Raiders DT suspended one year
NEW YORK, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- The Oakland Raiders learned Wednesday that starting defensive tackle Darrell Russell has been suspended one year by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Russell's suspension begins immediately and he is not eligible to be reinstated by commissioner Paul Tagliabue sooner than Jan. 2, 2003.
It is the second time Russell has been suspended this season after he was banned for the first four regular-season games for also violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Russell, 25, struggled when he returned this season and collected 42 tackles and two sacks in 11 games. But the 6-5, 325-pounder is one of the Raiders' top defenders against the run. Oakland ranks 23rd in the league in that category.
The loss of Russell is a big one for Oakland (10-5), which went 2-3 in December and needs a win in its season finale against the New York Jets on Sunday in order to secure a first-round playoff bye.
Russell's loss could be felt immediately against the Jets, who feature the NFL's leading rusher in Curtis Martin. Without Russell, the Raiders could shift defensive end Roderick Coleman into his spot along the defensive line.
A 1997 first-round pick and two-time Pro Bowler, Russell enjoyed his best season with the Raiders in 1998, when he registered a career-high 10 sacks. He had nine sacks the following year but has just five the last two seasons.
Pirates sign Mike Williams to 2-year deal
PITTSBURGH, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday agreed to terms on a two-year contract with former closer and free agent Mike Williams, who saved 22 games for the team last season before being traded to the Houston Astros.
Despite his success for the Pirates last year, Williams, 33, was dealt to the Astros at the trade deadline for righthander Tony McKnight, Houston's No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft.
In 40 appearances for Pittsburgh last year, Williams was 2-4 with a 3.67 ERA. The righthander appeared in 25 games as a setup man for the Astros, going 4-0 with a 4.03 ERA.
Mike Fetters served as the Pirates' closer after Williams was traded, but recorded just nine saves.
In four seasons with Pittsburgh, Williams was 12-14 with a 3.59 ERA in 207 appearances. He assumed the closer role in 1999 and converted 69-of-81 save opportunities over the next three seasons.
Bucs head NFC Pro Bowl team
NEW YORK, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Even though they they only qualified as the third and final wild card, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the most Pro Bowl selections on the NFC team for the third straight season.
Defensive tackle Warren Sapp, outside linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety John Lynch and fullback Mike Alstott were the usual players selected from the Buccaneers, who are in third place in the NFC Central with a 9-6 record. Sapp, Brooks and Alstott are making their fifth straight trip, and Lynch is making his fourth appearance.
Receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who is tied for the NFL lead with 106 receptions, and cornerback Ronde Barber, the league leader with 10 interceptions, were the other Bucs named to the NFC team.
The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens were the only other team to have as many as six Pro Bowl representatives.
The Pro Bowl starting lineups will be announced on Saturday, January 12 at halftime of the AFC and NFC wild card games.
The NFC West champion St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers and NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles have five representatives apiece.
The Rams, Niners and Green Bay Packers each placed a quarterback and a running back. The backfield duos are Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk of the Rams, Jeff Garcia and Garrison Hearst of the Niners and Brett Favre and Ahman Green of the Packers.
The Pro Bowl will be played for the 23rd straight year at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu on Saturday, February 9.
Grossman sits at Orange kickoff
MIAMI, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- The nation's top-rated quarterback was not expected to start Wednesday night when Florida meets Maryland in the Orange Bowl.
Rex Grossman, the Heisman Trophy runnerup, and four other Florida players missed a team curfew on the Gators' second night in Miami and will watch the game from the bench--at least at the beginning.
Sophomore Brock Berlin will make his first start at quarterback and Florida coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday that he'll get "an opportunity to play the game." Ironically, Berlin is strongly considering transferring to the University of Miami because of his lack of playing time with Florida. Berlin had nine touchdown passes and one interception in mop-up situations after replacing Grossman. This is the next-to-last bowl game in a long lineup of post-season play. The finale--the national championship game, pitting Miami and Nebraska in the Rose Bowl--is on tap Thursday night.
Pierce, Walker, Duncan honored
NEW YORK, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Forwards Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, who helped lead the Boston Celtics to an 11-5 record in December, on Wednesday were named co-Eastern Conference Players of the Month.
San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan earned the Western Conference Player of the Month honor.
Pierce and Walker are the first set of teammates to share a Player of the Month award. It marks the first time two players split the honor since Larry Drew and Moses Malone in December 1982.
Pierce averaged 27.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.06 steals in December. His best game came on December 1, when he scored a career-high 48 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in a 105-98 victory over the New Jersey Nets.
Walker, who recorded seven double-doubles in the month, averaged 23.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.13 steals. He registered a season-high 42 points in a 102-93 overtime victory over the New York Knicks on December 11.
