Sports Update

Dec. 17, 2001 at 7:49 PM
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In Sports from United Press International

Saints suspend wide receiver

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Wide receiver Albert Connell was suspended Monday for the New Orleans Saints' final four regular season games for conduct detrimental to the team.

The suspension begins with Monday night's home game against the St. Louis Rams. The Saints are not expected to bring back Connell if they qualify for the playoffs.

General manager Randy Mueller also announced Monday that the club fined Connell one additional game check.

"The situation with Albert will be handled internally, at this point he is suspended from the team," Mueller said. "Our team will move forward and not have any further comment on Albert Connell or his situation at this point."

Signed to a five-year contract as a free agent in the offseason to complement wide receiver Joe Horn, Connell has been a bust with the Saints, catching just 12 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns this season.

Connell, 27, set career-highs with 62 catches for 1,132 yards and seven touchdowns in 1999 for the Washington Redskins. But when he was counted on to become the team's No. 1 receiver last season after Michael Westbrook suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week Two, Connell had just 39 catches for 762 yards and three touchdowns. Cornell was selected in the fourth round of the 1997 draft and has 150 catches for 2,673 yards.

Watters out with broken ankle

KIRKLAND, Wash, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Five-time Pro Bowl running back Ricky Watters has probably played his last game with the Seattle Seahawks.

Coach Mike Holmgren confirmed on Monday that Watters has a broken right ankle and will miss the remainder of the season. He suffered the injury on his 28th carry in Seattle's 29-3 rout of the Dallas Cowboys Sunday.

Eligible for free agency in March, Watters will likely not re-sign with the Seahawks with young Shaun Alexander, a first-round pick in 2000, in the same backfield.

The 32-year-old Watters was the NFL's most durable back, starting 116 straight games. But the 2001 season was marred with injuries for Watters. A separated right shoulder suffered in a September 30 game at Oakland forced him to miss eight games.

Watters returned for a December 9 game against Denver and was moved back into a starting role ahead of Alexander for Sunday's win over Dallas and responded with 104 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries and five catches for 34 yards.

In five games this season, Watters rushed for 318 yards on 72 carries and caught 11 passes for 107 yards. A second-round pick of San Francisco in 1991, Watters has rushed for 10,643 yards and 78 touchdowns in 144 career games -- 142 starts. He also has 4,248 yards and 13 touchdowns receiving.

Indians sign Gutierrez to long contract

CLEVELAND, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The Cleveland Indians signed free agent infielder Ricky Gutierrez and newly acquired outfielder Matt Lawton to long-term contracts Monday.

Gutierrez, the heir apparent to 12-time All-Star Roberto Alomar at second base, signed a three-year contract with a club option for the 2005 season.

One report said Gutierrez signed a three-year contract worth more than $11 million.

Acquired as part of last week's eight-player deal that sent Alomar to the New York Mets, Lawton signed a four-year contract that will keep him in Cleveland through the 2005 season.

With nine-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel at shortstop, the Indians would likely start Gutierrez at second base. Gutierrez played his last two seasons at shortstop for the Chicago Cubs.

Last season, Gutierrez hit a career-high .290 with 10 homers and 66 RBI. He was made expendable in Chicago after the Cubs acquired shortstop Alex Gonzalez in trade from Toronto last week. Gutierrez, 31, will play for his first American League team. He also has played with the San Diego Padres (1993-94) and Houston Astros (1995-99).

Lawton was an All-Star just two seasons ago with Minnesota and fills Cleveland's need for a leadoff hitter. He was a bit of disappointment with New York, which acquired him at the trade deadline from the Minnesota Twins. In 151 combined games last season, Lawton batted .277 with 13 homers and 64 RBI.

Yankees sign Rondell White

NEW YORK, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The New York Yankees signed free agent outfielder Rondell White to a two-year contract Monday.

ESPN reported last week that White agreed to a two-year, $10 million deal.

The 29-year-old White is one of the more talented offensive players in the game when healthy and joins an offense that already was bolstered by last week's signing of superstar slugger Jason Giambi. New York also returns All-Stars Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams and added veteran Robin Ventura.

After reaching the World Series for the fifth time in six seasons, the Yankees have targeted their offense as an area for improvement. The addition of White, who batted .307 with 17 homers and 50 RBI in 95 games last season for the Chicago Cubs, fills their need for a top of the lineup hitter and corner outfielder.

