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Year in review: Month-by-month look at memorable 2012 sports stories


By Tom Jones, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 25, 2012

January One year after leading the Bucs to their biggest season-to-season wins turnaround in club history, Raheem Morris was fired as coach on Jan. 2. He went 17-31, losing 10 straight to end the 2011 season. After a 24-day search, the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, and GM Mark Dominik hired Rutgers coach Greg Schiano as a serious, hands-on coach who knows how to make repairs. "We liked his leadership, his structure, his organization, and he's a football guy through and through," Dominik said. Schiano, above, won his debut game, against Carolina, but is 6-9 and on a five-game losing streak heading into Sunday's finale.

February In another down-to-the-wire classic, the Giants captured Super Bowl XLVI thanks to the poise of quarterback Eli Manning, above, and a strange final-minute touchdown by running back Ahmad Bradshaw that provided a 21-17 victory. Bradshaw's 6-yard touchdown run with 57 seconds left capped another remarkable Manning rally, this one an 88-yard scoring drive on his final series. Manning's magic came four years and two days after he led a similarly clutch championship-winning 83-yard march to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. In both instances, Manning was named the game's MVP.

March USF's men's basketball team made a long-awaited piece of history with the program's first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years. "It's an exciting day for our program, our university, our community," said coach Stan Heath. We're excited to be a part of the field of 68." The Bulls matched a school record with 22 wins and earned the program's first NCAA Tournament victories, 65-54 over California and 58-44 against Temple. The Bulls lost in the third round, 62-56 to Ohio.

April In the Lightning's season finale at Winnipeg, Steven Stamkos scored his 60th goal of the season, the 20th NHL player to reach the milestone. The goal 3:29 into the third period made Stamkos the second player in 15 seasons to reach 60 and the first since Washington's Alex Ovechkin had 65 in 2007-08. Finishing with 60, Stamkos led the league by 10 over Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin. His 48 even-strength goals led the league, too. His 12 winners tied for the lead, and his 97 points were a career high. "It was incredible," he said. "To (get No. 60) in Canada and have them give me an ovation like that. It was amazing."

June The Decision is final: LeBron James made the right call taking his talents to South Beach. James (No. 6, above) had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in leading the Heat in a 121-106 rout of the Thunder in Game 5 to win the NBA title, and he was named Finals MVP. "Happiest day of my life. It means everything," he said. He left Game 5 with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for good with 3:01 remaining for the start of a celebration he had been waiting for since arriving out of high school as the Cavaliers' No. 1 overall pick in 2003.

july Rays pitcher David Price was named to the American League All-Star team for the July 10 game in Kansas City. Price, a three-time All-Star, worked a perfect third inning, needing only seven pitches to retire Cincinnati's Joey Votto, St. Louis' Carlos Beltran and San Francisco's Buster Posey. "That might be my best inning of the year so far," Price said, beaming. He finished the season leading the league with a 2.56 ERA and sharing the top spot with 20 wins. And in November, he became the first Rays player to win the prestigious Cy Young Award.

May Dan Wheldon, an IndyCar fan favorite before his death in an October 2011 race in Las Vegas, was honored at the Indianapolis 500. Wheldon, left, who made his home in St. Petersburg, won the race in 2011 and 2005. "Dan embodied the spirit of the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway like few who have ever raced here," said Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. president and CEO. Dario Franchitti, the 2007 and 2010 Indy champion and a friend of Wheldon's, overcame a spin after his first pit stop that dropped him way down in the field, then won an exhilarating last-lap duel with Takuma Sato.

august The London Olympics were full of inspiring stories, but no athlete shone as brightly as U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas. She won the women's all-around gold medal with four exquisite error-free routines. Douglas, 16, became the first black gymnast to win the event. "It was nerve-wracking," she said. "Man, my heart was racing." Her victory marked the first time the United States won both the individual and team titles at the same Olympics.

September Ranked No. 4 at the time, Florida State, featuring running back Chris Thompson, above, charged into Tampa for a highly anticipated matchup against USF. The Seminoles have a history with the bay area. They entered 8-1 overall in Tampa but hadn't played in the city since 1979. FSU running back and former Plant High standout James Wilder couldn't hide his excitement at the chance to come home to play USF. "My teammates, they know it's my hometown. They know I have a lot of people down there," he said. USF got as close as 13-10 in the third quarter after a blocked punt, but FSU pulled away from there, getting out with a 30-17 victory before an announced crowd of 69,383 at Raymond James Stadium, a record for a USF game.

October After 10 years in the Rays organization, centerfielder B.J. Upton played his last home game with the Rays on Oct. 3. Upton, the longest-tenured Ray — he debuted in 2004 — teared up after receiving a standing ovation before his final at-bat, "Tried to hold it as long as I could," he said, "but I just couldn't." The 966 games he played for the Rays are second in franchise history (behind Carl Crawford's 1,235), and he is second in hits (910), runs (539), doubles (202) and steals (232). In November the Braves and Upton agreed to a five-year, $75.25 million contract.

November Throughout the 1990s, Florida-Florida State was among the premier college football rivalries in the nation. This year the rivalry between the then-No. 6 Gators and No. 10 Seminoles returned to national prominence. "It's an important game for the University of Florida. It's important for your state to win this football game," Gators coach Will Muschamp said of the rivalry. Florida forced a season-high five turnovers and scored 24 straight points in the fourth quarter for a 37-26 victory in front of 83,429 at Doak Campbell Stadium. Florida (11-1) ended a two-game losing streak to FSU (10-2) and moved to 1-5-1 at Doak Campbell when both were ranked in the Top 10.

December Willie Taggart, who left the Tampa Bay area to play and coach at Western Kentucky, was hired to be the next coach of USF football. Taggart is the third coach since the program's inception 16 seasons ago. The enthusiastic 36-year-old says he is committed to giving USF the kind of rapid ascent his career has taken. "I always said I wouldn't leave WKU unless I had a chance to go win a national championship. I truly believe that can get done here," Taggart said. He replaces Skip Holtz, who was fired after a 1-6 Big East record this season left him 5-16 in conference play during his three-year tenure.

Year in review: Tampa Bay's top 10 sports stories of 2012


By Tom Jones, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 25, 2012

We had big-time hirings. And major firings. We had awards and historic runs and record-setting milestones. We even had a championship.

The 2012 year in Tampa Bay sports featured all these things. As the year draws to a close, we look back at its top 10 local sports stories, counting backward from No. 10 to the story of the year.

10. Rowdies win championship

Okay, so this is not the same kick-in-the-grass Rowdies we remember from the real NASL in the 1970s and 1980s. And maybe it's not the best soccer league in the country, let alone the world. But the Rowdies of the modern-day NASL are our Rowdies. They play at Al Lang Field before small but passionate crowds. Led by all-star goalkeeper and Clearwater's own Jeff Attinella, the Rowdies knocked off Minnesota in the final to give the franchise its first championship since the old Rowdies in 1975.

9. Steven Stamkos scores 60 goals

A season after reaching the Eastern Conference final and coming within a game of the Stanley Cup final, the Lightning struggled in 2011-12 and missed the playoffs. But the season wasn't a total loss. Stamkos, the league's No. 1 overall draft choice in 2008, put together the first 60-goal season in franchise history and the first in the NHL since 2007-08. Stamkos notched his 60th goal on the last night of the regular season, getting a rousing ovation from the crowd in Winnipeg. He became the 20th player in NHL history to reach 60 goals.

8. USF hires Willie Taggart

From the moment the Bulls fired Skip Holtz as football coach, they went in search of just the right replacement. Some called for a veteran, such as Houston Nutt, Tommy Bowden or Butch Davis. In the end, the Bulls went the young route, choosing the 36-year-old Taggart. Not only had Taggart turned around his alma mater, Western Kentucky, but he has strong local ties. He is from Palmetto and was an all-state high school quarterback at national powerhouse Bradenton Manatee.

7. Rays trade James Shields

After missing the playoffs despite having one of the best pitching staffs in baseball history, the Rays made a blockbuster trade in early December. They acquired four prospects from the Royals, including 2012 minor-league player of the year Wil Myers. But in order to get them, the Rays parted with the winningest pitcher in franchise history. Besides that, Shields was the staff's leader because of his work ethic, bulldog approach and even his willingness to throw a punch. (Right, Coco Crisp?) Shields helped bridge the days from the sad-sack Devil Rays to the championship-contending Rays. Also of note is that the Rays' offseason has featured the signing of Evan Longoria to a $100 million contract extension.

