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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    RENTON, Wash. — Ryan Longwell thought he would be running a marathon on Sunday. Instead, he'll be in the playoffs, kicking for the Seahawks.

    "My wife is probably the happiest person that I got called into work," the Windermere resident said Wednesday. "We were actually training all fall for the Disney marathon. So I got her out of that and got me out of it, too."

    Seattle also signed DE Patrick Chukwurah. He and Longwell take the roster spots of K Steven Hauschka and DE Chris Clemons, who were placed on injured reserve.

    Clemons tore his left ACL Sunday against the Redskins. Hauschka strained his calf Sunday. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Longwell beat out three others during a tryout Tuesday.

    Longwell, 38, spent 15 seasons with Green Bay and Minnesota. He did not kick this season after being released by the Vikings in May. In 2011, he made 22 of 28 kicks but 6-of-10 from 40-49 yards.

    "I love the pressure," Longwell said. "Hopefully for the team, it's a blowout. But I think that's something I do well: handle the situation. I'm here to help these guys win. They've had an incredible season, incredible talent and they're on a really, really impressive run. And you just want to keep it going."

    Chukwurah, 33, has not played in the NFL since 2007 with the Bucs. He spent 2009 and 2010 in the UFL with the Florida Tuskers.

    "I came here with the mind-set that if this was going to be my last shot, to give it all that I've got," Chukwurah said. "I was really set on just moving on and starting the next chapter, so this is just a blessing."

    Falcons: DE John Abraham, who sustained a left ankle injury in the regular-season finale against the Bucs, and S William Moore, out since Nov. 29 with a hamstring injury, were limited in practice. But coach Mike Smith said he expects both to play Sunday.

    49ers: DE Justin Smith practiced for the first time since partially tearing his left triceps Dec. 16 against New England. He wore a brace, and when asked if Smith will play Saturday, coach Jim Harbaugh said, "God willing and the creek don't rise, he will play." … Harbaugh declined to say who will kick between struggling veteran David Akers and newly signed Billy Cundiff. He said it might be a game-time decision.

    Packers: WR Jordy Nelson and WR Randall Cobb missed practice but should be ready for Saturday. Nelson is nursing an "ongoing" ankle injury, but coach Mike McCarthy said he hopes the receiver will practice today. Cobb was sent home with the flu, the latest Packer to get sick. "It's just that time of year here," McCarthy said. "But our doctors feel confident everybody will be ready for the game." … RB James Starks practiced for the first time since sustaining a knee injury Dec. 2 against the Vikings. McCarthy said he expects Starks to play but doesn't know how much.


    Associated PressAssociated Press

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  • 01/09/13--18:41: Sports in brief
  • Times wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    TENNIS

    Tampa's ISNER withdraws from Aussie

    SYDNEY — Tampa resident John Isner lost 6-4, 6-4 to fellow American Ryan Harrison in the second round of the Sydney International on Wednesday, then later withdrew from the Australian Open because of a knee injury.

    He hurt his right knee at the Hopman Cup last week; Australian Open organizers called it bone bruising.

    "Doctors have told me that continuing to play on the knee could result in a more serious injury," said Isner, who finished last year ranked No. 14. His exit leaves No. 22 Sam Querrey as the highest-ranked American man at the Grand Slam that starts Monday.

    Doping

    Armstrong sought some recourse

    Lance Armstrong met with the head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to explore a "pathway to redemption," according to a report on 60 Minutes Sports dealing with the investigation that cost the cyclist his Tour de France titles. USADA CEO Travis Tygart didn't discuss the meeting on camera and gave no details. The New York Times reported that Armstrong and Tygart had met about a possible confession. Armstrong's attorney, Tim Herman, denied meetings took place.

    Skiing

    Vonn back on hill after long layoff

    American Lindsey Vonn is set to make her return at World Cup downhill training today in St. Anton, Austria, after an absence of more than three weeks because of an illness. She is likely to ski the downhill race Saturday and a super-G on Sunday. Vonn trails Cup leader Tina Maze by 725 points with 19 races left. Vonn is aiming to be back in form by the Feb. 4 start of the world championships.

    Soccer

    Italy addresses racism walkoff

    Italy's watchdog body for sports events said only a special public order officer will have the power to suspend matches in cases of racism, intolerance or anti-Semitism. The announcement comes after racist chants prompted AC Milan players to walk off during an exhibition against Pro Patria. The watchdog body is presided over by Italy's police chief and Italy's soccer federation. Referees will contact the public order officer, who then decides whether to suspend the match temporarily and warn fans or suspend it definitively.

    More Soccer: The Hungarian Football Federation said it will appeal a FIFA ruling forcing it to play its next World Cup qualifier in an empty stadium after fans shouted anti-Semitic slogans at Israel during a friendly.

    ET CETERA

    baseBALL: The Pirates acquired RHP Jeanmar Gomez, 24, from the Indians in exchange for minor-league OF Quincy Latimore, 23. Gomez will compete to be the fifth starter. Latimore hit .252 with 15 home runs and 71 RBIs in 126 games at Double-A Altoona last year.

    Times wires


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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    NEW YORK — Keep all the cheaters out of our club.

    That was the prevailing sentiment from several baseball Hall of Famers who were happy to see Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa excluded from their fraternity Wednesday.

    "I'm kind of glad that nobody got in this year," former Tigers outfielder Al Kaline said. "I feel honored to be in the Hall of Fame. And I would've felt a little uneasy sitting up there on the stage, listening to some of these new guys talk about how great they were."

    Goose Gossage went even further, as he often does.

    "I think the steroids guys that are under suspicion got too many votes," he said. "I don't know why they're making this such a question and why there's so much debate. To me, they cheated. Are we going to reward these guys?"

    Not this year, at least.

    Baseball writers pitched a Hall of Fame shutout for 2013, failing to elect anyone for the second time in 42 years. Among those rejected were steroid-tainted stars Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, all eligible for the first time.

    "Wow! Baseball writers make a statement," Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley wrote on Twitter. "Feels right."

