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Saturday Sports: Two Quarterback Legends To Face Off In NFC Championship

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: ...And time to celebrate Henry Louis Aaron, who's died at the age of 86, also known as Hammerin' Hank, baseball's true home run champion before the steroid era inflated stats - 755 home runs, 23 major league seasons. And in football, two quarterback legends again this week.

ESPN's Howard Bryant joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: You were a friend of Hank Aaron's. You wrote a wonderful book, "The Last Hero." Tell us about the Henry Aaron you knew.

BRYANT: Well, the Henry Aaron I knew was one of the most generous and funny and incredibly subdued people that you would meet. I've always said that one of the things about being around professional athletes is they always make you feel like you're part of their entourage. And Henry was the exact opposite. I was so grateful for his generosity.

And when we met years ago when I was working on "The Last Hero," he didn't want to talk. He was completely convinced, believe it or not, that he didn't have any value to the country, which I thought was stunning. He was convinced that people weren't interested in him because the country was more interested in scandal and more interested in antiheroes. And he - I remember he said to me, well, who wants to read about my life, because I don't have any mistresses, and I don't have any scandals, and I've never been in jail and those types of things. And I remember telling him that these are exactly the reasons why people do want to hear from you.

And it was fascinating getting to know him and learning more about him. And I spoke to him three weeks ago, and it was great. We had a fantastic conversation. I had asked him all about - you know, wishing him a happy new year. We were talking about his birthday, February 5. And he always said to keep calling - call back, call back. Come - you know, you don't call me enough, and - which is a phenomenal thing for someone at his stature to say. And then that opportunity suddenly is no longer available. It's very, very sad.

SIMON: What kind of legacy does he leave us?

BRYANT: It's giant. Of all the people who have played this sport, there's one who hit 700 home runs and has 3,000 hits. There's the fact that he was able to do the things that he did across generations, to play 23 years and to never go on the disabled list, to be just the epitome of consistency and just dominance. He's like Babe Ruth in that regard, where you just look at his numbers and you don't believe them because they are so staggering.

And it's also not just that on the field. It was also the fact that he had set a standard off of the field. I remember talking to the great activist Harry Edwards after Barry Bonds had passed his home run record in 2007. And I remember what Dr. Edwards said was, the record's one thing. He's no longer the record-holder, but he'll always be the standard-bearer. And I loved the fact that that distinction was made, and I think it still holds.

SIMON: Yeah, the gold standard, indeed.

Look; a quick transition to football because, of course, the AFC, NFC championships are this weekend. The Chiefs, the reigning Super Bowl champions, play the Buffalo Bills, who haven't won a Super Bowl title, although they've played in about 200 of them. But let me ask you about that NFC title game - Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers - first time in the playoffs together in history. What do you foresee?

BRYANT: Oh, I love this matchup because there are just two - once again, two giants. You're not going to see this - we've seen it - it's taken 20 years to see it once. And to see it now - you know, Brady and Rodgers, two of the very best to do it and to play up in Lambeau Field - that's going to be phenomenal. And can Tom Brady really go to the Super Bowl for a 10th time? Can he really win seven Super Bowls? It's just an outstanding achievement.

And then also, in the other, I really enjoy the fact that we've got - I don't want to betray my Boston roots that the Patriots aren't there, but it's great to see...

SIMON: (Laughter).

BRYANT: ...The Buffalo Bills there after all these years. It's great to - even though the Chiefs won it last year.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: We've got some different faces in there, even though Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are there. But the AFC - very much looking forward to seeing some teams we haven't seen before - Josh Allen's star turn right now, and then, of course, Patrick Mahomes trying to go to the Super Bowl back-to-back years.

SIMON: Yeah, and he will be playing this weekend, too. Thanks, my friend. Howard Bryant of ESPN. And Howard's book on the late Henry Aaron is called "The Last Hero: A Life Of Henry Aaron." Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.