White can only contribute when he is in the lineup and injuries have plagued his career since he broke in with the Montreal Expos in 1993. He has played more than 138 games just once in his career and has played less than 114 in all but one season since Opening Day 1998. But when healthy, White hits for power and average, batting .270 with 28 homers, 82 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 1997 -- the only season he played more than 138 games. He has hit over .300 every year since 1997 but runs less due to injuries.

Arizona State QB to transfer

AMHERST, Mass., Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Arizona State quarterback Jeff Krohn, the top-rated passer in the Pac-10 Conference as a sophomore in 2001, will transfer to Division I-AA Massachusetts.

Krohn started the team's first 10 games before missing the season finale against UCLA on December 1 due to tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. Krohn has two years of eligibility remaining and will join the Minutemen for spring practice.

"We are very excited to have Jeff joining our football program," Massachusetts coach Mark Whipple said. "He has a great deal of experience after starting at Arizona State for the last two years. He also is a great leader, and a tremendously efficient passer. Jeff really has all the qualties we look for in a quarterback."

Krohn passed for 1,942 yards and 19 touchdowns to follow up a freshman campaign in which he threw for 1,751 yards and 12 scores in 10 games for Arizona State. The Phoenix native was the ninth-rated passer in the nation this season.

Bengals QB out with torn hamstring

CINCINNATI, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Akili Smith, making his first start of the season, suffered a torn left hamstring in the second quarter of Sunday's 15-14 loss to the New York Jets and may not even be ready to participate in minicamp next May if surgery is required.

A disappointment since being selected with the third overall pick in the 1999 draft, Smith will head to North Carolina on Tuesday for an examination by hamstring specialist Bill Garrett.

Smith was hoping to prove to the Bengals that he was worthy of being the starter after being demoted to third string behind Jon Kitna and Scott Mitchell earlier in the season.

Kitna, who beat out Smith for the starting job in training camp, was forced to play with a sprained right middle finger and was intercepted three times as the Bengals suffered their sixth straight loss.

Smith struggled throughout the 2000 season, completing 44 percent of his passes for 1,253 yards and three touchdowns with six interceptions before being benched. He played in seven games as a rookie, including four starts, and threw for 805 yards and two touchdowns with six interceptions.

Rams seek playoff clincher

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- A win Monday night by St. Louis over the New Orleans Saints means a lot, not only to the Rams but the San Francisco 49ers as well.

Both St. Louis (10-2) and San Francisco (10-3) would clinch a playoff berth if the Rams prevail as expected.

New Orleans has won three of the last four meetings from its NFC West rivals, including a 31-28 victory in the wild card round at the Superdome last December.

New Orleans (7-5) is a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay (7-6) for the third and final NFC wild card berth.

In the first meeting this season on Oct. 28 at St. Louis, the Saints intercepted Kurt Warner four times and erased an 18-point deficit in a 34-31 victory.

Meanwhile, in the AFC playoff picture, the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) and the Oakland Raiders (10-3) have clinched the Central and West division titles. In the AFC East, The Miami Dolphins (9-4) can clinch a playoff berth with a win Saturday against the New England Patriots and a loss by the Seattle Seahawks.

Culpepper to have surgery

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn., Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who has missed the last two games, will have arthroscopic surgery on his injured left knee, probably this week.

Vikings Coach Dennis Green confirmed Monday that Culpepper would get "a small scope" and added,"It's not a big deal at all. But, whether or not it's a 10-day injury or a two-week injury, that's something you never know when you go in to scope a knee."

Built like a linebacker at 6-4, 260 pounds, Culpepper was forced to leave a Dec.2 game at Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter with soreness in the knee.

North Texas, CSU kickoff bowl games

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- North Texas and Colorado State kick off the 25-game 2001 college bowl season Tuesday night when they meet in the inaugural New Orleans Bowl at the Superdome.

The long bowl season winds up on Jan. 3 when Miami meets Nebraska in the Rose Bowl for a claim on the national championship.

For North Texas, it will mean an end to the longest current bowl drought of any Division 1-A team. And, it needed help from the NCAA to do it.

The Mean Green (5-6), which last played in the postseason in the 1959 Sun Bowl, already had wrapped up the Sun Belt Conference title and the automatic bowl berth before losing to Troy State in their season finale.

North Texas became the first team to take advantage of an NCAA waiver that allows a conference champion to play in a bowl game without the mandated six victories.