    The results keep the sport's career home run leader (Bonds) and most decorated pitcher (Clemens) out of Cooperstown — at least for now. Bonds, Clemens and Sosa have up to 14 more years on the writers' ballot to gain baseball's highest honor.

    "If they let these guys in ever — at any point — it's a big black eye for the Hall and for baseball," Gossage said. "It's like telling our kids you can cheat, you can do whatever you want, and it's not going to matter."

    Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal doesn't see it that way. He thinks Bonds, Clemens and Sosa belong in Cooperstown.

    "Their stats define them as immortals," Marichal said. "That's the reality and that cannot be denied."

    Bonds, baseball's only seven-time MVP, hit 762 home runs, including a record 73 in 2001. Clemens, the game's lone seven-time Cy Young Award winner, is third in career strikeouts (4,672) and ninth in wins (354). Sosa finished with 609 home runs.

    "What really gets me is seeing how some of these players associated with drugs have jumped over many of the greats in our game," Kaline said. "Numbers mean a lot in baseball, maybe more so than in any other sport. And going back to Babe Ruth, and players like Harmon Killebrew and Frank Robinson and Willie Mays, seeing people jump over them with 600, 700 home runs, I don't like to see that."


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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When Patriots LB Jerod Mayo refers to Texans RB Arian Foster as "The Waterboy," he means it as a compliment.

    "He's such a patient runner," Mayo said of his teammate at the University of Tennessee whom he faces Sunday. "I like to liken his running style to water.

    "He's not that guy who's going to stick real hard. He's just going to be patient until the hole develops. Then he makes the whole team better."

    The Patriots held Foster to 46 yards on 15 carries in a 42-14 win on Dec. 10. A lot of that had to do with jumping out to an early lead and forcing the Texans to play catch-up.

    "Any time that you can get a team one-dimensional, that's a big plus," Patriots DT Vince Wilfork said. "It just bottles up a bunch of things when you can get a team like that one-sided; knowing when you can expect the pass, you can expect this and you can expect that."

    It might not be as easy this time. With 140 rushing yards against the Bengals on Saturday, Foster became the first player in NFL history to top 100 in each of his first three playoff games.

    Only four others, all in the Hall of Fame, have 100 rushing yards in three consecutive playoff games: Emmitt Smith (Cowboys), Franco Harris (Steelers), Marcus Allen (Raiders) and Larry Csonka (Dolphins).

    "I went against him every day in one-on-ones (at Tennessee)," Mayo said. "I think he's always been a good player."

    Broncos: RB Willis McGahee, out since sustaining a compression fracture and a torn MCL in his right knee Nov. 18 against the Chargers, practiced for the second straight day. McGahee, who remains in a no-contact jersey, is on injured reserve but is eligible to return for the AFC title game. … The only player eligible to play Saturday who did not practice was CB Tracy Porter. He has not done so since sustaining a concussion Dec. 23 against the Browns.

    Patriots: Coach Bill Belichick remains leery of the ability of 6-foot-5 Texans DE J.J. Watt to knock down passes (even though he failed to get one during the team's regular-season meeting). So he brought out racquetball rackets for QB Tom Brady to throw over during practice. "It gets frustrating at times, but I think it's a very good thing that Coach does," Brady said. "It just subliminally gets it in my head of (Watt's) ability and their ability to defend passes at the line of scrimmage."

    Ravens: RB Bernard Pierce and FB Vonta Leach did not practice, and their status for Saturday has not been determined. Pierce is dealing with an undisclosed knee injury. Leach aggravated a sprained right ankle Sunday.

    Texans: CB Alan Ball was the only player who didn't practice, and that was only as a precaution. Rain forced the team to its indoor facility. And coach Gary Kubiak didn't want to expose Ball, dealing with a foot injury, to the artificial turf.


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  • 01/09/13--19:23: Eagles, Irish coach talk
  • Times wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles interviewed Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly for their coaching job Tuesday, espn.com and the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

    Shortly after, Kelly left the country, espn.com reported, and he was unavailable for comment.

    The Eagles previously talked to Penn State's Bill O'Brien and Oregon's Chip Kelly before they decided to stay at their schools.

    General manager Howie Roseman said the team is in no rush to make a hire. It meets with ex-Bears coach Lovie Smith today. Sunday, it talked to Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

    Arians leaves hospital

    INDIANAPOLIS — Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was released from a hospital and started to finalize details on interviews for coaching jobs.

    The first interview will be with the Bears on Sunday, the Indianapolis Star reported. The Colts also gave the Browns and Eagles permission to speak to him.

    The Colts have not disclosed his condition. He missed Sunday's game after being taken to a Baltimore hospital. He flew to Indianapolis on Tuesday then went to a hospital there.

    More coaching: The Browns interviewed Panthers offensive coor­dinator Rob Chudzinski, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, while they talked to Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer as well, Fox Sports reported. … The Cardinals interviewed Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. He previously coached the Chiefs and was the Cardinals' offensive coordinator when they reached the Super Bowl after the 2008 season.

    Two GMs hired: The Chargers hired Tom Telesco, the Colts' vice president, as GM. He replaces the fired A.J. Smith and must hire a coach to replace the fired Norv Turner. … Carolina hired David Gettleman, the Giants' senior pro personnel analyst, as GM. He replaces the fired Marty Hurney.

    Cowboys: Linebacker DeMarcus Ware is scheduled to have surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder today. He said he expects to be ready by training camp.

    Titans: Quarterback Jack Loc­ker had surgery for a dislocated left (nonthrowing) shoulder. He's expected to be ready by May.


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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    GAINESVILLE — Florida's Casey Prather found out Wednesday morning he would make his first start of the season in the SEC opener against Georgia.

    The junior forward proceeded to open the game Wednesday night like a guy who has been there all the time.

    Prather scored the No. 11 Gators' first six points and set the tone for a 77-44 victory in front of 11,366 at the O'Connell Center. It tied for the second-largest margin of victory over Georgia (matching the 33 on March 4, 1967, and fewer than only the 38 on Dec. 30, 1958) and was the fewest points the Bulldogs scored in the series since a 50-38 loss on March 2, 2005.

    "I was just thinking about defense," said Prather who scored 10 points and added seven rebounds. "I just wanted to be aggressive, flying around, see what I can do. And the points just happened to fall in my hands. It's a great feeling."

