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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

SA secure series win in Australia

SA captain Graeme Smith
Graeme Smith's team notched up an historic win in Melbourne

South Africa won a first Test series in Australia with a nine-wicket triumph at the MCG, becoming the first team in 16 years to beat the Aussies on home soil.

Resuming on 30-0 in search of 183, they needed 42 more overs, Graeme Smith firing 10 fours in a commanding 75.

Neil McKenzie made an unbeaten 59 and Hashim Amla (30) hit the winning runs.

South Africa can inflict a first home whitewash on Australia and move top of the world rankings by winning the final Test in Sydney, starting on Saturday.

Australian cricket's iconic Melbourne ground was full of empty seats on the final day of the second Test, but there was a sprinkling of South Africans in attendance to see their team take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series 15 overs into the afternoon session.

Inspirational skipper Smith, who became South Africa's youngest captain at the age of 22 in 2003, looked set to be there at the finish, but after recording his 24th Test fifty he succumbed to a quicker ball from spinner Nathan Hauritz.

There was a hint of rain in the air when play resumed after lunch, with the Proteas requiring just 51 further runs for victory, but it did not materialise.

McKenzie had struggled for form earlier in the series with 12 runs in three previous innings and was bowled off a no-ball when on just two by Brett Lee late on day four.

But he stepped down the pitch to launch Hauritz back over his head for six, and having survived some confident lbw appeals from Lee and Mitchell Johnson, he recorded his 16th Test fifty.

There was a stroke of good fortune about the boundary off Johnson that did it, however, Matthew Hayden fumbling a difficult low chance to his right at first slip.

By that stage only 31 were needed in any case, and less than 10 overs later it was all over, Amla clipping slow left-armer Michael Clarke through mid-wicket for two.

An emotional Smith praised his team's collective effort, but gave special mention to JP Duminy, who scored a magnificent 166 in the first innings to put South Africa into a commanding position on the third day.

"Everyone has contributed and made it count," he enthused. "Who could have said we would have batted so well at eight, nine and ten the other day, and JP's knock was an incredible achievement for such a young guy to be so composed and play the way he has.

"The belief though the team is really flowing.

"It's important to say Australia are still a quality unit and it's a real honour for us to come here and beat them. To be 2-0 up after two games is something we only dreamt of."

Fast bowler Dale Steyn, who took 10 wickets in the game and scored 76 in the first innings, was named Man of the Match.

The 25-year-old has taken 74 Test wickets this year said: "It's happened so quickly, the team has done fantastically, led by a fantastic captain."

Stalwart wicketkeeper Mark Boucher said: "We have had a lot of heartbreak in this part of the world and to even think about winning a series in Australia was always going to be tough but I believe this team will go from strength to strength now."

All-rounder Jacques Kallis was delighted to finally win in Australia on his fourth tour. "It's an unbelievable feeling," he said. "We knew to beat Australia here you need a bit of luck to go your way and play the big moments well.

"For the senior players we realised how tough a task it was and this rates with winning a World Cup, if not better. South African cricket is healthy and hopefully we can keep the side together and stay on top for a while."

The baggy greens had not lost at home since 1992-93, when they were defeated by the West Indies.

They had seemed in a commanding position during the opening match of the current series, in Perth, before a remarkable fight-back by South Africa saw the visitors chase down an unlikely second-inning target of 414.

Smith's side came from behind equally strongly at the MCG, where they ended the second day at 198-7 - nearly 200 runs behind their hosts.

But a ninth-wicket partnership of 180 between Duminy and Steyn helped turn the game around, and Steyn's five-wicket haul in the second innings reduced Australia to 247, leaving the tourists a modest victory target.

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Motorcycles Finally Go Green

By Stuart Schwartzapfel

Zero_motorcycles

Motorcycles are by definition efficient machines, but their Prius-like fuel economy often is accompanied by emissions that make a Hummer look clean. As regulators get wise to that fact and go after two-wheelers, the motorcycle industry is embracing alternatives ranging from battery power to hydrogen fuel cells.

The pace of development in recent years is remarkable considering motorcycle design hasn't changed much since the first Hildebrand & Wolfmuller appeared in a showroom 114 years ago. Materials have advanced alongside technology, but motorcycles are still an internal combustion engine between two wheels. Motorcycles may deliver 70 mpg or more, but they can be 10 times more polluting per mile than passenger cars. That has the United States and European Union pushing motorcycles to run cleaner and greener.

"As we look at the country's air-quality challenges, including greenhouse gas pollutants and criteria pollutants, what we've found is that every sector of the transportation area is going to be required to play their part in reaching our overall goals," says Karl Simon of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality at the Environmental Protection Agency. "So even though motorcycles and scooters may represent a smaller percentage of the pie when it comes to emissions inventory, it doesn't mean their makers shouldn't have proper incentive to be using new, greener technologies."

Startups like Zero Motorcycles and Brammo are leading the way, offering electric motorcycles you can buy today, but many major manufacturers are developing hybrid and e-motorcycles and looking ahead with hydrogen-fuel-cell bikes.

Most of the focus is on electric power because motorcycles lend themselves to electrification readily. They're smaller and lighter, so they don't need as much power, and range isn't as big an issue because they're often used around town, says Brammo founder Craig Bramsher. "Motorcycles are the perfect solution," he tells us. "Based on where the technology is today for 100 percent electrification, it lends itself to a motorcycle."

These bikes are more than mountain bikes with motors, though. Electric step-through scooters from Vectrix and Electric Vehicle Company will do 60 mph or more, while battery-powered dirt bikes from the likes of Zero Motorcycles and Quantya are winning kudos from experienced motocrossers. But battery bikes remain limited by range — even with lithium-ion batteries you're still looking at 75 miles, tops — and price tags that hover around five figures. Advocates say costs will come down as the technology improves and bigger companies like Honda, Yamaha and KTM, all off which promise electric motorcycles within two to three years, get in the game.

That isn't to say gasoline engines aren't going to be around for a long, long time. Batteries can't offer the range for long-distance riding or hardcore canyon carving, and they're still pretty freakin' heavy. But even gas-burning bikes could see the benefit of batteries. Italian scooter-maker Piaggio has unveiled a gas-electric hybrid scooter that gets 141 mpg and could be on the road next year, and Honda says it is working on a hybrid motorcycle that draws on its automotive hybrid tech to cut costs. Honda says the technology could be offered in displacements ranging from 50 to 1,000 cc and offer a 50 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.

Diesel technology isn't something you hear a lot about when it comes to motorcycles, but Hayes Diversified Technologies offers a diesel-burning version of the Kawasaki KLR that the Marines have been using for years, and companies like Gray Eagles are working on diesel cruisers capable of 80 mpg and 100 mph. Looking further ahead, some manufacturers are developing hydrogen-fuel-cell motorcycles. Suzuki is out in front with the Crosscage hydrogen concept it developed with help from Intelligent Energy, a British firm that pioneered hydrogen bikes with the ENV urban commuter. The two firms are working together to develop a commercially viable fuel-cell motorcycle that could be in showrooms within a few years.

Competitions like the TTxGP, a "green grand prix" slated for the Isle of Man, will surely help advance the technology, but commercial appeal remains the big barrier to getting alt-fuel bikes on the road in big numbers. Ty van Hooydonk of the Motorcycle Industry Council says there isn't much incentive to develop the bikes until there's a demand for them, given the investment manufacturers must make in R&D, tooling and the like. "If Americans want really green bikes then they'll have to vote with their wallets, and the big manufacturers will then respond," he says.

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Lewis Hamilton smashed down the barriers

By Kevin Garside, Chief Sports Writer

Standard bearer:  Lewis Hamilton celebrates becoming the youngest Formula One world champion
Standard bearer: Lewis Hamilton celebrates becoming the youngest Formula One world champion Photo: GETTY IMAGES

A month on from the most thrilling championship conquest in the history of four-wheeled combat we are still taking the sedatives.

