NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appointed predecessor Paul Tagliabue to hear the appeals of four players suspended in the Saints bounty scandal.

Goodell said Friday he notified Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita, and Anthony Hargrove, as well as the players union, that Tagliabue would be the hearing officer to "decide the appeals and bring the matter to a prompt and fair conclusion."

The union and the four players had asked Goodell to recuse himself, contending he could not fairly rule. Their second set of appeals will be heard Oct. 30.

Vilma was suspended for the 2012 season and Smith was banned four games for his role in the bounty program. Fujita, now with the Browns, was barred three games, since reduced to one. Hargrove is a free agent whose suspension was reduced from eight games to seven.

Tagliabue was NFL commissioner from 1989 to 2006 and is a lawyer. For part of that time, Goodell was the league's general counsel.

49ers bounce back

Jim Harbaugh's 49ers sure have a knack for leaving tough losses behind. They've never lost two games in a row under the reigning NFL coach of the year.

This time, the 49ers had all of four days and no choice but to forget in a hurry; first place in the NFC West was on the line.

Alex Smith threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker late in the third quarter, and San Francisco held off the Seattle Seahawks, 13-6, Thursday night to give the 49ers a victory in their long-awaited division opener.

Frank Gore ran for 131 yards, and the 49ers (5-2) hung tough on defense late in a contest featuring two teams allowing fewer than 16 points per game.

About that game . . .

With 43 seconds left in the 49ers' victory, Seattle's Paul McQuistan was flagged for a chop block in the Seahawks' end zone, resulting in a safety.

Not so fast.

It was a fourth-down play, and Seattle wound up 1 yard short of a first down. Rather than take the points and give Seattle a chance to recover an onside kick (yes, you can do that on a free kick), Harbaugh declined the penalty and took the ball. Two Alex Smith kneeldowns later, the Niners had their seven-point win.

Ah, but there's the rub. Depending on where you search for such things, the Niners were favored by either seven or 71/2 points. With the safety, San Francisco would have won by 15-6 and covered. Instead, they either lost or scored a push vs. the spread.

(From the legal department: Sports gambling is illegal in these parts, unless Gov. Christie has his way.)

O.J. case reopened

A Nevada judge will take testimony and evidence on O.J. Simpson's claim that he was so badly represented in his Las Vegas armed robbery and kidnapping trial that he should be freed from prison and get another trial.

Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell dismissed four of 22 grounds on which Simpson's appeals lawyer seeks his release. But the judge agreed to consider 18 claims, including whether trial lawyer Yale Galanter had a conflict of interest and shouldn't have handled Simpson's case.

Simpson remains behind bars, serving nine to 33 years in prison.

Browns guard in hospital

Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur disclosed that starting left guard Jason Pinkston was hospitalized with a blood clot. Shurmur would not say where Pinkston's blood clot is located. The Browns do not know when the second-year lineman will be released from the hospital.


Dropping to a knee like Tim Tebow might cost you now.

The New York Jets backup quarterback has officially trademarked "Tebowing," the move in which he goes down on one knee and holds a clenched fist against his forehead while praying during games.

Tebow said Friday he wasn't aware the trademark was official yet. The devout Christian said his representatives filed on his behalf not for financial gain but "to just control how it's used, make sure it's used in the right way."