Walker joins Pierce and Larry Bird as the only Celtics to garner Player of the Month honors. Bird was a seven-time winner, while Pierce won the award last March for the first time in his career.
Duncan led the Spurs to an 11-3 record, averaging 26.7 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.64 blocks per game. He scored a career-high 53 points in a 126-123 overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks on December 26. Second in the NBA in rebounding (13.1 ppg) and sixth in scoring (25.6 ppg), he has recorded 24 double-doubles this season.
Falcons waive veteran receiver
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Four days before their season finale, the Atlanta Falcons waived veteran receiver Tony Martin.
A veteran of 13 NFL seasons, the 36-year-old Martin has 593 career receptions for 9,065 yards and 56 touchdowns.
The Falcons brought back Martin, a starter on their Super Bowl team in 1998, last June after he spent the previous two years with the Miami Dolphins. He started in nine of 11 games this season, missing four with a broken collarbone, and had 37 receptions for a team-leading 548 yards and three touchdowns.
The Falcons (7-8) signed wide receiver Shawn Mills from the practice squad to replace Martin.
Sampras loses opening match
ADELAIDE, Australia, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Hoping to rebound from a sub-par season, Pete Sampras suffered an early setback Wednesday with a first-round loss at the AAPT Championships, a $357,000 hardcourt tennis event.
Sampras, the second seed, came down to Australia earlier than is his custom to get his year off to a positive start after going without a tournament victory in 2001, the first time since 1989 that he has gone winless during a season. Instead, the 30-year-old American was dealt a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 defeat by countryman Todd Martin in a match that was postponed a day due to rain.
Martins snapped a 13-match losing streak to Sampras last year at the Australian Open and Wednesday won his second in a row over his good friend to improve to 4-17 in the lifetime matchup.
Ivanisevic upset in Qatar
DOHA, Qatar, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic was surprised by a Czech qualifier Wednesday in the
second round of the $1 million Qatar Open.
A finalist here in 1993 and semifinalist on two other occasions, Ivanisevic fell, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, to Radek Stepanek. The second-seeded Croatian lost to a 23-year-old playing in only his seventh main draw event.
Stepanek improved his career match record to 4-6 and reached his first ATP quarterfinal.
U.S. upset in Hopman Cup; Hewitt ailing
PERTH, Australia, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- The United States suffered a round-robin loss to Italy at the Hopman Cup Wednesday and Australia's Lleyton Hewitt fell ill.
The second-seeded Americans fell to 1-1 at the mixed team event after dropping both their singles matches to Italy, which needed to win a playoff against Greece to qualify.
Hewitt, the men's world No. 1, helped No. 2 Australia win its tie against Argentina, 2-1, before undergoing medical tests after "feeling unwell," according to a tournament spokesperson.
The 20-year-old reigning U.S. Open champion, who has had a mysterious respiratory ailment over the last two years, complained of a fever in the last few days.
Despite his condition, Hewitt helped his country improve to 2-0 in Group B. After Alicia Molik fell to Argentina's Paola Suarez in the women's singles, he beat Mariano Zabaleta, 6-3, 6-4, and teamed with his countrywoman for a 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (10-7) win in the mixed doubles.
Auburn aides quit
AUBURN, Ala., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Auburn, which ended the season with three straight losses, announced Wednesday that offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and his defensive counterpart, John Lovett, have resigned.
Both coordinators served under Coach Tommy Tuberville at Mississippi from 1995-98 and the last three seasons at Auburn.
Auburn finished with a 7-5 record, including a 5-3 mark in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers were routed, 31-7, by 7 and suffered a 27-14 loss at Louisiana State on Dec. 1 in a game that decided first place in the SEC West. Auburn was defeated, 16-10, by North Carolina in the Peach Bowl on New Year's Eve.
Auburn's offense finished 10th out of 12 teams in the SEC, while the defense was fourth.
Athletics sign Mike Holtz
OAKLAND, Calif., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- The Oakland Athletics on Wednesday agreed to terms with lefthanded reliever Mike Holtz on a two-year contract.
The Athletics also traded catcher Tom Wilson to the Toronto Blue Jays for minor league catcher Mike Kremblas.
Holtz pitched middle relief for the Anaheim Angels last season, going 1-2 with a 4.86 ERA in 63 appearances. He was not offered a contract after the season and became a free agent. He has a career mark of 14-18 with a 4.56 ERA and three saves in 301 games, all in relief.
Wilson made his major league debut with Oakland last season and hit .190 with two homers and four RBI. He batted .282 with eight homers and 48 RBI at Class AAA Sacramento.
Kremblas, 26, split last season between Class A Dunedin and Class AAA Syracuse. He hit .193 with 15 RBI in 53 games.