Dream sequences are peppered with screams from Interlagos: "He's got Glock!" Dawn breaks over icy December mornings posing the question, did he really do that?

Hamilton has been in Formula One for two minutes. He has won and lost the world drivers' championship by a point. No one has made an impact like him. From record rookie to youngest world champion. Sporting personality? How much do you want?

McLaren have done their best to package him, to mould him into the consummate corporate brand ambassador; polite, humble, available, non-contentious. Then he gets behind the wheel and the chain comes off.

Eight laps from home in the final race of 2008 he is coasting to the title. Six laps later he is losing it. At the penultimate corner he rises out of the water like the Loch Ness monster devouring Timo Glock in one almighty lunge for the line.

This, surely, is what we want from our heroes; fearless shooters who hang everything out in the name of glory. Hamilton engaged every last drop of human capacity to reclaim a pot that was being held aloft in the Ferrari garage when Felipe Massa crossed the line.

The Brazilian was three corners into his lap of honour before news drifted across the Ferrari airwaves that Formula One had its youngest world champion.

Massa, like Roger Federer at Wimbledon, grew in defeat. While Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo was putting his boot into a television set, Massa was paying tribute to worthy champion and adversary.

Hamilton came into the 2008 season still dealing with 2007. In his debut year he had to contend with a hormonal team-mate and a political scandal that saw McLaren expelled from the constructors' championship, yet he still led the thing until the chequered flag fell in Brazil.

A win in this season's opener at Melbourne was posted under scrutiny even sharper than the year before. It also masked a degree of personal turbulence that had either been absent or simply missed in that absurd debut season.

Nothing was missed in the second. Every twist and turn was tossed into the critical shredder. A reluctant wheel nut cost him dearly in Malaysia and a button hit out of sequence on the grid in Bahrain saw him end the race pointless. Suddenly Hamilton appeared all of his 23 years; inexperienced and vulnerable.

We were into the downward phase of the creative cycle, deconstructing the phenomenon we had built the year before. Mistakes could never be that, they had to point to some defect, some imperfection, some failing.

Victory in Monaco in the wet, universally acclaimed as one of the great drives on the waterfront, brought some respite, but a needless pit lane shunt into the back of Kimi Raikkonen in Canada unleashed the attack dogs again.

The French Grand Prix was a career nadir. The Hamilton camp was at odds with the world following the hammering he had taken in Canada. A time penalty imposed following an over eager passing move on Sebastien Vettel compounded the 10-place grid penalty he carried over from North America. Hamilton left France pointless and seemingly unravelling.

Next up Silverstone. The tension could not have been greater. Hamilton needed a big result to resurrect his championship challenge and his reputation. The evidence of his first 20-odd races, in which for the most part he had demonstrated rare brilliance, was being discounted in the light of a few schoolboy errors.

Hamilton delivered, as he always has when the heat is on. He won. His critics were in flight. They did not have much to say at the next race in Germany, where again he won emphatically, or China, where he lacerated the field while contending with the open contempt of rivals who accused him of arrogance. And then he gave us Brazil.

Hamilton took a bulldozer to the rookie template. His was the most anticipated debut in the history of the sport. There was no poodling about in a Minardi for 12 months, no year as a test driver, no midseason bow in an underpowered jalopy. He was sent immediately to the front line

His achievements are astonishing by any measure. When you add in the socio-political dimension, the case for Formula One's first black world champion to be acclaimed Britain's pre-eminent sportsman, even in Olympic year, is difficult to resist. F1 is not replete with council-estate kids from Stevenage, still less with those carrying chromosomes out of Africa.

There remains one racial stereotype still to put to bed. The first black Dr Who. Following the denouement he engineered in Brazil, worthy of any cosmic doctor, you wouldn't bet against Hamilton pulling that off, too. Would you?

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Marinelli, Crennel, Mangini out as NFL coaches


By DAVE GOLDBERG, AP Football Writer

Lofty expectations did in Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel, as their teams' seasons crumbled from high hopes to demoralizing finishes. Little was expected of the Detroit Lions, though nor was the worst season in NFL history. That cost Rod Marinelli his job, too. "You can't go 0-16 and expect to keep your job," Marinelli said. Now two interim coaches who breathed some life into downtrodden clubs — the Rams' Jim Haslett and the Raiders' Tom Cable — await word on their fates.

Three NFL clubs fired coaches Monday, less than 24 hours after the regular season ended. Out were Marinelli, the New York Jets' Mangini and the Cleveland Browns' Crennel.

Only Mangini's firing came as a bit of a surprise. The Jets harbored Super Bowl aspirations after an 8-3 start that followed an offseason spending spree, including the trade for Brett Favre. But they didn't even make the playoffs, losing four of their last five games.

"I don't think it was one thing," owner Woody Johnson said. "We had to go in a different direction. There's nothing specific. It's just a call we made. Hopefully, it's correct."

The Browns' search to replace Crennel is already off to a disheartening start: Bill Cowher told owner Randy Lerner on Saturday that he doesn't intend to coach in 2009.

Cleveland was rewarded with five prime-time TV appearances this season after going 10-6 in 2007 and placing six players in the Pro Bowl. But the Browns collapsed to 4-12 amid injuries and didn't score an offensive touchdown while losing their last six games.

"Romeo was a gentleman through and through," Lerner said. "He was gracious to a fault."

The Lions became the first NFL club to go 0-16 with their loss to the Packers on Sunday. Marinelli won only one of his last 24 games.

Three coaches were fired during the regular season: Mike Nolan in San Francisco, Scott Linehan in St. Louis and Lane Kiffin in Oakland.

Mike Singletary replaced Nolan and will be retained after the 49ers went 5-4 in their final nine games.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones insists Wade Phillips will return as coach after Dallas, a preseason Super Bowl favorite, failed to make the playoffs — and was eliminated in humiliating fashion in Sunday's 44-6 loss to Philadelphia. Phillips vowed Monday to do things differently.

"We know things must improve. The only way is to change things," he said. "To get to the standard we want, I don't see another way."

Cable went 4-8 after taking over the Raiders and ended the season with two straight victories, knocking the Buccaneers out of the playoffs Sunday. Haslett went 2-10 with the Rams.

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Peyton extends record of 4,000-yard seasons

Image: Manning
Darron Cummings / AP
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (18) throws a 55-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Addai during the first quarter Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indianapolis Colts achieved everything they wanted Sunday.

Peyton Manning reached 4,000 yards. Marvin Harrison became the NFL’s No. 2 all-time receiver. Dallas Clark broke a 42-year-old franchise record. And the Colts won their 12th game for a sixth straight season, extending their own NFL record.

Indy followed Tony Dungy’s season-ending script to perfection, knocking out the individual milestones quickly enough for the starters to rest, and the backups put away AFC South champion Tennessee 23-0.

“We wanted to play well and get off to a fast start with our first unit, and we did that,” coach Tony Dungy said. “I’m proud of our guys and the way they played. I like where we are, and I think we’ll be ready next week.”

Now the Colts head West to San Diego for a first-round playoff game next week against the AFC West champs. Indy is seeded fifth and could not improve its playoff position Sunday.

But the Colts (12-4) still played well enough to win their ninth straight. They have beaten the Chargers and the AFC North and South champs during the streak and enter the playoffs with their first shutout since Dec. 14, 1997.

They even did it despite deactivating eight key players including Bob Sanders, last season’s defensive player of the year. Tennessee (13-3) managed only 125 yards of offense and had just one first down in the first half.

Part of the reason was that the Titans followed a similarly cautious strategy. Coach Jeff Fisher put eight starters on the inactive list and yanked quarterback Kerry Collins after only three plays.

