National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Legal challenge delays Vikings stadium bond sale

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) A legal challenge has forced the state to delay a $468 million bond sale to finance the new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, state officials announced Sunday, saying the lawsuit jeopardizes plans to open the facility for the 2016 season as well as a nearby $400 million development.

The bond sale had been scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Showalter said Sunday that he hoped the delay would be brief but that officials decided it was "appropriate and prudent" to postpone the sale until the Minnesota Supreme Court can sort out the legal issues.

Federal law requires that all material information - including any pending legal actions - be disclosed when bonds are sold, Showalter noted.

The bonds must be sold ahead of the Jan. 23 closing date for land near the new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. Otherwise, she said, the state won't have money to pay bills coming due for architects and other contractors for work they've already done, the Vikings might have to play for a third season at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota because of construction delays, and the entire Wells Fargo/Ryan Cos. office tower-housing-retail development known as Downtown East could be jeopardized.

The challenge was filed with the Minnesota Supreme Court on Friday by former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Doug Mann. He told The Associated Press on Sunday that he believes the bond sale is unconstitutional and that a referendum should have been held to let Minneapolis voters decide whether to finance the stadium. He said it's one of two legal actions he filed late last week after a Hennepin County judge dismissed his earlier challenge in November.

"I'm opposed to this financing being done in ways that are illegal," Mann said.

Mann drew 779 first-choice votes in the city's mayoral election in November, which was the city's first use of ranked-choice voting.

Beast quake: Seahawks fans rock stadium again

SEATTLE (AP) Seismologists say Seahawks fans shook the ground under Seattle's CenturyLink Field during Saturday's defeat of the New Orleans Saints, causing another fan-generated earthquake.

The scientists believe the small earthquake during a Marshawn Lynch touchdown was likely greater than Lynch's famous "beast quake" touchdown run three years ago, which also came against New Orleans during a playoff game.

John Vidale of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington told The Seattle Times (http://is.gd/l3W6Fk ) they will know for sure in a few days.

Fans jumped and stomped their way to magnitude 1 or 2 earthquake in 2011 during Lynch's rambling, tackle-breaking "beast quake" run.

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Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com

Police: DeSean Jackson's home burglarized

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Philadelphia police say someone broke into a home belonging to Eagles star receiver DeSean Jackson and stole a handgun and more than $250,000 in cash and jewelry.

Investigators said Saturday the burglary happened sometime earlier in the week at Jackson's home in South Philadelphia, not far from the team's practice facility.

Police say the cash and jewelry was taken from a safe. A silver 9mm handgun is also missing.

No arrests have been made. A police spokeswoman says the investigation is ongoing.

Jackson was the Eagles' leading receiver this season with 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. He signed a five-year, $51 million contract before the 2012 season.

A-Rod banned for 2014 season, arbitrator rules

NEW YORK (AP) Alex Rodriguez was dealt the most severe punishment in the history of baseball's drug agreement when an arbitrator ruled the New York Yankees third baseman is suspended for the entire 2014 season as a result of a drug investigation by Major League Baseball.

The decision by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz on Saturday cut the suspension issued Aug. 5 by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig from 211 games to this year's entire 162-game regular-season schedule plus any postseason games. The three-time American League Most Valuable Player will lose just over $22 million of his $25 million salary.

Rodriguez vowed to continue his fight in federal court to reverse the decision.

"It's virtually impossible. The arbitration will stand. I think it's almost inconceivable that a federal court would overturn it," said former baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent, a graduate of Yale Law School. "The arbitration is itself an appeal from the commissioner's judgment. How many appeals do you go?"

Rodriguez is the most high-profile player ensnared by baseball's drug rules, which were first agreed to in 2002 as management and union attempted to combat the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. In sustaining more than three-quarters of Selig's initial penalty, Horowitz's decision will be widely viewed as a victory for the 79-year-old Selig, who has ruled baseball since 1992 and says he intends to retire in January 2015.

A 14-time All-Star, Rodriguez has been baseball's highest-paid player under a $275 million, 10-year contract. He has spent parts of the last six seasons on the disabled list and will be 39 years old when he is eligible to return to the field in 2015. He is signed with the Yankees through the 2017 season.

Rodriguez admitted five years ago he used performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas from 2001-03 but has denied using them since. He already sued MLB and Selig in October, claiming they are engaged in a "witch hunt" against him.

"The number of games sadly comes as no surprise, as the deck has been stacked against me from day one," Rodriguez said in a statement. "This is one man's decision, that was not put before a fair and impartial jury, does not involve me having failed a single drug test, is at odds with the facts and is inconsistent with the terms of the Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement, and relies on testimony and documents that would never have been allowed in any court in the United States because they are false and wholly unreliable."

The Major League Baseball Players Association had filed a grievance last summer saying the discipline was without "just cause."

The 65-year-old Horowitz, a California-based lawyer who became the sport's independent arbitrator in 2012, heard the case over 12 sessions from Sept. 30 until Nov. 21. Technically, he chaired a three-man arbitration panel that included MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred and union General Counsel Dave Prouty. The written opinion was not made public.

In Rodriguez's only partial victory, Horowitz ruled he is entitled to 21-183rds, or about 11.5 percent, of his salary this year, a person familiar with the decision said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the decision was not made public. That comes to $2,868,852.46.

Baseball's drug agreement says the amount of lost pay shall match the number of regular-season games suspended, regardless of days over the season, which is 183 days this year.

Despite the ban, baseball's drug rules allow Rodriguez to participate in spring training and play in exhibition games, although the Yankees may try to tell him not to report.