6. USF basketball makes NCAA Tournament

Before last season, the Bulls had not made the NCAA Tournament since 1992, and they had never won a tournament game. But last season under Stan Heath, the Bulls slowly began putting together a resume to make the dance. They beat Villanova and then Pitt. Then they beat those teams again. They also knocked off Louisville and Cincinnati, and when the season came to a close, the Bulls had a 22-15 record, including an impressive 14-6 in the tough Big East. The Bulls weren't done. They won an NCAA play-in game, beating Cal. Next up, a victory over Temple. Finally, a tough six-point loss to Ohio in Round 3 ended the best basketball season in university history.

5. Rays miss playoffs

After making the postseason in three of the previous four seasons, the Rays seemed like a good bet to make the playoffs in 2012, especially with Major League Baseball adding an extra wild-card team in both leagues. But the Rays didn't make it, in large part due to an injury that kept their best player, Evan Longoria, out for half the season. A late-season rally had fans thinking the Rays had a miracle like 2011's left in them. The Rays ended up winning 90 games, and it wasn't until the next-to-last night of the season that they were eliminated from playoff contention.

4. Bucs fire Raheem Morris

Too young. Too buddy-buddy with his players. Too inexperienced as a coach. Those were the prevailing thoughts at the end of Morris' three-year run as coach of the Bucs. The Bucs once had high hopes for the young coach, hired at 32 to take over for Jon Gruden. A 10-6 season in 2010 nearly won him NFL coach of the year honors. A year later, a 10-game losing streak cost him his job. Amid rumors his team lacked discipline and leadership, Morris was dismissed Jan. 2 after compiling a 17-31 record in Tampa Bay.

3. USF fires Skip Holtz

When Holtz took over the USF football program in 2010, he figured to be the coach who took the Bulls from a nice little eight-win team to one that won Big East titles and — cross your fingers — competed for a national title someday. No one figured he would be fired after three seasons. Holtz went a respectable 8-5 in his first season, including a bowl win. But then came a 5-7 record, followed by this season's 3-9 debacle. USF won only two of its last 14 Big East games under Holtz. The 2012 season went so wrong that he was fired five months after being given a contract extension.

2. Bucs hire Greg Schiano

When we went to bed on Jan. 22, we were convinced University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly was going to be the next coach of the Bucs. This is after the Bucs considered such candidates as Mike Sherman and several NFL coordinators. But overnight on that Sunday into Monday, Kelly had a change of heart and decided to stay at Oregon. A few days later, on Jan. 26, the Bucs named longtime Rutgers coach Greg Schiano the ninth coach in franchise history. Almost immediately Schiano lived up to his hard-nosed reputation, bouncing players Kellen Winslow, Brian Price and Tanard Jackson. After he was traded, Winslow even mocked Schiano's "toes on the line, blowin' the whistle'' approach. Schiano's reputation as a college guy was amped up even more when the Giants took issue with the Bucs going after the ball instead of giving up on a kneel-down play at the end of a game. It might take years before we know if Schiano was the right pick, but his first year has been interesting.

And the local sports story of the year …

1. David Price wins AL Cy Young Award

One of the most prestigious awards in sports, which goes to the best pitcher in his league, went to the Rays southpaw in what turned out to be one of the closest Cy Young votes ever. Price, who also pitched in the All-Star Game for the American League, went 20-5, tying for the lead league in victories and becoming the first Rays pitcher to win 20 in a season. His 2.54 ERA led the AL. And the 27-year-old did all that despite playing for an offensively challenged team in the AL East, the best division in baseball. He easily could have won 22 or 23 games. Price's performance goes down as one of the best individual season performances in Tampa Bay history.

Raider wanted to hurt Newton


Times wires
Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly admitted he wanted to knock Panthers quarterback Cam Newton out of the game Sunday.

Oakland lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer to broken ribs and a bruised lung when Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy hit him in the back. Hardy was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Later, Newton kicked Kelly after being sacked by him. Kelly retaliated by pushing Newton, but only Kelly was called for a personal foul. "You don't ever want to see your quarterback get put out of the game," Kelly said. "So personally, we try to put their quarterback out. … You don't try to do anything illegal. But you see someone put your quarterback out, it kind of makes you want to put theirs out."

Report: Knee injury ends season of 49ers receiver

San Francisco receiver Mario Manningham will be out for the rest of this season and possibly part of next season with two torn ligaments in his left knee, espn.com reported.

Manningham, second on the team with 42 catches and third with 449 receiving yards, tore the anterior cruciate ligament and posterior cruciate ligament while being tackled Sunday. The injury likely means Randy Moss will see more snaps.

More 49ers: Tight end Vernon Davis is expected to play this week after sustaining a concussion Sunday.

Bengals: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, the 17th overall pick in April, went on season-ending injured reserve because of a knee injury. To take his roster spot, Cincinnati claimed former Ohio State star receiver Dane Sanzenbacher off waivers from the Bears.

Cowboys: Linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who has a team-high 11½ sacks, said he'll play this week despite a right shoulder injury that kept him out for most of the second half Sunday. The Cowboys must beat the Redskins to make the playoffs.

Eagles: Quarterback Michael Vick said he is excited to start but doesn't see it as an audition for next season. Vick hasn't played since sustaining a concussion against Dallas on Nov. 11. He has been cleared. But the Eagles went with rookie Nick Foles, who broke his hand Sunday. "My play and what I've done for this league and the accolades that I have speak for themselves," Vick said. "The thing I want to do is improve. Whatever happens next year happens. I'm just going to be a guy who, wherever I'm at, I'm going to make the team better."

Ravens: Receiver Anquan Boldin, who has a team-high 65 catches, is questionable for this week because of a bruised shoulder sustained when he dived for a ball Sunday.

Vikings: Starting cornerback Antoine Winfield likely will play this week despite breaking his hand Sunday, coach Leslie Frazier said. Frazier did not say which hand was broken or how the injury happened. The team makes the playoffs if it beats the Packers.

Obstacles don't lessen as Ochlockonee River adventure concludes


By Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors-Fitness Editor
Tuesday, December 25, 2012

MACK LANDING — The sign on the camp bulletin board contained a warning about black bears. Apparently, the opportunistic omnivores had a reputation for raiding campsites in search of food.

After 36 hours of hard paddling and portaging sea kayaks through the wilderness of the Apalachicola National Forest, the last thing I wanted to think about was a 300-pound mammal ripping my tent apart for a Snickers bar.

"Maybe we should store the food in the kayaks," Darry Jackson suggested.

"That would work," George Stovall responded. "But all it would take is one claw to rip the hatch right off."

Our first 42 miles on the Ochlockonee River had been much harder than we had anticipated. We had planned for a leisurely three-day float down this North Florida river, but instead we had had to claw and climb our way over and through more than a dozen logjams.

Now, battered and bruised, all I wanted to do was get a hot meal in my belly and a good five or six hours of sleep before getting up in the dark and paddling the final 20 or so miles downriver so I could get some raw oysters and a cold beer in Carrabelle.

The Ochlockonee, one of Florida's last great wilderness rivers, starts in Georgia and flows for more than 150 miles south through national and state forests to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Lower Ochlockonee, a designated state paddling trail, starts at a point on State Road 20 in the Panhandle and ends 65 miles downstream at Ochlockonee River State Park. The river is considered an "easy to moderate" paddle, ideal for "beginners," but my small crew of veteran watermen had found it challenging at best, and in some parts downright disheartening.

All I wanted to do was curl up in my sleeping bag and go to sleep. It took about 60 seconds for me to pass out, but three hours later I was rudely awakened by a large mammal creeping through the woods. Deer? Wild boar? Or perhaps something more dangerous?

"Dang!" I thought to myself. "Did I leave a PowerBar in my dry bag?"

So I vaulted out of the tent in my boxer shorts, armed with a Swiss Army knife and a head lamp, and prepared to confront the intruder.

I scanned the woods with my light and stopped on a pair of beady eyes staring back through the palmettos. Raccoon!

So I climbed back into the tent and apparently began snoring like a bear, which, according to my campmates, made for a rather restless night's sleep for them.

"It's amazing what a few hours of shuteye and a hot cup of coffee will do for the human spirit," I proclaimed to my companions as we slid our kayaks onto the dark river a few hours later. My youthful exuberance was met with a stony silence.

At 6 a.m., the river was still cloaked in darkness. Along the banks our headlights picked up the glow of alligator eyes tracking the strange shapes gliding across the water.

Paddling at night would not have been possible upriver with all the stumps and snags, but here in open water, the only thing we had to worry about was keeping to the main channel, which presented a problem a few minutes later when we were given the option of going left or right.

A distant GPS coordinate offered some direction, but a half-hour later, the river narrowed and the current slowed. We plowed on through the gray light of dawn until a downed tree blocked our path.