With nothing to gain after locking up the AFC’s top seed last week, Fisher simply tried to avoid showing too much.

“They’re playing very, very well, but there’s a chance we may play them again, so we just lined up and played today,” he said.

The disparity between the teams, though, was stark.

Manning was 7-of-7 for 95 yards with one touchdown and a perfect rating of 158.3, extending his NFL record of 4,000-yard seasons to nine before leaving after one series. Dan Marino is second all-time with six 4,000-yard seasons.

Clark broke the franchise season record for yards receiving by a tight end, catching six passes for 59 yards. He finished with 848 yards, surpassing Hall-of-Famer John Mackey’s 829 in 1966.

Harrison caught seven passes for 31 yards, passing Cris Carter (1,101) for second all-time, and now has 1,102.

Indy’s backups were productive, too.

Jim Sorgi, Manning’s replacement, finished 22-of-30 for 178 yards and gave his toddler son, who was attending his first game, something to remember. Sorgi led the Colts on four scoring drives and helped the Colts take control.

The Titans watched Manning move the Colts 90 yards on the opening possession, ending it with a nifty 55-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Addai, who lined up as a receiver. That made it 7-0 with 9:12 to go in the first quarter.

Things only got worse for Tennessee.

The Titans nearly lost a fumble on their first play and Indy fans wanted intentional grounding called on the second. After punting, Tennessee didn’t touch the ball again for more than 13 minutes.

Adam Vinatieri connected on two short field goals to make it 13-0 and his third, a 38-yarder late in the first half, gave Indy a 16-0 lead and sealed Tennessee’s fate.

Tennessee had only one real scoring chance, but Rob Bironas pushed a 48-yard field goal try to the right.

And the Colts wrote a perfect ending to a perfect second-half comeback.

“They’re all special,” said Dungy, who was photographed with his family at game’s end. “But we really wanted to get that 12th win. It was a great way to end this season at home.”

Notes: Dungy said not to read anything into the photo op although he still intends to ponder retirement when this season ends. ... For the first time since 2003, the Colts had more punts in a season than touchdowns. ... Bironas’ miss ended a stretch of 12 straight field goals, dating to Nov. 9. ... The Colts allowed only six touchdowns through the air this season, the fewest ever in a 16-game NFL season. ... Titans linebacker Josh Stamer hurt his groin. ... Titans third-string quarterback Chris Simms played for the first time in 26 months in the fourth quarter.

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Rejected by Jets, Pennington Is the One in Playoffs

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Chad Pennington, center, greeting New York's Tony Richardson and Jerricho Cotchery after Sunday's game.

By HARVEY ARATON

Brett Favre walked solemnly through the tunnel, paused to give Ricky Williams a congratulatory pat on the shoulder pad and continued on toward what would now appear to be an overdue retirement.

Chad Pennington jogged off the field followed by a horde of cameras, to a chant of “M.V.P., M.V.P.,” and then at the locker-room entrance fell into the embrace of a Dolphins teammate, cornerback Jason Allen.

“Go get your hat, boy,” Allen said. “Go get your hat!”

He meant the gray division championship cap that Pennington would wear above his combed blond hair to his postgame news conference, where he smiled for America and said, “It’s always a sweet feeling to be a champion — that’s what we are.”

He didn’t have to remind anyone that it was at the expense of the Jets, the luckless franchise that sent him away less than five months ago and lived to regret it.

“It’s not a revenge factor — it’s really not,” Pennington said after throwing two touchdown passes in a 24-17 Dolphins victory. But how could it not be?

When it was fully apparent that the Ravens had a chokehold on their own playoff berth against the Jaguars, what was left for the Jets but to push through the despair in a game of pretend?

Play for pride. Play for Bill Belichick’s Patriots, a revolting development for Jets Coach Eric Mangini. Fate could not have meted out crueler punishment than the perfect storm of Sunday’s circumstances, but as it turned out, losing to Miami in addition to playoff elimination brought the consolation of keeping the 11-victory and deserving Patriots out, too.

Even with the New England and the Baltimore scores hidden from fans, everyone knew by the start of the third quarter that this was the end to a season that a month ago seemed to be on the express track through December. The grand Favre experiment was officially a fiasco, unless gauged strictly as a business arrangement, a desperate means of making the Jets — 4-12 last season, irrelevant in their own market — a topic of continued conversation.

Even as Favre spun right, threw a short pass into the arms of Dolphins defensive end Phillip Merling and dived futilely to keep the rambling Merling out of the end zone minutes before halftime, it was impossible to dispute that Favre and the Jets had been a season-long spectacle. And what a coincidence that their marriage of convenience was refereed just as Jets ticket holders were about to be presented the privilege of buying a personal-seat license for the football palace under construction next door.

Who believes that the decision to go geriatric with Favre, now 39, was not made at least partly for the sake of salesmanship? Before he determines the fate of Mangini or General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, the Jets’ owner, Woody Johnson, should take a long look in the mirror and ask himself: Did I want Favre as much or more than they did? Did I tempt fate by letting Pennington slip into the clutches of Bill Parcells?

We were reminded at times Sunday of Pennington’s inability to throw deep, to stretch a defense. But he did escape what looked to be a certain sack to keep alive a drive that ended with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. He did throw a gorgeous third-quarter 20-yarder to tight end Anthony Fasano for the winning score.

Pennington did engineer the unlikeliest of playoff runs, taking a Dolphins team that was 1-15 last season to a division title. He did make the playoffs for the fourth time in his career — four of six seasons in which he has played in at least nine games.

And Favre? His third interception Sunday killed off the Jets’ last legitimate chance. His last five games will be among the more forgettable of his Hall of Fame career — which he said will most certainly end if he needs surgery on the throwing shoulder he finally acknowledged was sore.

“I’m glad I made the decision to come here and play,” he said. “I wish I could have held up my end of the bargain.”

In other words, thank you for the opportunity, and goodbye. Where do the Jets go from here? There are reports that Tom Brady may not be ready for next season in New England, and that would no doubt take his replacement, Matt Cassel, off the free-agent market.

Maybe what they need even more than another quarterback or coach is a new football man atop the organization. Could it be the consummate Jersey guy and former Jets savior? Wayne Huizenga, the Dolphins’ owner, said after the game that Parcells would have the option to void his contract, with full pay, when Stephen Ross, a New York developer, becomes the controlling owner of the team next year.

“I told him, ‘You ought to stick around,’ ” Huizenga said. “He just has to decide what to do.”

What Parcells has already done is front a made-for-TV turnaround, beginning with his handpicked coach, the dramatically named Tony Sparano, as his field boss, and Pennington, the Jets reject.

“The only way fate would have it,” Pennington said, and that said it all.

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Favre says MRI will affect decision to play next season

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brett Favre will have an MRI exam on his ailing right shoulder, a procedure that will help the 39-year-old quarterback decide whether he'll return for another season with the New York Jets.

Favre said Sunday that he would have the exam on Monday; however the New York Daily News reported in Tuesday's editions that the MRI didn't take place. The newspaper reported that Favre had an MRI earlier in the season, which didn't reveal any major damage in his shoulder.

Favre

Favre

Favre said he's been feeling discomfort in his rocket right arm "for quite a while," and he struggled down the stretch with nine interceptions and only two touchdowns in his last five games. He was intercepted three times in the Jets' 24-17 season-ending loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

"It hurts in the back [of the shoulder], hurts down in the biceps and, occasionally, in my neck," Favre said. "Other than that, it's fine."

Favre, who insists he hasn't yet decided if he'll come back for his 19th NFL season, wants to see what the exam shows before determining anything.

