Dolphins, Patriots battle for division lead
FOXBORO, Mass. Dec. 21 (UPI) -- First place in the AFC East will on the line and the Philadelphia Eagles hope to clinch their first division title in 13 years when the NFL kicks off Week 15 Saturday.
The Miami Dolphins (9-4) and New England Patriots (9-5) open the holiday weekend with a battle for first place in the final regular season game at Foxboro Stadium.
The Dolphins have won the last five meetings and can clinch their fifth straight playoff appearance with a victory. But the Patriots can move into sole possession of first in the AFC East and can also seal a playoff berth with a win Saturday along with losses by either the New York Jets, Baltimore or Seattle on Sunday.
The Eagles (9-4) have a three-game lead with three weeks left and can seal their first NFC East title since 1988 with a win on Saturday against the playoff-bound San Francisco 49ers (10-3).
Even if the Eagles lose, a loss by the New York Giants on Sunday will lock up the division for Philadelphia.
San Francisco clinched a wild card berth last week and trails the first-place St. Louis Rams by one game in the NFC West.
The AFC West champion Oakland Raiders (10-3) host the Tennessee Titans (6-7) in the Saturday version of "Monday Night Football."
Veteran broadcaster Dick Schaap dies
NEW YORK, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Veteran sports journalist Dick Schaap, who collected five Emmy Awards during a career that spanned close to a half century, died today due to complications from hip-replacement surgery. He was 67.
Schaap had been the host of "ESPN Magazine's Sports Reporters" television show and "The Sporting Life with Dick Schaap" radio program. He also reflected on his career in an autobiography -- "Flashing Before My Eyes" -- which was published earlier this year and includes anecdotes from his interviews with scores of sports legends.
Schaap, a native of Brooklyn, won two Sports Emmy Awards for writing "Sporting Life," an editorial piece which aired Sundays on ESPN. He also collected three Emmy Awards for work on ABC's 20/20 and World News Tonight broadcasts.
"All of us at ESPN are deeply saddened by the death of Dick Schaap," ESPN President George Bodenheimer said. "Dick's unparalleled journalistic achievements were exceeded only by his compassion and respect for his fellow human beings."
Schaap received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Journalism from the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America this year. Schaap also won the Northeastern Award for Excellence in Broadcast Sports Journalism in 1986 and the Women's Foundation Award for Excellence in Covering Women's Sports in 1984.
Red Sox sign Johnny Damon
BOSTON, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Outfielder Johnny Damon, the premier leadoff hitter on the free-agent market, today signed a four-year contract with the Boston Red Sox.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but the Boston Globe reported the deal is worth $30 million.
Damon, 28, becomes the latest addition to a franchise which was sold Thursday for a record $660 million to a group led by Florida Marlins owner John Henry and television producer Tom Werner.
But the sale of the Red Sox has not slowed down general manager Dan Duquette, who signed pitcher John Burkett and acquired second baseman Pokey Reese earlier in the week after previously adding pitchers Darren Oliver and Dustin Hermanson and first baseman Tony Clark.
Boston leadoff hitters hit a league-worst .243 last season, making Damon a perfect fit for a team sorely lacking in speed. He will likely start in center field with Trot Nixon in right and Manny Ramirez in left.
Two years ago, the left-handed hitting Damon sparkled for the Kansas City Royals, batting .327 and leading the league with 136 runs and 46 stolen bases.
Texas Rangers hope to sign Park
ARLINGTON, Texas, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- A day after jettisoning Rick Helling and three other players, the Texas Rangers appear to be on the verge of signing Chan Ho Park, the best starting pitcher on the free agent market.
The Dallas Morning News reported the Rangers are nearing agreement with Park on a five-year contract worth about $65 million.
The Rangers appeared to have the inside track on Park since his agent is Scott Boras, who landed a record-breaking 10-year, $252 million contract for shortstop Alex Rodriguez from Texas owner Tom Hicks last offseason.
Park, 28, provides a much-needed ace for a Rangers' pitching staff that was the worst in baseball last year.
The Korean righthander went 15-11 with a 3.50 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, leading the team in wins, games started (35), innings pitched (234), strikeouts (218) and opponent batting average (.216).
NFL fines Moss again
NEW YORK, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- For the third time this season, the NFL has fined Minnesota receiver Randy Moss for a taunting infraction, this time hitting him with a $10,000 penalty for "aggressively" taunting the bench of the Detroit Lions in last Sunday's game.
Overall, Moss has been fined $30,000 for four infractions -- three for taunting and once for wearing an unofficial hat on the sidelines during a preseason game.
NFL director of football operations Gene Washington, in a letter to Moss, stated "you aggressively confronted your opponent's bench and taunted them" and also noted that it was Moss' third fine for taunting.
The only receiver in NFL history to have 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons, Moss was previously fined for incidents in games against Green Bay and the New York Giants.
The Vikings separately fined Moss $15,000 last month for verbally abusing corporate sponsors on a team bus.
Donnie Edwards fined for late hit
NEW YORK, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- The NFL fined Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Donnie Edwards $12,500 today for a late hit on Denver quarterback Gus Frerotte.
Edwards hit Frerotte with a forearm as the quarterback was sliding at the end of a first-quarter scramble. An unnecessary roughness penalty was not called on the play.
NFL Director of Football Operations Gene Washington administers discipline for on-field violations and also cited Edwards for his role in a kicking incident during last Sunday's game.
NCAA puts Marshall on probation
INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Citing a lack of institutional control, the NCAA today placed Marshall University on probation for four years and reduced the number of scholarships in both the football and men's baketball programs.
The decision came two days after Marshall rallied from a 30-point halftime deficit to defeat East Carolina, 64-61, in double overtime in the highest-scoring bowl game ever.
An NCAA investigation determined the university arranged work for athletes and violated rules on academics.
The NCAA Division I Infractions Committee cut five scholarships from the football team for each of the next three seasons, limiting the Thundering Herd to 80 through the 2004-05 academic year.
The committee also stripped one scholarship from the basketball team for the next two years, limiting it to 12 for the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.
Austrian wins giant slalom
KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Benjamin Raich of Austria charged to his first victory of the World Cup season today, capturing a giant slalom for the 10th win of his career.
Raich earned a half-second advantage after the first run and had the second-fastest time in the second run for a winning total of 2:07.46.
American Bode Miller, who has emerged as a major medal threat for the upcoming Olympics, finished second in 2:07.88 and Didier Cuche of Switzerland was third in 2:08.70.