New York figures to be happy with the decision, which eliminates uncertainty and gives the Yankees additional money to sign Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka or other free agents while remaining under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.

MLB was largely pleased.

"While we believe the original 211-game suspension was appropriate, we respect the decision rendered by the panel and will focus on our continuing efforts on eliminating performance-enhancing substances from our game," MLB said in a statement.

The union said it "strongly disagrees" with the ruling but added "we recognize that a final and binding decision has been reached."

"We respect the collectively-bargained arbitration process which led to the decision," the union's statement added.

Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch testified in the hearing after reaching an agreement with MLB to provide evidence.

"Tony Bosch doesn't take joy in seeing Alex Rodriguez suspended from baseball, but he believes the arbitrator's decision was appropriate," his spokeswoman, Joyce Fitzpatrick, said in a statement.

Bosch is to appear Sunday on "60 Minutes" along with MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred. In an interview with "CBS Evening News on Saturday," Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes" said Bosch told him he administered six banned substances to Rodriguez, including testosterone and human growth hormone.

Picked first in the 1993 amateur draft, Rodriguez reached the majors at age 18 with Seattle and was an All-Star by 20. He seemed destined to become one of the greatest players in the history of the game, and appeared in line to break the career home run record - he ranks fifth with 654.

"This injustice is MLB's first step toward abolishing guaranteed contracts in the 2016 bargaining round, instituting lifetime bans for single violations of drug policy, and further insulating its corrupt investigative program from any variety of defense by accused players, or any variety of objective review," Rodriguez said.

"I have been clear that I did not use performance-enhancing substances as alleged in the notice of discipline, or violate the Basic Agreement or the Joint Drug Agreement in any manner, and in order to prove it I will take this fight to federal court. I am confident that when a federal judge reviews the entirety of the record, the hearsay testimony of a criminal whose own records demonstrate that he dealt drugs to minors, and the lack of credible evidence put forth by MLB, that the judge will find that the panel blatantly disregarded the law and facts, and will overturn the suspension."

Rodriguez has claimed Selig was on a vendetta to smear him as a way of burnishing the commissioner's image following the Steroids Era. Both sides have admitted paying for evidence as they prepared for the hearing.

Fourteen players were penalized following the Biogenesis probe, and they all accepted penalties. Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun sat out the final 65 games of the season, the other players were given 50-game suspensions.

A-Rod's drug penalty was for "his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone over the course of multiple years," MLB said last summer. His punishment under the labor contract was "for attempting to cover up his violations of the program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the office of the commissioner's investigation."

Rodriguez's penalty was more than double the previous high for a PED suspension, a 100-game ban given last year to San Francisco pitcher Guillermo Mota for a second offense. Kansas City infielder Miguel Tejada was given a 105-game ban last summer following a third positive test for amphetamines.

Blount has 4 TD runs, Pats top Colts 43-22

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) LeGarrette Blount ran the Patriots into their third straight AFC championship game.

The 250-pound back had four touchdown runs and New England kept Andrew Luck from a second straight comeback win to beat the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 Sunday night.

Blount scored on three 2-yard runs in the first half, then burst through the right side of the line and rambled 73 yards into the end zone, where he placed the ball gently on the ground made soggy by a game-long rain. He finished with 166 yards on 24 carries.

On the next series, Luck threw his third interception and the Patriots capitalized with Stevan Ridley's second touchdown run, a 1-yarder that finished the scoring with 11:12 left.

The Patriots (13-4) will face the winner of the game Sunday between the Broncos and Chargers. It will be in Denver if the Broncos win, and New England will host it if the Chargers win. The Colts (12-6) never led.

Blount joined Ricky Watters, who had five touchdowns for San Francisco on Jan. 15, 1994, as the only players with four or more in a playoff game. And the six rushing touchdowns by the Patriots tied the 49ers' total in that game for second most in playoff history. Blount's big rushing performance came two weeks after he ran for 189 yards and returned two kickoffs for 145 yards in a 34-20 victory over Buffalo in the regular-season finale.

Billed as a matchup between quarterbacks - long-time great Tom Brady and second-year star Luck - the Patriots' leader was content to hand off while Luck threw an interception on his second pass and never found consistency. He threw two touchdown passes to LaVon Brazill but also threw four interceptions.

Luck threw three interceptions a week earlier but led the Colts from a 38-10 deficit early in the third quarter to a 45-44 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game.

The Colts trailed 21-12 at halftime against the Patriots and cut it to 29-22 on a 35-yard pass to Brazill with 5:01 left in the third. The Patriots dominated the rest of the way.

Blount's first touchdown came on New England's first offensive play after Alfonzo Dennard intercepted Luck's pass and returned it 27 yards to the 2.

Blount scored again on the Patriots' second series in which Brady completed all four of his passes.

But Luck responded with a seven-play, 80-yard drive capped by his 38-yard touchdown pass to Brazill, who was guarded closely by Dennard as he made the catch on the left side a few yards from the end zone. Former Patriot Adam Vinatieri set an NFL record with his 59th post-season extra point, making it 14-7.

Blount got his third touchdown with 4:06 gone in the second quarter on a drive in which the Patriots converted all four of their third downs.

Vinatieri cut it to 21-10 with a 36-yard field goal 5:35 before halftime.

The Colts got a break late in the first half when Danny Aiken's snap sailed over punter Ryan Allen's head. Allen ran back, recovered the ball at his 3, but fumbled into the air. Indianapolis' Jeris Pendleton slapped it out of the end zone for a safety, cutting New England's lead to 21-12 with 2:12 remaining. Allen hurt his shoulder and placekicker Stephen Gostkowski punted the rest of the game.