"It didn't feel like it should, I do know that," Favre said of his shoulder. "Whether or not it requires surgery, depending on what it would be, that's something else I would have to weigh on whether or not, first of all, I would want surgery.

"Second of all, if I need it, would I play or not? It's one of those things. I'm 39; I don't want to have to have a bunch of surgeries to continue playing. I really don't know what it would show."

At least one teammate said he would like to see Favre next summer for a full training camp.

"I would love to see him back next year," receiver Jerricho Cotchery said, according to the Daily News. "You don't learn the ins and outs of this offense in a couple of months, so I would love to see him come back and get the chance to learn the [offense] ... and get an offseason of [preparation] in so we can turn some things around."

Favre was recently voted to his 10th Pro Bowl, but his first -- and perhaps only -- season with the Jets will be largely viewed as a disappointment.

"I feel there's obviously unfinished business, just because I expected us to continue on," Favre said. "I think there was a point where everyone expected us to continue on. Whether or not that weighs in my decision, I'm sure it does to a certain degree."

Miami Dolphins New York Jets

NFL.com Video

Watch highlights from the Miami Dolphins' 24-17 win over the New York Jets.

Favre, who came out of a brief retirement last winter, was acquired from Green Bay to help the Jets take a big leap forward after a 4-12 season. They did that by more than doubling their win total, but Favre and the team slumped badly after an 8-3 start and talk of a possible Super Bowl appearance. He finished with 3,472 yards passing and threw 22 touchdowns, along with 22 interceptions.

"Down the stretch, it wasn't good enough," he said. "I have no excuses. I would love to sit here and tell you that it was this and it was that, but I'm not going to do that. Bottom line is, it wasn't good enough. I'm sure everyone is going to say, 'He's old, washed up and gray.'

"Maybe they're right."

Favre said his family, particularly his wife, Deanna, hadn't expressed their wishes about whether they want him to continue playing.

"The only thing they indicated to me is that they wanted me to beat Miami," he said. "Of course, I not only let this team down, I let them down. I don't know which one is harder to face."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Tampa Bay Handcuffs And Ejects You For Rooting For The Opposing Football Team

Steve flew down to Tampa to watch his Raiders play the Buccaneers. After cheering for the away team, he was handcuffed, detained, frisked, and ejected with no explanation. He'd like one.

Our tipster sent the following letter to the NFL, Buccaneers, and Tampa Sports Authority:

Good afternoon,

I apologize for the number of individuals included on this communication as I was unsure who to contact about this.

I had a very negative experience at Raymond James Stadium while attempting to attend the Buccaneers/Raider NFL football game. My day started poorly as I was forced to go to three different entrance gates because I was "wearing the wrong colors" before I could obtain admittance with my ticket to the game.

The game went without incident up until the first score of the game by the Raiders. I stood in celebration, and before the extra point was even kicked, I was being led away by stadium personnel. Once out of the stands, I was placed in handcuffs, although I was not resisting the stadium personnel's requests, or read my rights and placed under arrest. I was lead to a single person holding cell where my possessions were removed, and I was subjected to a full body frisking. After being detained for roughly 30 minutes, I was released outside of the stadium, and informed that I could not return to the stadium.

As a long time fan and supporter of the NFL, I am greatly disappointed by my treatment at today's game. I feel like I was personally singled out due to my team affiliation, and this was totally unwarranted. I was not intoxicated or found to be in possession of any illegal substances. I was not being verbally or physically abusive to any other fans or players. There were no requests to adjust my behavior prior to this either, which was not causing an issue as multiple witnesses can attest to.

I understand the stadium has the right to remove any attendees as stated on the ticket, but my treatment today was completely unacceptable. I came down to Tampa Bay from New Jersey specifically to see this game, and then was stripped of the ability to enjoy the game. I would like to know if there are any options by which I may file a formal complaint against the personnel at the stadium? I wish I could provide you with more information as to the individuals involved, but they would not provide me with that information prior to my removal.

Any assistance in this matter would be appreciated. Thank you and I hope you all had an enjoyable holiday.

Steve has promised to send along a picture of himself getting along just fine with the Bucs fans near him, and considering he wrote a polite, coherent complaint letter only a couple hours after the game ended, we're inclined to believe him when says he wasn't drunk or abusive. We hope Tampa is able to make it up to him, perhaps by paying for his tickets, and maybe his travel expenses.

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Lions complete 1st 0-16 season in league history

Lions Packers Football
Morry Gash / AP
The Packers' Brady Poppinga (51), A.J. Hawk (50) and Michael Montgomery (96) tackle Kevin Smith of the Lions.

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Nobody will remember the Detroit Lions came close to winning their last game. All anyone will know — now and forever — is 0-16.

The worst record in NFL history, a dubious distinction that will permanently stain everyone involved.

The Lions lost to the Green Bay Packers 31-21 on Sunday, making them the first team to go winless through a 16-game season. The 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) were the last NFL team to complete a season without a victory.

“I’ve got to live with this,” center Dominic Raiola said. “I’ve been here eight years. This is on my resume.”

It’s also on the resume of Lions coach Rod Marinelli, who faces an uncertain future.

“No competitor wants to go through something like this,” Marinelli said. “This is not fun to go through, obviously. But there’s people going through a lot worse than this.”

Asked what the next step might be if he does keep his job, Marinelli said, “Let me get through step one first.”

The Lions’ last loss didn’t come without a fight. After falling behind 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter, Kevin Smith’s 9-yard touchdown run put Detroit back within a field goal.

But Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers responded with a 71-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver and the Lions’ Dan Orlovsky threw an interception on fourth-and-27 with 3 minutes left, dooming Detroit to futility of historic proportion.

Slideshow
Rod Marinelli
The worst teams ever
As the Detroit Lions finish with a 0-16 record, we look at some of the most futile teams in sports history.

NBCSports.com

“It’s just kind of numb,” veteran kicker Jason Hanson said. “It’s here. It’s been coming, though, a train rolling down the tracks for a while. We tried to stop it. We couldn’t.”

The Lions were building toward this for years and now have lost 23 of their last 24 games. The 0-16 record will be a lasting testimony to the Matt Millen era. With Millen as president of the team from 2001 until he was fired on Sept. 24, Detroit won only 31 games — none this year, of course.

It’s so bad that some Lions can’t remember the last time they won.

“I don’t ever want to be a part of this again,” Orlovsky said. “We haven’t won since, November of ’07, maybe? I don’t even know the last time we won a game.”

The Lions haven’t won since Dec. 23, 2007, actually, when they beat Kansas City. Green Bay is where this woeful streak began at the end of last season. Since then, the Lions have lost 17 straight and have been outscored 551-281.

Marinelli has gone 10-38 in three seasons. His future has not been announced, but team owner William Clay Ford has decided the leaders of the front office, Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand, will be back in some capacity.

“I am positive that every aspect of what we do as a football team has to be rethought and analyzed,” Hanson said.

Orlovsky was 22-of-42 for 225 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Lions, whose bid to steer clear of the record book came undone in large part because of ill-advised penalties.

Rodgers was 21-of-31 for 308 yards and three touchdowns for the Packers (6-10), and Ryan Grant and DeShawn Wynn rushed for 106 yards each.

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After a disappointing season of their own, Rodgers said the Packers wanted a win to build momentum for next season. Left unsaid was that they didn’t want to be the only team to lose to the Lions this year.

“We didn’t want to lose, no, we didn’t,” Rodgers said. “But really it’s not on your mind once the game starts. I didn’t even think about it until the fans started chanting in the fourth quarter. They played hard, they really did.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn’t want any part of the 0-16 discussion.

“I want to politely try to avoid the question here,” McCarthy said. “That’s tough. That’s a tough deal. But we were focused on winning the game.”

