Johnny Unitas dies
BALTIMORE, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, who played a major role in turning professional football into a multi-billion dollar industry, died Wednesday of a heart attack at the age of 69.
Sporting a crew cut and an arm as strong as his game had ever seen, Unitas became one of the leading sports heroes of his era. The start of his career coincided with the advent of nationally televised games and Unitas' passing skills soon came to represent a new brand of sporting excitement around the country.
Unitas was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 after an 18-year career that saw him throw for 40,239 yards and 290 touchdowns. He led the Colts to three NFL titles and once passed for a touchdown in 47 consecutive games.
A spokesperson for the Baltimore Ravens said Unitas was pronounced dead after being rushed to a local hospital.
"Johnny Unitas will always be a legendary name in NFL history," league Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "One of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, he epitomized the position with his leadership skills and his ability to perform under pressure.
"At a time when national television was beginning to focus on the NFL, 'Johnny U' captured the public's imagination and helped drive the growing popularity of professional football."
When Unitas came to Baltimore from the University of Louisville in 1956, pro football was still a relatively unwatched sport.
Although the NFL's championship game was first shown in 1951, it was not until Unitas' rookie year that CBS began televising regular-season games to selective markets.
In Unitas' third season with the Colts, he and his teammates suddenly shoved the NFL into the forefront.
Baltimore won the NFL's Western Conference in 1958 with a 9-3 record and played the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium in the league's title game.
On Dec. 28, playing on a surface made almost rock hard by the cold weather, the Colts and Giants tied at the end of regulation, creating the first overtime game in the league's history.
Unitas then passed the Colts down the field and eventually handed the ball to Alan Ameche for the one-yard touchdown run that gave the Colts a 23-17 victory.
That game, beamed across the country and providing the kind of finish pro football had never been able to display before, was credited with giving the sport a huge leap forward.
Two years later, the sudden popularity of pro football brought about creation of the American Football League and the sport has continued to grow ever since.
"He was the first of the great modern quarterbacks, and his performance set the standard for everyone who followed him at that position," said Don Shula, who coached Unitas seven years.
Baseball commemorates 9/11
NEW YORK, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- If there were any questions regarding the role America's pastime played in the healing process after Sept. 11, 2001, an emotionally charged evening at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night answered them.
As one of the final ceremonies in a national day of remembrance, the defending American League champion New York Yankees pulled out all the stops in honoring the victims and heroes of last year's terrorist attacks.
On a beautiful evening for baseball, the Yankees hosted a ceremony before their contest with the Baltimore Orioles and unveiled a monument dedicated to "all those who perished" and "the many heroes who showed courage, dignity and unrelenting efforts in response to the tragedy."
The monument will be located in one of sports' most hallowed grounds, surrounded by plaques paying tribute to some of the team's legendary players. Yankees greats and Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Phil Rizzuto helped unveil the plaque in Monument Park.
The ceremony also featured the return of the American flag recovered at the World Trade Center. The flag, which was believed to have come from one of the upper floors of the Twin Towers, was found with 12 stars missing and covered in ash.
The flag was flown above the stadium during Game 3 of last year's World Series and was displayed at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
The Yankees also had a ceremonial tree planting in Monument Park, part of the "American Forests" campaign to honor the heroes and victims of the attacks on New York and Washington a year ago.
As mandated by Major League Baseball, all night games stopped for a moment of silence and a video tribute at 9:11 p.m. local time.
In the five games played during the afternoon, the moment of remembrance was held before the game or during the seventh-inning stretch.
Twins cut magic number to three
MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Cristian Guzman homered and drove in three runs and Brad Radke pitched seven innings Wednesday, allowing the Minnesota Twins to complete a three-game sweep with an 8-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
After Jacque Jones walked to begin the contest, Guzman belted an 1-0 pitch from Mark Redman (8-15) over the left field fence for his ninth homer. Corey Koskie followed with a triple and Torii Hunter was hit by a pitch one out later. But Doug Mientkiewicz grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The Twins, however, added six runs in the second, highlighted by Hunter's bases-clearing double.
Radke (8-4), who retired 12 of the first 13 batters, allowed one run and three hits for his second straight excellent outing. He tossed a six-hitter Friday against Oakland for his seventh career shutout and is 4-1 in his last six starts.