Indianapolis got the ball on the free kick, but the drive ended with Luck's second interception, to linebacker Donta'e Hightower.

Vinatieri's 21-yard field goal early in the third quarter made it 21-15.

Then the Patriots took a 29-15 lead on Ridley's 3-yard touchdown run and his carry for a 2-point conversion with 6:18 to go in the third.

But Luck came right back with his second touchdown pass to Brazill.

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AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org

Davis, White win 6th straight US ice dance title

BOSTON (AP) A record sixth straight U.S. ice dance title. A personal best at the national championships, with the highest score possible for their free skate routine.

And, most importantly, an all-but certain second consecutive trip to the Olympics for Charlie White and Meryl Davis.

The reigning Winter Games silver medalists danced their way to victory at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday to win their sixth national title - one more than the record five they had shared with American ice dance pioneers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

"Coming into this competition, there was so secret we were going after that sixth title, the sixth record-breaking title," Davis said. "It's such an honor for us."

With Davis' shaggy, blonde mop of hair whirling around the ice and White's tied back by a tiara, the world champions gave an energetic and emotional routine to "Sheherazade" by the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. They finished with 200.19 points - their most ever at nationals - thanks to a 119.50 that was a perfect score for the elements in their free skate.

"With the Olympics in the season, it really ups the ante," White said. "What a great time to be an American ice dancer."

Evan Bates and Madison Chock were second with 181.44 points and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, with 170.44 points, were third.

"I feel like rock stars," Alex Shibutani said.

Earlier, hometown favorites Simon Shnapir and Marissa Castelli won the pairs championship. Gracie Gold won the women's free skate later Saturday, followed by 15-year-old Polina Edmunds and 2010 OIympian Mirai Nagasu - leaving two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner fourth and needing help from the selection committee to make the team that will go to the Sochi Olympics.

The men's long program is Sunday. The U.S. Olympic figure skating teams will be announced Sunday, with the top three in dance and top two in pairs expected - but not guaranteed - to get spots.

After showing up to a mid-week news conference in a Boston Bruins T-shirt and ski cap, Shnapir turned to a Saville Row-style shirt and tie - accessorized by a gun holster - for a James Bond-themed routine with Castelli that earned them the pairs title.

"I grabbed her hand and I said, `Let's just stay out here for a second and enjoy this moment,"' Shnapir, of nearby Sudbury, said after the victory put them in position for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. "Who knows if we'll ever have an opportunity like this again?"

Skating to the music from "Skyfall," Castelli and Shnapir totaled 205.71 points to protect the lead they built with the top performance Thursday in the short program.

"Right now we're just still in shock ourselves," said Castelli, of Cranston, R.I. "We're just trying to process everything."

Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay finished second with 201.72 points. Caydee Denney and John Coughlin moved up to third, with 201.43, after receiving the highest score in Saturday's free skate.

"We didn't leave anything on the table. We skated just as hard and as passionate as we could," Bartholomay said. "We're both just completely on Cloud 9 right now. We are aware that second place is not locked in. But we gave it everything we had against some tremendous competition."

Skating in front of their home crowd on the rink the Bruins call home, Shnapir tossed Castelli high into the air for a triple twist and then threw her into a high-point value quad salchow that she finished with a fall - their only major mistake of the routine. He also did a triple toe loop when she went around twice, costing them some points.

They were shaken, but nor stirred.

"We left some points on the table, but we're really thrilled with the result here," Shnapir said, adding that they did not consider ditching the quad. "There really wasn't a decision. We'd been doing it all year. ... We don't make any changes last minute."

When they finished at the center of the rink where their hometown Bruins play, Shnapir struck the Bond pose: standing sideways with his hands up, ready to turn and fire. The crowd showered them with appreciation and the judges did the same, handing them scores of 132.58 for the free skate - the third best on the day, but good enough to protect their lead.

That's because they finished the short program more than six points ahead of the second-place Zhang and Bartholomay. The 2013 third-place finishers skated a clean program and earned 135.22 points to a mistake-free "Les Miserable" routine that brought the crowd to its feet.

Denney and Coughlin, skating to "Phantom of the Opera," earned the highest score of the day with 136.03. The 2012 champions sat out last year because he had hip surgery.

After years of narrow pairs fields, this year's competition was deeper, with a half-dozen teams capable of reaching the podium at nationals.

Leaky roof causes 2 delays in Rockets-Wizards game

WASHINGTON (AP) The Verizon Center has sprung a leak, causing a pair of delays in the Washington Wizards' game against the Houston Rockets.

Play was halted for 35 minutes during the second quarter and for 22 minutes at the start of the second half Saturday night because water was dripping onto the court.

The leak was at center court near the scorer's table. Trash cans were placed on top of some towels to catch the water, and several people were in the rafters above the leak, apparently trying to fix the problem.

Heavy rains fell in the region throughout the day.

Players from both teams took warm-up shots during the delays. Dwight Howard playfully blocked shots from a couple of young fans and signed an autograph.

Arbitrator cuts A-Rod suspension to 162 games

NEW YORK (AP) - Alex Rodriguez's doping suspension was cut to 162 games from 211 by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz on Saturday, a decision the New York Yankees third baseman vowed to fight in federal court.

Rodriguez also would be sidelined for any postseason games this year under the ruling, which costs him $25 million of the $86 million remaining on his contract.

