Is it true that Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger likes to go long on the field and long-distance off it? Rumors are swirling that he is "dating" the LPGA's Natalie Gulbis by telephone--even though they've never met. Gulbis's publicist says that the two have been speaking for five weeks and that Gulbis (below) plans to fly to the Steel City to cheer on Big Ben during the playoffs. But Roethlisberger says that isn't true. "I don't know where it came from," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I talked to her once on the phone, but there's nothing there." Roethlisberger's denials fell on deaf ears in the Pittsburgh locker room, however: His teammates recently left a cardboard cutout of the player known as the Anna Kournikova of golf propped up next to his stall.

■ It's an understatement to say Jackie Christie, wife of Orlando Magic swingman Doug Christie, stands by her man: She travels on the team charter to most of his road games, and they communicate by hand signals during games. (She even swung her handbag at Lakers forward Rick Fox after he got into a fistfight with her husband during a 2002 exhibition game.) Now VH1 has taken notice and is developing a Christies-based reality show similar to Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey's Newlyweds. Cameras were slated to roll on the Christies this month. "I'm going to get out there and just be me," said Doug. "So if you want to see me, then that's cool. It might be boring. It might not."

■ There may not be much to do there but watch grass grow, but residents of Riddleville, Ga., aren't complaining. Over the past 18 months farmer Phillip Jennings has meticulously grown and groomed a mix of perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass and bermuda grass on his 3,000-acre spread, and that turf will now serve as the playing surface for Super Bowl XXXIX. The project required around-the-clock security. "Somebody could have come over here and cut a piece out and sold it on eBay," said Washington county sheriff Thomas Smith. "That's what I was worried about." NFL turf guru George Toma traveled to Riddleville to give the grass a green thumbs-up last week, and its durability was tested. A marching band played on Jennings's field, and Georgia governor Sonny Perdue landed in a helicopter to make the ceremonial first cut of the sod, which was sliced in strips, rolled and driven to Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville for the Feb. 6 game. Said Governor Perdue, "We're certainly hopeful Coach [Jim] Mora and Michael Vick can have the Falcons playing on this turf in a month."

■ If you're a Cubs fan, the place to be last week when the Hall of Fame announced that Ryne Sandberg had been elected was Harry Caray's restaurant in Chicago. Upon hearing the news, the announcer's widow, Dutchie, rewarded the party seated at table 23 (the second baseman's jersey number) with a ball autographed by Sandberg, who's a co-owner of the restaurant.


A defense lawyer in the Abu Ghraib abuse trial compared piles of naked prisoners to cheerleader pyramids.


Coach of MLS expansion team Real Salt Lake, when asked if new striker Clint Mathis (right) is a down-to-earth guy: "It depends which earth you're talking about."

TWO COLOR PHOTOSPHIL ELLSWORTH (PICTURE THIS, 2) PICTURE THIS Motocross phenom James (Bubba) Stewart, 19, didn't win his THQ AMA Supercross debut in Anaheim, but he did get his feet wet. Heavy rains turned the Angel Stadium course into a quagmire. A mud-caked Stewart, already a fan favorite, thrilled the crowd of 45,050 by winning his qualifier (above) after passing his idol, Jeremy McGrath. But he finished fifth in the race, which was won by Kevin Windham. COLOR PHOTOACTION IMAGES/ICON SMI (MATHIS) COLOR PHOTODONALD MIRALLE/GETTY IMAGES (GULBIS)

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