SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: The NFL season at the half-way point. Big game this weekend. Sunday, tomorrow night, two 7-1 teams in a classic face-off. Ha-ha. One of them's the Bears. In college football, Notre Dame and Kansas State are in the top 5. What is this, 1997? And the L.A. Lakers send their coach packing. Are they already chanting ohm in Santa Monica?
We're joined now by Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He's at the studios of the New England Public Radio.
Howard, thanks for being with us.
HOWARD BRYANT: Hey, Scott. Good morning.
SIMON: Good morning. So the Bears taking on the Houston Texans tomorrow. Both teams 7-1. Texans have a great ground attack with Arian Foster. Bear defense, Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman. This a Super Bowl preview?
BRYANT: Well, it's not my Super Bowl preview. But...
BRYANT: It's the Super Bowl preview for a lot of people because once again the Chicago Bears - whenever you have a great Bears team, it's always focused around their defense. And actually this year, they're scoring points as well. And so I think that people are starting to look at them.
And also, maybe Jay Cutler has matured enough now that he can lead a team. That's always been the big question with the Bears. They've never really ever had a great quarterback.
And so the Texans, on the other hand, are a team that people thought were ready last year, then they lost their quarterback Matt Schaub; still made the playoffs. And now it looks like they've got all the different pieces that you need to be a champion. The question is going to be whether or not they're one of those teams that can actually get over the hump.
And let's not forget that the Atlanta Falcons are undefeated. They're the only unbeaten team. And very much like Houston, the question is whether or not they've got what it takes to put it together after you put together a good season.
SIMON: Let me ask about the NBA. L.A. Lakers fired their coach, Mike Brown, after just five games, going 1-4, but without also any wins in the pre-season. Do I already hear the cry in the air this morning, Zen Master?
BRYANT: For Phil Jackson? Sure. Well, how can you not? One, Phil Jackson is the most accomplished coach in NBA history, even more so than Red Auerbach, because he did it in a bigger league, although he also did have the greatest players that I think any coach has ever had in Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and Shaq and Kobe. He had an unbelievable cast.
But the bottom line is that Phil Jackson is a very, very tough guy to replace. And Mike Brown was in a very difficult position. Kobe Bryant wants Phil Jackson back. How do you - the guy you don't want to be is the guy who replaces Phil Jackson or a guy who replaces a Michael Jordan or Cal Ripken. The shoes are too big. And I think that if they can make an offer - if you can get Phil Jackson back on the bench, believe me, he'll be back.
SIMON: Want to go to college football. With Notre Dame and Kansas State in the top five, it's almost like a time capsule. Now, the Irish have a big game coming up against Boston College. They're 9-0. Boston College is, I think, 2-7. But, I mean, given the history of these two teams, you can never rule upset, can you?
BRYANT: Well, you never can rule out upset. And also I think one of the reasons why you can't necessarily rule out upset - although I feel like Notre Dame is going to win that game pretty handily - is that you've got a couple things at work here. One, Notre Dame's schedule had been so absolutely geared toward them finishing strong. They had two big games. You had the Oklahoma game, and you've got Southern California. And then after that it looked like it was pretty smooth sailing for them.
The interesting thing about them is that we live in a time of college football of huge offense. You look at what Oregon is doing. Oregon is scoring 50 points a game. The SEC isn't a huge scoring conference, but, you know, they're in their own little universe, because they're so much better than everybody else.
And so the question for Notre Dame has been whether or not this is going to be a team that can actually win a national championship with - surprise - defense. It just doesn't happen that often. And if they do, I think it's going to be a very special story.
And I think it's nice for them - and for the game, if you care about the history of college football - to have Notre Dame back. It's like having the Yankees be good or having, you know, UCLA be good in basketball. They're are a legendary team and I think it's a good thing for them, even for the Notre Dame haters.
BRYANT: Because at least then - there you go.
SIMON: Shake down the thunder from the sky. Howard Bryant, thanks so much.
BRYANT: My pleasure.
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