camp is hoping Wallace's career as an uncompromising newsman will provide a degree of legitimacy to the pitcher's predictable yet largely implausible denials that his longtime personal trainer injected him with performance-enhancing drugs.
On the other side, Wallace will be judged on his ability to do what Clemens hasn't done on his own: begin the dialogue that will explain why Brian McNamee might be telling the truth about everyone except his biggest client, the man without whom he wouldn't ever have entered the New York Yankees' clubhouse in the first place.
In his '60 Minutes' interview on Sunday, Roger Clemens likely will try to convince the public that he deserves the benefit of the doubt.Wallace, who turns 90 on May 9, is every bit the legend in his field that Clemens is on the pitching mound, but it isn't as if "60 Minutes" is throwing a particularly intimidating fastball these days. If the Clemens interview is anything resembling the program's recent soft-toss profiles of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Clemens will be seated for just another celebrity, woe-is-me interview -- more Barcalounger than hot seat. Thomas was portrayed sympathetically, allowed to attack his enemies and tout his new book while his unimaginative and dogmatic record as a justice went unchallenged; Rodriguez denied using performance-enhancing drugs with a short "no" without even the most basic follow-up by Katie Couric, never the most dogged of inquisitors.
Clemens has two major issues on Sunday night: Wallace and history, and not necessarily in that order. History has shown during the early years of steroid fallout that no player who has famously resisted the allegations has ever come out clean on the other side. Jason Giambi denied and fell; five years ago, he was being discussed as a Hall of Fame-track player. Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs, 70 in a season, yet received just 23.5 percent of the vote in his first year as a Hall of Fame candidate and isn't likely to be elected in his second year when the votes are released Tuesday. Sammy Sosa, once the sport's greatest populist, is now the most uninspiring 600-home run hitter in history.
Rafael Palmeiro, Eddie Murray, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are the only players in the history of the sport with at least 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, and Palmeiro has disappeared from the game, a pariah on a scale with McGwire. Barry Bonds is currently jobless, alone with his record, awaiting trial.
The only person claiming vindication is Jose Canseco, but it should be recalled that Canseco's original message from his best-selling book, "Juiced," was that steroids, if used properly, are good for the body. Though not as high-profile as Mark McGwire in his disgrace or Rafael Palmeiro in his empty defiance, Canseco employed an impressive backpedal during the seminal March 17, 2005, congressional hearings when he told the House Government Reform Committee that the enormity of the moment made him see steroids in a different light.
Mike Wallace's interview with Clemens will be judged in part on Wallace's ability to examine the accuracy of Brian McNamee's allegations about other players, too. The Mitchell report has belonged to the public for nearly a month now, and yet the conflict remains between its unequivocal allegations of player use and the ensuing public denials by players. For two years, Andy Pettitte said he never used growth hormone, only to admit after he was named in the report to using it as a recovery tool from injury. Brian Roberts said he never used steroids, only to admit the day after the report was released that, yes, he did, but for only one day. Fernando Vina said essentially the same, admitting after countless denials that he used growth hormone but not steroids.
In the fiercest of defenses, David Justice appeared on ESPN Radio to express his anger that he was named in the report. Justice claimed he never met steroid dealer Kirk Radomski and wasn't given the opportunity by Mitchell investigators to respond to allegations that he had purchased growth hormone from Radomski. Justice might not have ever used growth hormone, but in his animated public defense, he left out his verbal commitment to speak to Mitchell about the Radomski-McNamee allegations that appear on pages 181 and 182 in the report, along with the several phone calls Mitchell's investigators made to him to reschedule and the certified letter sent to his Poway, Calif., home. Justice signed for that letter; Mitchell's investigators provided with a copy of its receipt that contains Justice's signature.
Each of the denials has come with a commonsense counter that has not yet been answered by the players, their union or the Mitchell investigators: Why didn't Pettitte or Roberts or Vina or Justice or anyone else simply tell Mitchell what each has told the public since the report was released?
