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Vikings' Smith is injured

Robert Smith will miss Sunday's game against the Patriots and could be out longer because of ligament damage in his right ankle, the latest in a long line of injuries for the Vikings' star-crossed running back.

Although the Vikings say the injury isn't season-ending, they are uncertain when the NFC's s No. 2 rusher will return.

"We're not going to rush it," coach Dennis Green said Wednesday. "We're going to see if we can get him healthy so when he does come back he'll be healthy the rest of the year."

Smith, who has 775 yards through eight games, has had midseason injuries each of the last three seasons that have either ended his year or severely limited his availability.

Leroy Hoard will start in Smith's place. Hoard is nursing two broken ribs.

DE Derrick Alexander is out after sustaining ligament damage in his left ankle in Sunday's win at Tampa Bay.

Finally, unable to realign their unusual ownership structure from within, the team is pursuing an outside buyer it hopes will keep it in-state.

Wednesday's revelation that the team secretly has been for sale for two months, however, only heightened speculation that the Vikings' storied 37-year run in Minnesota is in jeopardy.

Board members have entertained four out-of-state prospective buyers, the Star Tribune reported. The suitors represent Los Angeles, Toronto, Birmingham and another unidentified area. Board members have rejected a $150-million bid to purchase the team, Vikings vice chairman and part owner Philip Maas said.

BENGALS: S Tremain Mack remained in jail on a 30-day sentence for drunk driving.

BRONCOS: Six-time Pro Bowl DT Michael Dean Perry is being benched, a move that might signal the end of his 10-year NFL career.

CHARGERS: Rookie LB Toran James had arthroscopic knee surgery, and doctors found no ligament or cartilage damage. He is listed as week-to-week. CB Mark Montreuil is scheduled for surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right knee and will miss the rest of the year.

COLTS: Tony Bennett, one of the team's top defensive players, has been placed on injured reserve after knee surgery, meaning he's out for the season. The Colts also signed quarterback Kerwin Bell to take the roster spot of Jim Harbaugh, on the non-football injury list.

JAGUARS: QB Mark Brunell, who dislocated the middle knuckle on his throwing hand against the Steelers, wore a splint and was kept out of the passing drills. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Oilers.

PACKERS: LB George Koonce, the team's leading tackler last season, practiced for the first time since tearing a knee ligament in the playoffs in January.

REDSKINS: Backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler took all the work with the first team during practice after Gus Frerotte abruptly departed Redskin Park to be with his wife, Ann, who gave birth at 6:51 p.m. to a son _ Gustave Gunnar. The baby _ who will be called Gunnar after Sonny Jurgensen's son _ weighs 9 pounds 1 ounce and is 22 inches long.

SEAHAWKS: Chris Warren, a three-time Pro Bowl player, is back in the starting lineup. Warren, 29, has been on the bench at the start of the game the past two weeks after missing a game with a pulled hamstring in his left leg. Steve Broussard, who started against Oakland Sunday, will be Warren's backup. QB Warren Moon was named the NFL Player of the Week after his 409-yard, five touchdown performance against the Raiders. The team waived QB Gino Torretta and signed S Eric Stokes from its practice squad.

HALL OF FAME: OT Anthony Munoz and LB Mike Singletary are among the list of first-time nominees eligible for election to the Hall of Fame's Class of 1998. Other nominees eligible for election for the first time include RBs Ottis Anderson and Freeman McNeil, WRs Roy Green and Al Toon, LB Chip Banks, DTs Michael Carter and Fred Smerlas, DE Jacob Green and DB Frank Minnifield.

REDSKINS: Two dropped balls that contributed to the loss to the Ravens may have cost WR Henry Ellard his starting job. Coach Norv Turner said he is thinking of moving little-used Alvin Harper into the starting lineup ahead of Ellard for Sunday's game at Chicago. QB Gus Frerotte abruptly departed practice to be with his wife, Ann, who gave birth at 6:51 p.m. to a son _ Gustave Gunnar.