Giants Give the Patriots, NFL Network Their All

The big New York-New England football game surpassed expectations — and gave the beleaguered NFL Network and enormous commercial, reports Bill Wolff.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

The New England Patriots reached sweet 16 Saturday night, becoming the first team to go undefeated since the NFL extended its regular seasons to 16 games. The game is wanted for the books. And another reason, too, it was the first time since Super Bowl I back in '67, that an NFL game was broadcast on more than one network.

The BPP's Monday morning quarterback Bill Wolff joins us. We watched him on the network that we - you work for, still, so we were loyal.

BILL WOLFF: That's correct.

STEWART: To NBC.

WOLFF: I thought the picture on NBC was much better than the picture on everywhere else. So there was just something about it that I felt was better. I can't put my finger on it.

STEWART: All right. We discussed quite a bit last week on the show, would both of these teams who really didn't have to play to win because they're bought already in the play-offs…

WOLFF: Yep.

STEWART: …would they bring their games?

WOLFF: Yep. And should they bring their game was part of the discussion, too. If you're not - there's no, you know, standings advancing at stake should you risk the health of your players and try as hard as you can. That was also sort of part of the discussion. And they both did. They - both teams played their best players from beginning to end, and the game was fiercely contested, very hard-hitting and back and forth and turned out to be the game of the year, really, in the NFL in terms of the attention it got with 34 million people watched it…

STEWART: Wow.

WOLFF: …which made it the biggest game of the year in terms of how many people watched it. And it was a back and forth contest and the underdog, New York Giants, put a real scare into the overdog, New England Patriots. And the New England, in classic New England fashion, was simply better in the end and won the game and completed the perfect regular season. It was one of those much hyped events that lived up to a type which, you know, renews one faith, darling, in professional sports.

STEWART: Yeah, it's interesting that the Giants - they lost 35-to-38. They really did give them a run for their money.

WOLFF: Particularly early in the game, the Giants had a 12-point lead just after halftime in the third quarter, a 12-point lead on the Patriots. Nobody gets a 12-point lead on the Patriots. So - and their quarterback, the Giants' quarterback, Eli Manning, whom we've discussed at home and on this show as looking a little lost sometimes.

STEWART: Yes, I call him lost child in aisle five, Eli Manning, looking for his mom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WOLFF: It's bad. It's bad when someone who's not a football fan is making fun of you. This guy is only professional athlete. Anyway, he was terrific. He was great. He was under no pressure because no one expected that the Giants to be any good. It was pointed out to me last night by a friend that he was under no pressure but had - was the center of attention. And those two things combined to be the perfect environment in which he could excel.

And Eli Manning was great. And there were big plays on both sides of the game. The Patriots made big play. The Giants made big play. And back and forth they went. And, ultimately, the Patriots with the great Tom Brady at quarterback, this sort of legendary guy for being excellent and also being handsome and tall and strapping just the return of the all-American boy, he proved too much. He was just too good. And New England won. But New York deserves - and I think is getting a lot of credit nationally for playing as hard as they could, for not packing it in. A lot of people were surprised by that, including your producer Dan Pashman, I'm sure.

STEWART: You know, Dan happened to be out sick today.

WOLFF: Uh-oh.

STEWART: We can't decide if it's…

WOLFF: Then, you know, that's the convenient thing to be, isn't it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Yeah.

WOLFF: What's he got? Gianticitis(ph)?

STEWART: Gosh, maybe, could be.

WOLFF: Yeah.

STEWART: Was it the game…

WOLFF: And I know that it was a real - it was a really great game. The Patriots went 16-and-0. And the big winner in all of it, we had discussed this as a business story as well as a sport story, was that the NFL Network, which was - which had a corner on the market of this game, distributed it on CBS and NBC. And for three and a half hours, they ran - it was a simulcast not three individual broadcast - the NFL Network successfully ran a commercial for the NFL Network.

STEWART: It was unbelievable. If you didn't know about the network, you do now, and then you wondered why you didn't have it.

