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Sports: Basketball Rebounds; An NFL Implosion


Time now for sports.


SIMON: NBA back on Christmas day. The NFL marches onto week 13. Will Americans tune into basketball late? Will the Packers reach the end of the season without losing? We're joined now by ESPN's Howard Bryant, who joins us from the studios of KUCI in Irvine, California. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Hey, Scott. Good morning.

SIMON: The NBA comes back with five games - five games - on Christmas Day. Doesn't seem to leave a lot of time for spiritual reflection, but let me ask you to reflect upon the fact. Is there any chance the agreement the players reached with the NBA owners won't be ratified?

BRYANT: No. There's no chance of that. There's no going back. They had a bitter lockout for the past several months. There's no possible way. You had a poll the other day that said that 76 percent of people didn't even miss the leagues. The last thing they want to do right now is alienate more people by pulling the old bait and switch, by not having a game.

SIMON: Do you think the crowds will be back? The TV audiences, do you think they'll be back?

BRYANT: Eventually, everybody comes back. And I think that's the one thing that has empowered these sports leagues to act the way they act - is that it has yet to be proven that a sports base hasn't eventually come back to the game. I think the crowds are going to be a little thin early, but I think by the end of the season, it's going to be business as usual.

SIMON: And let's turn to football and the nightmare of the dream team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Thirty-one to 14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks; the Eagles are now 4-and-8. What happened?

BRYANT: Everything happened, and I think it's going to cost Andy Reid his job. And if it doesn't, maybe it should. I think you had a problem from day one with DeSean Jackson, the wide receiver who was a star player. He's an electric athlete. He's one of the few game-breakers in the NFL. And it seemed that everybody in the league - everybody on the Eagles got a contract extension, or a new contract, but him. And he pretty much pouted the whole season and wasn't the same player, and Michael Vick wasn't the same player.

And I think there was a lot of hype that went into it as well, because they didn't even come into the season as the best team. That belonged to the Green Bay Packers. And I think when you have a whole lot of expectations, once you start to get into some negative momentum, they weren't really able to turn it around. I think one thing that happened with the coach, Andy Reid, as well, is that he clearly was not able to reach his players. And this season just spiraled with a couple of bad losses - when they lost to the 49ers. And I think that they just never were able to recover and unfortunately, may end up very well - cost the coach his job.

SIMON: Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers continue to win. They won their last few games last season, culminating in the Super Bowl. And they are 11-and-0 so far this season. Doesn't it get harder to win from here on out, to have a perfect season?

BRYANT: Sure, it does. And I think - and if anybody remembers 2007, when the Patriots went undefeated - the entire month of December was incredibly stressful for them because of the pressure not only to win, but the pressure to run the table and to be perfect. So the more games you win, the closer you get to perfection, the more you have to win the Super Bowl or the season is going to be a complete disappointment.

I think what really matters is how a team responds to that. And I think the Packers right now are the kind of team that they're actually embracing this. They want to go undefeated. I don't think they're afraid of the moment. And I think that starts with the quarterback, and it starts with Charles Woodson, their cornerback. They are really cocky. They're really brash. They really want to make history. And I think that they've got all the talent to do it.

But once again, these games get tougher and tougher and tougher. It's going to be really interesting to see what happens if they get down in a game, or if they get down in a playoff game - if the pressure begins to swallow them up the kind of way to Patriots back in 2008.

SIMON: Howard, the way I read the news, Donovan McNabb is now available to coach your son in football.


BRYANT: He is available. And after a long career, it seems like Donovan McNabb's career is over. And I think it's fitting. I think he's tired. I think the game took a lot out of him. And I think that he's not going to get picked up by another team - maybe Houston, if they run into a lot of problems; maybe the Bears.

But if it does end for Donovan McNabb, he's had an incredible career. And people in Philadelphia are very, very harsh on McNabb because they never won the Super Bowl. They only got there once. They lost in four other NFC championship games, and so there is that level of disappointment.

But you also have to remember that he was incredibly underappreciated. Before he got there, nobody was talking about the Philadelphia Eagles. As much as Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb is chiefly responsible for reviving that franchise into being the perennial playoff contender it is now. He was a very, very good quarterback, maybe a Hall of Fame quarterback. But he certainly acquitted himself very, very well over his career. He's a great player.

SIMON: Howard Bryant from ESPN and ESPN the Magazine, thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure, Scott.


SIMON: Devo.

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.