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This Week In Sports: Super Bowl Talk


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: And I'll bet you don't need the far-flung worldwide resources of NPR News to tell you tomorrow is the 50th Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos versus the Carolina Panthers. Here to join with me in several more minutes of insupportable speculation is NPR's own Tom Goldman.

Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) Insupportable speculation...

SIMON: That's our specialty, my man.

GOLDMAN: That's it. Let's do it.

SIMON: Panthers are five-point-something favorites in most books, or a little less than a touchdown. That surprises me. How do you see these two teams lining up?

GOLDMAN: Panthers are worthy favorites. They come into tomorrow looking every bit the juggernaut.

SIMON: Oh, I just thought they'd be more like nine-point favorites.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, they've been averaging 40 points a game in the post-season. They've got this great defense. Quarterback Cam Newton is launching into the stratosphere. You know, the point spread might be...

SIMON: (Imitating rocket liftoff).

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) ...Might be - thank you for the sound effects. Point spread might be conservative for a few reasons. Denver does have the best defense. They also have the experience factor. It's been a dozen years since Carolina's been in the Super Bowl. Denver was in the big game two seasons ago, and here's a truly scientific reason. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning isn't the Manning of old, but he's nicknamed The Sheriff. Sheriffs often do well on the showdown on Main Street, Scott.

SIMON: Well, I mean, first round Hall of Famer, for sure, but he's had a rough season, plagued by injuries, and more to the point, interceptions. Is he? Has he got new vigor?

GOLDMAN: I don't know about that. He certainly knows the narrative for much of the season - the declining skills, time to retire. You know, a very interesting story in SB Nation this week based on close study of the film of Denver's two playoff wins.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: And it claims Manning isn't as bad as everyone says. He's throwing to the right spots with velocity when he needs to, and you know, he's not always getting help from his receivers. They've been dropping passes.

SIMON: Yeah. And Cam Newton - this is his moment to - gloriously gifted athlete - his moment on the international stage, isn't it?

GOLDMAN: It sure is. You know, he's already a considered heavy favorite to win the MVP award. A Super Bowl win will officially make him the next big thing. He's a big quarterback who runs like a big running back. And this season, he's become a better passer. And here's a true indication of his emerging greatness, Scott. You know how kids at Panthers home games line up in the end zone seats, hoping to get a free football?

SIMON: Sure.

GOLDMAN: After the Panthers score a touchdown, Newton has been so good at driving his team down the field, he says the kids start lining up when the Panthers get to the 50-yard line.

SIMON: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Come on down, kids.

SIMON: To be a kid in Carolina. The 50th Super Bowl, good time to take stock of the game. Kenny Stabler, the Snake who won the 1977 Super Bowl - quarterback - Snake was a nickname - with the Oakland Raiders. He died of colon cancer, bless him, a few months ago. And it's been revealed he had CTE, the degenerative brain disease that's been linked to head trauma. You can't talk about the Super Bowl, particularly in its 50th year, without noting the tragic stories of the game that just seem to pile up year-to-year.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, you know. And you know, I've talked to young guys playing the game now, and some say the CTE issue - they see it as a generational thing. It's the older players, like Ken Stabler, ending up with the disease. I think more worrisome for the NFL, actually, are stories like the recent one about Tyler Sash of the New York Giants. He died last year at 27, reportedly from an overdose of painkillers. He was found to have CTE. Right now, it can only be diagnosed after death. If a test were developed to identify the disease in living people, you know, it could truly show what's going on in football. One last thing, Scott.

SIMON: Yeah, sure.

GOLDMAN: Stabler may be admitted to Pro Football Hall of Fame tonight, a potentially awkward moment for the league on the eve of the big game. Although Stabler's longtime partner Kim Bush is quoted as saying Stabler would have been honored.

SIMON: Yeah. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much. Good talking to you. Talk to you in a few weeks.

GOLDMAN: Thanks, Scott.

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