    The results came quickly for Florida (11-2). It took an 11-0 lead by making five of seven shots over the first 4:11. In that same span, the Bulldogs (6-8) shot 0-for-2 while committing four turnovers. They didn't score until 5:37 in.

    Florida led 28-15 at halftime, holding Georgia to 5-of-14 shooting from the field.

    "Florida just overwhelmed us," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "We started out in a hole, and the environment overwhelmed a couple of our kids and so did Florida's defense. I have to give Florida credit. They are a terrific team. I'm disappointed in how we played."

    Gators senior guard Mike Rosario led all scorers with 19 points, and junior center Patric Young added 11 and three rebounds.

    Florida coach Billy Donovan said one of his few disappointments was not getting the ball inside to Young more early in the game. Donovan said Georgia's zone defense hampered the effort.

    Freshman guard Michael Frazier of Tampa scored six points — two 3-pointers — off the bench.

    "Coach told us the preseason games, our nonconference schedule, that was just to prepare us for what's coming up now," Rosario said. "Coach stresses more than anything to us now we're playing for an SEC championship. So that's what we're really focusing on as a team and trying to be a consistent ball team every day."

    The Gators won despite dealing with injury problems. Senior forward Erik Murphy, for whom Prather started, has a broken left rib. He entered 2:19 into the game and scored 11 points in 18 minutes. Junior forward Will Yeguete was on the bench early icing his knee, which is hampered by tendinitis. He played 14 minutes, scoring no points.

    "Murphy and Yeguete are cleared to play," Donovan said, adding it's a matter of pain tolerance for both. "Both of these are tough guys."

    Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.


    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    TAMPA — Veteran NFL assistant Chuck Bresnahan has been named USF's new defensive coordinator by coach Willie Taggart, bringing 15 years of NFL experience to the Bulls.

    Bresnahan, 52, has coached with four NFL teams, most recently for one season as Raiders defensive coordinator in 2011. He was Jon Gruden's defensive coordinator in Oakland in 2000-01 and was on the losing end of the Raiders' Super Bowl loss to the Bucs in the 2002 season.

    "I couldn't be more excited about the talent and experience we've added to our defensive staff," Taggart said. "His ability to teach the game and mentor our players will be an asset to this football team, and I know he'll be a terrific recruiter."

    Two of his past three jobs were in the United Football League: two seasons with the Florida Tuskers and a month last fall with the Sacramento Mountain Lions before the league canceled its season. He was part of Georgia Tech's staff in 1990 when it won the national title in the coaches poll but hasn't coached at the college level since 1993.

    His connection to Taggart is through 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who recruited Taggart to Western Kentucky and had him on his staff at Stanford. Harbaugh was the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback in 1996-97 when Bresnahan coached the linebackers, then was the Raiders' QB coach in 2002-03 on the same staff as Bresnahan.

    Taggart interviewed former N.C. State coach and FSU assistant Chuck Amato last week, and reportedly offered the job to Stanford linebackers coach Lance Anderson, who opted to stay, citing family concerns.

    Clemson QB to stay

    CLEMSON, S.C. — ACC player of the year Tajh Boyd will return to Clemson for his senior season and forgo the NFL for now, the quarterback announced. "As explosive as we've been, there's more to attain," he said. "There's more out there for us." Among the others to announce they were staying in college were first-team All-America tackle Taylor Lewan of Michigan and Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum.

    'nole exits for NFL: FSU offensive lineman Menelik Watson is leaving for the draft. The junior college transfer was honorable mention All-ACC after starting 12 games at tackle.

    Ten Tigers leaving: LSU offensive lineman Chris Faulk, who missed nearly all of this past season with a knee injury, is leaving for the draft, his father told WWL-TV in New Orleans, making it 10 Tigers who will forgo their senior year. Among others opting to leave: Eastern Washington receiver Brandon Kaufman, a two-time All-American; his teammate, quarterback Kyle Padron; All-SEC offensive lineman D.J. Fluker of Alabama; and Oklahoma linebacker Tom Wort. Tennessee officially announced its four who are leaving: quarterback Tyler Bray, defensive end Darrington Sentimore and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.

    Cornerback picks Gators: Dixie County's Duke Dawson, a four-star-rated cornerback, orally committed to the Gators' class of 2014, taking them over the Seminoles, his only other scholarship offer.

    Alabama: Colorado defensive coordinator Greg Brown was hired as secondary coach to replace Jeremy Pruitt, who left to become Florida State's defensive coordinator.

    Georgia Tech: Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof is moving to the same job under Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson.

    Syracuse: The school officially announced the hiring of defensive coordinator Scott Shafer as its new coach.

    Information from Times wires was used in this report.


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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Maryland's 13-game winning streak was over, and coach Mark Turgeon paid homage to the player who victimized the Terrapins by scoring 15 straight points on dunks, follow shots, drives and free throws.

    "In the end they just had the best player tonight on the floor in Okaro White," Turgeon said. "We just had no answer for him."

    With the former Clearwater High standout leading the way, Florida State (10-5, 2-0 ACC) rallied to beat Maryland 65-62 Wednesday. FSU trailed by 12 with 18 minutes left before overtaking the Terrapins, who went 10-for-32 from the floor in the second half.

    White finished with 20 points, tying his career high. Michael Snaer scored 15 and Ian Miller added 12 for the Seminoles, who had lost eight in a row at Maryland (13-2, 1-1) since 2001.

    "The second half we were down in a hole, and I tried to get us out," White said.

    FSU got five points from Snaer in a 12-2 run that cut the deficit to 43-42 with 13 minutes left. After that, White took over. The 6-foot-8 junior dominated over a six-minute span, capping the surge with two free throws to make it 57-51.

    "You can tell he's grown as a player," Snaer said of White. "He didn't have a good first half, but in the second half he was really looking to score."

    The Terps were seeking to match the school-record winning streak of 14 games, set in 1931–32, but White was the difference.

    "When the game was on the line and we had to show toughness, we didn't have it," Turgeon said. "I think it was 51-all and they got offensive rebound after offensive rebound, mostly him."