Now it is Clemens who wants America to believe that he, and only he, deserves, in his words "the benefit of the doubt." Just before Christmas, Clemens posted a video on his Web site that contains the following quote: "Let me be clear: The answer is no, I did not use steroids, human growth hormone, and I've never done so. I did not provide Brian McNamee with any drugs to inject into my body."
Now, according to a partial transcript of the "60 Minutes" interview, Clemens is playing word games with that last sentence. Instead of "any drugs" by McNamee, Clemens is now saying McNamee injected him with only lidocaine and vitamin B-12. Already, the denial has softened, perhaps giving Clemens plausible deniability, Bonds-style, that he didn't know what McNamee was injecting. It is a strategy already being discredited by McNamee's attorneys.
Brian McNamee and his legal team appear ready to counter any attacks from Clemens on the credibility of his allegations."Brian has a master's degree in sports medicine," McNamee attorney Earl Ward told ESPN The Magazine's Shaun Assael. "He knows the difference between lidocaine, B-12 and testosterone. What he injected into Roger Clemens wasn't lidocaine or B-12. It was testosterone."
Vitamin B-12 is an old, not particularly clever, defense. Clemens should remember that when Palmeiro was investigated for perjury by the House Government Reform Committee in 2005, he said the substance he took was vitamin B-12. The House committee report said that in Palmeiro's case, team doctors refused to administer B-12 shots on medical grounds.
Clemens should also know that -- outside of an experimental approach to combat chronic fatigue syndrome -- many doctors universally reject the efficacy of B-12 shots for healthy people who don't suffer from vitamin deficiencies.
When Miguel Tejada was stopped for possessing syringes during a routine airport security check as a member of the Oakland A's, he said the syringes were for, yes, vitamin B-12 injections. Tejada had shipments of B-12 sent to both the Oakland and Baltimore clubhouses. When the medical staffs for both teams refused to provide the shots to Tejada, he administered them himself.
And certainly, Clemens should know that insiders from the bodybuilding community believe vitamin B-12 is an effective masking agent for urine tests.
Clemens will make for interesting television on Sunday, but history and the strength of McNamee's claims are against him. In these tired days of forceful denials that have nothing behind them -- Clemens can still make his case under oath in front of Congress on Jan. 16 -- the odds that he'll be vindicated are about as good as a 42-year-old's posting a 1.87 ERA through clean living and exercise.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Crosby scores shootout winner as Penguins nip Sabres in Winter Classic

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- Sidney Crosby can expect chilly receptions every time he returns to Buffalo.
Some snow, a shootout and Sid the Kid's winning goal added up to a perfect hockey day outside that will forever be frozen in time.
The Penguins captain somehow saw space between Ryan Miller's pads as he shuffled through driving snow and gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at the outdoor Winter Classic in front of an NHL-record 71,217 fans on Tuesday.
"Growing up, I played a lot outside," said Crosby, a Nova Scotia native. "When you see 70,000 people jammed into a stadium to watch hockey, it's a good sign. The atmosphere and environment, I don't think you can beat that."
In elements more suited for football than hockey, Crosby won the NHL's second outdoor game -- and first in the United States -- in the most dramatic fashion at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home to the Buffalo Bills.
Crosby skated down the middle, eluded a pokecheck by Miller and put a shot between the goalie's pads in the final round.
"I like facing Sidney. I really want to stop him, obviously," Miller said. "I thought I made a good play to stay with him. I didn't think he made quite the play he wanted, but it worked out for him."
It gave the Penguins a sweep of the home-and-home series with the Sabres that started with Pittsburgh's 2-0 win on Saturday. The Penguins have won four straight, while Buffalo fell to 0-2-2 in that span.
"I'd love to do it again. I thought it was awesome," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It was good for the game. It may not be the best hockey game because of the situation, because of the weather, because of the snow, but the atmosphere was incredible.
"The hell with the cynics," he said.
Ty Conklin allowed Ales Kotalik's goal to open the tiebreaker before stopping Tim Connolly and Maxim Afinogenov.
Kris Letang also scored for the Penguins, pushing his shootout record to 4-for-4 with a shifty, multi-move rush through accumulating snow that finished with a high shot.