With the Lions trailing 14-7 early in the third quarter, safety Kalvin Pearson then put a hard hit on Grant to cause a fumble, and recovered the ball at the Packers 11.

Calvin Johnson caught a pass from Orlovsky and broke three tackling attempts to score a tying 14-yard touchdown with 10:20 left in the third quarter.

But the Packers drove for a 36-yard field goal by Mason Crosby early in the fourth quarter. After a three-and-out by Detroit’s offense, Lions linebacker Ernie Sims’ penalty for a late hit out of bounds on Grant played a key role on a drive that ended with a 5-yard pass from Rodgers to fullback John Kuhn.

The Lions weren’t finished, as Orlovsky used two long completions to John Standeford to set up Smith’s touchdown with 8:34 left. After the ensuing kickoff, Rodgers reared back and threw deep to Driver, who blew past Lions cornerback Leigh Bodden and ran in for a touchdown.

Orlovsky led the Lions back into Packers territory, but a taunting penalty on Smith moved the Lions back near midfield and Orlovsky threw an interception to Nick Collins.

“It was a very bad, selfish decision,” Smith said. “I let my emotions get the best of me. It was tough, but it is no excuse.”

Perhaps more than anything, the penalties got Raiola riled up.

“Stupid,” Raiola said. “You know, just uncalled for. You’re in a game like that, you can’t do that. Just dumb.”

And very much like the Lions.

Notes: Green Bay’s Donald Driver and Greg Jennings each had 100 yards receiving Sunday. Combined with Grant and Wynn’s 100-yard rushing days, it is the first time in league history a team has had a pair of 100-yard rushers and 100-yard receivers in a single game, according to Elias. ... Packers rookie TE Jermichael Finley caught his first career touchdown pass in the first quarter.

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Soup Up Your Sled

By Ben Mack

Snowmonster1

Winter Wonderland just isn't complete without the scream of a 200-plus horsepower snowmobile engine. What people did for fun in the dead of winter before they could tear up the countryside in Artic Cats, Yamahas, Polarises (Polarisi?), and Ski-Doos remains a mystery.

We owe it all to Joseph-Armand Bombardier from Valcourt, Quebec. Historians claim Bombardier invented the first snowmobile in 1958 when he bolted a Ford Model T engine to a sleigh. He was 15 years old at the time, which explains everything. Bombardier eventually founded the Ski-Doo snowmobile company, and Canada rewarded him for it by pasting his face on a postage stamp.

Snowmobiling has come a long way since. The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association says half of all adults in North America want to go snowmobiling and the other half are lying. There are more than 2 million snowmobiles on the continent, and conservative estimates peg its contribution to the continental economy at a snow dance worthy $20 billion. Also despite the recession and continued efforts by environmentalists to ban the machines from national parks, sales are expected to grow in 2009.

Snowmobile clubs and councils are all over the place, and snowmobile shows are gaining huge popularity. At these shows, like any other bike rally or car show, snowmobile enthusiasts gather to showoff their pimped out rides. These people will stop just short of slapping a tread and a pair of skis on a baby carriage.

After the jump you’ll get the idea.

The Nytro

Snow_mobile_postturbo_nytro_kit_

The Custom Sled Shop, located in Sharon, Ontario, is the maker of this Yamaha Nytro and like the West Coast Choppers of snowmobiling. "Putting together a custom sled is not about who is fastest or who has spent the most money. It's about being different," says The Custom Sled Shop's John Bradley. The Nytro we think is more about kick ass seeing as how its equipped with a nitro turbo GT-25 good for 260 hp. Photo by The Custom Sled Shop.

Mr. T

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It doesn't get much better than doing donuts on an snow covered parking lot in a Model T Ford. Bombardier would be proud. And apparently such a thing is an annual occurrence for The Model T Snowmobile Club. The club formed in 2000 and has members all over the world. All that's required for membership is a snowmobile (vintage 1908) and a hankering for hot dogging. Photo by The Model T Snowmobile Club

Ski-Doobie Doobie Doo

Skidoo

"You're either born with snowmobiling in your blood, or your not," says Allen Mangun of Timbersled of Sandpoint, Idaho. Mangun put this 260 hp Ski-Doo together a few years ago. Ski-Doos don't have a whole lot of "pimping out" potential (a stock Ski-Doo is already a good sled), but we consider this one a fine looking piece of machinery. Photo by Timbersled.

The Super Snova

Novasnowmobile05

This boat of a sled was originally put together by Scott Windle from Cedar City, Utah. The Nova's 400-cu.in. small-block V8 roles the three one-ton axles equipped with what looks like M1 Abrams tank treads. Windle told novaresource.com he put over 1000 hours into the fabrication of this snow beast on wheels. He also says it runs well and that it can handle a 10 foot snowdrift at 45 mph. You can't guess what we would do for ten minutes behind the wheel of this thing on the streets of New York City in February. Photo by novaresource.com

It's Electric

Snow_mobile_postmcgill_electric

The McGill Electric Snowmobile won The Clean Snowmobile Challenge of Houghton, Michigan in 2001. The project according to Professor Peter Radziszewski has been up and running ever since. The electric sled only weighs 500 lbs and can reach speeds of up to 45mph. Students from McGill University located in Montreal designed the Electric Snowmobile in class as a group project. They used a standard chassis and manufactured whatever parts they could. Photo by McGill University Snowmobile Team

The Metro Sled

Metrosled_resized

This classy sled is a so called "Saskatchewan-ized" Nash Metropolitan '57 rear mounted on a Yamaha '98 three cylinder 700 SRX snowmobile engine, twin Ski-doo suspensions and twin Polaris tracks. We're not sure why there is a spare tire tacked on to the back of this automosled and love the two tone red and white paint job --very Christmassy. We can totally see Santa giving Mrs. Clause the joyride of her life while on the North Pole and behind the wheel of this bad boy. Picture by joe-ks.com

The Lion of the North

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Artic Enterprises built the King Kat with a four-cylinder 800cc Kawasaki two-stroke way back in 1971. These rare snow felines of monstrous proportions were not meant for trail riding by any stretch of the imagination. Cornering is hardly an option, but who cares. The front skis barely touch the ground at full throttle, and you used to have to have racing credentials to buy one. Photo by New Hampshire Snowmobile Association

Main photo by joe-ks.com

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Wizards beat Thunder in matchup of NBA’s worst

WASHINGTON (AP)—The Washington Wizards didn’t care that they beat a team with only three wins. They were just happy they won at all.

The Wizards beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-95 on Saturday night in a matchup of teams with the two worst records in the NBA. They broke an eight-game losing streak, their longest since 2001, with just their fifth win against 23 losses. Oklahoma City fell to 3-28.

The Thunder entered with an NBA-worst 3-27 record, with the Wizards at 4-23. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there had never been an NBA game matching teams with individually lower winning percentages—.100 for Oklahoma City and .148 for Washington—and each squad having played at least 25 games.

Antawn Jamison tied his season high with 29 points. Andray Blatche had 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.

“I don’t care if it’s the best team in the league—or the worst team,” Jamison said.

“We’ve been in a lot of close games. It’s important just to get a win. We were missing an All-Star and it’s important that other guys step up.”


The Wizards needed more from Jamison because their leading scorer, Caron Butler, was sidelined with a sprained left ankle. The forward, who averages 21 points, injured the ankle in Thursday’s loss at Cleveland.

Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Jeff Green had 23 points.

Despite the records of the teams, the Wizards played a creditable game without Butler. Interim coach Ed Tapscott pointed to the team’s 31 assists and just 11 turnovers.

“We needed a lot of contributions from other people—particularly with Caron out,” Tapscott said. “When you lose 21 points … you’re losing a lot of things. I thought everyone did their part. They’re a young team with significant talent—with the emphasis on young. We’re less young.”