"The GPS says there is a campsite on the river about 100 yards that way," Jackson said, pointing into a gloomy-looking cypress swamp.

We followed Jackson's lead and eventually found ourselves at a ramp that led to a clearing with a few rundown campers and old pickup trucks. A dog started barking as we wandered around looking for a sign that would tell us where we were.

"Let's get out of here before we hear banjo music," I told my friends. So we climbed back into the kayaks and paddled back upriver until we found where we had made the wrong turn. A leaf floating on the current signaled the way downstream.

Once back on the main river, the morning went quickly. We surprised a mother bear and her cub hiding in a tree, and a few hours later a 100-pound sturgeon launched through the air and landed about 5 feet from my boat. I imagined paddling all those miles only to be knocked out by a fish.

The take-out at Womack Creek was a welcome sight. A warm shower felt good after 48 hours on the water. Now all I needed was some food and drink.

So we headed for Carrabelle, a classic old Florida fishing town, and found a cool little mom-and-pop place to eat.

"May I please have some oysters and a beer," I asked the waiter.

"Sorry, honey," she said. "We're all out."

Late shot in OT beats Miami


Times wires
Tuesday, December 25, 2012

HONOLULU — Jake Odum banked in a 15-footer with 0.8 seconds left in overtime to give Indiana State a 57-55 win over Miami in the third-place game of the Diamond Head Classic on Tuesday night.

The Sycamores (7-4) trailed by as many as nine in the second half and shot 27 percent from the field for the game, the worst by a winning team this season, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Miami (8-3) led 49-47 in regulation, but Rion Brown missed two free throws with 32.8 seconds left for UM. On the ensuing possession, Brown fouled R.J. Mahurin, whose two free throws tied it with 16.6 seconds left.

Miami was 11-of-21 on free throws, 0-for-15 on 3-pointers.

"We just struggled all game long … and still had a chance to win," coach Jim Larranaga said. "You don't normally produce those kinds of numbers."

No. 3 Arizona 68, No. 17 San Diego St. 67: Mark Lyons made two free throws with 13.1 seconds left, then Nick Johnson blocked a layup in the final seconds of the Diamond Head Classic. The Wildcats are 12-0 for the first time since 1988. The Aztecs (11-2) led 67-66 after Jamaal Franklin made one of two free throws with 31.4 seconds left.

Football: Auburn gets JUCO star from TBT

Former Tampa Bay Tech standout Devonte Danzey, whom 247sports.com ranks as the top junior college guard in the nation, signed a letter of intent with Auburn.

Danzey, a Times All-Suncoast honorable mention as a senior in 2010, spent this season at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College and will have three seasons of eligibility.

More Auburn: Melvin Smith, one of Mississippi State's top recruiters, was hired as cornerbacks coach by new coach Gus Malzahn.

Syracuse: Tailback Adonis Ameen-Moore and tight end Max Beaulieu were suspended for Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl for an undisclosed rules violation. Ameen-Moore scored six touchdowns while used primarily in short-yardage situations. Beaulieu played just one game.

Texas Tech: Starting tight end Jace Amaro, who has missed the past six games with an undisclosed injury, will play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas against Minnesota.

Late Monday: SMU returned two interceptions for touchdowns (tying the Division I-A season record of eight set by Southern Miss last season) and recorded seven sacks, one for a safety, in beating Fresno State 43-10 in the Hawaii Bowl. Margus Hunt, a 6-foot-8 senior defensive end from Estonia with an 82-inch wing span, got the safety and forced two fumbles against a Bulldogs offense that had averaged 47.2 points during a five-game win streak.

Sports in brief


Times wires
Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Virus delays nadal's plan to return

MADRID — Rafael Nadal's return to competition has been delayed by a stomach virus.

He was scheduled to play in an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi on Thursday after missing seven months because of tendinitis in his left knee. But he said on his Facebook page Tuesday that his doctors ordered him to pull out when he was running a fever, telling him his body needed rest.

"My rehab has gone well, my knee feels good, and I was looking forward to competing," Nadal, 26, said.

The 11-time Grand Slam champion hasn't played since June, when he lost to 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon. He missed defending his Olympic title and playing for Spain in the Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic. Spain lost without him.

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Andy Murray also were scheduled to play at Abu Dhabi.


Ex-Brave, Yankee Jones arrested

Former Braves centerfielder Andruw Jones was free on bond after being arrested in suburban Atlanta on a battery charge, jail records said.

Police responded to a call about a domestic dispute between Jones and his wife around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday in Duluth. Jones, 35, was booked into jail around 3:45 a.m. and had been released on $2,400 bond by 11, Gwinnett County Detention Center records said.

Jones broke into the majors with the Braves in 1996 and won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1998-07. He has spent 17 seasons in the majors, the past two with the Yankees. He signed a $3.5 million, one-year contract this month with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League.

Ex-Rangers owner dies: Brad Corbett, who owned the Rangers from 1974-80 and wasn't afraid to regularly change managers, died Monday at 75. He died in his sleep in Houston, his daughter, Pamela Corbett Murrin, said. At Mr. Corbett's helm, the team had six managers in six years, four in the 1977 season alone. The Rangers had its first four winning seasons under Corbett and finished second in the AL West three times. He was directly involved in decision-making, including player transactions. He traded three future Hall of Fame pitchers during his tenure: Ferguson Jenkins, Gaylord Perry and Bert Blyleven. Struggling financially, he sold the team to Fort Worth oil man Eddie Chiles in 1980. "I loved Brad Corbett as a friend and as an owner," said former catcher Jim Sundberg, the only player to remain with the team throughout Corbett's time as owner from start to finish.

Times wires

Captain's Corner: Full moon trout fishing looks good


By Tyson Wallerstein, Times Correspondent
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What's hot: Full moon tides and cooler water will get speckled trout bunched up at hard-shell bottom roll-offs along spoil islands and nearshore structures (jetties and small reefs) along the beaches.

Tactics: Get to the bait shop early enough to get quality-sized shrimp. Handpicked or select-sized shrimp free-lined with an upcurrent cast can fool larger trout. In rough conditions, a small split shot helps the bait get the proper depth during its drift.

Tips: Silver trout can be found along the beach as close in as the sea buoys and as far out as a couple of hundred yards. Tandem jigs in pink, white and chartreuse work great. But like speckled trout, silvers don't freeze well.

Sheepshead: Windy days are becoming the norm, making sheepshead a good option. Action has been good along bridge fenders, pilings and deep, residential docks near the passes. Shrimp, fiddler crabs and barnacles work well. Scraping barnacles off the pilings helps get the fish to feed, especially on cold days.

Tyson Wallerstein runs Inshore Fishing Charters in the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area and can be reached at (727) 692-5868 and via email capt.tyson@hotmail.com.

Strawberry Crest boys soccer seniors never stopped believing


By Darek Sharp, Times Correspondent
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

DOVER — They told Plant City just wait until 2012.

They told Durant just wait until we're seniors.

They were right.

Strawberry Crest's boys soccer team is undefeated. Not bad for a fourth-year program, but especially not bad for one that has never finished with a winning record.

While no one on the team could have predicted a 9-0-1 start, the success is something they saw coming. Five seniors, all of whom have been with the Chargers since they first took the field in 2009, have seen their predictions come true.

"I remember when we were freshmen. Against Durant (a 4-0 loss), Newsome (8-1), Plant City (6-0 in the Chargers' first-ever game) … those teams would trash talk us as they were beating us," recalls Rahul Patel. "We told them just wait, wait until our senior season."

Chargers left defensive back Tarek Kazbour: "We knew from day one, as seniors we were going to be pretty good."

So did Chargers head coach Scott Vomacka, who guided the team through 5-11-1 and 5-10-3 records before they pulled to the .500 mark last year.

Before he took the job after coaching at Leto, Vomacka was made aware of a quartet that had excelled at playing together for the Brandon Area Youth Soccer League, or BAYSL, since age 12.

Now Noah Shaffer, Mazeed Aro-Lambo, Patel and Kazbour along with the fifth four-year player, Patrick Mayo, are showing every bit of that promise.

Still, undefeated?

"No, I didn't really see it to this level," Vomacka said before a recent 5-0 Chargers victory against Tampa Bay Tech.

The Titans came into the night tied for second in district play, having given up just seven goals all year.

But Strawberry Crest controlled play entirely, resulting in three first-half goals all off pressure in front of the Titans' net. Big sophomore defender Chandler Powell pounded in the first goal while the slick-footed Aro-Lambo was there for the next two, extending his team high mark to 11 goals on the year.

