At age 54 after suffering a pair of strokes, former NFL receiver Drew Hill (above), who played a key role in the Houston Oilers' run-and-shoot offense of the 1980s. Scavenged in the 12th round in '79 by the Rams, Hill never caught more than 19 passes for L.A. before being shipped to Houston in '85 for two low draft choices. There he thrived in the Oilers' system, catching 64 balls for 1,169 yards and nine touchdowns in his first season, and quickly becoming Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon's favorite target. Hill, whose quickness and ability to read a defense offset his slight 5'9" frame, had four more 1,000-yard receiving seasons over his next six years with the Oilers and more than 70 receptions three times, including a career-high 90 in '91, when the Oilers won the AFC Central. He was twice named to the Pro Bowl and, after two years in Atlanta, retired following the '93 season with 9,831 career receiving yards and 60 touchdowns on 634 receptions.
By a veteran NBA official, Associated Press sportswriter Jon Krawczynski, whose tweet during a Jan. 24 Timberwolves game was considered defamatory by the plaintiff. According to a lawsuit filed by William Spooner, the NBA official of 21 years was questioned by T-Wolves coach Kurt Rambis after he called a personal foul on Minnesota during a game against Houston. Spooner says that he agreed to review the play at halftime and claims to have remained silent when the coach asked how he would get the points back. Krawczynski, however, tweeted, "Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he'd 'get it back' after a bad call." Spooner is seeking $75,000 in damages and a court order to have the Web post removed.
By Tennessee in the wake of multiple recruiting violations, men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl, who in six seasons led the Volunteers to six straight NCAA tournament appearances and, in 2008, their first No. 1 ranking. Last week Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said on a Knoxville radio show that the "jury was still out" on a return in 2011--12 for Pearl, who was charged with unethical conduct by the NCAA in June after misleading investigators about hosting recruits at a cookout. Pearl acknowledged those mistakes in a tearful press conference in September, and he was docked $1.5 million in salary by the school in addition to an eight-game SEC suspension. In December, Tennessee officials also learned that Pearl had committed another possible violation after an alleged extended conversation with a prospect. (The NCAA had yet to decide if further punishment was warranted.) On Monday, three days after the Volunteers' 75--45 loss to Michigan in their first game of the NCAA tournament, the 51-year-old wrote about his firing on his Facebook page, "This is perhaps the saddest day in my life.... These were the best years of my life."
At age 93, Marty Marion, whose long arms and exceptional range at shortstop helped propel the St. Louis Cardinals to three World Series titles in the 1940s. Known as Slats for his lanky frame, the 6'2" Marion (above, far left) was unusually tall for a shortstop of his era, but his ability to dig out balls deep in the hole rivaled that of more compact contemporaries Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto. Though Marion never joined those two in Cooperstown, he was a seven-time All-Star and was NL MVP in 1944 while leading the Cardinals to one of the four pennants they won during his tenure. He batted just .267 that season (right around his career .263) but led NL shortstops in fielding percentage, the first of four times he did so.
By John Baker, the 39th Iditarod, which crowned its first Eskimo champion since the 1,150-mile dogsled race across Alaska began in 1973. Baker finished in eight days, 18 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds (shattering the previous race record by three hours) and arrived at the finish line in Nome on March 15 to a chorus of traditional Eskimo drummers, who celebrated the win as a victory for Alaskan Natives. Baker, who is from Kotzebue, had finished among the top 10 in 11 of his previous 15 Iditarods before tearing through the race's southern route—traditionally considered the slower of the Iditarod's two paths—to claim his first victory. Meanwhile, defending champion Lance Mackey (SI, March 7) saw his bid for a historic fifth consecutive title end with a 16th-place finish—a full day behind Baker.