With the Chicago White Sox losing in a night game, the Twins reduced their magic number for clinching the American League Central Division title to three.
Other American League results: Toronto 6, Cleveland 5 in 11 innings; Boston 6, Tampa Bay 3; Texas 4, Seattle 3; Kansas City 9, Chicago 6; New York 5, Baltimore 4 in 11 innings.
Dodgers draw even in wild card race
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Brian Jordan capped a four-run sixth inning with a three-run homer and Hideo Nomo remained perfect in San Francisco Wednesday as the Los Angeles Dodgers drew even in the National League wild card race with a 7-3 victory over the Giants.
Los Angeles hit for the cycle to start the sixth with Jordan producing his 15th homer off Kirk Rueter for a 6-2 lead. Jordan finished with four RBI.
Nomo pitched 6 2/3 strong innings for the Dodgers, who salvaged the finale of the three-game series and snapped a four-game skid. The last two setbacks dropped them a game behind their biggest rival for the NL wild card.
The Giants had won five straight and 17 of 22.
The teams conclude the season series with a four-game set in Los Angeles, beginning Monday.
Nomo (14-6) won his fifth straight decision and improved to 8-0 in San Francisco. He threw 132 pitches, giving up two runs and six hits with five walks and eight strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. The Dodgers have won each of his last seven starts.
Other National League results: Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 1; Chicago 6, Montreal 3; Philadelphia 9, Florida 2; Colorado 8, Houston 6; St. Louis 4, Milwaukee 3. New York and Atlanta split a double header, the Braves winning the opener, 8-5, and the Mets capturing the evening game, 5-0.
Wizards acquire Jerry Stackhouse
WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- In another move that raises questions about Michael Jordan's future, the Washington Wizards acquired guard Jerry Stackhouse in a six-player deal Wednesday, sending guard Richard Hamilton to the Detroit Pistons.
On Tuesday, the Wizards signed free agent forward Bryon Russell. Jordan, who had an injury-plagued return to the NBA last season, turns 40 in February. He split time at shooting guard and small forward.
Unseld gave no indication whether Jordan would return next season.
Buchanan suspended by NFL
NEW YORK, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Veteran Atlanta Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.
"Evidently, I took a supplement of some sort that had a steroid derivative in it," said Buchanan, a Pro Bowl choice in 1998. "It was my mistake and I will have to serve my penalty. I would like to apologize to my teammates, the Falcons organization, and the Atlanta Falcons fans."
The suspension begins with the Falcons' home opener Sunday against the Chicago Bears. He is not allowed to practice with the team until after the Oct. 13 game against the New York Giants.
Buchanan, 30, one of the NFL's most outspoken players, has 27 interceptions over the last five seasons, the most of any player in the league in that span. He led the Falcons with five last season and has 43 in his career.
IRL drivers suspended
The fines were for undisclosed amounts and announced by IRL vice president of operations Brian Barnhart, who said the drivers were fined for on-track actions in Sunday's race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Castroneves was accused of blocking late in the race by Eddie Cheever, who said he was going to talk to Barnhart about it. Rice, Cheever's teammate at Red Bull Cheever racing, led for 22 laps but was pushed back to ninth in a mad scramble at the end.
Rangers sign Mark Messier
NEW YORK, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- On the eve of training camp, the New York Rangers agreed to terms Wednesday with 41-year-old captain Mark Messier, who is embarking on his 24th NHL season.
Terms were not disclosed. According to published reports, it is a one-year deal worth $3 million with bonuses that could push the value to $5 million.
Bothered by a shoulder injury, Messier played just 41 games last season and posted career lows with seven goals and 16 assists. On Dec. 15, he had a goal and an assist to join former teammate Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe as the only players in NHL history with 1,800 points.
Last Nov. 3, Messier passed another former teammate, Paul Coffey, and moved into third place on the all-time list with 1,136 assists.
Messier is the NHL's active scoring leader and ranks third all-time with 1,804 points. He is seventh with 658 goals and fourth with 1,602 games played.
Messier, who led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in 1994, is second all-time in playoff scoring with 295 points and has appeared in more postseason games (236) than anyone in league history. He also won five Stanley Cup championships with the Edmonton Oilers.