With Jamison on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter, the Wizards went on a 12-0 run to counter the Thunder’s 10-0 run. When Juan Dixon hit on a runner with 7:56 to play, Washington took an 88-78 lead.

Without Butler, the Wizards started second-year man Nick Young. Young and fellow sophomore Dominic McGuire gave Washington some added energy. McGuire had a career-high 12 points in his third game as a starter. Dixon added 13 points, including seven straight to give the Wizards a 93-82 lead with 5 minutes to play.

The Thunder were coming off a last-second loss Friday in Detroit and have lost 12 of 13.

“It’s no fun having three wins, but it’s important we stay together and we continue to compete for one another,” Oklahoma City interim coach Scott Brooks said.

“Not one guy in this locker room is a loser. Unfortunately, we are not getting wins like we feel like we should.”

Durant, a native of Washington, praised the Wizards—who have 23 losses in 28 games.

“They outworked us. We didn’t get those key stops that we needed. Point-blank,” Durant said.

“We knew they were a good team, way better than their record shows.”

Jamison, whose 29 points tied his season high, scored 10 straight for Washington late in the second quarter and early in the third to give the Wizards a 62-56 lead.

Durant’s breakaway dunk with 9.3 seconds left in the third quarter tied the score at 76-all. When he completed his dunk, he preened for the crowd, which included many friends and relatives.

Notes

Thunder F Nick Collison missed his third straight game with a fractured left thumb. He’s day-to-day, according to Brooks. … Washington F Oleksiy Pecherov, who’s played just five games this season, was out with the flu. … Since the Wizards had the maximum three players on the inactive list, Butler was not on it. … Washington has beaten the Oklahoma City franchise five straight times and won six consecutive at home. … Wizards G Mike James had a season-high 11 assists.

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Yankees Defend Spending as Almost a Public Service

By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT

Do not hold your breath if you are expecting the Yankees to feel apologetic about all the money they are spending. After the team’s third major off-season signing, the Yankees’ president, Randy Levine, surveyed the criticism of the club and said, in effect, that a really good Yankee team is beneficial to baseball.

“The philosophy of George Steinbrenner, which has been continued by Hal and Hank, is that the Yankees are a sacred trust to their fans and they believe in continually reinvesting in the team rather than reinvesting in themselves,” Levine said Wednesday in reference to the team’s principal owner and his two sons. “We follow all the rules of baseball, we pay millions of dollars to other teams and we are essential to the revenues generated by Major League Baseball and its networks and other entities.”

In signing C. C. Sabathia and A. J. Burnett to big free-agent contracts and reaching agreement with Mark Teixeira on an eight-year, $180 million deal, the Yankees have now spent far more money this off-season than the other 29 major league teams combined. For those keeping score, it is $423.5 million to $296.6 million. That kind of discrepancy is too much for some commentators and for the Milwaukee Brewers’ owner, Mark Attanasio, who on Tuesday resurrected the idea of a salary cap as a way of reining in the Yankees.

Levine will have none of it. He said that the Yankees, by spending substantially on players, were making sure they remained a top asset in the sport.

“We are usually in the top of road attendance and we get some of the highest television ratings, both when we play national games and when we visit other teams,” he said. He said if the Yankees’ new stadium, which will be ready for the 2009 season, allows the team’s revenue to increase, then “so will the revenues of the rest of the game.”

Levine added: “We are sensitive to the economic times and our fans. We believe it is good for the franchise and good for the fans to put the best product possible on the field, and that is what we strive to do.”

Levine singled out the criticism that he said some ESPN’s commentators had directed at Yankee spending and said he wondered why they were not criticizing their own network for reinvesting in its product by outbidding Fox by millions of dollars to acquire the rights to the Bowl Championship Series.

No apologies, and a little feistiness. And less than two months until spring training.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Italian police hunt hit-and-run skier who killed father in high-speed crash

By Nick Pisa

A hit-and-run skier was being hunted by police last night after a father suffered fatal injuries as he coached his daughter on the slopes.

Arthur Lantschner, 51, was with his 12-year-old girl when the skier crashed into him at high speed and carried on without stopping.

The death on Christmas Day happened in the resort of Obereggen, near Bolzano in the Italian Dolomites.

obereggen

The resort of Obereggen in Italy where the father was killed in a hit-and-run skiing accident (file photo)

A police spokesman said: 'The resort is very popular with foreign tourists, including British, and at this stage we cannot rule out the possibility that the culprit was a foreigner.'

Last night, officers were checking ski pass sales and CCTV cameras positioned at the top and bottom of resort lifts.

A Bolzano police spokesman said: 'The victim, from Italy, was hit from behind at high speed and suffered serious injuries. He was hit in front of his young daughter and a helicopter was scrambled to the scene to take him to hospital.

'His condition was very bad and he died within a few minutes of arriving in hospital.

'We have a vague description of the skier from the daughter but we are appealing for help.'

It is the second fatal accident at an Italian resort in less than a week. Last Sunday, Croatian defence minister Gordan Cacic, 47, was killed at Cortina after a collision with another skier.

Italian resorts are some of the most unruly in Europe with crashes regular occurrences.

The Italian government has tried to crack down by stepping up patrols and levying on-the-spot fines for careless skiing.

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Manchester City poised for Michael Owen bid

By Rory Smith and Jonathan Wilson

Manchester City could be in for Michael Owen bid
On the move? Manchester City could be in for Michael Owen bid Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The cash-rich Eastlands side believe they can capitalise on Owen's decision to delay signing a new contract to sign the England forward.

Owen has just six months left on his £120,000-a-week deal at St James' Park and has only said that he is prepared to stay until the end of the season. But a significant bid may be enough to tempt Newcastle to cash in now rather than risk losing him on a Bosman free transfer in the summer.

Owen has the perfect stage on which to demonstrate his ability in today's televised clash with former club Liverpool, a side Owen has barely concealed his desire to rejoin. But any move back to Anfield would have to overcome the reservations of Anfield manager Rafael Benitez, who was corralled into selling Owen to Real Madrid just weeks after taking charge in 2004.

Benitez is thought to be looking elsewhere for reinforcements and may bid for Shakhtar Donetsk's Croatian midfielder Dario Srna. Damir Stimac, Srna's agent, said yesterday that Srna is not looking for a move but "we have an agreement that if an offer comes from a club that is in the Champions League, that is fighting for its national championship, that has a big tradition, then we will talk about a transfer".

That leaves City in pole position to pair Owen with their other principal target for January, Roque Santa Cruz.

New Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce is adamant the Paraguayan will not leave for less than Rovers' £20 million asking price but Santa Cruz has made it clear he wants to leave. And City's need to reinforce their striking department has become more urgent after Benjani was ruled out for three months with a ruptured thigh muscle.

City manager Mark Hughes said: "We hope he will not be out for the same length of time as before but he will be out for a significant amount of time."

Another City target, Villarreal midfielder Marcos Senna, is widely expected to arrive for a fee in the region of £3 million. Arsenal are also keeping tabs on the experienced Spanish international but are unwilling to be drawn into a bidding war for a 32-year-old.

City have also been linked with moves for Craig Bellamy, Wayne Bridge, Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure as Hughes looks to embark on his much-anticipated spending spree.

Away from Eastlands, experts believe this could be the quietest January transfer window for years as clubs start to feel the effects of the credit crunch.

Last year, Premier League sides gorged themselves on some £150 million worth of signings, more than doubling the previous record of £70 million, set in 2006.

Estimates for this season's spend depend largely on how often Hughes reaches for his chequebook, with agents and clubs alike expecting a downturn.

Andy Evans, director of World in Motion sports management, said: "With football here run by British corporations and foreign billionaires, it would be very lucky if it was not affected by what's happened.