Aro-Lambo, incidentally, has an offer for a full academic scholarship to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"We have a smart group. Much smarter than me," said Vomacka. "This is just such a great group of kids. I knew we'd be a decent team this year, knew we'd be competitive."

He said what has pushed the Chargers to the undefeated level has been its better-than-predicted guile and gumption.

An early indication came in a 2-1 victory against Durant, but, ironically, it's the only blemish on the record that best reflects the team's strength.

In a 3-3 tie with Hillsborough early in the year, Strawberry Crest trailed 3-0 with 30 minutes left and not only evened things up, it had several chances to win in the last 10 minutes.

Another key win came in a 3-2 win over Brandon on Nov. 27. Then came the big game on Dec. 14 at Plant City.

The Chargers came away with an ultra satisfying 2-0 victory that clinched the top seed in the district tournament.

They certainly have help, but the five BAYSL-groomed seniors (Mayo switched to BAYSL last year because, as he says, "I was a senior and I wanted to have fun") are the unquestioned leaders.

Shaffer says that as freshmen, the then-quartet of BAYSL standouts struggled to make a mark because the team's upperclassmen had a tough time turning over the leadership roles to ninth-graders. But this year's team is completely in tune.

Aro-Lambo says the entire team feeds off the seniors, who themselves have quite a bond.

"It's like we communicate telepathically," he said. "Everyone knows what the other is going to do."

Which is why it's fitting that though none of the five had to say it Tuesday, they all know a big playoff run could be in store.

Strawberry Crest did make the postseason last year, however it lost 6-1 to Plant City in the district final then was humbled 7-0 by Seminole in the regionals.

This year, expect things to be different. But don't count out Plant City. In fact, the Raiders would love nothing more than to get the Chargers in the district finals again, and it could happen thanks to the Raiders' Dec. 18 defeat of Armwood.

That lifted Plant City to the No. 3 seed for the district tournament, and in the opposite side of the bracket from the Chargers, who will receive a bye and take on either East Bay or Tampa Bay Tech in the semifinals.

Plant City hosts the 4A-District 9 tournament beginning Jan. 22.

Thursday's college bowl previews


Times wires
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Today: Military Bowl

Who: Bowling Green (8-4) vs. San Jose State (10-2)

When/where: 3; Washington

TV: ESPN. Line: San Jose State by 7

Notable: Both teams have had quick turnarounds. In 2010 Bowling Green went 2-10, and San Jose State went 1-12. The Spartans' high-scoring offense (35.3 ppg) faces a stingy defense (15.8). San Jose State QB David Fales leads the nation in completion percentage (72.1) and ranks fourth with a 170.9 passer rating. He has 31 TDs and nine INTs. Falcons DT Chris Jones was the MAC defensive player of the year (12½ sacks, 19 tackles for loss).

Tonight: Belk Bowl

Who: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)

When/where: 6:30; Charlotte, N.C.

TV: ESPN. Line: Cincinnati by 7

Notable: Duke is playing in its first bowl game in 18 seasons. Blue Devils WR Conner Vernon, the ACC's all-time leader in receptions and yards receiving, has 75 receptions for 955 yards and seven TDs. Cincinnati RB George Winn has emerged as a playmaker this season, rushing for 1,204 yards and 12 TDs. He goes against a porous run defense. In the past four games the Blue Devils have allowed averages of 51 points and 294.5 yards rushing.

Tonight: Holiday Bowl

Who: Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4)

When/where: 9:45; San Diego

TV: ESPN. Line: UCLA by 3

Notable: The self-titled "America's Most Exciting Bowl Game" might live up to that; the over-under is 81½. Baylor's offense, led by QB Nick Florence, is first nationally averaging 578.8 yards and fifth at 44.1 points. UCLA is explosive with RB Johnathan Franklin and QB Brett Hundley. Baylor rebounded from a four-game skid to win four of its last five, including a win over then-No. 2 Kansas State.

Times wires

Bucs' Gerald McCoy to play full season for first time


By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

TAMPA — It seems like a run-of-the-mill achievement, making it through all 16 games of a single NFL season.

And for some players, it is.

But when you're Bucs DT Gerald McCoy, and the lofty hopes with which you entered the league have been short-circuited by consecutive season-ending injuries, you gain a new appreciation for staying on the field.

When McCoy takes the field Sunday against the Falcons at the Georgia Dome, it will mark the first time in his three seasons he will have played every game. And it means quite a bit to the 2010 No. 3 overall draft pick.

"I just want to get through this game, finish the game and see that clock tick down to zero," McCoy said Wednesday. "Then I can say, 'Hey, I played a full season, guys. I made it.'

"I (had) always finished the season. For it to happen two years in a row, it's like now it's foreign to me to finish a season. It used to not be."

Once this game is over, McCoy's health will serve him well in the offseason, too. Lost in the conversation the past two seasons was the impact of his two torn biceps, one each season, on his development. The rehabilitation from the injuries affected his ability to improve.

"I haven't been able to focus on football as much," McCoy said. "Now I can actually get out there and work on it. The things I see on film, I can actually work on it instead of waiting until I get healthy. I'll have that much more time in the offseason to get better."

Now that McCoy is poised to play his first full season, here's a question: How has it gone? McCoy's five sacks, 15 quarterback hits and general disruption of offenses earned him a berth in the Pro Bowl on Wednesday.

Has the season been everything others expected? Maybe, maybe not.

But McCoy is encouraged by his production even if the numbers aren't as flashy as those of former Buc Warren Sapp, against whom McCoy often is measured.

"People need to stop expecting me to be No. 99," McCoy said. "The guy revolutionized the position. When you bring people in, you have to stop expecting people to be (Michael) Jordan. As good as Kobe (Bryant) is, he's still not Jordan.

"Once people realize that I'm not (Sapp) and that he revolutionized the position and that I can only be me, then I think people will begin to understand that I do a lot more than people give me credit for. It's just that people keep expecting me to be No. 99. He's gone."

REUNION COMING? Giants TE Martellus Bennett has floated the prospect of playing alongside his brother, Bucs DE Michael Bennett, in 2013. Both can become free agents after this season.

"You never know what is going to happen," Bennett told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger. "I would love to stay here (with the Giants), maybe even get (Michael) to come out here. But if not, we're both looking to play together at least for a couple years in the NFL like we did in college (at Texas A&M). I'll try to get him to come here first."

Michael has said he'd like to remain with the Bucs. But the team's financial investments in defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers don't guarantee it.

BARBER TALK: Neither side has had so much as a conversation about the future of S Ronde Barber. But coach Greg Schiano said the door is open for Barber's return in 2013 and a 17th season.

"That's up to him," Schiano said.

INJURY REPORT: CB E.J. Biggers (hip), TE Nate Byham (illness), TE Dallas Clark (illness), LT Donald Penn (not injury related) and G Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) sat out practice. G Roger Allen (groin) was limited.

Sports in brief


Times wires
Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Red Sox Get Hanrahan from Pirates

BOSTON — If Joel Hanrahan can do for the Red Sox what he did against them, they should be happy with their new closer.

In the first of his two All-Star seasons for the Pirates, the right-hander posted back-to-back saves with perfect ninth innings against the Red Sox in June 2011. He struck out Adrian Gonzalez, who entered the series batting .359, to end the second game.

"When people look back on me as a Pirate, that's the one that stands out the most to them," Hanrahan said Wednesday after being obtained in a six-player trade.

"Joel Hanrahan has the stuff to pitch anywhere," Sox assistant GM Brian O'Halloran said of the new closer, who had 76 saves and a 2.24 ERA over the past two seasons.

Boston also will receive INF Brock Holt, while giving up RHPs Mark Melancon and Stolmy Pimentel, INF Ivan DeJesus Jr. and 1B/OF Jerry Sands.

The Red Sox also officially signed SS Stephen Drew, a former FSU standout, to a reported $9.5 million, one-year deal after he passed his physical.

Rangers: Free agent A.J. Pierzynski signed his one-year deal and said there is no animosity toward manager Ron Washington, who passed over the catcher for this past season's All-Star Game. Pierzynski, 36 on Sunday, hit .278 with a career-high 27 homers in 135 games for the White Sox last season. Washington said Pierzynski will start ahead of Geovany Soto.

Wife says ex-brave threatened to kill her: Nicole Jones, the wife of former Braves star Andruw Jones, accused him of dragging her down a staircase, grabbing her neck and saying he wanted to kill her Christmas morning, according to Gwinnett County Police records. Andruw Jones, 35, was free on bond after his arrest on a battery charge.

