How To Handle The Waiting Game In Sports

What do you do during a sports interregnum, like the current one in football? Host Rachel Martin talks with NPR's Mike Pesca to find out more.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

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MARTIN: OK. This week, we are going classic, like classical. Like, really old school, you know, Rome, Cicero, Latin. We're talking Latin this week. Specifically we want to talk about interregna or interregnum, if you please, which is a fancy way of saying a gap. Because the NFL is in the middle of a big old interregnum at the moment.

And for more, we are joined by, who else, but our own Marcus Aurelius, NPR's Mike Pesca. Hey, Mike.

Hello. Wow. I like it - Marcus Aurelius.

Yeah. I thought you would. Interregna - what do you think?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, yes. This is the week that the football fields lie fallow between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. Of course, there is the Pro Bowl, where players, based on their ability to play, press coverage and blitz and block kicks are selected to be in a game where you're not allowed to play press coverage, blitz or block kicks. I could run down the Pro Bowl forever. But there's really no football this week. It's not exactly a bye week but there are two weeks between the championship game and the Super Bowl. A time for reflection.

MARTIN: But I highly doubt they carve this time out so, you know, the players can sit at home and do some meditation. I mean, why do they do it this way?

PESCA: That's right. They've done it since Super Bowl I, although in Super Bowl IV was one of the rare exceptions. It is to increase the hype but to get the TV people in place and to make the Super Bowl a bigger, better spectacle. Just there is - it's not just such a multimedia and multibillion-dollar extravaganza that the people other than football people feel like they need the time to do it. And lately, you know, there's been a reflection in the ratings that it's working. As much as people complain can we just get to the damn game, by the time that game comes, most people are watching.

MARTIN: So, what do coaches and players prefer?

PESCA: Well, if you look at the - so, the statistics are - there have been 47 Super Bowls and 40 of them have been played with two weeks of. Of the seven where there was only one week off, five were scheduled to be that and then there was a players' strike in the '82 season, and after 9/11 they kind of compressed the schedule. So, what happened was we saw seven games where there was only one week off. And four of those seven games were really close. There was the time that the Bills just scarcely lost to the Giants - Scott Norwood wide left. And there was a Patriots comeback. So, actually, I think that was one week you sometimes get better games. Players say they like two weeks off - little bit time to rest. Coaches say they like two weeks off - little bit more time to strategize. But just 'cause they say that and just 'cause they're in a comfort zone with more time to strategize, it's not always logical. Like, I mentioned a couple of games where the Patriots pulled a big upset in the first time they were in the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick, and another game I talked about was when the Giants beat the Bills. Turns out Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator of the Giants. And in both those games with one week off, I think a big factor in those upset wins was that one coach out-strategized the other. And I think sometimes if you give it two weeks, you don't have that time to sneak up on a team. And Bill Belichick was that coach, by the way. But if you ask Belichick now - 'cause he's been in so many Super Bowls - he does say he likes it two weeks off. Not always logical.

MARTIN: Oh man. I need an interregna to process all of that. Do you have a curveball this week?

PESCA: Yeah, sure. So, I'll take you to last night's Northern Illinois-Eastern Michigan game. Northern Illinois pulls out to the early 2-0 lead, and then they go cold - very cold - 29 straight misses. Northern Illinois shot 1 for 31 from the floor in the first half. They scored four first-half points. Earlier this year, they had scored five first-half points. So, it's not good. It's not a good effort. So, you know who I feel bad for, other than, you know, the guy who has to maintain the rims after the balls clank on them, is the guy who has to write this up for the Northern Illinois website. He has to emphasize the positive, and he starts off with this sentence: Northern Illinois posted its best defensive effort in seven seasons, allowing just 42 points - kind of glossing over the fact that, to quote Coach Mark Montgomery, "I wouldn't say we were taking bad shots. We had makeable open shots. They just wouldn't go in."

MARTIN: You got to look for the silver lining.

PESCA: That's right.

MARTIN: NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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