WOLFF: And 34 million people sat there and absorbed it, myself included. I have never seen an NFL Network, not we don't have it on our cable system. But now I am well-familiar. And my appetite, I must say, has peaked. Let's call our cable operator.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: That will be the discussion. Okay. So while everyone was glued to those - that one particular game, if that game hadn't stolen all the NFL thunder for the weekend, what do you think was the next biggest game?

WOLFF: Well, there were in both conferences as the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference, the AFC and the NFC, and in each conference, six teams make the post-season play-offs. And in both cases, in both conferences, the last spot in the play-offs was at stake. In one conference, it was the Washington Redskins, and they needed to beat the Dallas Cowboys. And they - we - you and I have discussed the quarterback of the Washington Redskins is this guy Todd Collins who's in his late 30s…

STEWART: Yep.

WOLFF: …who's spent 12 years as a back-up. He hadn't started a game in 12 years, and about four weeks ago, the Washington starter was hurt and in came this guy sort of 12 years cold. And Todd Collins led the Redskins to a win, a big win at home in front of a raucous crowd and the rain in Washington. And the Redskins, who have seen this year a lot of difficulty, including the shooting and murder of their star player, Sean Taylor, overcame all of it and somehow made the play-offs with the backup guy at quarterback. So that was one game I think people would have paid a lot of attention to.

And in the other conference, it was a question of whether Tennessee or Cleveland would get in. And do you know who won?

STEWART: I don't. I worry about (unintelligible).

WOLFF: So the second big game would have been Tennessee versus Indianapolis last night. And if Tennessee were to win, they would go. And they too have a star quarterback called Vince Young. You know who Mike Vick is, babe?

STEWART: Yes, I do. He's in jail.

WOLFF: He's in jail. The guy who has the similar skill set in the world to Mike Vick, that is fast…

STEWART: Except for the dog thing. Not the training dogs thing.

WOLFF: No. But I mean, football skills.

STEWART: Okay.

WOLFF: So the guy called Vince Young. He's a similar player to Mike Vick, which is to say brilliant. And he's a second year, and could he lead Tennessee past Indianapolis for the win. Well, he got hurt.

STEWART: Oh.

WOLFF: And the old backup, who's called Kerry Collins, who's sort of a famous guy. He's been around, but he's been a backup for a long time. Came in for Tennessee and Tennessee beat Indianapolis.

STEWART: It was the weekend of the backup guys.

WOLFF: That's what I'm saying. There's a developing story there. The backup guys led their teams to the playoff. That would have been the big story if the Patriots hadn't been 16 and 0.

STEWART: All right. We got a minute 45, hard to get out of this segment.

WOLFF: Uh-oh.

STEWART: Tomorrow, the Big Bowl games. If you have to have one, if you have to watch one, which one is it?

WOLFF: Okay, well, there are three answers to that question. Number one: If you want to…

STEWART: Of course, there are.

WOLFF: If you want to see the team that most people what I think is probably the best team, you watch the Rose Bowl at 4:30, Eastern, and 1:30, Pacific to see USC play Illinois.

STEWART: Okay.

WOLFF: Because USC is brilliant and you will see a team full of tremendous players. So the Rose Bowl would be if you want to see the very best team.

Number two: If you want to see the team with the most legitimate gripe that they are not included in the national championship, watch the Sugar Bowl, which comes on in the evening in the East, from New Orleans at 8:15 p.m., to see the University of Hawaii against the University of Georgia. The team with the gripe is the University of Hawaii. They didn't play very many great teams but they won all their games. They're the Patriots. They won all their games. But because they didn't have strong competitions…

STEWART: Forty-five seconds.

WOLFF: …they didn't merit a shot at the title. And if you want to watch the team I love, watch the Cotton Bowl, Missouri plays Arkansas and we always, darling, in our house for the Missouri Tigers.

STEWART: Yes, we do. Go, Missouri.

WOLFF: We know the fight song.

(Soundbite of song)

STEWART: One of us does anyway.

WOLFF: Yeah.

STEWART: And enjoy singing it.

WOLFF: Yes, well, I guess you do.

STEWART: That would be you. Bill Wolff, our Monday morning quarterback, former ESPN producer.

Hey, have a great day. I'll talk to you later.

WOLFF: All right, darling. Have fun.

STEWART: Thanks.

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