Sports briefs: Dec. 20

December 19, 2013 

NFL

Bengals face TV blackout

The Bengals are trying to hold onto first place in the AFC North and fill their stadium for two final home games that will decide their fate.

They've got a lot of work to do in both areas.

The Bengals (9-5) need to beat the Vikings (4-9-1) at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday to move a step closer to clinching the division title. They've led the division by at least two games for most of the season, but it's down to one over Baltimore (8-6) with two games left.

"You've got to put all your cookies in the basket — however you want to look at it," safety Chris Crocker said. "You're all in at this point. You've really got to win. Just win. Doesn't matter how it looks, just win."

With two weeks to go, the Bengals are still in very good position to make the playoffs for an unprecedented third year in a row. But a 30-20 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday night tightened things and made a lot of their fans do a double-take.

The Bengals haven't sold out their game Sunday against Minnesota. Roughly 3,500 tickets remain. The league gave them a one-day extension to sell out and avoid having the game blacked out on local television.

They packed Paul Brown Stadium for the first six home games. As the playoffs close in, they've become a tough ticket to sell. The loss in Pittsburgh left a lot of fans with a sense of doom.

 New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz has had surgery on his left knee. The Giants announced that Cruz had arthroscopic surgery on Thursday. He was injured on Sunday in the third quarter of the Giants' 23-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He jumped to catch a pass and landed hard on his head. After he walked off the field, the Giants said he sustained a concussion and injured his knee.


College football

Notre Dame-Purdue rivalry ending

Another Notre Dame rivalry game is biting the dust.

Purdue announced on Thursday it has joined Pittsburgh and Michigan on the list of teams that usually play the Fighting Irish on an annual or near-annual basis but won't be any longer.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick didn't respond to a telephone message seeking comment, but he is expected to discuss future schedules on Friday.

Purdue said the teams, which have played annually since 1946 and 85 times overall, will meet in Indianapolis next season as part of the Shamrock Series home games the Fighting Irish play every season away from South Bend, and then not play again until 2020.

 Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir says North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson has agreed to become the new head coach of the Red Wolves. Anderson leaves the Tar Heels after two seasons, replacing Bryan Harsin — who left Arkansas State last week to become the head coach at Boise State.

 The daughter of University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban said evidence proves she isn't to blame for a fight with a sorority sister who is now suing over the brawl, and she is asking a judge to rule in her favor. Lawyers for Kristen Saban have filed legal documents asking Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge James H. Roberts Jr. to end the lawsuit, filed last year by Sarah Grimes.

 Florida and Michigan will open the 2017 season in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas. The prime-time game is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 2. It will be Florida's first regular-season, non-conference game outside the Sunshine State since 1991.


Auto racing

Franchitti speaks from retirement

Dario Franchitti hobbled into Thursday's news conference on crutches and sat down between IndyCar's two most cherished prizes — the series championship trophy and the Indianapolis 500 trophy.

That's when it all hit home for Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi's employees — and Franchitti himself.

He is done racing.

More than a month after abruptly announcing his retirement, Franchitti finally felt well enough to spend 20 minutes answering questions about the frightening October crash that forced him to reluctantly walk away from a sport that turned the thoughtful, polite Scotsman into an international celebrity.

"I spent two days kind of thinking, 'How can I get around this?'" Franchitti said. "I've driven with a lot of broken body parts over the years and I thought, 'There's got to be a way,' and there just wasn't."

It took Franchitti nearly 2½ months just to make it back onto the public stage after the crash at Houston. Debris from the accident injured 13 fans in the grandstands and an IndyCar official, while the four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was diagnosed with a fractured spine, a broken right ankle and a concussion.

 A new, environmentally friendly auto racing series just got even greener. Boston Celtics managing partner Wyc Grousbeck and a dozen of his co-owners in the NBA franchise have invested $21 million into Formula E, an all-electric circuit that has already attracted celebrities with environmental interests such as actor Leonardo DiCaprio and billionaire Richard Branson. The series is scheduled to debut in Beijing in September and continue on the streets from Miami to Monaco in a 10-race, Formula One-style championship.


MLB

Source: White Sox, Downs reach deal

A person familiar with the situation says the Chicago White Sox are closing in on a $4 million, one-year contract with pitcher Scott Downs. The person spoke Thursday on the condition of anonymity because the deal has not been announced. Downs, who earned Kentucky Mr. Baseball honors and played for Kentucky, would earn $3.75 million next season, and the White Sox would hold a $4.25 million option for 2015 with a $250,000 buyout.

John Axford had other choices where he could pitch next season. The Indians closed the deal. Axford, who had 46 saves for Milwaukee in 2011 but lost his closer's job last season and was traded to St. Louis, finalized a $4.5 million, one-year contract on Thursday and will close for Cleveland in 2014.


Olympics

Boitano comes out ahead of Sochi

Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano came out Thursday, two days after he was named to the U.S. delegation for Sochi along with openly gay athletes Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow.

"First and foremost I am an American athlete and I am proud to live in a country that encourages diversity, openness and tolerance," the 1988 gold medalist said in his statement. "As an athlete, I hope we can remain focused on the Olympic spirit which celebrates achievement in sport by peoples of all nations."

 The former wife of Beatles star Paul McCartney was accused Thursday of lunging at a Paralympic official in a fit of rage and screaming insults after being forced to abandon her attempt to qualify for the British skiing team for next year's games.

Heather Mills' hopes of competing in Sochi ended Monday when the International Paralympic Committee ruled that a new prosthetic she was using hadn't been ratified by the governing body. An application for a place in Britain's team was withdrawn.

Mills will likely be fined up to 1,000 euros ($1,370) and the incident will be referred to the IPC's legal and ethics committee for its consideration.


The last word

Whether working basketball clinics, meeting with business leaders or just showing her face around town, Chicago Sky rookie star Elena Delle Donne is making the most of her time in the Windy City.

"They see me and being 6-foot-5, they are like, 'Who's this athletic tall girl at these business meetings?' They want to follow us next year. It's important to have our faces out there so they can get excited about it."

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