Don Riley, the former St. Paul sportswriter who spent more than four decades penning a widely read column in the city's newspapers, has died. He was 92.

Riley died Thursday from a heart ailment. He wrote "The Eye Opener" column and covered boxing in a newspaper career that spanned 44 years from 1943 to 1987.

"He pretty much carried the St. Paul newspaper, in my opinion, for four decades," said Charley Walters, the longtime Pioneer Press sports columnist. "His column was so entertaining."

Riley became known for weaving passing references to Hollywood starlets and characters such as Dracula and Frankenstein into his column and then running photos of them to draw more readers to his words. He also delighted in taking shots at fans of the Packers, the chief rivals of the Vikings.

The two teams square off Sunday night in Green Bay — Riley would call it "Green Bush" — with the winner being crowned champion of the NFC North.

As angry as the Packers fans would get, the affable and hilarious Riley would always win them over on his many trips to Minnesota's neighboring state.

Convention was never Riley's thing. He rarely attended the sporting events he chronicled in the paper and would experiment wildly all in an effort to entertain. Some recall a Christmastime column that started on Page 1 with a picture of Minneapolis Lakers great George Mikan. When the column jumped inside for the second half, Riley also had the editors jump the lower half of the Mikan photo inside as well, showing just his legs.

"A classic old-time newspaper character," said AP sportswriter John Nicholson, who worked with Riley in St. Paul. "One of the greatest storytellers I've ever met."

To see a a blog and a copy of Patrick Reusse's 1998 column about his former co-worker, go to startribune.com/sports.

college football

New Year's Eve semis turn out to be a bust

Television ratings for the first College Football Playoff semifinals held on New Year's Eve dropped approximately 36 percent from last season when they were played on New Year's Day.

The Orange Bowl between Clemson and Oklahoma, which kicked off about 3:10 p.m. on ESPN, drew a 9.7 rating. The first semifinal last season, the Rose Bowl with Oregon and Florida State on New Year's Day, earned a 15.5.

The Michigan State-Alabama Cotton Bowl drew a 9.9 rating for ESPN compared to 15.3 for Ohio State-Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last Jan. 1.

Dave Aranda, who guided Top-10 defenses at Wisconsin for the past three years, was named LSU's defensive coordinator.

In three years as the Wisconsin defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach, Aranda coached a defense that combined to rank among the top five in the nation in the four major defensive categories — scoring, total yards, passing yards and rushing yards.

… Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd is headed to the NFL. Boyd set school records with 254 receptions and 3,361 yards receiving in three years with the Panthers.

etc.

Boxing: Howard Davis Jr., who won the 1976 Olympic lightweight gold medal, died of cancer. Davis, 59, died Wednesday. In the 1976 Games, Davis was voted the outstanding boxer, outpolling teammates Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael and Leon Spinks.

Minnesota scene: Six Gophers wrestlers won either one, two or three matches at the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn., to reached Saturday's quarterfinals.

Steve Polakowski upset No. 12 Zeke Moisey 11-9 at 125 pounds in his one match after trailing 8-2 into the third period. Moisey was an NCAA runner-up last year for West Virginia. Teammate Ethan Lizak, wrestling unattached, won twice at 125 to also advance. Also in the quarterfinals are Gophers Sam Brancale at 133, Tommy Thorn (three wins) at 141, Brett Pfarr at 197 and Michael Kroells at heavyweight.

staff and wire reports