"The number of games sadly comes as no surprise, as the deck has been stacked against me from day one," Rodriguez said in a statement. "This is one man's decision, that was not put before a fair and impartial jury, does not involve me having failed a single drug test, is at odds with the facts and is inconsistent with the terms of the Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement, and relies on testimony and documents that would never have been allowed in any court in the United States because they are false and wholly unreliable."

The three-time American League MVP was given the 211-game penalty by MLB commissioner Bud Selig on Aug. 5 following its investigation of the Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic, which was accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs.

The Major League Baseball Players Association filed a grievance saying the discipline was without "just cause"

Horowitz, the MLB's independent arbitrator since 2012, heard the case over 12 sessions from Sept. 30 until Nov. 20. Technically, he chaired a three-man arbitration panel that included MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred and union general counsel Dave Prouty.

Despite the ban, MLB's drug rules allow Rodriguez to participate in spring training and play in exhibition games.

While the 38-year-old Rodriguez could fight the ruling in court, judges rarely overturn arbitrators' decisions.

"While we believe the original 211-game suspension was appropriate, we respect the decision rendered by the panel and will focus on our continuing efforts on eliminating performance-enhancing substances from our game," MLB said in a statement.

The union said in its own statement that it "strongly disagrees" with the ruling but added "we recognize that a final and binding decision has been reached.

"We respect the collectively-bargained arbitration process which led to the decision," the union said added.

Rodriguez, however, plans to continue the fight.

"This injustice is MLB's first step toward abolishing guaranteed contracts in the 2016 bargaining round, instituting lifetime bans for single violations of drug policy, and further insulating its corrupt investigative program from any variety defense by accused players, or any variety of objective review," he said.

"I have been clear that I did not use performance-enhancing substances as alleged in the notice of discipline, or violate the Basic Agreement or the Joint Drug Agreement in any manner, and in order to prove it I will take this fight to federal court. I am confident that when a federal judge reviews the entirety of the record, the hearsay testimony of a criminal whose own records demonstrate that he dealt drugs to minors, and the lack of credible evidence put forth by MLB, that the judge will find that the panel blatantly disregarded the law and facts, and will overturn the suspension."

Rodriguez has claimed Selig was on a vendetta to smear him as a way of burnishing the commissioner's image following the Steroids Era. Both sides have admitted paying for evidence as they prepared for the hearing.

Fourteen players were penalized following the Biogenesis probe, and they all accepted penalties. Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun sat out the final 65 games of the season, the other players were given 50-game suspensions.

A-Rod's penalty was for "his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone over the course of multiple years," MLB said last summer. His punishment under the labor contract was "for attempting to cover up his violations of the program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the office of the commissioner's investigation."

Rodriguez admitted in 2009 that he doped while with Texas from 2001-03 but has repeatedly denied using them since.

His penalty was more than double the previous high for a doping suspension, a 100-game ban given last year to San Francisco pitcher Guillermo Mota for a second offense. Kansas City infielder Miguel Tejada was given a 105-game ban last summer following a third positive test for amphetamines.

Rodriguez is still signed by the Yankees through 2017 at salaries of $21 million in 2015 and $20 million in each of the final two seasons, part of his record $275 million, 10-year contract.

Missouri football standout's arrest tied to drugs

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) University of Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham has been arrested and released in an incident police say is tied to illegal drugs.

Springfield, Mo., police representative Anthony Cunis says Green-Beckham was arrested early Saturday on "suspicion of drug activity." Cunis says the investigation is ongoing and declined to provide more information regarding the arrest or whether charges had been filed. He says the department will release more information on the case Monday.

An official with the Greene County Jail confirms that Green-Beckham was booked there Saturday and later released.

Green-Beckham was charged in October 2012 with marijuana possession after he and two teammates were reportedly smoking pot in a campus parking lot near Memorial Stadium. All three later pleaded guilty to second-degree trespassing in the case.

Franklin announced as next coach at Penn State

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Penn State has hired James Franklin as its next head coach.

Franklin, 41, who led Vanderbilt to bowls in all three of his seasons there, replaces Bill O'Brien, who left the Nittany Lions after two years to coach the NFL's Houston Texans. Penn State made the announcement Saturday, after the school's compensation committee met to finalize the contract.

That committee approved the hiring by a 6-0 vote Saturday morning.

Franklin won 24 games with the Commodores and is a Pennsylvania native with strong ties in-state. Penn State officials met with him this week in Florida. He will be asked to build off a foundation that O'Brien set amid scandal. Despite a lack of scholarships, a bowl ban and player defections from the late Joe Paterno's roster, O'Brien led the Nittany Lions to two winning seasons (8-4, 7-5) while restoring some tempered enthusiasm in Happy Valley.

That torch has now been passed to Franklin, who played at Division III East Stroudsburg (Pa.). He set seven school records as a senior, and also has coached at Washington State, Idaho State, Kansas State and Maryland. With the Terrapins, he was offensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

Members of Penn State's trustee committee on compensation met with Athletic Director Dave Joyner and others Saturday morning to discuss the contract, which the group called "excellent" for both Franklin and the Nittany Lions.

"Dr. Joyner and I have stressed that our No. 1 priority in hiring a new coach was to hire an outstanding leader for our football program, one who will continue our long tradition of student-athlete success on the field and in the classroom," Penn State President Rodney Erickson said. "We have achieved that goal. On behalf of the University and the entire Nittany Lion nation, I am proud to welcome James Franklin as Penn State's 16th head football coach."

