Gruden meets with Super Bowl media Tuesday
SAN DIEGO, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden handled the Media Day barrage Tuesday while talking about facing his former team, the Oakland Raiders, in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Arriving on a charter flight Tuesday morning after skipping his first scheduled media session Monday, Gruden replaced his trademark scowl with a ready smile for the horde of reporters and photographers who descended upon him.
No one received more attention than Gruden, the animated coach who was sent to the Buccaneers by Raiders owner Al Davis last February for the price of two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million.
The Bucs handed Gruden a four-year, $17 million contract and were rewarded with the first Super Bowl appearance in their 27-year existence.
With Gruden absent Monday, the NFL gave Raiders Coach Bill Callahan, who worked under Gruden in Oakland from 1998-2001, the chance to also skip the first media conference and he followed his former boss' lead.
"The craziest thing in the league that could have happened, happened," said Tim Brown, who has spent his entire 15-year career with the Raiders and will play in a Super Bowl for the first time against his former coach. "We're going to make the best of it, but this game is not about Jon Gruden against Bill Callahan. It's about the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
Oakland's Jerry Rice, the NFL's all-time leading receiver, will play in the premier event in sports for the fourth time. He won Super Bowl Most Valuable Player honors 14 years ago, yet called Sunday's game the biggest of his career.
"It's been a long, long time," said the 40-year-old Rice, who last played in a Super Bowl eight years ago. "I really thought I would never get back to this game, but I'm here."
Rice, Brown, NFL Most Valuable Player Rich Gannon, four-time Super Bowl champion linebacker Bill Romanowski, and perennial Pro Bowl safety Rod Woodson were among the Raiders on podiums for the afternoon media session.
Six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay's most vociferous player, did not provide any fodder for the media or the Raiders. Instead, he appeared humbled by his first Media Day experience.
NFL Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brooks, quarterback Brad Johnson, receiver Keyshawn Johnson and cornerback Ronde Barber were among the other Bucs who had their own podiums in the morning session.
Venus, Agassi advance to Melbourne semis
Venus, the women's No. 2 seed, knocked off Daniela Hantuchova for the second straight year at Melbourne. She fired six aces and 29 winners on the way to a 6-4, 6-3 victory over the seventh-seeded Slovakian.
On the men's side, No. 2 Andre Agassi extended his winning streak at Melbourne Park to 19 matches as he cruised to a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win over No. 12 Sebastien Grosjean of France.
Agassi's opponent in the semifinals will be unseeded Wayne Ferreira of South Africa, who recorded 46 winners and six service breaks in a 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 win over No. 4 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain.
Williams and Hantuchova met in the third round at Melbourne last year, when Williams rallied for a 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 victory. She has won all four matches between the two.
"I think I had a lot of errors," Williams said. "I think also that Daniela didn't play her best. I think she wanted to play better, for sure, but I think, in general, maybe it was my better match of this tournament. Of course, I'm my best critic, I'm always looking for the things that I can do better after each match, unless it was perfect."
"The match was a much higher level than last year," Hantuchova said. "Venus came out today playing unbelievable. She did it, all credit to the way she played. I had my chances, too, but today she was just better."
Williams, a four-time Grand Slam titleist, reached the semifinals at Melbourne Park for the second time. The former world No. 1 moved a step closer to a showdown with younger sister Serena, who tops the WTA rankings, and beat Venus at the last three Grand Slam finals.
Venus Williams next will battle fifth-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium in a rematch of the 2001 Wimbledon final. Henin-Hardenne converted five of six break point opportunities in her 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinals win over Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain.
"Yesterday, I was in very bad shape. I couldn't practice at all," Henin-Hardenne said regarding her three-set win over No. 9 Lindsay Davenport in the fourth round. "But I think I had a good recovery. When you win in two sets like this, you can be happy because you are in the semifinal of a Grand Slam."
Henin-Hardenne advanced to the Australian Open semifinals for the first time. She improved on her quarterfinals finish a year ago, when she fell to compatriot Kim Clijsters.