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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    LAWRENCE, Kan. — Ben McLemore came around a screen set by Travis Releford, took a pass from Elijah Johnson then let a 3-pointer rip from well beyond the arc as the final seconds ticked away.

    As soon as it left his hand, McLemore dutifully yelled, "Bank!"

    It would have counted even if he hadn't.

    The shot banked off the glass and went through, pulling sixth-ranked Kansas into a tie with Iowa State with a second left in regulation. Their game Wednesday night went to overtime, and the Jayhawks scored the first nine to wrap up a 97-89 victory.

    "The way it left my hand, I knew it was going to hit the backboard," said McLemore, who finished with a career-high 33 points — and was apparently wise enough to call his dramatic shot off the glass, just in case anybody wanted to argue it was a lucky make.

    Including his own coach, Bill Self.

    "We executed perfectly," Self said. "Travis set a great screen, and Ben was fortunate, because he didn't call glass, I'm sure."

    McLemore ended up 10-of-12 from the field and was perfect on six 3-pointers for the Jayhawks (13-1, 1-0), who have won 12 straight as they pursue a ninth consecutive Big 12 title.

    A Gophers statement

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Joe Coleman scored 29 and Andre Hollins added 22 to help No. 8 Minnesota top No. 12 Illinois 84-67.

    The Gophers (15-1, 3-0 Big Ten) held off an Illini charge midway through the second half. Joseph Bertrand pulled Illinois within at 44-42 on a short jumper with 12:37 left. But the physical matchup took its toll on the Illini (14-3, 1-2).

    NO. 2 MICHIGAN 62, NEB. 47: Glenn Robinson III had 14 points, including two crucial dunks in the second half, and the host Wolverines (16-0, 3-0 Big Ten) overcame 39 percent shooting to equal the 1985-86 squad for their best start in program history.

    NO. 3 L'VILLE 73, SETON HALL 58: Gorgui Dieng had season highs of 16 points and 14 rebounds to lead the visiting Cardinals (14-1, 2-0 Big East) to their ninth straight win.

    NO. 7 SYRACUSE 72, PROVIDENCE 66: C.J. Fair had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the visiting Orange (15-1, 3-0 Big East), which rallied from a nine-point first-half deficit.

    NO. 14 BUTLER 72, ST. JOSEPH'S 66: Rotnei Clarke scored 28 and Andrew Smith had 24 points and 10 rebounds for the visiting Bulldogs (13-2), who won their 10th straight in their Atlantic 10 debut.

    NO. 20 N.C. STATE 83, GA. TECH 70: Lorenzo Brown had 21 points and 10 assists for the host Wolfpack (13-2, 2-0 ACC), which pulled away late to win its ninth straight.

    NO. 23 WICHITA ST. 82, SIU 76: Cleanthony Early scored 39, most by a Wichita State player since Xavier McDaniel had 44 in 1985, to lift the host Shockers (15-1, 4-0 Missouri Valley).

    NO. 25 NEW MEXICO 65, NO. 24 UNLV 60: Alex Kirk had 23 points and nine rebounds as the host Lobos (14-2) held off the Runnin' Rebels (13-3) in a Mountain West opener for both.

    UCF 64, UAB 48: Keith Clanton had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the host Knights (11-4), who won for the fifth time in their past six games in their Conference USA opener.

    ECKERD 73, TAMPA 70: Darrien Mack had 20 points and eight rebounds for the host Tritons (7-3, 1-2 Sunshine State), who erased a 10-point second-half lead by the Spartans (12-2, 0-2) with a closing 16-3 run.

    SAINT LEO 71, FLA. SOUTHERN 63: Trent Thomas tied his season high with 28 points as the host Lions (9-2, 2-0 SSC) won their seventh straight.

    NO. 10 MISSOURI: Senior forward Laurence Bowers, the team's scoring leader, has a sprained MCL in his right knee and is expected to miss at least two games.

    NORTH CAROLINA: Junior guard Leslie McDonald is uncertain to play tonight against Miami because of a right knee injury.

    Women

    NO. 1 BAYLOR 67, NO. 25 IOWA ST. 39: Brittney Griner scored the game's first five and finished with 23 points as the host Bears (13-1, 3-0 Big 12) won their conference record 25th straight league game. The Cyclones (11-2, 2-1) had 24 turnovers.

    NO. 3 UCONN 75, G'TOWN 48: Kelly Faris scored 15 as the visiting Huskies (13-1, 1-1 Big East) rebounded from a rare conference-opening loss.

    NO. 16 OKLAHOMA 85, TCU 79: Morgan Hook had a three-point play with 1:33 left that put the visiting Sooners (13-2, 3-0 Big 12) ahead to stay.

    ECKERD 63, TAMPA 53: Annie Armstrong had 26 points for the host Tritons (5-5, 2-1 Sunshine State), who outrebounded the Spartans (10-1, 1-1) 39-22.

    SAINT LEO 56, FLA. SOUTHERN 46: Keishara Green had a season-high 11 points to lead the host Lions (7-6, 2-1 SSC).


    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    TAMPA — Rebounding has been and will likely be a problem for USF men's basketball this season, and the lack of physical post play was glaring in Wednesday's 61-53 loss to Villanova, which dropped the Bulls to 0-2 in Big East play.

    "Villanova's bigs dominated the game tonight. We just didn't have an answer," coach Stan Heath said after his team was outrebounded 26-15 in the first half. "They scored inside. They rebounded. They got second shots, third shots. We didn't have an answer against that size and strength they had."

    USF (9-5) now must go to No. 3 Louisville on Saturday afternoon then visit Rutgers on Jan. 17, facing the possibility of an 0-4 conference start. The Bulls were outscored 30-14 in the post Wednesday and 17-2 on second-chance points, with Villanova's Mouphtaou Yarou going for 16 points and 13 rebounds. No USF player mustered more than five boards.

    "We have been a good rebounding team. It has been a strength for us. We were hoping we could establish that early, and we did," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "That was important for us."

    Playing before an announced crowd of 5,014, the Bulls fell behind 34-17 late in the first half after a 14-2 Villanova run in which the Bulls went 1-for-9 from the field with three turnovers.