Much of Saturday's meeting, at which specific terms of the contract were laid out for trustees, was done privately. The actual vote was public, lasting roughly a minute, and Penn State made the formal announcement of the hiring moments later. Trustees said Franklin's contract terms would be revealed Saturday afternoon.

"The contract is in line with other recent coaching contracts," committee chairwoman Linda Strumpf said.

Franklin took over a Vanderbilt program that went 2-10 each of the two seasons before he was hired Dec. 17, 2010. He went 24-15 in his first three seasons as a head coach, matching Dan McGugin for the most wins in school history over a coach's first three seasons.

The Commodores are 16-4 over the past 20 games, which is second in the SEC only to Alabama. Vanderbilt won the final seven games of 2012 and the final five of 2013 in a stretch that also includes back-to-back bowl wins.

He also led Vanderbilt to rankings in the final Associated Press poll each of the past two seasons, including No. 24 in the rankings released Tuesday. Vanderbilt hadn't finished in the final AP poll before Franklin arrived since 1948 under Red Sanders.

Franklin also has doubled the number of nine-win seasons in school history by going 9-4 each of the past two seasons. Vanderbilt last won nine games in 1915 before Franklin. In 2013, the Commodores also beat Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in the same season for the first time.

He now has a new challenge and some big shoes to fill. O'Brien met the task of succeeding Paterno with ferocity and passion. He changed the culture by, among other things, placing names on the backs of the jerseys, playing loud music during practice to fire up players and overhauling the offseason weight training program. All along, he was lauded.

At the same time, though, he always paid homage to Paterno and his legacy. He said and did the right things to appeal to Penn State fans, and made the most of his 24 games at Penn State. In the end, that made him even more marketable to the NFL.

But what he left behind - especially in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal - would be difficult for any coach to adopt:

- Though there is talk that this may be reduced at some point, Penn State's bowl ban has not been lifted yet and runs through the 2015 season.

- While some scholarships have been restored, there is not the full allotment that other Big Ten schools - including new members Rutgers and Maryland - have at their disposal.

- Recruiting season is in full swing right now, a time when high school seniors may cross the Nittany Lions off their list.

- And the trials of three former Penn State officials accused of trying to cover up the scandal at the time - president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president for finance Gary Schultz - are still to be completed.

After a lackluster start - O'Brien lost to Ohio and Virginia to open his career - Penn State rattled off five straight wins, and finished the year with a rousing 24-21 win over Wisconsin at home.

This season, the Nittany Lions started off better - wins over Syracuse and Eastern Michigan opened the year - but dealt with inconsistency issues along the way. All that said, like his first season, O'Brien closed with a flurry, defeating the Badgers, this time in Wisconsin, 31-24, to close out the campaign.

O'Brien developed bonds with his players, but never let that get in the way of the task at hand. He needed to grow college football players into Penn State players, and in many cases, he was successful. It's now on Franklin to push that mission forward.

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AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

Del Potro wins Sydney International

MELBOURNE, Australia - Top-seeded Juan Martin del Potro outclassed defending champion Bernard Tomic 6-3, 6-1 Saturday in a 53-minute final of the Sydney International.

Del Potro finished the match with his eighth ace and made only four unforced errors in securing his 18th career title and first in Sydney. He lost only six points on his serve, and Tomic appeared dispirited after being broken to fall behind 4-1 in the second set.

"My forehand worked perfect, I made a lot of winners, many aces, played good slices," del Potro said. "Every long rally we played, I won all of them, which is good for my confidence. I think Bernard was a little frustrated to see me very focused on the match and hitting the ball so well."

Tomic was more succinct.

"I got killed," the 21-year-old Australian said. "There was nothing I could do."

It's about to get more difficult for Tomic. His next match is against top-seeded Rafael Nadal in the first round of the Australian Open. Del Potro will also play his first-round match Tuesday - against a qualifier.

In Auckland, New Zealand, John Isner had 23 aces in a match which had no service breaks to beat Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan 7-6 (4), 7-6 (7) in the final of the Heineken Open.

Isner, ranked No. 14, won his eighth career singles title and took the title in New Zealand for the second time after his victory in 2010.

The third-seeded Isner, playing with a right ankle injury he picked up at the Hopman Cup the previous week, took a crucial minibreak to open the first set tiebreaker. In the second tiebreaker, he rallied from 3-0 down and closed with an ace on his third championship point.

"This match was very tight as every match I've played this week was very tight," Isner said. "I needed every bit of it to come out on top."

In the final of the Kooyong Classic exhibition event, Japan's Kei Nishikori joined his coach Michael Chang as a tournament champion with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Tomas Berdych.

Nishikori, seeded No. 16 at the Australian Open, was watched in the stands by Chang, a former French Open champion and a three-time winner at the Melbourne venue in 1995-97.

In the WTA event at Hobart, Spanish qualifier Garbine Muguruza defeated Klara Zakapalova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-0 to claim her first singles title.

The 20-year-old Muguzura, who did not drop a set from the qualifiers to the final, joins 2012 champion Mona Barthel as the only qualifiers to win the Hobart event.

Muguruza, ranked 58th, beat second-seeded and Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens in the quarterfinals, while Zakapalova defeated top-seeded and former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur in the semis.

The 20-year-old Muguruza didn't play after Wimbledon last year because of right ankle surgery, and the recovery took longer than expected.

"I started to play on a chair, and then it was a little bit more until I was like normal," she said. "I didn't expect to win a lot of matches in the second tournament of the year but I just know that I'd worked so hard before. I was like a big bull."