CSU is favored by two touchdowns.

Two other bowl games are on tap this week. No.25 Marshall (10-1) will play East Carolina (6-5) Wednesday in the Mobile Alabama Bowl. North Carolina State (7-4) faces Pittsburgh (6-5) Thursday in the re-birth of the Tangerine Bowl at Orlando, Fla.

U.S. Davis Cup opener set

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y.. Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The United States will stage its first-round Davis Cup tie with Slovakia at the Myriad Center in Oklahoma City from February 8-10, 2002, the USTA announced Monday.

Pete Sampras and Andy Roddick are possible participants when the Americans begin their quest to claim their first Davis Cup since 1995. They are expected to face a Slovakian team that will include Dominik Hrbaty and Karol Kucera.

The USTA will lay down an indoor hard court at the Myriad Center, which will be reconfigured to seat 5,500 fans for the best-of-five match series. It is the first time Oklahoma will host a Davis Cup tie.

Sampras, who has played in Davis Cup sparingly since the Americans lost to Sweden in the 1997 final, told U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe that he is available for action in 2002.

Roddick, the 18-year-old who won three tournaments this past season, should be the team's anchor. Other candidates for next year's team are Jan-Michael Gambill, James Blake and veteran Todd Martin. The four-man squad Will be announced by Jan. 29.

Madrid's Figo gets soccer award

ZURICH, Switzerland, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Real Madrid's Luis Figo Monday became the first Portuguese player to be named 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year.

England star and Liverpool top scorer Michael Owen earned the 2001 European Footballer of the Year honors, an award won by Figo last year.

Figo, a 29-year-old midfielder who last year finished second to Real Madrid teammate and French international Zinedine Zidane in the FIFA poll, bested England and Manchester United midfielder David Beckham and another club teammate, Spaniard striker Raul who finished third in the voting.

Figo scored six of Portugal's 33 goals during qualifying to propel the Iberian nation into the 2002 World Cup with a 7

3 record.

Hamilton, Nash NBA players of week

NEW YORK, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Guards Richard Hamilton of the Washington Wizards and Steve Nash of the Dallas Mavericks were named Monday as the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week.

Hamilton led the Wizards to a 4-0 week, averaging 28.5 points, 4.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 55 percent (48-of-87) from the field. He had his best game of the week last Friday, scoring a season-high 34 points in a 96-80 victory over the New York Knicks.

Nash helped the Mavs post a 3-1 record for the week after averaging 26.5 points and 7.3 assists per contest. The Canadian point guard poured in a career-high 39 points, including 17 in the game's final six minutes in a 105-103 victory over Portland on Tuesday.

Mia Hamm soccer woman of the year

ZURICH, Switzerland, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Women's National team star Mia Hamm Monday was named FIFA's inaugural World Women's Player of the Year Award.

The men's World Player of the Year, which has been awarded since 1991, was won by Portuguese midfielder Luis Figo.

Hamm received 154 points in voting by 72 women's national team coaches, to beat China's Sun Wen (79 pts) and U.S. teammate Tiffeny Milbrett (47 pts). Hamm, a five-time U.S. soccer Player of the Year, has 129 career goals for USA, by far the most ever for a woman or man in international competition. She led the Washington Freedom with six goals and 16 points.

Flyers get Brashear from Canucks

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The Philadelphia Flyers, looking to add toughness, acquired enforcer Donald Brashear from the Vancouver Canucks Monday for left wing Jan Hlavac and a draft pick.

Brashear, 29, has five goals, eight assists and 90 penalty minutes in 31 games this season. The 6-2, 225-pounder is tied for sixth in the NHL in time spent in the penalty box.

The Flyers also sent a 2002 third-round pick to Vancouver.

It was a short stay in Philadelphia for Hlavac, who was acquired by the Flyers as part of the deal that sent Eric Lindros to the New York Rangers on August 20. Hlavac, 25, was somewhat of a disappointment with the Flyers, collecting seven goals and three assists in 31 games. Last season, he had career highs of 28 goals and 36 assists in 64 games.

Brashear was the victim in one of the ugliest on-ice incidents in NHL history on Feb. 21, 2000, when he was slashed on the side of the head by Boston Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley. Brashear suffered a concussion that sidelined him for the rest of the season while McSorley received a one-year suspension and later was found guilty of assault. In October, Brashear made news off the ice, when he was charged with assault following a confrontation in the weight room of his townhouse complex.

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