Ruano Pascual, 29, equaled her best performance at a major. She also made the 1995 French Open quarterfinals.
Agassi improved his career mark against Grosjean to 3-2, and avenged a loss in their previous Grand Slam quarterfinal meeting.
The seven-time Grand Slam winner seemed to be coasting to victory in his 2001 French Open quarterfinal against Grosjean, but after then-President Bill Clinton took his seat to watch the match, Agassi collapsed and Grosjean secured a 1-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 victory.
On Tuesday, Agassi committed just 14 unforced errors and ran the Frenchman all over the court.
Agassi, a three-time Australian winner, advanced to his 23rd career Grand Slam semifinal, while Grosjean fell short of his second appearance in the final four at Melbourne Park, where he was a semifinalist in 2001.
"Andre was playing well," Grosjean said. "It was tough for me because I didn't serve well. Against Agassi, if you don't serve well, it's very difficult."
Ferreira, 31, the only unseeded man left in the field, advanced to the semis for the second time. In 1992, he knocked off John McEnroe to reach the final four.
Ferrero stumbled in his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal away from the French Open clay courts of Roland Garros in Paris.
Changes possible for NASCAR races
CONCORD, N.C., Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The uneasy alliance between Bruton Smith and NASCAR took an unusual twist Tuesday when NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. said if Texas Motor Speedway wants an additional date, it should come from one currently held by another SMI track.
France specifically singled out Atlanta Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte as possibilities to relinquish a date so Texas could add a second date to the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule.
In addition to possibly switching dates of facilities owned by Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. (IMS), France also singled out two International Speedway Corporation (ISC) facilities - North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham and Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C. - as possibilities to surrender a date so California Speedway in Fontana could have a second Winston Cup event.
These revelations were made at the NASCAR Research and Development Facility as part of the Lowe's Motor Speedway Media Tour.
Texas Motor Speedway and SMI have been embroiled in an ongoing battle with NASCAR for several years over SMI's desire for a second NASCAR race date at the 1 1/2-mile track. Located in Fort Worth, the track draws over 180,000 fans to its only Winston Cup event, scheduled for March 30 this year.
"If Dover (Delaware) would like to take one of their races and shift it to St. Louis or Nashville, or if Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler want to take an Atlanta race and shift it to Texas where it can sell all of its tickets, we will entertain that," France said. "We're calling this realignment 2004 and beyond."
Neither Smith, the CEO of SMI; Wheeler, the president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway; or Ed Clark, the president and general manager of Atlanta Motor Speedway were immediately available for comment.
France contends that if Atlanta is having trouble selling 80,000 tickets for either of its two races, then one should be shifted to its sister SMI track in Texas, where it could sell close to 200,000 tickets. The same can be said for several ISC facilities and even the tracks that are part of the Dover Downs International Speedway group.
"We're not going to put tracks on notice," NASCAR's Vice Chairman and Executive Vice President Brian France said. "We don't want them looking over their shoulder wondering if NASCAR is going to pull their date. But we want to take a more proactive approach to see if racing somewhere else makes more sense."
NASCAR has enjoyed tremendous growth and currently ranks as the country's No. 2 television sport in terms of ratings. Rather than have two dates in small Southeastern markets such as Rockingham and Darlington those dates could be better utilized in other markets.
"NASCAR has done a good job of trying to manage the interests of so many of its constituents," NASCAR chief operating officer George Pyne said. "We are going to look at what we can do to realign our schedule. We are going to begin that process in 2004."
Pyne said NASCAR will look at the geographic distribution of events without additions to the schedule.
"At this time, the schedule cannot expand beyond 38 races," he said. "We need to look beyond the schedule to see if any moves can be made to broaden the sport nationally and to bring the sport to more fans across America. We will not unilaterally remove a race date from anybody. We will be proactive with our promoters to see what can be done with the distribution of our events."
Pyne also said the series is looking at later starting times to better increase its TV audience. Instead of a race starting at noon, it may start at 3:30 p.m.
