Sports Briefs

Pro Football

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin will have surgery to repair an injured left knee and might not be ready for the start of next season.

Griffin was hurt covering the overtime kickoff in Minnesota's loss at New Orleans in the NFC championship game. Coach Brad Childress said Tuesday that Griffin will have surgery within the next week, once some of the strength and range of motion returns in his knee.

Griffin led the Vikings with four interceptions this season and helped stabilize the secondary while fellow starting cornerback Antoine Winfield missed nearly two months with a broken right foot.

ANTIOCH, Ill. — Former San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl punter Tom Wittum has died at age 60.

Wittum's son, Matt Wittum, said his father died of cancer Friday at his home in this northern Chicago suburb.

A Chicago-area native, Tom Wittum was a three-year letter winner as a place kicker and punter at Northern Illinois University, where he also lettered in baseball. Wittum set 10 NIU kicking records, including the school's career, single-season and single-game records for punts, punting yards and punting average.

College Football

MOBILE, Ala. — Quarterback Tim Tebow showed progress on his second day of Senior Bowl practices even though he might have been "a little under the weather."

South team coach Tony Sparano of the Miami Dolphins says the former Florida star was a little more comfortable and got the ball out of his hand quicker on Tuesday. Sparano says that improvement shows how smart Tebow is and how quickly he processes information.

Senior Bowl spokesman Kevin McDermond said Tebow "might be a little under the weather," but added that he doesn't have strep throat as had been reported. Tebow hasn't missed any practice time Monday or Tuesday.

Tebow is trying to show NFL teams that he can be a pro quarterback during the week of practices, interviews and meetings leading up to Saturday's game.

NO DATELINE — A person familiar with the negotiations says Cornell has hired Mississippi offensive coordinator Kent Austin as its new football coach.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Tuesday because Cornell had not yet announced the hire.

The Ivy League university has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday regarding a replacement for Jim Knowles, who resigned in December to become defensive coordinator at Duke.

Knowles was 26-34 in six seasons and Cornell was 2-8 in 2009, the school's worst record since 2003.

MOBILE, Ala. — Florida receiver Riley Cooper is setting his sights on the NFL, not the major leagues.

Cooper, a 25th-round draft pick of baseball's Texas Rangers, said Monday that he has decided to focus on a pro football career. He was set to receive half of his signing bonus at a scheduled physical on Jan. 17, which had to be put on hold while he was playing football.

"Football's definitely the route I want to take," Cooper said. "Toward the last couple of weeks of the football season, I knew that's what I wanted to do. That's my makeup, my mentality. I'm just a football player not a baseball player."

Tim Tebow's favorite target started preparations on Monday for the Senior Bowl along with his Gators quarterback. Cooper was a second-team All-SEC pick and led the team with 961 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

He said he has received indications he would be drafted anywhere from the second to the fourth round, but figures he has more speed than NFL teams think.


ARLINGTON, Texas — Texas Rangers closer Frank Francisco reached an agreement Tuesday on a one-year contract worth $3,265,000 to avoid an arbitration hearing.

Francisco was seeking $3.6 million and the Rangers had countered with $3 million when they swapped figures last week.

Francisco was 2-3 with a career-best 25 saves and a 3.83 ERA in 51 relief appearances last season, when he also had three stints on the disabled list. Opposing batters hit only .214 against Francisco, who had 57 strikeouts and 15 walks in his 49 1-3 innings.

The only remaining Texas player in arbitration is right-hander Scott Feldman, a 17-game winner last season who is seeking $2.9 million. The Rangers have offered $2.05 million.

MINNEAPOLIS — Jim Thome has hit 57 of his 564 career home runs against the Minnesota Twins.

Now it's time to even it out a little.

Thome and the Twins agreed Tuesday on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, allowing the 39-year-old slugger to return to the division he knows well and play for a contender with his time in baseball winding down.

Even though he'll be more of a bench player than the middle-of-the-lineup-force he's been for 19 seasons, Thome was eager to join one of his longtime rivals.

"They were really excited about me coming there, so to me it was a no-brainer," Thome said on a conference call with local reporters. "I've always enjoyed the way they play and how they go about their business. To be a part of that will be a lot of fun to go there and help them win."

Jason Kubel is coming off a career-best season as the regular designated hitter, and the Twins are committed to Delmon Young as their left fielder. Justin Morneau is entrenched at first base.

So Thome will be used primarily as a pinch-hitter and a part-time DH, when Kubel needs a break or plays in the field. Kubel can move to right field, too, when Michael Cuddyer gets a day off or fills in at first for Morneau. Manager Ron Gardenhire didn't rule out occasional starts at first for Thome, either.

BALTIMORE — Six years after signing Miguel Tejada to a top-dollar contract, the Baltimore Orioles welcomed back the 2002 AL MVP at a bargain price.

Tejada received a $6 million, one-year contract Tuesday after passing a physical. He was to be introduced in a news conference at the B&O Warehouse behind the baseball diamond at Camden Yards — the same room that was filled with hope in December 2003 when Tejada signed a six-year, $72 million contract.

Tejada played shortstop for four seasons with Baltimore before being traded to the Houston Astros for five players, a key deal in the Orioles' effort to rebuild with youth.

Now, the 35-year-old Tejada will be asked to provide veteran leadership at a new position: third base.


VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Winter Olympics are coming to Vancouver in three weeks. The snow has no such timetable.

Cypress Mountain, the venue for snowboarding and freestyle skiing events, is bare and muddy in parts. It closed to the public two and a half weeks earlier than planned due to unseasonably warm and wet weather.

The head of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association said Tuesday organizers are using contingency plans due to the lack of snow for freestyle and snowboarding events.

"They're kind of in crisis mode," Peter Judge said.

However, Judge is confident snowboarding and freestyle skiing events will proceed.

The mountain had 11 inches of new snow at higher elevations on Monday, said Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald. He said it's part of a cooling trend after a wet month.

"We had an extremely wet and warm January," MacDonald said. "When it was raining through last week, everyone was freaking out, for sure."

— The Associated Press

Freezing temperatures are expected at the base of Cypress this weekend, he said.

College Softball

SEATTLE — The defending national champion Washington softball team will begin the season as the nation's No. 1 team.

The Huskies announced Tuesday they were entering a season top ranked for the first time in Washington's 18-year history.

The Huskies were a unanimous No. 1 in the USA Today/NFCA poll. They got 17 of 20 first-place votes in the Softball rankings.

Washington started last season ranked No. 21 in the USA Today poll and No. 15 in the ESPN poll, then went 51-12 and won the College World Series for the first time.

The Huskies return 2009 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and Women's College World Series Most Outstanding Player Danielle Lawrie in 2010. They begin the season Feb. 11 against Auburn in Tempe, Ariz.

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