Although it was above freezing and trucked-in snow looked more like pulverized ice, the 31st Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race had its ceremonial start in Anchorage.

Fans cheered introductions of the 64 mushers competing in the oddest Iditarod since the 1,100 mile race to Nome began in 1973. Alaska's wimpy weather has forced organizers to make several changes.

Monday's actual start will take place near Fairbanks -- where there is more snow -- more than 200 miles north of the Iditarod's traditional sendoff spot in the capital city.

"Different is how I describe this year's race, and that's not all bad," three-time champion Jeff King said before taking off on Fourth Avenue. "I haven't had to throw out my back shoveling snow, and I've still been able to find the training ground I've needed."

For the ceremonial start, race organizers found enough snow for an abbreviated version of the noncompetitive mushers parade. The route was shortened from a 20-mile run to Eagle River to an 11-mile sprint through the streets and trails of Anchorage.

From Fairbanks, where the race will start for the first time, mushers will continue along a revised course, prompting some to call it the "I-Did-A-Detour." One possible complication: Weather forecasters are predicting freezing rain in Fairbanks tonight that would create a slippery start.

The new route is 70 miles longer than the traditional trail and follows terrain that is unfamiliar to even the veteran mushers.

Pro Football

Lions Sign Bly

Free agent cornerback Dre Bly signed a five-year contract with Detroit, helping the Lions fill a pressing need in the secondary.

A source within the league, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the deal was worth $24.5 million, including a signing bonus of just more than $6 million.

Bly, 25, leaves after four seasons with the St. Louis Rams, who picked him in the 1999 draft. In 64 games with the Rams, Bly had 193 tackles and 14 interceptions.

He had 79 tackles (61 solo), two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack last season.

Bly also has filled in as a punt returner, running back 15 kicks for 209 yards and one touchdown in his pro career.

"We planned on being active and swift," Detroit Coach Steve Mariucci said. "In looking for the best corner available, certainly Dre Bly fits that description. He was our number one targeted guy in free agency." . . .

The Houston Texans signed free agent offensive lineman Zach Wiegert.

The 6-foot-5, 309-pound Wiegert has played the last four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He started 43 of 47 games with the team before he went on injured reserve last season with a knee injury.

Wiegert, entering his ninth NFL season, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 1995.

The Texans also claimed linebacker Patrick Chukwurah off waivers from Minnesota. Chukwurah played in 11 games and had two starts for the Vikings last season, finishing with 14 tackles. . . .

Free agent tight end Desmond Clark joined the Chicago Bears with a six-year deal.

Clark had two catches for 42 yards in 11 games last season for the Miami Dolphins, who signed him after he broke his wrist in training camp with the Denver Broncos and was released.

The Bears also re-signed tight end John Davis and fullback Stanley Pritchett to one-year deals.

Pro Hockey

Kings, Flyers Deal

The Los Angeles Kings traded defenseman Dmitry Yushkevich to the Philadelphia Flyers for a fourth-round draft pick this year and a seventh-round choice in 2004.

He originally was drafted by Philadelphia in 1991 and played his first three seasons there, tallying 15 goals and 61 assists.

College Lacrosse

U-Va. Nips Syracuse

A.J. Shannon, John Christmas and Joe Yevoli each scored four goals as the Virginia men's lacrosse team defeated host Syracuse, 16-15, in a rematch of last season's national semifinals. The Cavaliers (2-0) fell to the Orangemen, 12-11, in two overtimes in last year's final four. Syracuse (1-1) had won eight of the teams' last nine meetings before yesterday's result.