Released from prison: Former All-Star closer Ugueth Urbina, 38, was released from a Venezuelan prison after serving more than 5½ years of his 14-year sentence for attempted murder. Urbina was accused of attacking workers with machetes and pouring gasoline on them at his family's ranch in 2005. He was released early for good behavior.


Lightning makes mark in juniors

Lightning prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy, drafted 19th overall in 2012, made 32 saves for host Russia in its opening 3-2 overtime victory over Slovakia in the world junior championship. Forward Nikita Kucherov had a goal for Russia and defenseman Nikita Nesterov an assist. Both also are Tampa Bay prospects. In other games, Canada beat Germany 9-3, Sweden defeated the Czech Republic 4-1 and Finland beat Latvia 5-1. The United States plays Germany at 9 a.m. today (NHL Network).


Soccer: Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney will miss up to three weeks after straining a knee ligament in practice Tuesday. Playing in place of Rooney, Javier Hernandez scored in injury time Wednesday to lift Man U over Newcastle 4-3 and open a seven-point lead in the English Premier Leagues.

Damian Cristodero, Times staff writer; Times wires

Year in review: Nation's top 10 sports stories of 2012


By Tom Jones, Times Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Triumph and tragedy. Stars were born, and legends were toppled. As always, there seemed to be as much news, controversy and intrigue away from the playing arena as there was inside of it this year.

Today we count down the biggest national sports stories of 2012, from a kid you had never heard of becoming a household name to a household name crashing to the ground. We also learn a couple of new words along the way.

We start with one of those words at No. 10.

10. Linsanity

Even those who follow the NBA fairly closely hadn't really heard of Jeremy Lin, a product of Harvard who was riding the bench with the Knicks. Because of injuries, Lin got a chance to play. Coming off the bench Feb. 4, Lin scored 25 points to go along with seven assists and led the Knicks to a comeback victory over the Nets. He was just getting started. Lin scored at least 20 points in eight of the next nine games, including a 38-point performance against the Lakers. The Knicks won seven in a row, and a star was born. He went on to sign with the Rockets as a free agent after the season.

9. NHL lockout

These knuckleheads aren't going to do this again, are they? In 2004-05, the NHL became the first of the major North American sports leagues to lose a season because of a labor dispute. The owners locked out the players, and a season was lost. Now they are at it again. Once again owners have locked out the players. Games have been canceled through mid January, and time is running out to save the 2012-13 season.

8. Penn State fallout

The Penn State football scandal stemming from former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky's molestation of young boys first made news in 2011, and before last year was done, it had led to the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno. This year, Paterno died of lung cancer at 85 in January. An eight-month Penn State investigation led by former FBI director Louis Freeh determined several school administrators, including Paterno, knew of Sandusky's actions and did not do enough to stop him (Paterno's family disagrees). The NCAA delivered football sanctions to Penn State just shy of a death penalty, including no bowl appearances for five years, a severe reduction in scholarships and fines totalling $60 million. Also, Penn State had to vacate 111 victories from 1998-2011, meaning Paterno went from first to 12th in NCAA football career wins. In June, Sandusky, 68, was convicted of sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years and in October was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.

7. The return of Notre Dame football

Notre Dame is one of the legendary programs in college football history. But when was the last time the Irish were really relevant? They haven't won a national title since 1988 and haven't finished the season ranked in the top 10 since 1993. Before this season, the Irish had gone 86-62 since 2000. But with Brian Kelly in charge, the Irish are on the comeback trail. And when they beat Southern Cal on Nov. 24, it put the finishing touches on their first undefeated regular season in 24 years. Now Notre Dame moves on to play for the BCS national title against Alabama, another traditional power. No matter what happens in that game, Notre Dame's return to glory is the story in college football in 2012.

6. Conference realignment

Let me get this straight. So now Syracuse, which is in upstate New York, is considered a part of the Atlantic coast. Pitt, too, is a coastal city. Texas A&M is now a part of the southeastern U.S. And Boise State and San Diego State are soon to be considered in the east. Forget traditions and even locations. Conferences in college sports are now dictated by money. And you can't seem to go a day without another team jumping to a different conference. Lost are great rivalries such as Syracuse-Georgetown and Missouri-Kansas in basketball, and Pitt-West Virginia and Texas-Texas A&M in football.

5. LeBron wins a title

NBA star LeBron James took his talents to South Beach after he was unable to lead his sort-of-hometown Cavaliers to a title. Joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat, James predicted he would win one, two, three, four or more titles. He was ridiculed when the Heat was upset by the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals. But James showed why he is the best player in the world when he came through in the clutch and led the Heat to the 2012 title over the Thunder. It was part of James' spectacular year, which also included a season MVP award, a Finals MVP award and an Olympic gold medal.

4. Replacement referees

The NFL season started with the referees being locked out by the league because of a labor dispute. In their place was a group of officials that regularly called at best really low-level college games. One even worked for the Lingerie Football League. The first two weeks of the season had a few boneheaded calls, such as giving one team an extra timeout, and lengthy replay reviews, but nothing too, too bad. That changed in Week 3. On a nationally televised Monday night game, the Seahawks beat the Packers on a Hail Mary even though it was clear the ball was caught by a Packers defensive back. That became the straw the broke the dispute. A few days later, the NFL and its regular officials reached a collective bargaining agreement.

3. American women dominate the Olympics

While Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and American swimmer Michael Phelps added to their Olympic legacies during the London Games, it was the American women who were the real story. Every time you turned on a TV, they were doing something great. There was Gabby Douglas and the gymnastics squad. There were swimmers Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt. There were track and field stars Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross. There was the beach volleyball team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Jennings Walsh. And of course there were the soccer and basketball teams. When the Olympics were over, the American women had won 29 gold medals. Only one country had more golds than they did: China with 38.

2. Bountygate

In March the NFL came out with a chilling report. It said the Saints, one of its most-liked teams in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, were running a bounty program that awarded players cash for knocking opponents out of games with injures. Coach Sean Payton, top left, was suspended for the season. Then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, middle — the ringleader, the report said — was suspended indefinitely. GM Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt, bottom, were suspended for part of the season. Four players were suspended for various lengths. There were various appeals, and the players' suspensions were vacated. But the scandal left a stain on the Saints organization and added a word to our vocabulary: Bountygate.

And the national sports story of the year …

1. The fall of Lance Armstrong

He was considered the greatest cyclist in history, but that hardly describes Lance Armstrong. After overcoming cancer and continuing his unprecedented career, he also raised millions for cancer research through his charity. But allegations of performance-enhancing drugs dogged him for years. Time and time again he pointed to his never having failed a drug test. But in August the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Armstrong was banned for life and would be stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles after it concluded he used banned substances, based on evidence it said came from more than 12 witnesses. Armstrong said he would not fight the decision. He even resigned from his charity. It was a sad, discouraging end to what we had always believed was sports' most inspiring story ever.

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy makes Pro Bowl


By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

TAMPA — Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy visited Hawaii for the first time this past offseason. Upon departing, his fiancee offered some prophetic words.

"She told me, 'Baby, next time we come back, we're coming for free,' " McCoy said. "I said, 'All right, that's cool.' "

Her statement became a reality on Wednesday when McCoy was named to his first Pro Bowl, the lone Buc — for now — selected for the NFC team in the NFL's all-star showcase.

The selection culminates a lot of hard work after two years of frustrations. McCoy, the No. 3 pick in the 2010 draft, sustained season-ending torn biceps in 2010 and 2011.

The 24-year-old bounced back in 2012, playing his first complete season (if he plays Sunday in Atlanta, as expected) and having a significant impact on the Bucs' top-ranked rushing defense.

"I just wanted to play a full season," McCoy said. "This is definitely a gift from God. God has outdone himself with this.

"My goal was to be my best for my team. But by doing that, I was able to accomplish that and show people that I can play a little football."

McCoy might not be the only Buc in Honolulu for the Jan. 27 game.

Receiver Vincent Jackson, running back Doug Martin and free safety Ronde Barber were named alternates for the game. (Jackson and Martin are first alternates.) Numerous players opt out of the game every year because of injuries or their team has advanced to the Super Bowl, which is played a week after the Pro Bowl.

Jackson, who has been to one previous Pro Bowl, was beaten out by the Lions' Calvin Johnson, Bears' Brandon Marshall, Falcons' Julio Jones and Giants' Victor Cruz. Martin, in his rookie season, was beaten out by the 49ers' Frank Gore, Vikings' Adrian Peterson and Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch. Barber, who has been to five previous Pro Bowls, won the fan voting but was beaten out by the 49ers' Dashon Goldson and Seahawks' Earl Thomas.

McCoy said his selection is hardly the extent of what he can achieve.