    USF was unable to get closer than eight points, as Villanova (11-4, 2-0) hit enough shots to keep the Bulls from making any sustained runs in the second half.

    "We gave the game away in the first half. Down 14, it's tough to come back from that, against any team in our league," said forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, held to 10 points and three rebounds. "We have to come ready to play from the beginning, and we didn't do that."

    USF's top scorer, forward Victor Rudd, didn't hit a field goal until 7:04 was left in the game, finishing with 12 points; point guard Anthony Collins had 11 points but just four assists, half his season average.

    USF lost only two home games all of last season, but the Bulls have now dropped four games in the renovated Sun Dome, unable to find the same home magic they had during last year's NCAA Tournament run. Heath said if his team is to compete in the Big East, it has to come out with an energy that wasn't there in Wednesday night's loss.

    "I thought the game was decided in the first part of the game. They set the tone early, with the inside game, rebounding and scoring inside," Heath said. "That difference, that 10 or 12 points, we never really recovered."

    Times writer Greg Auman can be reached at auman@tampabay.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.


    OCTAVIO JONES   |   TimesOCTAVIO JONES | Times

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    GAINESVILLE — Former Florida running back/return specialist Chris Rainey was dismissed from the team by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday hours after he was arrested in Gainesville on a charge of simple battery.

    According to a report from the Gainesville Police Department Rainey, who played for the Gators from 2008-11, and the alleged victim were in an argument over Rainey's cell phone when the woman entered the vehicle of Rainey's roommate, and he began to confront her on the passenger side of the vehicle. He eventually began pulling her out of the vehicle.

    Witnesses told police they observed Rainey slap the victim across the face with an open hand. Both Rainey and the female victim then fell to the ground. The victim was able to run away, according to the report, but Rainey chased after her because his cell phone was in a bag the alleged victim was carrying. Rainey grabbed the bag, and they both fell to the ground again. Neither Rainey nor the woman suffered visible injuries, according to police. Multiple witnesses confirmed the incident, according to the police report.

    The report says Rainey admitted to officers that he tried to grab the purse, but denied slapping the woman, whom he has been dating for about nine months. He remained in the Alachua County Jail on Thursday awaiting first appearance Firday morning.

    Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement: "Chris Rainey's actions this morning were extremely disappointing. "Under the circumstances and due to this conduct, Chris will no longer be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers."

    Rainey was arrested once during his time with the Gators after he texted his then-sometimes girlfriend angry messages including "Time To Die." The woman did not want to press charges and he later accepted deferred prosecution for misdemeanor stalking. He was suspended five games that season.

    Rainey graduated from Florida in December 2011 and was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft. He was predominantly a special teams player with the Steelers, returning 39 kicks for 1,035 yards.

    Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.


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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    BRANDON — There won't be official word from the team or league until the players ratify the collective bargaining agreement. But the Lightning will open its lockout-shortened 48-game season Jan. 19 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum against the Capitals.

    "That will be great," Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos said. "It's a great test for us. It's a team we're going to have to battle with if we're going to make the playoffs. We might as well get them in front of our home fans."

    Game time was to be announced, and the entire schedule is not expected to be released until after the union vote on the labor deal ends at 8 a.m. Saturday. The team hopes to have tickets on sale by Monday, with a presale Sunday for season-ticket holders and those attending the start of training camp.

    Still, word the Lightning will open at home against a heated Southeast Division rival sparked emotions.

    "The last few years, we've built a rivalry with them," center Nate Thompson said. "It feels like we're always pretty close in the standings and fighting for points against each other. To be able to open against them is great for us and great for the fans."

    Said Stamkos: "Hopefully, it will be a rockin' building and we can feed off that energy."


    DIRK SHADD   |   TimesDIRK SHADD | Times

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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    BRANDON — Anders Lindback's precamp debut was a short one, as the Lightning goaltender on Thursday took only a few shots before leaving the ice to work out in the gym.

    Seeing him later with a small bandage on his right knee prompted even more questions about his readiness for Sunday's opening of training camp.

    "Everything is well," Lindback said. "I haven't been on the ice for a while, so I want to get into it a little slowly."

    Lindback, 24, was hurt Dec. 18 when hit by a puck while practicing with Ilves Tampere in Tampere, Finland, where he played during the lockout.

    The cut required six stitches, which were removed Dec. 28.

    "We're just being a little cautious," Lindback said, adding the knee has no pain or limitations. "I'm just going to take it really slowly now and make sure everything is in place to be able to play as soon as possible."

    He was expected to skate today. For how long? We'll see.

    TRAINING CAMP: The Lightning will skate Sunday and Monday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, then move to Germain Arena in Estero for workouts Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Camp ends with a Jan. 18 practice at the Times Forum.

    Practices are free and open to the public. Times have not been announced. Activities include a FanFest-type event Sunday and a Jan. 18 autograph session and free lunch, courtesy of the team.

    The decision to move camp to Estero — home of Tampa Bay's ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades — is not without worry it will alienate fans grumpy over the 113-day lockout. But W Marty St. Louis said a short camp heightens the need for team bonding and called the move "the right thing to do."

    "We're trying to do what's best for the team to get as much success as early on as we can," St. Louis said. "That's one way to give back to the fans, getting wins. At the end of the day, I think they'll understand that."

    ODDS AND ENDS: F Kyle Wilson, the last non minor-leaguer not in Brandon, was expected to skate today. … GM Steve Yzerman said fewer than 30 players will be in camp.


    DIRK SHADD   |   TimesDIRK SHADD | Times

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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    BRANDON — There might be a time, Lightning right wing B.J. Crombeen said, he will have to inject himself with insulin during a game or after a practice.

    When he does, it will be in his stomach, thigh or, as he said, "anywhere there is a bit of fat."

    But Crombeen, who has Type I diabetes, won't retreat to the training room or bathroom. He will inject himself while sitting at his dressing stall.

    "I don't want to offend anyone or gross anyone out," he said Thursday at the Ice Sports Forum. "But it's something I've always tried to be out and open about and not hide it."