Rajon Rondo hopes to return before All-Star break

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Rajon Rondo says he hopes to make his season debut before the All-Star break. Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens says he has never spoken to Rondo or anybody in the organization about a specific return date.

This much is clear: Rondo's return is inching closer.

Rondo, who has been out since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last January, told reporters at the team's morning shootaround Friday in San Francisco that he hopes to make his season debut before the break but declined to give a specific date. Boston's last game before the break is Feb. 12.

"It's just a feeling," Rondo told reporters. "I'll probably just wake up (one) morning and play."

Stevens said before the Celtics played at Golden State on Friday night that the decision for Rondo to return will not be made by him. Instead, the first-year Celtics coach said it will be solely up to team doctors and the point guard.

"It's not my call," Stevens said. "Obviously the trainers, No. 1, to be able to clear him to do certain things, to clear him to play games, to clear him to practice. That's their job, and they do that well.

"And it's about him feeling ready in a number of ways. I can't lose sleep over things I can't control personally. I'm more concerned about him being healthy. I want him to be fully ready to go mentally, emotionally and physically. And when that time is right, we'll plug him right in."

Stevens also stressed he's still not sure when Rondo will return.

"We never talked about a specific date," Stevens said. "It's been, `Hey, when you feel like you're close, then we'll talk at that point.' But I've never talked to him about that nor have I heard from our organization that there's been a date that's been targeted."

Rondo runs the offense but can't do it from the sideline.

The four-time All-Star point guard's return has been uncertain since the team announced during a double-overtime win against Miami on Jan. 27, 2013, that he would have season-ending surgery. He had injured his knee two days earlier against Atlanta.

Doctors cleared Rondo to participate fully in practice in the middle of December. There's also the possibility he could play for the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League before rejoining the Celtics, who had lost six straight and nine of their last 10 entering Friday night's game at the Warriors.

Rangers LHP Holland has knee surgery after fall

Texas Rangers left-hander Derek Holland will miss the start of the season after having arthroscopic surgery Friday on his left knee.

Holland injured his knee in a fall on stairs in his home on Tuesday.

"I am devastated by this injury. It was a freak accident at home that resulted in a hard fall on my knee," Holland said in a statement released by the team. "As upsetting as this is, my goal is to begin rehab and get back on the mound as quickly as possible."

General manager Jon Daniels said team physician Dr. Keith Meister repaired cartilage behind Holland's kneecap during the surgery. Daniels said no ligaments needed to be repaired.

Daniels said it was too early to have an exact timetable for Holland's return, but is that the 27-year-old lefty is "expected to miss some time into the year." Daniels said for planning purposes, the Rangers are looking at a midseason return, but are hopeful that it can be earlier than that.

The Rangers said Holland will have only limited activity over the next six weeks.

Holland was 10-9 with a 3.42 ERA in a team-high 33 starts last season. He pitched a career-high 213 innings.

In five major league seasons with the Rangers, Holland is 49-38 in 141 games (123 starts). He is under contract through 2016, with club options for two more years after that.

Without Holland, the Rangers still appear to have Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando set for the rotation to start the season.

Asked about filling Holland's spot, Daniels said he expected to add some pitching depth, but clarified that would be "more in the depth category than really replacing somebody at the front-end of our rotation."

Daniels never specifically mentioned Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese free agent who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 27 starts last season. But the GM said it didn't seem realistic that a "big-ticket item" would be the answer.

"This is an opportunity for a number of our guys," Daniels said. "We're going to go out and hopefully fortify that group and give ourselves some additional options and expect Derek will be back midyear."

Daniels, though, has said previously when asked about Tanaka that the team would do its due diligence with any free agent.

After the Rangers signed outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to a $130 million, seven-year contract last month, team co-owner Bob Simpson said adding Tanaka "would be a tough thing."

The Rangers' payroll is expected to be over $130 million this season, more than double what it was when the ownership group took over nearly 3 1/2 years ago.

Pelicans G Holiday has stress fracture in shin

NEW ORLEANS (AP) New Orleans Pelicans starting point guard Jrue Holiday is sidelined indefinitely with a lower right leg injury.

Holiday, who met with reporters shortly before Friday night's game against Dallas, says the injury is a stress fracture in his tibia which he believes he played with for an undetermined time before the pain led him to ask trainers to take a closer look.

Holiday played 29 minutes in Wednesday night's 102-96 loss at home to Washington. He's now using a stabilizing boot to walk and says he expects to be re-evaluated in about a month.

In 34 games this season, the 6-foot-4 Holiday is averaging 14.3 points, 7.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds. His injury comes while New Orleans also plays without leading scorer Ryan Anderson, who has a herniated disk.

Saints, Seahawks clash in NFC divisional playoff

SEATTLE (AP) When they walked off the field in Atlanta last January after blowing their chance to play for the NFC championship in the final seconds, there were varying emotions brewing in the Seattle Seahawks' locker room.

Anger, disappointment and reflection were wide spread. Some, like quarterback Russell Wilson, were already peeking ahead what appeared to be a bright future. Others never wanted to experience those emotions again.

"We never want to feel that feeling again," Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said this week. "I think as motivated as New Orleans is from what happened to them the last time they came here, we're just as motivated from what happened in Atlanta. We don't ever want to go there and feel that feeling of regret, of disappointment, of anger, of frustration, of all those things that you felt after that game that you felt like you should have won."

The Seahawks chance at making amends for what happened in last season's playoffs arrives Saturday when they host New Orleans in the NFC divisional playoff.

But now the Seahawks aren't the upstarts with little pressure and limited expectations. They are the top seed in the NFC coming off a 13-3 regular season that matched the best in franchise history and well aware anything short of a trip to the Super Bowl would be a massive disappointment.