"Much more (is coming)," he said. "This is just the beginning of what I plan to do."

After the torn biceps, there were times when the Pro Bowl seemed miles away.

"We're very excited for Gerald McCoy," Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. "He's put a lot of work into this."

McCoy has a career-high five sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss.

While one-third of the vote is taken from fans, the other two-thirds come from players and coaches, who offer a more accurate assessment because they compete and coach against other players. Justin Smith of the 49ers and Harry Melton of the Bears finished ahead of McCoy and will start.

The Lions' Ndamukong Suh, who was drafted one spot ahead of McCoy and with whom he often is compared, was not selected. (He did make it in 2010.)

"It's a great honor that my peers see me in that light," McCoy said.

"I'm really at a loss for words because I didn't expect anything like this. But apparently, I've done something to where my peers think I'm worthy of being in this game."

Bucs cornerback Eric Wright returns from suspension, apologizes


By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

TAMPA — In the 10 starts Eric Wright has made at cornerback this season, the Bucs went 6-4 and were in playoff contention.

Then he missed the Nov. 25 game against Atlanta, a 24-23 home loss, with an Achilles injury. The next day he began serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. (Wright says it was for using Adderall, a stimulant.)

Wright returned to practice Wednesday healthy and rested, but the team he left is in a different spot. The Bucs, with the league's worst pass defense, have lost five straight and will miss the postseason for the fifth consecutive season.

"Absolutely, I apologize to the team as well as the organization and the Glazer family," said Wright, who signed a five-year deal worth $37.5 million ($15.5 million of which is guaranteed) in March. "It hurt me a lot to let the team down. It's just an unfortunate situation, and I'm looking forward to moving forward from here.

"It was extremely difficult. I mean, being at home, being away from my teammates and my coaches. You work all offseason and all preseason to get to this point, and to have to sit down and sit out for four games really hurt."

Wright's suspension was not without significant personal cost. He forfeited about $1.8 million in salary, the equivalent of four game checks. Perhaps more damaging is a clause in his contract that allows $7.5 million in guaranteed salary for 2013 to be voided.

Whether Wright plays in Sunday's finale against the Falcons depends on his conditioning and performance in practice. But coach Greg Schiano sounded even less certain about whether Wright can be depended upon for next season.

"How do you know?" Schiano said when asked if Wright's off-field issues are behind him. "I didn't know it was coming. So how am I going to know it will happen again or won't happen again? I don't. We've talked, and I feel good about what we've talked about. And that's all you really can do. Even before the fact, (you have to) educate and continue to educate the team because I'm not convinced that all these guys that have been positive Adderall tests were using Adderall. Obviously, it did because they tested positive. But I'm not sure there's an issue with all of them.

"But that doesn't matter. The rule is the rule. We have to make sure that we as an organization just keep educating our players."

Wright was the second Bucs cornerback suspended this season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Aqib Talib, since traded to the Patriots, also credited his four-game suspension levied in October to taking Adderall.

Wright said he used Adderall for a health problem during the offseason. The drug, typically used to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, is allowed by the NFL with a prescription. Wright said an "exemption letter" for permission to use the drug was never sent to the league. He would not say if he now has a prescription for Adderall or if he still plans to take it.

"The situation is over. I served my four-game suspension, and I'm happy to be back on the team and having and opportunity to play in this game," Wright said.

"I feel a lot better. I've still got to go out there and finish the week of practice, and I'm just looking forward to getting better every day and seeing how it goes on Sunday."

Is Wright confident he will be with the Bucs next season?

"Until somebody tells me otherwise, I'm a Tampa Bay Buccaneer," he said. "I say that with a lot of pride. It's an honor to put on that jersey, and I'm just going to continue to work with that mind-set."

Rick Stroud can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

Comebacks include Pro Bowl


Times wires
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

NEW YORK — Sensational comebacks have Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson headed for the Pro Bowl.

Also selected Wednesday to the all-star game was Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Manning missed all of last season with neck and back problems that required four operations. After the Colts released him, he signed with the Broncos, who have won 10 in a row to take the AFC West.

"My goal has always been to go out and help the team win and play at a high level," said Manning, who has 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. "Anything that comes along with that, like being honored as a Pro Bowl selection, is very humbling."

Peterson, the Vikings running back, tore his left ACL on Dec. 24, 2011. He has gone from uncertain to 1,898 yards, 208 from the NFL record.

"I just told myself that I wanted to lead my team to a championship and make sure that I contribute and do my part," Peterson said. "I've been doing it."

Griffin, who has the Redskins one win from the playoffs, is one of three quarterbacks who have had superb rookie seasons. But the Colts' Andrew Luck and Seahawks' Russell Wilson weren't voted in.

"You don't play for awards," Griffin said. "They just come. You don't say you're going to win the Heisman. You don't say you're going to win the MVP. You go out, and you prove it on the field. And if everyone feels that way, then they'll give you that award."

The 49ers had the most players selected, nine, including six from their second-ranked defense. Houston was next with eight, six on offense. The Chiefs, despite a 2-13 record, had five picked. They include running back Jamaal Charles, who, like Peterson, came back from a torn ACL.

One other rookie, the Vikings' Blair Walsh, was chosen. He has made a league-record nine field goals of 50 yards or longer.

Cowboy indicted: A Dallas grand jury indicted Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent on one count of intoxication manslaughter. He is charged in connection with a Dec. 8 crash that killed Cowboys practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown and is out on $100,000 bond. An arraignment has not been scheduled.

Browns sign ex-Bucs QB: Cleveland signed quarterback Josh Johnson. He appeared in 26 games for the Bucs after being a fifth-round pick in 2008. The 49ers released the 26-year-old at the end of training camp. Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy missed practice with right shoulder injuries. Thad Lewis, undrafted out of Duke in 2010, took the snaps with the first team. Coach Pat Shurmur said neither Weeden nor McCoy have been ruled out for Sunday.

More Browns: Kick returner Josh Cribbs apologized for a profane tweet after Sunday's loss, during which he muffed a punt.

Cardinals: Brian Hoyer will become Arizona's fourth starting quarterback of the season Sunday. Hoyer, who spent three seasons as a backup in New England, was claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh three weeks ago. Kevin Kolb is out for the season with a rib injury, and John Skelton and Ryan Lindley were benched for poor play. Also, running back Beanie Wells said it's "inevitable" he won't return to the team next season. Arizona holds a $1.1 million option for 2013 on Wells, who has gained 2.7 yards per carry while missing seven games to injury. Said Wells: "I'm just going to go out there and put my best foot forward for all the 31 other teams that are watching."

Colts: Coach Chuck Pagano said he doesn't plan to rest his starters Sunday despite being locked into the No. 5 seed.

Packers: Receiver Randall Cobb was limited at practice by an ankle injury sustained Sunday. The team hopes to know his status by Friday. Also, receiver Jordy Nelson, out the past three games with a hamstring injury, fully practiced. His status hasn't been determined.

Raiders: With quarterback Carson Palmer out with cracked ribs and a bruised lung, Matt Leinart and Terrelle Pryor shared reps during practice. Coach Dennis Allen did not give a timetable for naming a starter.

Ravens: Linebacker Ray Lewis was activated from injured reserve but won't play Sunday. Because he returned to practice Dec. 5, the team had until Wednesday to put him on the active roster and make him eligible for the playoffs. Lewis has missed nine games since tearing his right triceps Oct. 14.

Texans: Running back Arian Foster, who left Sunday's game with an irregular heartbeat, fully practiced and is expected to be fine for this week.

A weird and wacky 2012


Times wires
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dave Kindred, a pre-eminent sports writer for the better part of four decades, was walking down the right side of the first fairway at Kiawah Island with the final group at the PGA Championship when he mentioned he had been teaching a writing class to college students.

Kindred's strength is his power of observation, and he has tried to pass that along.

"The one thing I tell them," he said, "is that if you really pay attention to what you're covering, you'll see something you've never seen before."

He stopped and kneeled to watch Carl Pettersson, playing in the last group that Sunday with Rory McIlroy, hit his approach to the green. Pettersson was just inside the red hazard line, so he was careful not to ground his club. Brushing the top of the grass was allowed.

Moments after his shot, PGA rules official Brad Gregory told him there might be a problem.

Pettersson's club nicked a leaf on the way back, a violation of Rule 13-4c for moving a loose impediment in a hazard. After an exhaustive video review, Pettersson received a two-stroke penalty on the fourth hole.

Pay attention and you never know what you'll see.

