John Butler, who helped build Buffalo's Super Bowl teams of the 1990s before becoming general manager of the San Diego Chargers, died of cancer yesterday. He was 56.

Butler died of lymphoma, his wife, Alice, said. He was diagnosed with lung cancer on July 4, but that disease was in remission following his final chemotherapy treatment in late January, she said.

Butler began feeling ill again in late February and doctors discovered lymphoma in his stomach, which spread to his liver, pancreas, lungs and intestines.

"We were sure he had it beat," Alice Butler said.

"When he was feeling ill again he said, 'Sometimes you just underestimate the strength of your opponent.' "

Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer spent time with Butler on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We were talking about personnel, about the draft. Mentally, he was absolutely on top of everything," said Schottenheimer, hired by Butler in January 2002. "I did not sense any anxieties at all. He was very much at peace." . . .

The Washington Redskins will open the 2003 preseason on Aug. 9 at Carolina. The other preseason games will be Aug. 16 against New England at FedEx Field; Aug. 24 against Baltimore at FedEx Field; and Aug. 28 at Jacksonville. All games are at 8 p.m. and will be carried by WRC-4 and WJFK-106.7.


Prosser: 10 Years

Skip Prosser signed a 10-year contract to stay at Wake Forest, turning down overtures to coach Pittsburgh.

Pitt gave Prosser, the ACC coach of the year, until yesterday to decide whether he was interested in the job. He was Pitt's top choice after Ben Howland left for UCLA.

Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman and Prosser hammered out his new deal most of yesterday morning. Wellman refused to say what the private university will pay Prosser or how much of a raise he received. It is believed that Prosser made $800,000 per year under his old deal. . . .

Catholic Coach Mike Lonergan is one of three finalists for the head coaching job at Columbia, sources familiar with the situation said. Lonergan could not be reached to comment. The Columbia Spectator, the school newspaper, said Lonergan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and assistants from Villanova, Iona and North Carolina had interviewed.


Bout Is Mandated

The WBA has mandated that Bernard Hopkins (42-2-1), the undisputed 160-pound champion, defend his title against Washington's William Joppy (34-2-1), the organization's top challenger, by June 29.

Joppy's camp had been close to finalizing a fight with Joe Calzaghe. He has since pulled out of that bout.

"This changes everything dramatically," said Steve Nelson, Joppy's co-manager. "Now we're going full steam on making a fight with Bernard." . . .

Former two-time WBC middleweight champion Keith Holmes (36-3) returns from a two-year layoff on May 16 in Denver against an undetermined opponent. The District native has not fought since April 14, 2001, when he lost a unanimous decision to Hopkins.


Fleury Suspended

Theo Fleury of the Chicago Blackhawks was suspended for a minimum of six months by the NHL for violating terms of the league's substance abuse program.

The NHL said that Fleury is under the supervision of doctors from both the league and the NHL Players Association. He can apply for reinstatement on Oct. 11.

Auto Racing

Gordon Takes Pole

In Martinsville, Va., Jeff Gordon finally beat Ryan Newman.

After getting knocked off the pole by Newman in last year's fall Winston Cup race at Martinsville Speedway, Gordon turned the tables in impressive fashion, winning the pole for Sunday's Virginia 500.

Gordon's lap at 93.307 mph easily beat Newman's at 93.678, and one at 93.863 by Dale Earnhardt Jr., giving Gordon the 43rd pole of his career and his fourth on the series' shortest, tightest oval and first this season.


H2O Named Again

For the second time in a week, H20 Entertainment and the company's president, John Stanley, have been named in a class action lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court. Samuel Rosen, a New York attorney who was registered to race in the March 23 marathon, has accused H20 of breach of contract and deceptive trade practices for canceling the race without refunding the entry fees, which ranged between $65 and $95 per person.

A week ago, attorney William Claiborne filed suit against Arlington-based H20 on behalf of another participant. H20 collected at least $400,000 from the 6,800 registered runners. Many runners, some from as far away as China, paid for airfare and lodging in preparation for the race. With the likelihood of war growing steadily as race day approached, H20 representatives told participants that the event would go on "no matter what" before canceling the race.


Attackers Do Trick

Three players recorded hat tricks as sixth-ranked Georgetown defeated No. 9 James Madison, 14-7, in women's lacrosse.

Attackers Wick Stanwick, Sarah Oliphant and Anouk Peters each scored three goals for the Hoyas (8-3). Stanwick also added two assists. James Madison was coming off a 9-8 victory over then-No. 1 Maryland last Saturday.


Baysox Postponed

Bowie's game with Harrisburg was postponed due to rain. The teams will play a doubleheader tomorrow beginning at 1:05 p.m. "Meet the Team" day will go on as scheduled, with the first 1,500 fans receiving a Baysox T-shirt.

Skip Prosser, the ACC coach of the year who had been courted by Pittsburgh, has signed a 10-year extension with Wake Forest.