    Crombeen, 27, diagnosed when he was 9, said he never has had a dangerous diabetic incident during a game or practice. But with training camp, which opens Sunday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, expected to be an intense seven days before the Jan. 19 opener, precautions must be taken.

    So each day, Crombeen, like he does on any practice or game day, will check his blood sugar level 15 to 20 times.

    "It's not like we have to check with him every day and say, 'What's your level?' " head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said. "As someone who has dealt with it as long as he has, he knows what to look for. It's more self-managing for him. For us, it's important just to be aware."

    As of 2010, 285 million people worldwide had diabetes, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Those with it do not get enough insulin from the pancreas to move sugar from the blood into the body's cells, where it is converted to energy.

    Instead, the sugar stays in the blood, where it can cause short-term problems such as blurred vision and stupor. Long-term issues include blindness, nerve damage and kidney disease.

    To prevent an attack, Crombeen, son of former Blues player Mike Crombeen, takes three to five insulin shots a day. During games, he checks his blood sugar at least once between periods. The real trick, he said, is balancing his intake of carbohydrates and sugar, which he needs as a pro athlete, with his insulin injections.

    "You really have a set routine of what you're eating and when you're eating, when you're testing your blood," said Crombeen, whom the Lightning acquired from St. Louis in July. "I've gotten into a pretty good routine where I'm pretty structured."

    That includes a bowl of oatmeal and a smoothie in the morning, "so I know exactly how many carbs I'm getting," he said.

    "I'm getting good energy, but I know how much insulin I need to counterbalance it with. You can have days when it goes out of whack and you don't know why. That's why you have to check it so often and stay on top of it."

    There is no ready list of NHL players with diabetes. The most famous was Flyers great Bobby Clarke, whom Crombeen called an inspiration.

    Lightning prospect Cory Conacher, at AHL Syracuse, also has Type I diabetes. But while he uses an insulin pump strapped to his hip, Crombeen is "old school" and prefers to use a needle.

    "As long as you're willing to take the time to manage it and check your blood and watch what you're eating, it becomes a way of life," he said.

    As for the potential Crombeen will shoot up in the locker room, center Nate Thompson whose stall at the Ice Sports Forum is next to Crombeen's said, "Whatever he has to do to get ready."


    DIRK SHADD   |   TimesDIRK SHADD | Times

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    By Gary Shelton, Times Sports Columnist
    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    It is Peyton's game now. Unless, of course, it is Tom's.

    Aaron may have something to say about that. Matt may have something to show.

    This is the time of quarterbacks. The NFL is down to its Elite Eight, and it is time for one of the league's golden boys to take over. It is time for someone to lead the charge, to convince the critics and to enhance his legacy.

    In the NFL, this is how the playoffs work. You can spend weeks debating coaches and defenses. You can spend months admiring running backs and receivers. Then the postseason kicks in, and it's all about the passers. Everyone else is either a supporting actor or a backup singer.

    This year the postseason will belong to a champion: Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.

    Or perhaps it will belong to a veteran trying to establish himself as something more than ordinary: Matt Ryan or Matt Schaub or Joe Flacco.

    Or perhaps, it will belong to one of the kids: Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick.

    Just an observation here, but the better the quarterback, the better his team's odds.

    Oh, teams haven't always had to have a great quarterback to win a Super Bowl. There for a while, an excellent team could carry an average quarterback all the way to the title. The Giants won with Jeff Hostetler, and the Ravens won with Trent Dilfer, and the Bucs won with Brad Johnson, and the Redskins won with Mark Rypien.

    Lately, however, quarterbacks have re-established themselves. It has been 10 years since a team has won a Super Bowl with an average quarterback. Over that decade, Brady has won two of his titles, and Eli Manning both of his, and Ben Roethlisberger both of his. Also, Peyton won his, and Drew Brees won his, and Rodgers won his.

    In other words, coaches might as well back their safeties up.

    Given the pedigrees of Peyton Manning, Brady and Rodgers — together they have won the past five MVPs and seven of the past nine — you might suggest they have little left to prove. Alas, that isn't the case. In the NFL there is always more proving to do.

    Start with Peyton. He has been one of history's best quarterbacks, but the playoffs have never been particularly kind to him. He is 9-10 as a starter in the postseason, and he has only one Super Bowl ring. His postseason quarterback rating is 88.4, roughly seven points less than his regular season rating.

    This season could be different. After four neck surgeries, and after some critics doubted how effective he could be earlier this season, Peyton seems to be enjoying one of those "I told you so'' seasons. It has to help, too, that Denver's defense is the highest rated left in the playoffs.

    Over the years, Brady's postseason performance has been better than Peyton's, but not so much lately. Brady won his first 10 playoff games for the Patriots, but he's 6-6 in his past 12. That includes two losses to the Giants in his past two Super Bowls.

    It has now been seven seasons since Brady won a title. When you consider the Patriot defense (ranked 25th), Brady is going to have to be spectacular for his team to win this season. The good news? Brady is spectacular fairly often.

    Rodgers? He's won six of his eight career playoff games, and his rating (105.3) is as stellar as his regular-season one. Still, he's won only one Super Bowl.

    Then there is Ryan, who has lost all three of his playoff games. If the Falcons don't make it to at least the NFC championship game, you're going to hear a lot of questions about whether Ryan can win the big one.

    Flacco has heard that already. His team has won six of the 10 playoff games in which he has started, but the Ravens have always been seen as a defensive team. This season that isn't the case (they're 17th), which means Flacco will have to be very good to give the Ravens a chance.

    You can say the same for Schaub, who played his first playoff game last weekend. Now Sunday he has to go into New England, where the weather isn't very good. On the other hand, neither is the Patriots defense.

    It should be somewhat easier for Wilson and the Seahawks. Wilson has a knack for the playing the game. Still, he's only a rookie. Winning on the road against Atlanta on Sunday will be a lot to ask.

    Wilson isn't the least experienced quarterback standing, however. San Francisco's Kaepernick started only seven games this year. Kaepernick's legs give the 49ers an extra dimension, but again, has he played enough football to give the Packers a run Saturday?

    We'll see.

