Giants, Patriots Square Off in Super Bowl

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This Sunday, in the biggest American sporting event of the year, the New England Patriots will battle the New York Giants. NPR's Tony Cox talks with New York Times sports columnist Bill Rhoden about the game, the personalities and the hype.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Time again for a look at the world of sports with our very own Tony Cox.

Hey, Tony.

TONY COX: Hey, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Well, football fans are pointed towards Glendale, Arizona this week, huh?

COX: Yeah, that's right. Something called Super Bowl XLII. Have you ever been to a Super Bowl, Farai?

CHIDEYA: No, but I've had some really, really good chicken wings at the Super Bowl parties.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Well I've covered a few and I'll tell you it is something to see. And, in fact, that's where our man is this week. Of course, he is New York Times sports columnist Bill Rhoden.

Hey, Bill.

Mr. BILL RHODEN (Sports Columnist, The New York Times): The great Tony Cox. I'm doing wonderful, man, how are you doing?

COX: Listen man, I'm great. You have been in Arizona all week with all the hype and all the media who quite, literally, come from around the world to cover this extravaganza. Let me ask you this, do you get a sense that there's much excitement about this Super Bowl? And here's why I ask - because this is the 42nd edition, but it hasn't always lived up to the hype. You know, there have been games that were good but the last really exciting game, I think, was Super Bowl XXXIV, when the Tennessee Titans and St. Louis Rams went down to the wire and the Titans came within an arms-length of that goal line and winning that game as time ran out, but it hasn't been exciting since.

Mr. RHODEN: Well, you know what, Tony, that game - even that game was exciting in retrospect. Going in, you know, there was Steve McNair and all that. But I got to tell you, Tony, there is - I have not been at a Super Bowl - I've covered maybe 20 of them - that has had this level of expectation. And I think it's really going to be a great game because for the first time in a long time you've got two teams with something really, really, really at stake. I mean, the Patriots have this 18-0 record at stake and the championship, that's historic.

I think they're now admitting it that they've come too far now to lose a game and I think they feel a little bit of, you know, carrying the weight of history, and I think that's this unblemished record. The Giants are just simply pro football's hottest team. They've come together at the perfect time. I think that on paper they've got everything it takes to beat New England. So, yeah, yeah, Tony, I think that there really is a level of expectation because I think we feel - we journalist, who write the first draft of history, feel that we are in the midst of history if New England completes this game. This has never been done before.

COX: Let's talk about the quarterbacks for a moment and the man who is simply the man right now - Tom Brady, of course, of the New England Patriots. No matter what happens on Sunday, Bill Rhoden, is he going to go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in history?

Mr. RHODEN: I think the answer is yes, Tony. But, you know, we live in an environment now where no matter how great you think you are all it takes is one loss, one misstep, and people almost forget what happened yesterday. He's got three Super Bowl championships, so I think it's safe to say that, yeah. But there's something about winning this game, completing an undefeated schedule in this competitive environment, winning a fourth championship, that I think will put him in that level of Montana of, you know, Bart Starr, of really, really, true legendary status.

COX: What about Eli Manning, the brother of perhaps the second most celebrated quarterback, Payton Manning. Now, a win for him would be huge even bigger than his big brother's Super Bowl victory of just a year ago, so if Eli and the Giants pull of this win that opens the debate, doesn't it, on who's the greater athlete between Eli and big brother, Payton.

Mr. RHODEN: You know, Tony, you got to attest to - I mean, the reality is that Eli have gotten here a lot quicker than his brother. I mean, it's taken Eli four years, four years, to get to the Super Bowl. I mean, Payton was almost -it seemed like a lifetime and every year he lost to New England. He lost - oh can he do it? Does it show where his younger brother got here four years? And I think that if he wins this quickly, I don't know if this will put him at that stature of Payton for two reasons. A, Payton is much more - he's much more gregarious, he's much more extroverted, he carries himself in a different way; Eli is very, very, very low key, very self-assuming. I mean, he could be in your studio right now and you might not even know it, you know?

COX: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RHODEN: So, I think that if he wins, I think is more of a team victory and he will be the first to say, this is about us. I think sometimes Payton's success is kind of has been made more about him.

COX: Let me ask you one last question about Randy Moss, we can't get away without talking about him. Because only a few…

Mr. RHODEN: Right.

COX: …years ago, he was the problem child of the NFL. And now since he's been with the Patriots, things have changed. Even though he hasn't dominated in the playoffs so far, and he has that domestic abuse case hanging over his head as well. A big game Sunday would help quiet his critics, wouldn't it?

Mr. RHODEN: Yeah, in a way. I mean, I think we have to be very careful, Tony, of separating what you do off the field and what you do on the field, you know what I'm saying? So I think that - what the great thing about this year for Randy Moss the football player is many of us forgot how great a wide receiver, how dangerous a wide receiver that he was. He lived in an environment where he feels enthused and excited, and I personally think that could really have a game on Sunday that re-reminds us how dangerous he really is.

COX: Now, the Patriots are favorites by 12 or 13, the last time I checked the spread. Is that the same and who do you like?

Mr. RHODEN: Well, you know, I knew we will get to that point, Tony, you know. I really like the Giants. I'm going to give you a typical coach's answer. I really like the Giants; I think that they got the perfect team to beat New England. And if it were any other team than the Patriots or even the Patriots had lost two games, I would choose New York. I just cannot chose against and go against a team that is 18-0, I just - professionally I just can't; it defies logic. What about you?

COX: I understand. My heart is with the New York Giants but I don't know that they can win. But just so that we'll make it interesting, I'll take the Giants…

Mr. RHODEN: Okay.

COX: …and you can take the Patriots.

Mr. RHODEN: Right.

COX: And the winner buys dinner.

Mr. RHODEN: There you go.

COX: I like - hey.

Mr. RHODEN: Everybody's heard this, too.

COX: I like lobster.

Mr. RHODEN: Good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Bill Rhoden, thank you very much, bro.

Mr. RHODEN: Hey, Tony, it's always a pleasure, man.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox speaking with our regular sports commentator, William C. Rhoden. Rhoden is a sports columnist for The New York Times and author of "Third and a Mile: The Trials and Triumphs of the Black Quarterback."

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