That much was true in a wild year of golf. Left-hander Phil Mickelson lost his bid at the Masters by hitting two shots right-handed. Rory McIlroy was confused by the time zone and needed a police escort to get to the final day of the Ryder Cup on time. Tiger Woods never found his ball, was not penalized and still missed the cut.

Those have been well-documented. What follows is the 2012 edition of "Tales from the Tour," obscure moments that keep golf interesting and entertaining.


Kyle Stanley is a quiet man. This was a quiet celebration.

One week after he made triple bogey on 18 at Torrey Pines, then lost in a playoff, he rallied from eight down on the final day with 65 in the Phoenix Open to win his first PGA Tour event. One week, he faced the media after his meltdown and fought back tears. The next, he was a winner.

Stanley was invited to a Super Bowl party that night at the home of Jim Mackay, the longtime caddie of Mickelson. He was late because of media obligations. When he finally arrived, Stanley knocked, then walked in the door holding the oversized winner's check over his head.

He quietly placed it above the TV, then sat down to watch the game, a player at peace.


No other golfer spends more time with the media after every round than Ryo Ishikawa, who is treated like a rock star in Japan. When he signs his card, even late in the day, the 21-year-old often spends close to an hour fulfilling media obligations.

That's where "The Chair" comes in.

His handlers have a white folding chair for Ishikawa as he endures two interviews with different TV stations. A dozen or so reporters form a semicircle around him as they wait and listen, occasionally jotting down notes. Then, it's their turn. They spent close to 15 minutes with Ishikawa after a Transitions Championship round at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, going over the clubs he used and shots he hit on nearly every hole — this after shooting 73 that left him 12 shots off the lead.

Finally, he was finished. He got up from the chair and walked around the clubhouse toward the parking lot. The Japanese reporters followed him, walking in a group about 20 yards behind. One of them was asked where they were going.

"Now we wave goodbye," the reporter explained.

Indeed, they stood on a sidewalk and waved as Ishikawa's car drove by them.


Butch Harmon was talking retirement in the spring. He turned 69 this year. He has been teaching most of his life, working for Sky Sports and traveling the world. He worries about the day when his attention span is short or he doesn't care as much as he once did.

"It's not there, but it's coming," he said. "I will never step away. I'll always teach. I love to teach."

The next morning, he was on the range at Quail Hollow waiting for Mickelson to arrive. Gary Christian, a 40-year-old tour rookie from England, introduced himself. Christian said he was fascinated to watch so many Americans use the leading edge of the club on wedge shots. They chatted for a few minutes and after Christian walked away, Harmon said, "Who was that?"

Harmon nodded when told about Christian's back story, how he came to America on a college scholarship, supported himself by selling steak knives and toiled in the minors for 15 years before finally making it to the big leagues.

Still no sign of Mickelson.

A few minutes later, Harmon walked over to Christian. He spent a few minutes observing, then pulled a wedge from the bag and gave an impromptu lesson.

He'll always teach. He loves to teach.


You've seen the sign at the baggage claim to check your luggage because some bags may look alike. That goes for golf travel bags, too.

Nick Watney and Angel Cabrera arrived in San Francisco for the U.S. Open about the same time, on different flights. Cabrera kept waiting at oversized luggage for his bag to come out, and he began to think the airlines had lost it. Watney's was the only golf bag there.

That's when the light came on.

Cabrera's agent called the person in charge of U.S. Open courtesy cars and asked them to stop Watney on his way out.

Sure enough, Cabrera's golf bag was in his trunk.


The relationship three-time major champion Padraig Harrington has with reporters is unlike that of any other player, especially the Irish media.

He was giving an interview to Greg Allen of Irish radio station RTE, and after they finished, Harrington began making small talk. He asked Allen, "I heard you lost your sunglasses?" Allen's shoulders slumped as he told Harrington he had misplaced his glasses and didn't know where to look for them.

Harrington didn't commiserate. He smiled.

"They're in my locker," he said. "You left them behind the other day."


Sung Kang received elite training in South Korea's national program that is producing more and more top players, but he worked equally hard on his English and speaks beautifully for someone who has played the PGA Tour only the past few years.

Turns out he has been coming to America twice a year since 2002 to work on his golf, and he devoted just as much effort to the language.

In Florida? California?

"Dallas," Kang said. "I went to the Hank Haney schools, so I would work with Haney and learned English there in Texas."

Some things, however, still get lost in translation. Kang was asked if he ever bought cowboy boots from all that time spent in Dallas: "No. I don't really like the NFL. I'm more of a Lakers fan."


The British Open has a massive scoreboard in the press center where a group of volunteers, most of them women in their early 20s, move ladders on rails from side to side as they post the score of every hole for every player.

Press officers often check to see which players they should bring in for interviews after the first two rounds as the leaderboard is taking shape. In the second round, Adam Scott shot 67 to get within one shot of the lead with several players still on the course.

The announcement over the intercom: "Can we see a show of hands for Adam Scott?"

Six young women posting scores all raised their hands.


About two dozen fans waiting for autographs behind the ninth green on the Magnolia Course at Disney got more than they expected. Brian Harman emerged from the scoring trailer after the final tour event of the year and said, "Who's left-handed?"

One man came forward, and it turned out to be his lucky day.

Harman went over to his bag, removed all the irons and handed them to the fan. Turns out Harman wanted to try something different at Disney, so he used irons with graphite shafts. He described it as the worst ball-striking week he had all year.

"I just wanted to try some different stuff," Harman said, "and now I know what was not the answer."

No other sports organization comes close to the amount of charity produced by the PGA Tour. Harman took it to a new level.

Thursday: See bay area's pro golfers compete to raise money for First Tee of Tampa Bay


Times staff
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

. fast facts

Battle at the Babe

When/where: 10 a.m. today, shotgun start; Babe Zaharias Golf Course, 11412 N Forest Hills Drive, Tampa

Format: One male and one female golfer form a team and play a best-ball format

Cost: Spectator badges $10

Charity: All proceeds go to the First Tee of Tampa Bay and other junior golf programs

Professionals: Brittany Lincicome, Cindy LaCrosse, Kris Tamulis, Gary Koch, John Huston, T.J. Heidel, Brad Brunner, Sally Dee

Contact: Babe Zaharias Golf Course, (813) 631-4374

With Outback Bowl next, South Carolina Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier still going strong


By Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer
Thursday, December 27, 2012

TAMPA — The concessions to age are mostly subtle. Steve Spurrier's golf handicap has spiked modestly and he now runs exclusively on a treadmill. He even has less velocity on his visor, not that he ever really flings it anymore.

"I've got some arthritis in my dang fingers," said Spurrier, whose 11th-ranked South Carolina team began game-week preparation for the Outback Bowl at Jefferson High on Thursday. "It's not bad, it's just enough to make you think something's wrong."

From a chronological perspective, the head Gamecock is no longer a spring chicken. Stephen Orr Spurrier — Heisman Trophy winner, Bandit Ball creator, Gainesville icon and all-time winningest coach in USC history — turns 68 in April.

Yet an autumn full of tee times remains somewhere on a distant horizon. While the ol' ball coach may not be able to shoot his age, he isn't acting it either.

Professionally, Spurrier, presiding over the golden age of Gamecock football, may be 67 going on 47.

"Physically and hopefully mentally, I'm the same as I was 20 years ago," said Spurrier, who had right knee-replacement surgery in January.

"I actually work out more now than I did 20 years ago. As those health magazines say, exercise is the only fountain of youth out there."

With each double-digit winning season in Columbia, Spurrier seems to get a bit younger.

A year after leading the Gamecocks to their first 11-win season ever, he'll try for the repeat Tuesday as South Carolina (10-2) faces No. 19 Michigan (8-4) at Raymond James Stadium. He has won three in a row against Georgia, four in a row against Clemson.

His 2013 recruiting class is widely ranked among the nation's top 20.

"He's just out there having fun, man," Gamecocks All-America defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. "He just loves the game. I think he loves being around it and just likes to win, so there's no telling how long he'll be in it."

A dozen years ago, the notion of Spurrier possibly still coaching as a septuagenarian seemed outlandish.

While still at Florida in the late 1990s, when expectations were at an apex and recruiting battles with Bobby Bowden and Butch Davis were at their fiercest, Spurrier indicated he didn't picture himself coaching past 60.

The two miserable seasons with the Redskins certainly didn't add years to his coaching life.

"When you do something strictly for money, usually it doesn't work out," Spurrier said. "I can't coach football 11 months a year. It's too much. I can't watch tape, go visit free agents."

Nonetheless, as 60 came and went, Spurrier — grandfather of 11 — discovered his zeal for coaching hadn't faded with his birth certificate.

