In Sports from United Press International
Florida wins Orange Bowl
MIAMI, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Florida coach Steve Spurrier followed through on his promise to bench Rex Grossman for a curfew violation as he kept the Heisman Trophy runner-up on the bench for the first six series Wednesdsay night but the fifth-ranked Gators barely missed a beat, rolling to a 56-23 victory over No. 6 Maryland in the Orange Bowl.
Grossman, a sophomore quarterback, shook off the benching to throw touchdown passes on his first two series as the Gators (10-2) broke open a close game in the final three minutes of the first half. Maryland was defenseless aginst Grossman, who led Florida to touchdowns on six straight possessions before the Gators finally punted for the first time in the second half with just over four minutes left. Overall, Grossman completed 20-of-28 passes for 248 yards and an Orange Bowl record-tying four touchdowns in just under 2 ½ quarters.
Ranked first in the preseason, Florida will finish in the top five for the first time since 1998. However, losses to Auburn and Tennessee kept the Gators out of the Southeastern Conference championship game--and a chance at the national title.
Brock Berlin, who reportedly is considering transferring to Miami, started for Grossman and was 11-of-19 for 196 yards. Berlin directed two scoring drives in his first start of the season. But he threw two interceptions and Florida only led, 14-10, when Grossman replaced him with six minutes remaining in the first half.
Grossman tossed a 15-yard TD pass to Taylor Jacobs with 2:18 left. Florida forced a punt, and Grossman struck again, finding Jabar Gaffney in the back of the end zone for a four-yard TD with three seconds remaining that gave the Gators a 28-10 lead.
Maryland won the Atlantic Coast Conference title in its first season under alumnus Ralph Friedgen. The Terrapins reached 10 wins for the first time since 1976 but faced no team as explosive as the Gators and received a dose of reality. Berlin and Grossman combined for more than 300 yards passing in the first half alone.
The Terrapins suffered their only two losses in Florida by a combined 108-54. They suffered a 52-31 loss at Florida State on October 27.
After Berlin's 46-yard TD pass to Jacobs gave Florida a 14-0 lead with 12 seconds left in the first quarter, Maryland quickly answered as Shaun Hill tossed a 64-yard TD pass to Jafar Williams on the final play of the period. The Terrapins forced three turnovers in the first half but only turned them into three points. After Williams' TD, Maryland cornerback Dennard Wilson returned an interception 37 yards to the Florida 3, but the Terrapins had to settle for Nick Novak's 20-yard field goal with 12:02 left in the first period. Florida's Earnest Graham fumbled at the Maryland 24 on the next drive. The Terrapins drove to Florida's 28, but Novak missed a 46-yard field goal with 6:03 left.
Spurrier decided he had seen enough of Berlin and went to Grossman, who picked apart the Maryland secondary.
Florida tacked on three scores in the third quarter. After Graham and Robert Gillespie scored on TD runs of six and 11 yards, respectively, Grossman and Gaffney combined for a 33-yard TD pass that made it 49-10 with 2:52 left. Grossman also tossed a 10-yard TD strike to Carlos Perez early in the fourth quarter.
Raiders DT suspended one year
NEW YORK, Jan. 3 (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.
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. 3 (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. 3 (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.
Six Ravens chosen for Pro Bowl
NEW YORK, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens placed six players in the Pro Bowl and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was among 10 first-timers named to the AFC team, the NFL announced on Wednesday.
The Pro Bowl starting lineups will be announced on Saturday, Jan. 12 at halftime of the AFC and NFC wild card games.
Brady, who stepped in for injured starter Drew Bledsoe and led the Patriots to a 10-3 record, was one of the three quarterbacks selected along with Rich Gannon of the Oakland Raiders and Kordell Stewart of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady is the fifth quarterback since 1970 to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl in the season of his first career start, joining an illustrious group which includes Dan Marino (1983), Brett Favre (1992), Kurt Warner (1999) and Daunte Culpepper (2000).
Bruce Matthews of the Tennessee Titans was named to his 14th consecutive Pro Bowl, the most of any player since 1970. Matthews, who has played more games than any offensive lineman in NFL history, was selected at center along with Kevin Mawae of the New York Jets. In his 19th NFL season, Matthews will make his fifth Pro Bowl appearance as a center. His other nine selections came at guard.
Falcons waive veteran receiver
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga., Jan. 3 (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. 3 (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.
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.
U.S. upset in Hopman Cup; Hewitt ailing
PERTH, Australia, Jan. 3 (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.
Athletics sign Mike Holtz
OAKLAND, Calif., Jan. 3 (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.