"The noises coming out of most clubs are that they won't be doing much business because they don't have any money to spend. The only exception to that are Manchester City. A few others might do a bit of business but it will be loans, swaps or player-plus-cash deals.

"Clubs could use the crunch as a negotiating tool, but for players, it means consolidating what you're earning now before the effects are really felt, because in a few months' time maybe the wages on offer won't be as good."

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Despite Changes in the N.H.L., Fighting Rises

Brian Snyder/Reuters

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Mitchell, left, and Boston Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart fight during their N.H.L. hockey game in Boston in December.

By DAVE CALDWELL

Mitch Fritz is a 28-year-old left wing from Osoyoos, British Columbia, who stands 6 feet 8 inches and weighs 258 pounds. He has a goatee, and the knuckles on his left hand are often covered with dark scabs. He is not with the Islanders because he can score.

In his second N.H.L. game, on Nov. 1, Fritz picked a fight with Montreal’s Georges Laraque, one of the league’s most fearsome enforcers. By all accounts, Fritz held his own. He has been in three fights since, keeping a spot on the roster.

He does not play much, but Fritz considers his presence a sign of an N.H.L. trend. The number of fights is up by about 15 percent over last season and by 75 percent over three years ago, meaning that players who can fight have become more valuable.

“I don’t follow it, I don’t dissect it, but I don’t mind when it’s up,” said Fritz, an otherwise mild-mannered man who won the Man of the Year award from the American Hockey League three years ago. “It might mean more work for me down the road.”

Fighting has been an accepted part of hockey for generations. With few exceptions, every team has at least one player who can fight. Two enforcers battle, often briefly, to defuse the emotion generated by a tight, physical game, or to create some emotion.

The N.H.L. does not include a fight card in its daily packet of statistics, but Web sites like hockey-fights.com keep track, and the site has logged 351 fights this season, up from 308 through the same time last season.

Fights, labeled as such when at least one of the players involved receives a five-minute major penalty, have increased each year since the 2004-5 lockout. Through Dec. 23, 2005, there were 201 fights; through Dec. 23, 2006, there were 220.

“It seems like it’s coming full circle again,” said Jason Travers, a St. Louis Blues fan who in 1995 created hockey-fights.com, which unapologetically lists fights (often adding blow-by-blow descriptions) and includes videos of the better battles.

Through Dec. 23, 2003, in the season before the lockout, the site listed 341 fights. That was before the N.H.L. instituted a series of rules changes intended to crack down on late-game brawls, and on clutching and grabbing so the league’s premier players would have more room to score.

Colin Campbell, the N.H.L.’s director of hockey operations, said that stick fouls like cross-checking and slashing were down substantially. But he acknowledged that fighting had increased, and, like many others in hockey, he has a few theories.

First, Campbell said, fighting — and rough stuff in general — is less prevalent than when he played in the N.H.L. from the mid-1970s to the mid-80s. (He recalls coating his hair with Vaseline before games so that opponents would not be able to pull it.)

Those were the days when two-man fights often became donnybrooks, and hardly anyone said no when challenged to a fight. Many enforcers could barely skate, let alone score. Players are more versatile now, and they became a tighter fraternity during the lockout.

“Coming out of the lockout,” Campbell said, “I don’t know if there was a lot of animosity.”

Meaning that there is more animosity now than there was three years ago.

When told what Campbell had said, Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton, who was in his 10th fight of the season on Tuesday against the Devils, smiled and replied: “It’s a theory. But I’d fight my sister if it came down to it. I’m friends with some of the guys I throw the gloves down with. If I start thinking who’s on the other side, then I’m not playing the way I can.”

Mike Rupp, the Devils forward who fought with Thornton, said: “After the lockout, they opened up the game more. Maybe the game’s faster, so there are bigger hits. With speed picking up, guys are laying hits on the skill players from the other teams.”

That means there has sometimes been a need to even the score, which is when fights tend to break out. Thornton picked a fight in the second period with Rupp after Rupp delivered crushing (but legal) checks on Boston’s Dennis Wideman and Vladimir Sobotka.

Campbell said he understood why that happened — “It’s considered a safety valve,” he said of fighting in general — but he said he did not think it was necessary for an enforcer to even the score when clean checks later in the game could deliver the same message.

Establishing a physical presence works for some teams, even in today’s N.H.L. With the blessing of Brian Burke, then the general manager, the 2006-7 Anaheim Ducks amassed 71 fighting majors, far and away the most in the league. They went on to win the Stanley Cup. Burke has moved to Toronto, but Anaheim, which has an 18-14-3 record, has already been in 40 fights this season, sharing the league lead with the Vancouver Canucks.

Some teams do not feel the need to drop the gloves, most notably the Detroit Red Wings, who won the Stanley Cup last season for the 11th time despite being in only 21 fights. (They have been in a league-low seven this season.)

“I just don’t think that’s part of our game plan,” goaltender Ty Conklin, in his first year with the Red Wings, said recently in a conference call with reporters. “You know, there are some teams that you know they feel that they get an advantage if they can intimidate the other team, and we just don’t have guys like that. The guys are not intimidated out there.”

Generally, one fight does not lead to another, although Andre Deveaux of Toronto and Krys Barch of Dallas were in two fights in their game Tuesday and were thrown out of the game.

“Lots of times, the fights don’t mean anything,” said Washington Capitals forward Donald Brashear, 36, who is considered one of the most ferocious tough guys in hockey history. “Guys just fight for fun, for pride. That’s about it.”

Quite often, only a few punches are thrown before the fighters grapple and fall to the ice in a heap. Even with those few punches, they will probably be slamming their fists into the other player’s helmet.

“I’d rather have scars on my knuckles than my face,” Thornton said.

The knuckles on Thornton’s right hand — his “throwing” hand, as the fight fans like to call it — are covered with scabs. He considers it an occupational hazard. He knows what the Bruins expect him to do, and he is doing it.

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Garcia, Mickelson, Harrington poised for challenge on No. 1

LOS ANGELES -- Long established as the world's No.1 player, Tiger Woods now runs the risk of being deposed at the top of the rankings in the first quarter of 2009.

Woods has been out of action since having reconstructive knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open in June and, as a bystander, has watched his stranglehold at the top steadily loosen week by week.

He has occupied the No. 1 ranking a record total of 529 weeks in his career, first claiming the top spot on June 15, 1997. He has held the position since regaining it from Vijay Singh on June 12, 2005.

After his astonishing playoff victory at Torrey Pines six months ago, Woods enjoyed a substantial lead of 11.328 ranking points against Phil Mickelson.

Spain's Sergio Garcia since has climbed into the second spot in the global pecking order and trails Woods by just 3.865 points going into the new year.

The game's dominant player is unlikely to return to competitive golf until at least February, and his No. 1 status could be usurped by Garcia; Mickelson, currently No. 3; or Padraig Harrington, now No. 4, and recently voted the PGA Tour player of the year.

For Woods to surrender the grip, one of his rivals would have to make a fast start in 2009, in addition to winning at least one of the big tournaments early on.

World ranking points are weighted according to the status of the event and strength of the field. The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Ariz., and the WGC-CA Championship in Miami provide rich reward in the first three months.

Ian Barker of Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) has examined projections of the rankings on a month-by-month basis leading up to the April 9-12 Masters, which Woods appears to be aiming for.

"These projections show how, as time passes, Tiger's position at the top becomes more vulnerable," Barker said.

Of course, much will depend on when Woods does return to the game and how effectively he is able to play.

The Masters, the opening major of the year, is his first priority for the 2009 season and ideally he would like to play in a couple of events before that to prepare.

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How Can Detroit Go Winless in Today's NFL?

By Sean Gregory

Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky during the team's loss to the New Orleans Saints on December 21.

