Motives Mixed, Patriots and Giants Square Off
ALISON STEWART, host:
And we're going to talk about something that has a lot of sports fans, all kinds of riled up, so much so that we've got two of them in the studio and one of the mic in the control room.
JOHN FUGELSANG, host:
Non-sports fans, too.
STEWART: Yeah. The New England Patriots are on track to break a bunch of records. They've won 18 consecutive times in the regular season, tying their own NFL record setback in '03 and '04. They have 551 points for the season, five times(ph) the Minnesota Vikings records set in '98. And if the Patriots beat the New York Giants Saturday night, they'll be the first team in NFL history to finish a 16-game regular season undefeated.
So, okay, the Patriots should put in every guy they got, right? Make sure it happens. And the Giants should give everything they got to stop this juggernaut, right? Maybe not.
Both teams are already in the playoffs, and as one ESPN columnist wrote, it's wrong to think the Giants should feel they're top players in a game that means nothing.
So fans and sports pros are on both sides of the issue. We have the combo platter here at THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. Producer Dan Pashman and former ESPN producer and BPP guest host Bill Wolff and my significant other. Hi, good morning.
BILL WOLFF: Hello, how are you?
STEWART: Good morning, Dan. All right…
PASHMAN: Long time guys.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: So let's go to the columnist question first. Dan, I'll let you go first. As a non-sports person, it seems to me that athletes want to compete. Isn't it against the athletic, not laws of nature, to ask the team to fold(ph) it(ph) in.
PASHMAN: I guess, in some respects, a little bit to me that whole idea of why you have to compete, try your hardest every single time, is one of those things that's nice to tell your kids when their playing little league. But the truth is that pro-sports (unintelligible) make those kinds of calculations all the time.
Early in the season, there are arrest and injured players. They don't want to risk further injury because they want them down the stretch. Those kinds of things happen all the time. My concern, as a Giants fan, is that I want to win a playoff game. And if that means losing a meaningless regular season game, then that to me is a bargain I'm willing to make.
STEWART: What do you think, Bill Wolff, about what that columnist says?
WOLFF: I think Dan Pashman is a cynic.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WOLFF: What do I think about that? I think that that is wrong. I think that it is actually in the long-term or mid-term interest of the team not to change its routine and not to proverbially, proverbially speaking, take your foot off the gas. You've got a game to do. Play it like you play any other game.
I do agree that in the case of injury, for instance, the Giants have an excellent wide receiver called Plaxico Burress. He's been nursing a very bad ankle all year-long. You want to sit Plaxico Burress. I don't have a problem with it. But for guys, for their key players, particularly on defense, you got a plan. You do not - you cannot turn it on and off. You cannot be excellent -one week turn it off, don't be excellent and come back and be excellent.
STEWART: Now, Dan, you said you are a Giants fan, but you don't think they can win this?
PASHMAN: I think the chances are very, very slim. I mean the Patriots are, by far, the best team in football right now. The Giants are good, but not great. Look, if they played 10 times with the Giants, win a couple of those games probably, they'll pull one or two of them out. But, so what? I mean, I want the Giants to win a playoff game. We have not won a playoff game since the year 2000, and we've only won three since 1990. So I want the Giants to win a playoff game, and I'm willing to lose to the Patriots which would probably will happen anyway in order to win a playoff game.
STEWART: You though…
STEWART: …Bill Wolff…
STEWART: …think the Giants can win.
WOLFF: Yes, I do. First of all, the Patriots only went through one full practice this week, and the Patriots have just as much incentive not to get hurt as do the Giants because if the Patriots go 16 and 0 and then losing the first round of playoffs because their quarterback is hurt, for instance, then 16 and 0 is utterly meaningless. 16 and 0 means nothing unless you go 19 and 0.
PASHMAN: I agree with that.
WOLFF: And so, I think, the Giants are actually have a chance, and the Patriots' weakness, if they have one, is protecting the quarterback. There -Tom Brady has been getting pummeled lately, and the Giants' best thing is the way they hit quarterbacks with Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. I actually think that the Giants' strength plays against the Patriots' weakness. And the Giants actually have a chance to win the game, and I think in the name of professionalism, Mr. Pashman, the Patriots and the Giants should both go at it full tilt.
FUGELSANG: Oh, I don't think anyone is going to throw the fight here. But, you know, in the interest of just good business for the Patriots, what's the higher priority? Winning a game that while very important means nothing, or keeping your players safe and winning the playoffs?
PASHMAN: Well, I think the Giants - for the Patriots, it's a simpler argument. There is something that says for the Patriots. The game does not mean nothing to the Patriots…
FUGELSANG: But is the record that important compared to having a healthy team for the playoff?
PASHMAN: I think so. It's a pretty amazing record. I mean, the other thing, as I understand it here is that the Patriots because of their high seeding on the playoffs or have a week off after this weekend.
The Giants do not have that luxury. So if the Patriots, they can play their hardest this week and they'll also have a week off to recover before they have to start playing the playoffs. The Giants are right back next weekend.
So I understand what you're saying, Bill, the Giants could win the game, and look, I'll be there. I'll be cheering and if they win, I'm sure going to be happy.
WOLFF: So you're one of the Giants fans who's not selling your ticket?
PASHMAN: I am not selling - I actually had lunch my mom yesterday and she said, you know, (unintelligible) sell their tickets.
WOLFF: Dan, you're a smart boy. Why not sell your tickets? What are they paying you anyway?
PASHMAN: They're paying a lot for me.
WOLFF: It's a great opportunity.
PASHMAN: No, we're going to be up close and personal with the Patriots sidelines.
STEWART: All right, so lets talk about the fact that we've talked to you last week about the fact that the NFL Network was catching some heat because that was going to be the only place you could see this game. And now, we know two, we got them. Two networks are going to be able to air this game.
WOLFF: Indeed, CBS and NBC will simulcast the game. The league - they gave, they gave in, in the great fight between the cable operators and there fans on one side and the league on the other. The league gave in. It was after Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Arlen Specter and Senator John Kerry threatened senatorial action against the league if they did not make sports available. And let me say this, sports is the opiate of the masses, and when you make sports unavailable through price, you are messing with the opiate of the masses, therefore you have to give it to them for free.
STEWART: All right. Bill Wolff and Dan Pashman, Thanks for weighing in the great debate.
PASHMAN: Go Giants.
STEWART: We do have more coming up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT including that breaking news coming out of Pakistan. It has been confirmed that Benazir Bhutto was injured when there was an attack on a convoy - oh, excuse me, an attack that she was near, there are some unconfirmed report that she may have died. We are working to get confirmation on that here at NPR News. Please stay with us here on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.