Celtics Walker out up to two weeks
BOSTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Boston Celtics All-Star forward Antoine Walker may miss up to two weeks with a sprained right knee, the team announced Tuesday.
Walker, who earlier on Tuesday was named NBA Player of the Week in the Eastern Conference, suffered the injury in the third quarter of the Celtics' 100-99 victory at Philadelphia on Monday.
He stayed in the game and helped Boston rally from a 23-point deficit, finishing with 33 points.
The injury comes with Walker playing some of his best baketball of the season. Over his past four games, Walker is averaging 27.2 points and shooting 50 percent (43-of-86) from the field - 10 percent better than his season average.
In his seventh season, Walker is averaging 21.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. The two-time All-Star is averaging 21.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists over 491 career games.
Shockey fined by NFL
NEW YORK, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The National Football League has levied a $10,000 fine on New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey.
Actually, $10,000 is the total because Shockey was hit by two $5,000 fines for on-field incidents during the Giants' 39-38 loss to San Francisco Jan. 5 in the NFC divisional game.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Shockey was was fined $5,000 for throwing a cup of ice water on fans, and another $5,000 for making an obscene gesture in the direction of 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson.
Shockey's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, declined comment, saying he had not received any paperwork regarding the fine.
He said he would address the matter when he receives official notification.
Shockey is emotional and demonstrative, and has team officials worried about his demeanor.
"He gave us a vitality we lacked," General Manager Ernie Accorsi told the paper. "Certain players make everyone else better just by walking on the field, and he's one of those players. I think the sky is the limit on him, and we've only seen a small part of that."
Shockey, a rookie out of Miami, made the Pro Bowl this season after he caught 74 passes for 892 yards and two touchdowns. He was the Giants' top draft pick last summer.
McCray football coach at Austin Peay
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn., Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Carroll McCray, an offensive line coach at Mississippi State the past two seasons, Tuesday was named the new football coach at Division I-AA Austin Peay.
McCray becomes Austin Peay's 16th coach and second in the non-scholarship era, replacing Bill Schmitz, whose contract was not renewed after he posted a 7-5 record in 2002.
Prior to joining the staff at Mississippi State, McCray served as the offensive line coach at South Carolina (1989-93) and Samford (1994-2000).
Shaq's flagrant foul reclassified
NEW YORK, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The NBA confirmed Tuesday that a flagrant foul called on Shaquille O'Neal during the Los Angeles Lakers' loss in Houston Friday has been reclassified.
Los Angeles trailed by a point when the superstar center smothered a driving Steve Francis with 1:11 to play in overtime. Referee Monty McCutcheon whistled O'Neal for a flagrant foul.
Coach Phil Jackson argued the call and was hit with a technical foul. Cuttino Mobley made the technical foul shot and Francis sank both free throws for a 102-98 lead. The Rockets went on to a 108-104 win.
Jackson's technical also was rescinded.
While the outcome is not reversed, O'Neal does not gain a point toward a suspension. Under the league's flagrant foul system, a player is suspended for a game after accumulating six points.
Knee surgery for Justin Williams
PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Philadelphia Flyers right wing Justin Williams, scheduled to undergo reconstructive left knee surgery on Thursday, will miss the rest of the season.
He was injured in the second period of Saturday's 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay. Team officials hoped he could rehabilitate the knee, but he sought a second opinion in Toronto.
"I'm very disappointed," Williams said. "But I'm young and, hopefully, I've got a longer career ahead of me, and you to jeopardize that."
Williams, a 2000 first-round draft pick, is tied for fifth on the team in scoring with eight goals and 15 assists in 40 games.
Quantone Smith quits Colorado State basketball
FORT COLLINS, Co., Jan. 22 (UPI) -- School officials said Tuesday that Colorado State forward Quantone Smith has left the men's basketball team for personal reasons.
The senior from Minneapolis appeared in 16 games this season, averaging 5.6 points and 2.6 rebounds.
Smith was the second hoops player to quit a team at Colorado State this week. The other was women's point guard Liz Smith.
The men's team is 13-4, including a 2-0 mark in the Mountain West Conference.