    Again, they all have something to prove. Quarterbacks always do. They either haven't won lately, or they haven't won enough, or they haven't been spectacular along the way.

    That's the NFL. It's all about doubts, and this time of year, it's all about dispelling them.

    Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at 98.7-FM the Fan.


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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    The Falcons are well-aware of your suspicions.

    They know you're underwhelmed by their 0-3 postseason record under fifth-year coach Mike Smith. They know you're rather unimpressed by a .700 regular-season winning percentage (56-24) under Smith that has resulted in nothing in the postseason. They even know you might not think much of their prospects for winning in this season's playoffs.

    And you know what? The Falcons mostly agree with you.

    "That's human nature," said 16-year tight end Tony Gonzalez, who has been with Atlanta for two of the playoff losses. "(For) reporters, media, the public, that's what matters: winning in the postseason. I get it. Part of me says, 'Yeah, you're right.'

    "We have to go out there and make sure we don't let what happened before happen again."

    As the Falcons enter Sunday's NFC division-round game against the Seahawks, they face questions about their ability to finally break through in the playoffs. Rarely has a 13-3 regular-season record and No. 1 seed meant so little in the eyes of the masses; mostly because Atlanta has done so little to inspire belief.

    But players and coaches insist this season is different. It sure doesn't look different; not with the same key players in place. Even their outstanding record is familiar: They finished 13-3 and were the No. 1 seed in 2010 before losing at home to the Packers in their first playoff game.

    But something important has changed, players say: attitude.

    Whether as a result of pressure or impatience, winning in the regular season was not seen as the standard in the Falcons locker room. The entire season has been focused on a single goal: winning the Super Bowl.

    "This is what you work for," quarterback Matt Ryan told Atlanta reporters this week. "You put in all the time that you put in during the offseason, during training camp, during (offseason workouts), during minicamp to try and give yourself an opportunity to be playing at this time of year."

    But playing at this time of year is not the same as winning at this time of year. And given the 102-47 combined deficit in the Falcons' three playoff disappointments under Smith, what's to say this year's outcome will change?

    Actually, those losses might play a role in a potential playoff run. The core players who will be counted on Sunday suffered through those defeats and have grown into hungry, experienced veterans.

    "We're just a better team," Gonzalez said. "It's pretty much the same offense that's been around here for a while, except I think guys are really coming into their own as football players. A guy like Matt Ryan, for instance, is playing the best football that I've ever seen him play.

    "(Receiver) Julio Jones, in his second year, he's become a better football player. If you look at defense, guys are hitting Year 3, 4 and 5, which is when you really start to become the football player you're capable of being. Guys like (safety) Thomas DeCoud, (safety) William Moore, (linebacker Sean) Weatherspoon in the middle. All these guys are starting to peak as players, and it's making our football team better."

    Ryan posted career highs in passing yards and completion percentage. And the defense's 18.7 points allowed per game are 3.2 fewer than last season. But again, all that relates to the regular season, which doesn't mean much when you're talking about the Falcons.

    "We've had success, but our success measurement isn't the same," Gonzalez said. "It doesn't mean having a great regular season. It doesn't mean getting to the playoffs. It means going to the playoffs and having some success and going through the playoffs, getting to the big game. We have to go out there and make it happen, and then people will change their minds.

    "We have to go out there and win."


    Getty Images (2012)Getty Images (2012)

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    By Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors/Fitness Editor
    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    Making news

    Approval of GAG Grouper rules near

    Gulf anglers will get the final word on the 2013 gag grouper season next month when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meets in Orlando. If approved, gag grouper season would open July 1 in all state waters of the Gulf of Mexico except Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor counties. The state season will close when the federal season closes, but that date will not be determined until this spring. The federal season closes when the annual catch target is met, which will likely be mid November or early December. The proposed final rule would also set the season for gag grouper in Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor counties, including Indian Pass, Apalachicola Bay, and the Steinhatchee River, from April 1 through June 30.

    Hiking

    Read a compass

    Remember, hikers, smartphones and GPS units can fail in the field, but a compass will always tell you which direction is north. Learn the basics of map and compass land navigation at a seminar from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure (9501 U.S. 19) in Pinellas Park. The cost is $25. Call (727) 576-4169 to reserve a spot in the class.

    Conservation

    Put shine on lake

    The 9th annual Mirror Lake Cleanup needs volunteers from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. The city of St. Petersburg will provide trash bags, pickers, trucks, a boat and gloves. The Mirror Lake Lyceum (737 3rd Ave. N) will provide drinks and hot dogs on a first-come, first-serve basis until supplies run out. No registration required.

    Looking ahead

    RV show to arrive

    The 28th annual Florida RV SuperShow will run from Wednesday to Jan. 20 at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. Admission is $10 for adults; children under 16 are free. The hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Jan. 19 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 20. For information, call (813) 741-0488 or visit frvta.org.

    Send outdoors news to Terry Tomalin at ttomalin@tampabay.com or call (727) 893-8808.

    Solunar chart

    AM PM

    Minor Major Minor Major

    1/11 4:40 10:45 4:55 11:15

    1/12 5:30 11:50 6:00 0

    1/13 6:35 12:20 7:05 12:50

    1/14 7:30 1:20 8:00 1:45

    1/15 8:25 2:15 8:55 2:40

    1/16 9:15 3:05 9:45 3:30

    1/17 10:05 3:55 10:35 4:20


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    By Tim Whitfield, Times Correspondent
    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    What's hot: The best bite of late has been redfish in shallow water. Fishing scattered mullet with search baits such as gold spoons and soft-plastic shad tails has produced redfish in the low to upper slot range. The redfish slot limit is 18 to 27 inches. This time of year a shallow draft boat is a plus. If that is not an option, wading works as well and can allow for a silent approach to wary redfish.

    What else: Mixed in with the redfish have been bruiser trout. They are striking topwater plugs worked in the walk-the-dog fashion as the sun is breaching the horizon. As the sun gets higher, switch to a soft-plastic jerk worm and work the edges of the mullet schools. This has produced several big trout. But fight them gingerly as their mouths have soft tissue. Revive them quickly and handle the trout as little as possible.

