Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott, teammates on four San Francisco 49er Super Bowl championship teams, lead the list of 15 finalists announced Thursday for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Montana, a quarterback, and Lott, a defensive back, were the only nominees to make the list of finalists in their first year of eligibility.
The list also includes Oakland/Los Angeles Raider defensive end Howie Long and Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Lynn Swann, both of whom finished in the top six in last year's balloting but fell short of the votes needed for induction. As a result of their finish in the 1999 voting, both were automatically included on the list of finalists this year.
The remainder of the finalists are linebacker Harry Carson (New York Giants 1976-88), tight end Dave Casper (1974-84 with the Raiders, Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings), defensive end Carl Eller (1964-78 Vikings and 1979 Seattle Seahawks), coach Marv Levy (1978-82 Chiefs and Buffalo Bills 1986-97), wide receiver James Lofton (1978-93 with the Green Bay Packers, Raiders, Bills, Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles), offensive guard Mike Munchak (1982-93 Oilers), current Pittsburgh Steeler owner and administrator Dan Rooney, wide receiver John Stallworth (1974-87 Steelers), offensive tackle Ron Yary (Vikings 1968-81, '82 Rams) and defensive end Jack Youngblood (Rams 1971-84).
Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who had 12 1/2 sacks, was named the Associated Press defensive player of the year.
Sapp is the fourth consecutive lineman to win the award. Jevon Kearse of Tennessee was second.
The NFL conducted a daylong hearing in New York on Bill Belichick's grievance as he sought clarification of his contract status. Belichick resigned as coach of the New York Jets on Jan. 4, one day after Bill Parcells stepped aside and anointed the defensive coordinator as his successor. Belichick cited uncertainties about the Jets' ownership situation amid speculation that he was interested in a more powerful post as general manager and coach of the New England Patriots.
Belichick has three years remaining on a Jets' contract signed when he came with Parcells from the Patriots before the 1997 season.
Suspended Cleveland Brown offensive tackle Orlando Brown didn't attend his appeal hearing in New York, choosing instead to plead his case over the phone. Brown, suspended indefinitely for shoving referee Jeff Triplette to the ground during a game last month, wasn't present for the one-hour meeting in Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's office.
Tom Condon, Brown's agent, attended the hearing, which also included Tagliabue, members of his staff and Gene Upshaw, executive director of the players' union.
Relying on the well-tested theory that playoff adrenaline suppresses pain, Washington Redskin running back Stephen Davis and center Cory Raymer say they will play in Saturday's playoff game at Tampa Bay.
Raymer took part in a full practice for the first time this week and is listed as probable, but he is far from full strength. Raymer has a pulled muscle in his rib cage.
St. Louis Ram Coach Dick Vermeil, 63, said he will return next season no matter what his team does in the postseason. "I plan to coach my contract, I really do," Vermeil said as the NFC West champions prepared for Sunday's playoff game against the Vikings. "After that, I'll have to reevaluate my situation. But right now my basic thought is to do the best job I can within my contract."
Vermeil has two years remaining on a five-year contract that launched his coaching comeback in 1997.
The 49ers' stadium-mall project survived a legal challenge when the state Supreme Court refused to consider reviving a ballot measure sponsored by opponents in San Francisco.