Colby Armstrong gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead just 21 seconds after the opening faceoff, and Brian Campbell tied it 1:25 into the second.
Despite both teams dressed in retro-style jerseys, this game was decided by the most modern of methods. Surprisingly, Zambonis didn't clean the ice as they would for a regular NHL shootout even after they made appearances midway through all three regulation periods.
Given the choice of goals to defend, Miller and Conklin picked the west end to avoid the heavy snow that swirled and poured in toward the right.
Blowing winds and dropping temperatures worked against everyone inside the vast stadium that easily housed the hockey rink between the 16-yard lines. No one seemed to mind the typical January weather in western New York.
With the success of this event, the NHL is already eager to host more, perhaps even on an annual basis. New Year's Day traditionally belonged to college football, but there might be room now for the "Ice Bowl."
"Based on the response, on our ability to execute and the inquiries we're getting from other clubs for similar activities, this obviously is something we're going to look at again," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
The record crowd, which topped the NHL's other outdoor game in Edmonton four years earlier, dotted the stadium with flashing cameras for each shootout attempt through lake-effect snow.
When Crosby saw the puck cross the goal line, he spun toward the jubilant Penguins bench and jumped with his hands raised.
Fans in the lower bowl stood throughout to get a better view as they looked out over the height of the rink's boards and the NBC and CBC television broadcast platforms behind the penalty boxes.
One enthusiastic patron held a poster that read: "Look Mom, no roof."
That was most clear in the final five minutes of regulation when snow fell at its heaviest clip and continued through the finish.
Miller and Conklin both had limited experience playing outside, but neither owned a victory. Miller earned a 3-3 tie for Michigan State against Michigan in the 2001 "Cold War" game in front of 74,554 fans.
Conklin took the loss in host Edmonton's 4-3 defeat to Montreal on Nov. 22, 2003, with 57,167 in attendance.
Miller donned a cap, fashioned out of a hockey sock, on top of his mask. Conklin went with an uncovered mask featuring snowflakes.
Sabres forward Thomas Vanek was the last to wear the full head sleeve that stretched over his mouth in warmups but was pulled down to his chin by the third period. Penguins defenseman Darryl Sydor shed his visor.
When the scheduled buzzer sounded to divide the third period in half, it didn't stop a rush. The Penguins peeled back and essentially took a knee where Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly did many times in the glory days of the Bills, letting the final seconds tick off before the teams switched sides at the 10-minute mark.
The final mid-period Zamboni run took longer than the others as the second cleaning machine was blocked in the tunnel by a chunk of ice. The wind picked up, the temperature dropped and the players skated and stretched to try to keep warm.
Momentum changed with the weather that featured snow through the first 10 minutes, benign cloud cover through the opening intermission and a wintery mix during the second. The stadium lights took effect as the sky darkened and provided a unique brightness.
As though they were trudging from home to the frozen pond, each team plodded down mats from the tunnel to the ice -- stopping first to peel off their skate guards. Moms weren't there to call these grown kids back inside, and Bettman didn't do it, either.
The only thing that got in their way was a buildup of snow that held up the movement of pucks and skates.
Armstrong provided lightning with his quick goal, with help from the snow. The puck came to a stop in the neutral zone near center ice, and Crosby carried it into the Sabres' end.
He got off a shot that Miller stopped, before the snow put another hold on the puck in front. It sat there for Armstrong to punch in his sixth goal and Pittsburgh's quickest of the season.
Three trouble spots cropped up along the wall in front of the players' benches, two in the zone Buffalo defended in the first period. Before the Penguins' third power play of the frame, with 7:43 remaining, the ice crew did patch work that caused a delay for several minutes.
Game notesArmstrong's goal was the quickest scored against Miller in his NHL career, topping Joe Nieuwendyk's tally 32 seconds into Buffalo's 2-1 loss to Florida on New Year's Day 2005. ... Campbell's goal was his second in four games and fourth overall. Armstrong has scored in three straight.