    One more: Sheepshead are pushing their way up into the bay with lots of juveniles heading into the creeks. The residential canals are holding some nice fish. Look for them grinding on a piling, circle back and chum with small pieces of shrimp, then send one out on a hook. The trick to catching sheepshead is to hook these soft nibblers before they pick the hook clean of shrimp.

    Tim Whitfield can be reached at (813) 714-0889 or tim@swiftfishcharters.com.


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    By Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors/Fitness Editor
    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    I'm always up for an adventure. To quote the late Frank Zappa, "Anything, anytime, anyplace, for no reason at all."

    So when my editor suggested I register for the 2013 Python Challenge, I couldn't say no. The monthlong event, open to the public, targets the Burmese python, an invasive species that poses a threat to the state's native wildlife.

    The hunt begins at 1 p.m. Saturday and runs through Feb. 10. The state will pay $1,000 to the hunter who bags the longest python; $1,500 to the hunter who kills the most pythons.

    It costs $25 to enter and snake hunters must take a 45-minute online class before they are granted the special python permit. The instruction is fairly basic: primarily how to distinguish a Burmese python from native species, and what to do with the carcass. The instruction on how to kill the snake is thorough. Hunters are told to dispatch the python "humanely" with a firearm, machete or "captive bolt pistol," a device commonly used to euthanize cattle.

    But advice on how to subdue the snake is minimal. These nonvenomous predators have sharp teeth and they typically bite their prey with viselike jaws before encircling it with their long, muscled bodies. I wondered what to do if the human hunter suddenly becomes the hunted.

    The special license is valid on any of four designated state wildlife management areas — Everglades and Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land, Rotenberger and Big Cypress — all of which are located in South Florida, where these snakes have established a foothold.

    I must admit that I had mixed emotions when I first heard about this program. Generally speaking, I like snakes, as they play a vital role in the ecosystem and people often kill them without thinking of the environmental consequences.

    Burmese pythons, however, are not an indigenous species. Many were accidentally released into the wild decades ago. Others were let loose intentionally by owners.

    There are thousands of these snakes — some more than 17 feet long — living on the state's public lands. As a result, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issues special permits to licensed hunters who help remove the snakes on a year-round basis. But this ongoing removal program has not done enough to protect native wildlife from these snakes. These pythons prey on native species of mammals, birds and other reptiles, as well as other nonnative species. That's why the FWC is enticing more hunters to help turn the tide.

    I had other misgivings about joining this hunt. I've always lived by the rule that an ethical hunter only kills what he can eat. Pythons are not considered particularly good table fare, at least here in Florida. Most of the snakes in question are found in the Everglades, and tests have proved that their meat contains unsafe levels of mercury. So you really can't eat them. But then again, you can't let them continue to reproduce and throw off nature's balance.

    To tell you the truth, I'm also a little scared. I once saw a big snake in the Amazon and made a mental note to stay as far away as possible from those creatures. And to "capture" and "dispatch" a Burmese python, you can't help but get up close and personal.

    These constrictor snakes, native to India, China and the Malay Peninsula, can grow to be 26 feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds. But while the Burmese python may be one of the biggest snakes in the world, most specimens in Florida average 6 to 9 feet.

    Pythons like the water, but they are also excellent climbers. Residents of South Florida often see the large snakes crossing roads, especially after the sun has gone down. While Burmese pythons have been popular as pets, they are currently listed as a "conditional species" in Florida and can no longer be bought or sold. They are also listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an Injurious Species under the Lacey Act, which means they cannot be imported into the United States or transported across state lines.

    During cooler months, Burmese pythons can be found on levees that run along many of the canals. After a cold night, the snakes often lay on the land, soaking up the morning sun.

    Spotting one may be easy. But catching and killing one … now that's a different story.

    To learn more, go to pythonchal lenge.org.


    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation CommissionFlorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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    Times wires
    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. — David Akers is keeping his job as San Francisco's kicker, for now.

    Akers will start ahead of recently signed Billy Cundiff on Saturday against the Packers, coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday. "Suffice it to say, we feel confident in David giving us the best chance to win," he said.

    Akers, 38, a 15-year veteran, is 29-of-42 on field goal tries this season. In two overtime games against the Rams, he missed once in each extra session, and the 49ers tied and lost. He said last week he had double hernia surgery in February.

    Cundiff, who last season missed a 32-yard field goal try for Baltimore that would have tied the AFC title game with the Patriots in the final minute, will stay on the roster but likely be inactive.

    "Everybody has respect for what Dave is about," 49ers QB Alex Smith said. "He's … gone through a rough patch. Happy to see him win the competition. I hope it gets him back on track."

    More 49ers: DE Justin Smith, out since partially tearing his left triceps Dec. 16, practiced for the second straight day and remained on track to play.

    Packers: WR Jordy Nelson and WR Randall Cobb returned to practice. Nelson has a recurring knee injury, but coach Mike McCarthy said he "looked pretty good." Cobb has the flu. He was limited but was expected to play. … WR Jarrett Boykin will miss his second straight game because of an ankle injury sustained during the regular-season finale against the Vikings.

    Falcons: TE Tony Gonzalez has no intention of pulling a Ray Lewis before retirement. He won't line up with the offense for the final play. He won't do anything resembling the retiring Baltimore linebacker's dance. "You don't want to see me dance," Gonzalez said, chuckling. "That's not a pretty thing. Trust me." Gonzalez, 36, said he remains 95 percent certain this will be his last season and last shot at a Super Bowl title. The Falcons face the Seahawks on Sunday. "There is no tomorrow," he said. "There is no saying, 'We'll get 'em next year.' It's about going out there and trying to finish on the right note."

    Seahawks: Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner combined for 11 interceptions in the regular season and helped shut down the Redskins and QB Robert Griffin III in a wild-card game last weekend. But they know they have a tougher task Sunday in Atlanta receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. "They're probably the top tandem out there," Sherman said. "Roddy is more crafty of a route runner. He uses different tricks and things. You can see he's a veteran when he's route running. Julio runs hard routes and plays the game more physical. He's stronger in his routes. He uses his body more."


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