After having last week off, the Seahawks say they're ready for this playoff experience.

"When we first got there last year a lot of the guys we didn't know what to expect. We're just young wanting to go out there, have fun and do our best," Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. "Now we kind of expect the atmosphere we know what we're going into, and we know it's going to be amped up so we're going to be just as amped up to repeat it."

In many ways, the feelings the Seahawks had leaving Atlanta last season are similar to what the Saints felt leaving Seattle in December. The performance New Orleans put forth in a national spotlight was surprisingly unimpressive. Drew Brees was confused, Jimmy Graham was invisible and the Saints' aggressive defense was exploited by Wilson.

The 34-7 loss to Seattle was significant in forcing the Saints into challenges they faced, having to win in Week 17 just to make the playoffs and having to spend the entire postseason away from the comforts of New Orleans. They passed the first two tests, beating Tampa Bay in the season finale to wrap up the No. 6 seed in the NFC then picking up the first playoff road win in franchise history in a 26-24 win at Philadelphia last week.

Now the Saints get a chance at a bit of redemption. The piercing noise of CenturyLink Field and the style that Seattle plays will no longer be surprises. And there's a bit of history on the side of the Saints. Since 2005, No. 6 seeds are 5-2 against No. 1 seeds in the divisional round.

"I was just hoping we have another opportunity and here we are with that opportunity," Brees said.

The Saints are subtly different - for better and worse - since that December blowout. They are more committed to running the football over the last three games and capped with 185 yards rushing last week against the Eagles. That commitment will be severely tested by Seattle's No. 1 ranked defense that gave up 13 yards rushing to St. Louis the last time it was on the field. They are also better on the offensive line with the decision to replace Charles Brown at left tackle with Terron Armstead.

But New Orleans is littered with injuries, the latest being linebacker Parys Haralson being lost for the season with a torn pectoral last week. Running back Pierre Thomas is also an unknown with a chest injury.

"There's going to be attrition when you look at a 16-game schedule and you hope that you stay healthier than most and you hope that you are able to keep most of your starters intact," New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. "We've had a handful of injuries defensively, a few on offense and I think the key is developing the younger players, developing your back up players throughout the work week."

Seattle is also different from the first meeting, although there's no track record to know just what adding Percy Harvin to the offense will mean. Certainly the addition of Harvin - who missed all but one game of the season after hip surgery - makes Seattle more dynamic and could provide a needed boost to an offense that slumped the final four weeks of the regular season.

"I'm confident in myself once I get to the game. I'm just going to cut it loose," Harvin said. "I made all the cuts and did all the practice I could do possibly in the game. I felt no limitations. No swelling came. No setbacks. So I'm going to go out there and give it all I have."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Kiffin joins Alabama as offensive coordinator

Alabama hired former Southern California coach Lane Kiffin on Friday as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Kiffin returns to the Southeastern Conference after head coaching stints with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, Alabama rival Tennessee and the Trojans. He replaces Doug Nussmeier, who left Alabama for Michigan.

"He is an outstanding and creative offensive coach who has great experience both at the college and NFL level," coach Nick Saban said in a statement. "He has a very good understanding of the game and I have always been impressed with what I saw in the games he called. He coaches with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm, and also does an excellent job as a teacher."

Kiffin spent a week in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last month exchanging ideas with Saban and his staff and observing Alabama's offense. Now, he's the splashiest hire of Saban's tenure at Alabama, which has won three national titles in the past five seasons.

The 38-year-old Kiffin was 28-15 in three-plus seasons with USC. He was fired five games into last season from one of college football's marquee jobs.

Kiffin spent six seasons (2001-06) at USC under Pete Carroll as an assistant, including the final two as offensive coordinator. He also called plays during his time as a head coach. He spent the 2009 season at Tennessee, going 7-6 before leaving to replace Carroll.

"We want to thank the University of Alabama and Coach Saban for this tremendous opportunity, and we feel humbled and honored to be a part of the Crimson Tide family," Kiffin said in a statement. "I've always had the utmost respect for what Coach Saban has done with his programs. Having the unique opportunity to be here last month, I was able to meet some of the great players and the great people in the organization, and I'm very excited to start working with them.

"We've seen the passion and support of the Alabama fans firsthand, and when that's combined with the storied history and tradition of the program, this is a very special place to coach."

Now, Kiffin is tasked with finding a replacement for quarterback AJ McCarron, the Heisman Trophy runner-up. One potential contender, Alec Morris, posted on his Twitter page "Love it" after the hiring.

His hiring creates a high-profile pairing with Saban, who along with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has routinely fielded one of the nation's best defenses while also putting up solid numbers with a pro-style offense.

Kiffin was part of two national championships as a USC assistant under Carroll. He ran the offense from 2005-06 and was passing game coordinator the previous year, when quarterback Matt Leinart won the Heisman.

The Trojans averaged 49.1 points and 579.8 total yards per game when Kiffin was offensive coordinator.

The Tide's lone meeting with Kiffin's Volunteers proved pivotal during the 2009 national championship season.

Terrence Cody blocked two field goals in the fourth quarter to preserve a 12-10 Alabama win and the Tide's title hopes.

Kiffin did run afoul of SEC Commissioner Mike Slive during his stay at Tennessee. After Kiffin was publicly dismissive of his second reprimand from the league, this one for criticizing officials, Slive issued a letter warning him that further such comments from he or his staff would lead to a suspension from at least one game.