There are lots of contenders for the worst part of the Detroit Lions miserable 2008 NFL season, starting with the jokes. How do you keep a Detroit Lion out of your backyard? Put up goalposts. There are the utter on-field embarrassments: a 47-10 nationally televised loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thanksgiving, or last week's 42-7 home defeat at the hands of New Orleans, in which Saints receiver Devery Henderson, on one play, caught a pass with no Lions defender in sight, then scampered across the field for another 23 yards, while cowardly Lions tried to tackle him like a bunch of sorry Pop Warner players. If that's not humiliating enough, how about the fact that the Motor City's floundering auto industry is actually performing better than the Lions right now?

Or our personal favorite: it's gotten so bad that during Sunday's game against the Saints, Ford Field fans started chanting "We Want Joey" at New Orleans third string quaterback Joey Harrington, who frustrated hoards of Lions faithful during his four year train wreck as Detroit's starter from 2002 to 2005. Now, even Detroit's former whipping can boy poke fun at his ex-team. "It's weird to think I was here in the heyday," deadpanned Harrington, who finished with a sickly 18-37 record as the Lions' quarterback.

But when it really comes down to it, the team's record says it all. The Lions are the first in NFL history to start a season 0-15, and if the they lose in Green Bay on Sunday, they'll go down as the worst NFL team ever. Only the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have finished a year without a win, but they did it in an era when teams played just 14, not 16, regular season games. Plus, those Bucs were an expansion team in their first year of existence: the Lions have been around since the Great Depression, which hasn't really ended for their fans. In fact the Lions, who haven't had a winning season since 2000, are about to finish off the NFL's worst eight-year run of losing since 1950. "It's pretty sad that it's come to this," said Detroit center Dominic Raiola.

Another word would be shocking. Football experts all agree that in today's "any given Sunday" NFL — where every team seems to have a decent shot to win, where a salary cap structure, and a draft that gives the worst teams access to the best young talent in a young man's game, creates league-wide parity — going winless is awfully hard to do. "It's mind boggling to me," says Troy Aikman, the Hall of Fame ex-quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and Fox Sports analyst, who lived through a nightmarish 1-15 season himself as a rookie back in 1989. Several teams, in fact, have only managed to put together one victory in a season, including the 2007 Miami Dolphins and the 2000 San Diego Chargers . But failing to eke out one win in a league built on mediocrity takes a certain stunning level of ineptitude.

And more than anything, terrible management is to blame. Former president Matt Millen, an ex-NFL linebacker who joined the team in 2001 and was finally fired this season after a multitude of public fan protests, strung together years of failed draft picks to dig Detroit into it current hole. Although every armchair football aficionado knows that defensive and offensive line play wins championships (or at least a game or two), Millen repeatedly spent top draft choices on low-impact wide receivers, despite not having a good quarterback to throw them the ball. The low point: in 2003 Millen used the second overall pick on Michigan State wideout Charles Rogers, who was recently sentenced to nine months of drug counseling following an assault and battery arrest involving his fianc�e. Among the top players Millen passed over for wide receivers: Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a Super Bowl winner, five-time Pro Bowl defensive back Troy Polamalu, also a Super Bowl-winning Steeler, and San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, a three-time Pro Bowler. "If you can't evaluate talent, if you can't draft talent, nothing else matters," says Aikman. "Your team is built on a house of cards."

Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr., 83, the grandson of Henry Ford, has only added to the hopelessness. Since Ford acquired the Lions in 1964, the team has won just a single playoff game. Millen, for example, was given an inexplicable five-year contract extension before the 2005 season, so he's still being paid for destroying the team. Ford has promised to bring Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewland, two Millen-era execs who helped assemble the '08 disaster, back for another year. Their coach, Rod Marinelli, hired his son-in-law Joe Barry to be his defensive coordinator. How has that worked out? The Lions have been the NFL's worst defense since Barry took over two years ago.

"You don't have a page long enough to list all their problems," says former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, who had the great pleasure of analyzing the Tennessee-Detroit game on Thanksgiving for CBS. "Their free agent signings have been flawed, their drafts have been flawed, the organizational philosophy is flawed. As a coach said to me, 'wow, they're small, they're not fast, and they're old.' It's unbelievable."

But you can't just point the fingers at management. Detroit's players have their fair share of responsibility for the Lions' failures. Richard "Batman" Wood, a linebacker on the 1976 Buccaneers team that finished 0-14 (he used to wear Batman logos on his arm pads and socks), says he wouldn't wish the ignominy of a winless season on any other player. Still, he's angry at the Lions. "In today's game, with free agency and everything else, don't tell me you can't win one game," says Wood, who was a defensive assistant coach for the Bucs in the 90s and recently coached in the NFL's now defunct European league. "Uh, uh, that's not acceptable. C'mon."

How can a season spiral so out of control? For one, as the losses start piling up, the locker room becomes a toxic place. "The offense starts blaming the defense," says Greg Camarillo, a wide receiver on the 2007 Miami Dolphins team that flirted with infamy by starting 0-13 (his Dolphins finished 1-15, but will make the playoffs this season if they beat the New York Jets on Sunday). "The defense starts blaming the offense. You get that 'every man for himself feeling.' In the NFL [the ultimate team game] that's the last thing you want to happen.'" If the Lions want to beat Green Bay, Camarillo says, they need to get off to a fast start. At this point, the team is likely too fragile to pull off any kind of comeback. "You start to think 'aw s—t,' here we go again," says Camarillo.

The losing takes its psychological toll. "The greatest job in the world is playing in the NFL for a winning team," says Aikman. "At the same time, the worst job in the world is being an NFL player on a losing team. No amount money in the world will change that." If you're on a bad team in pro baseball and basketball, at least the frequent games can keep your mind occupied. In the NFL, the failures fester all week. During his tumultuous rookie year, Aikman stayed cooped up in his home between games. "You don't want to go to the grocery stores, you don't want to go to the restaurants, because nobody wants to be around you," says Aikman. Last season Camarillo could wander around Miami unrecognized, and just hear fans rip the Fins. "I would hear discussions about how the Dolphins were just terrible, how they sucked. It made you feel that much worse."

If Detroit does drop its last game, "Batman" Wood insists the Lions players will carry a scar for the rest of their lives. "It's embarrassing to me, my family, the city of Tampa, everyone involved," he says of playing for the '76 Buccaneers. "It's a glum, glum feeling, I mean, just an empty feeling." Last week Wood got a call from his brother, who said he just saw the Bucs named the worst NFL team in history on some television program. Thanks bro. "How do you think that made me feel?" Wood asks. "It's hard to take."

Yes, Detroit's players could face a lifelong pall if they fall to the Packers. Or they could steal a page out of Steve Spurrier's playbook, and laugh about their dubious place in history. Spurrier, the head coach at the University of South Carolina, who won a national title at Florida and also coached the Washington Redskins from 2002 through 2003, was the quarterback on that winless '76 Buccaneers team. He's a bit more lighthearted about the whole experience, and enjoys being remembered for something.

"Yeah, I'll tell ya' what, I hope Detroit wins," he says. "We would like to keep our record, us Buc guys. If they don't win they're going to forget about us." While members of the '72 Miami Dolphins, who finished 17-0, arrogantly sip champagne each year when the last undefeated team drops a game (as the New England Patriots did in losing to the Giants in the Superbowl last year), Spurrier breaks open a cold beer with an assistant coach when the last "defeated" team finally gets a win. "Plus, I've gotten plenty of corny banquet jokes out of it," Spurrier says.

So in that spirit, here's one for the Lions' players just in case. Where do you go in Detroit in case of a tornado? To Ford Field — they never get a touchdown there. Yeah, it's not really that funny, is it? When you can't win one single game in today's NFL, it doesn't really feel like a laughing matter.

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