A Slice Of Football After The Feast

Thanksgiving weekend, football is as American as pumpkin pie. Host Scott Simon talks about the week in sports with ESPN's Howard Bryant.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Step away from the shopping bags. Time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: It's Thanksgiving weekend and football is just about as American as pumpkin pie. We're joined now by Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. He's at the studios of New England Public Radio.

Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And we have to mark some news this morning that's breaking. Hector "Macho" Camacho's been taken off life support and is clinically dead. He was shot in the face earlier this week. A champion, who had his trouble with drugs, drinking, and life after the ring, including accusations of spousal abuse. But he'd recently decried the rising violence in Puerto Rico. It's sad to learn that a man who dazzled so many winds up being shot to death in his car in what are being circumstances now being investigated.

BRYANT: Yeah, it's very sad. And when you think about Hector Camacho, especially if you're a child of the '80s, like I was as a teenager, and you remember those great Saturday afternoon fights, back when boxing was still relevant, before it became what it is now, which is fairly discredited. It was still a pretty high-profile sport. And Hector Camacho was one of those flamboyant guys. People remember him. They remember his exuberance in the ring.

And I think it's very, very telling with a lot of athletes after - especially boxers - when they're out of the ring it's very difficult to live a normal life. And you read the stories and the circumstances of his death. And I think anytime someone is murdered it's always just a very, sad, sad story.

And I think that for him - we all like to think that once you reach the top of your profession, especially when you have that much money and that much profile, that life becomes easy. And perhaps it never is.

SIMON: Yeah. Let's move down to college football. After two decades, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are ranked number one, 11-0, and they play an unranked USC tonight. What put it together for them?

BRYANT: Well, it's defense. I think the one commonality that they've had all season is that you can't score on them. They're giving up 10 points a game. It's kind of hard to lose when you're only giving up a touchdown and change. And that was only because they gave up 26 points a couple of weeks ago to Pittsburgh.

They really are a difficult team to score against. And in today's college football game, where teams are scoring 40, 50 points a game, it's unheard of for a team to try to win a national championship with defense. But they're doing it.

And I think that what's really interesting about them is that they're also scoring 27 points a game. So they've got a 17 point differential. And they've played a lot of close games this year. They've got what it takes to win a national championship.

I think the only question, if you ask Kansas State and Alabama - the defending national champs - and Oregon, is whether or not the pressure of being number one will get to them today for this last game.

USC, let's not forget, started the season number one. So it's not as though they are a slouch of a team, even though they've had some hard times. But this is going to be a very big, historical rivalry game, as well. And we'll see what they do with it.

SIMON: Other quick college football question. Rutgers and Maryland are apparently joining the Big Ten. I understand, Howard, by the way, that the Sorbonne is going to be joining the Big Ten soon.

BRYANT: Exactly. Well, who's not going to join? It's insane.

SIMON: How do they do this with a straight face?

BRYANT: Well, it's because everyone's doing it with a straight face. The Atlantic 10 has 16 teams. And six or seven them, I think, are in the Central Time Zone. It's all one big money grab for college. I think it's awful. And I really do feel that - I think a lot is lost.

I think the only reason that sports matter is because it matters in our imagination. And when money takes that over and you start to lose those ties that make this important, then you just look at it as another kind of corrupt institution that doesn't really have a lot of value. And universities are supposed to be bigger than that, and I guess they're not.

SIMON: Speaking of the Sorbonne, I think they could beat the New York Jets right now. The Patriots scored way with three touchdowns in 58 seconds?

BRYANT: In 52 seconds while having the ball just once.

SIMON: Oh, mercy. So...

BRYANT: Yeah, it was a comedy.

SIMON: So, who are the teams to watch now? The Patriots, the Texans, the Falcons and...

BRYANT: Patriots, Texans, Falcons, I'll throw your Chicago Bears in there, and let's not forget the Atlanta Falcons. I still say that Giants and the Steelers are going to the Super Bowl. So we'll see if my prediction's correct.

SIMON: OK. Let's mark those words. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Thanks so much, Howard.

BRYANT: Thank you.

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