He found a utopian landing spot in Columbia, mired in football mediocrity for generations. After modest success initially, Spurrier has flourished at a school where the passion for football is searing and the expectations aren't suffocating.

As the wins accumulate, his competitive edge seems to get sharper than his one-liners.

"He's such a competitor," said former longtime UF sports information director Norm Carlson, one of Spurrier's closest friends for nearly a half-century.

"What's that saying, the ecstasy of victory and agony of defeat? That's something he loves. He loves to compete. I don't think he could see himself sitting back and playing golf every day."

At least not at this juncture. The Gamecocks' eight consecutive years of bowl eligibility and five consecutive seasons of at least seven wins under Spurrier are unprecedented. His 65 wins are the most in school history.

And there's no reason to stop now; Spurrier recently got a two-year contract extension through 2017.

"I've really got a stress-free life," he said.

"It's stressful during games a little bit trying to call plays and all that. . … But as far as lifestyle, we grind it out August through the bowl game. … And then recruiting now, all the players come in the summer. They come on their own. We've got all our commitments already."

So the fun-n-young forges on.

"He's a competitor," said USC director of football operations Jamie Speronis, who has worked with Spurrier since 1990. "You know him. He's going to compete as long as he's having fun competing."

Tom Jones: Weird stories of 2012


By Tom Jones, Times Staff Writer
Thursday, December 27, 2012

We've all followed the major stories in sports over the past year — Lance Armstrong, Bounty-gate, the NHL lockout, the various championships won by various teams and individuals. But, today, we look back at some of the more interesting, yet no-so-famous stories of 2012. We have good guys and bad guys, stories that will amaze and entertain you. Here are some of our favorite weird, bizarre and goofy stories of 2012.

Worst idea

A German man decided to send photos of his privates to Olympic high jumper Ariane Friedrich. Bad idea. Not only is Friedrich a world-class athlete, she is also a cop. Friendrich posted the photos on Facebook and then went about pressing charges against the creep.

Coolest guy

Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur is one our favorites. Last year, he taped a $100 bill to a baseball and threw it up into the stands for fans to buy themselves a beverage. Then this past season, he had 20 personal pan pizzas delivered to the folks sitting in the rightfield seats in Oakland.

But he's a good "driver"

Golfer Jose Maria Olazabel was racing to get from the Masters to the next tournament on his schedule. Literally. Olazabel, who missed the cut at Augusta, was pulled over in Georgia for doing 97 mph on a rural road. That meant a fine of $621. But it's good to be a pro golfer. Olazabel went ahead and paid cash for his ticket and was on his way.

I think I would've just watched it on TV

We never believe the dog-ate-my-homework excuse, but in this case, it really happened. A Seattle man lost his four tickets to the Masters because his Swiss mountain dog ate them. He induced the dog to drink hydrogen peroxide, which didn't harm the dog but made him throw up. The man then taped the tickets back to together and was able to attend the tournament.

Those are fightin' words

It's not uncommon for two fans of rival teams to get into an argument and sometimes even throw a punch, but this one takes the prize. A 78-year-old Kentucky basketball fan got into a scrap with a 71-year-old Louisville fan while the two were waiting to get treatment at a dialysis clinic. But, like good sports fans, both refused to press charges against the other.

So, what are you up to?

We love those "Whatever happened to ...'' sports stories. But we now can stop playing that game because we have the all-timer. Suzy Favor Hamilton has the most shocking post-playing career ever. The three-time American Olympic middle-distance runner was recently discovered to have been a $600-an-hour call girl in Las Vegas. Hamilton, married and a mother of 7-year-old daughter, wrote on Twitter: "I realize I have made highly irrational choices and I take full responsibility for them. I am not a victim here and knew what I was doing."

Putting out the fire

New York Jets super fan "Fireman'' Ed Anzalone, who used to rile up the home crowd with his chant of J-E-T-S, decided to Q-U-I-T after the Jets' embarrassing 30-point loss to the Patriots on Thanksgiving night. He said he will no longer attend home games because "confrontations with other Jets fans have become more common.'' Once again, the action in the stands at Jets game is more interesting than on the field.

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A high school football coach in Ohio meant to send naked pictures of himself to a Facebook friend, when he accidently posted them for all to see. At that point, he had a status update for his Facebook friends, something along the lines of, "I was fired from my teaching and coaching job.''

Pee wee?

Bet you never thought being big was a bad thing in football. But the Mesquite (Tex.) Pee Football Association banned a 12-year-old from playing because he was just that — too big. In a league with a weight limit of 135 pounds, Elijah Earnheart was just a little over the limit — 6-feet-1, 297 pounds.

Maybe he should've played "Blinded by the Light''

A 21-year-old intern serving as a disc jockey in a Florida State League game between Daytona and Fort Myers was ejected by an umpire. How come? After a controversial call, the kid played "Three Blind Mice'' over the public-adress system. Apparently the men in blue didn't find it as funny as everyone else. Not only was he given the heave-ho, he was fined $25 by the league.

An incredible journey

A soccer ball covered in Japanese writing washed up on the shore of Middleton Island in Alaska, and it's believed to have been part of the debris from the Japanese tsunami last March. The Japan Times reported the ball belonged to a 16-year-old high school student whose home was swept away in the disaster.

Head games, part I

A Canadian hunter camping in Ontario accidently shot himself in the head when he tried to kill a mouse with the butt of his rifle. The good news: the bullet just grazed him and he was hospitalized briefly. The bad news: Upon his release from the hospital, he was charged with careless use of a firearm. Geez, don't you think the story itself was punishment enough?

Heads games, part II

Robin Yount is still delivering great shots well after his Hall of Fame playing career with the Milwaukee Brewers. His latest target was Cubs manager Dave Sveum. In a Dick Cheney moment, Yount accidently shot Sveum in the head while the two were quail hunting in Arizona. Fortunately, Sveum is okay, although he is still manager of the Cubs.

Weirdest injuries

In one of those, "Wait, what?'' moments, Spurs star Tony Parker suffered a scratched retina when a fight broke out in a nightclub between the entourages of singers Chris Brown and Drake.

Meantime, Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle suffered a cut on his left (pitching) thumb trying to open a jar of mayonnaise before a game. He was still able to pitch, but gave up two runs in a 4-0 loss.

The most pathetic injury, however, went to Giants and former Rays star Aubrey Huff when he injured his knee jumping over the dugout railing to celebrate the perfect game of teammate Matt Cain.

Sign here, please

Caroline Inglis, a high school golfer, easily shot the best score to win the Oregon 5A state title, but she was disqualified because she signed an incorrect scorecard. She wasn't too broken up and said that everyone knew she had won, including her father Bill. And, no, Bill wasn't upset either. When he was in high school back in 1971, his high school team was disqualified from the state tournament because someone signed an incorrect card. That someone — Bill Ignlis.

In this corner

Here's your strangest funeral of the year. The great boxer Hecter "Macho'' Camacho was tragically shot and killed in November. At his funeral, his mistress of more than 20 years kissed Camacho, igniting a full-scale brawl between the mistress and Camacho's wife and sisters.

You deserve a break today

Chicago Bulls big man Joakim Noah was criticized by even his own team when he chucked up a three-pointer with only 3.8 seconds left and his Bulls leading the Magic by six points. But cut Noah a break. The Bulls led 99-93 at the time and all Noah was trying to do was feed his hometown fans. Those with tickets stubs get a free Big Mac from McDonald's whenever the Bulls score 100 points in a game. So his coach was mad, and so was the Magic. Fans left unhappy, too. Noah missed the shot.

Matt Patchan, Pop Saunders leave Florida Gators football program


By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
Thursday, December 27, 2012

GAINESVILLE — The tumultuous football careers of Florida offensive lineman Matt Patchan and safety De'Ante "Pop" Saunders have ended, with both deciding to transfer.

"I just think they needed a fresh start," coach Will Muschamp said.

Patchan, an Armwood alum, declined to comment when reached by phone Thursday. He has earned his undergraduate degree and is expected to transfer to Boston College where his former UF offensive line coach Steve Addazio is the new head coach.

His career has been marred by injuries. He began as a defensive tackle in 2008, but did not finish the season due to a leg injury. In 2009, he moved back to offensive line, playing four games before being sidelined the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. He missed all of 2010 due to injuries, then played seven games last season before sitting out the Gator Bowl with a pectoral injury.

Saunders played in eight games, with seven starts, this season. He was suspended the first two games for disciplinary reasons, and did not play in the final two regular-season games. Muschamp said two weeks ago he would not play in the Sugar Bowl. He appeared in 12 games as a true freshman in 2011, starting nine. He had 44 tackles and three interceptions in 20 games.

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