Kiffin had questioned why officials didn't penalize Cody for unsportsmanlike conduct when the defensive lineman removed and threw his helmet after his second block on the game's final play.

He also said at the time that he decided to let the clock run down instead of trying to run another play before the kick because he was concerned about the officiating.

No terms of the deal with Alabama were released, pending formal approval by the university's board of trustees.

Colts rule out Heyward-Bey for Patriots game

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Colts receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey will not play in Saturday's playoff game at New England.

Heyward-Bey did not practice all week because of a hamstring injury. Coach Chuck Pagano said Heyward-Bey was expected to miss at least a week and they signed former New England receiver Deion Branch to help fill the void.

Starting safety LaRon Landry and backup linebacker Josh McNary are listed as probable. Both have been full participants in practice this week after being diagnosed with concussions in last weekend's 45-44 victory over Kansas City in a wild-card game.

Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, who got some extra rest this week, and offensive lineman Khaled Holmes, who hurt his calf, were the only other players on Friday's injury report. Both are listed as probable.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

'Major announcement' expected on Penn State coach

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Penn State's search for a new football coach might be over.

University officials are summoning reporters who cover the team to Beaver Stadium for what it calls a "major announcement" Saturday afternoon.

Penn State has been talking with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. Franklin is reportedly expected to be the successor to Bill O'Brien, who left for the NFL. Vanderbilt officials said Thursday night Franklin hadn't made a decision.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson and athletic director Dave Joyner are to attend the news conference.

3 deaths overshadow sixth stage of Dakar Rally

SALTA, Argentina (AP) Three deaths overshadowed Friday's sixth leg of the Dakar Rally, as the race claimed the life of Belgian motorcyclist Eric Palante and two spectators who were following the event.

Palante's body was found after he failed to finish Thursday's fifth stage.

Nani Roma of Spain kept the overall lead in cars despite finishing sixth in the stage, and fellow Spaniard Marc Coma stayed on top in bikes after taking second on the stage from Tucuman to Salta in northern Argentina.

Roma, driving a Mini, has a large lead of 30 minutes, 30 seconds over Orlando Terranova of Argentina, and 40:54 ahead of 11-time winner Stephane Peterhansel.

Coma leads fellow Spaniard Joan Barreda Bort by 42:17 and is an hour ahead of Alain Duclos of France.

Organizers said they went out looking for the 50-year-old Palante after he failed to finish the fifth stage, which most riders completed on Thursday, and found his body along the route.

The cause of death was being investigated, and officials offered few details.

This was Palante's 11th Dakar Rally, according to an event biography, which said he would have turned 51 on Jan. 21. It said his goal was to win the amateur trophy for motorbikes.

"He knew the race very well, and over the years his enthusiastic but serious approach had made him one of the pillars of the event," organizers said in a statement.

Organizers said they received no alert from Palante.

Police said two people following the race died on Thursday when their vehicle overturned in rough terrain in northern Argentina.

Police identified the pair on Friday as Agustin Ignacio Mina, 19, and Daniel Eduardo Ambrosio, 51. Officials said Mina was covering the rally for a motor racing magazine, and they identified Ambrosio as a fan of motor sports.

The Dakar, raced over rugged terrain in difficult-to-control areas, often produces fatalities. Last year, French motorcyclist Thomas Bourgin was killed in a collision with a Chilean police car. Two fans also died in a collision between a support vehicle and two taxis.

The Dakar began Sunday in Rosario, Argentina, and ends Jan. 18 in Valapariso, Chile. This is the sixth straight year it has been held in South America.

Saturday in a rest day.

NFL: 2 players violated concussion protocol

BOSTON (AP) Two players violated league concussion protocol during last weekend's wild-card games, according to a letter sent by the NFL's head, neck and spine committee chairmen to all team doctors and trainers.

In a document obtained by The Associated Press, Drs. Hunt Batjer and Richard Ellenbogen said one player re-entered the game and another refused to leave the sideline.

The doctors did not identify the players, but one was Green Bay tackle David Bakhtiari, who went into the game for an extra-point try despite being examined for a concussion and not cleared. The other player was Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis, who remained on the sideline but did not get back on the field.

"On two occasions last weekend, and contrary to the advice of the team medical staffs, players who had been diagnosed with a concussion and therefore declared ineligible for play nonetheless refused to leave the sidelines as required by league concussion protocols," the letter said. "In one case, the player went back onto the field for one play before being removed from the game."

The doctors found "no fault" in how the team medical staffs conducted themselves.

"If a player refuses to follow your advice and leave the sidelines after being diagnosed with a concussion, we recommend that the head athletic trainer seek assistance from the player's position coach (or another member of the coaching staff) or from another team official to remove the player from the sidelines as soon as possible," the letter said.

The NFL's Madden Rule requires a player diagnosed with a concussion to be taken to the locker room or another quiet location.

"We will continue working with the league to ensure that team doctors, coaches, trainers and other members of a team's medical staff enforce return-to-participation protocols," the NFL Players Association said in an email. "Players naturally want to play and ultimately, the game-day medical and coaching staffs have the responsibility and obligation for player protection and care."

The Saints and Packers declined comment.

No fines will be imposed for the violations.

Bakhtiari's season is over because Green Bay lost to San Francisco. But Lewis' Saints are playing Saturday at Seattle and he has been practicing.

Batjer and Ellenbogen noted in the letter how players may resist being kept out of the game, particularly during the postseason.

"But (the rule) is an important element of the league's protocol and intended to safeguard the player's well-being and enhance his ability to recover from his injury," they wrote.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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