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Super Bowl Sidebars Steal The Show


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Super Bowl 45 on Sunday billed as a contest between two legendary franchises -the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It'll be at least that. But the big story during the run-up to tomorrow's game has been the weather. Dallas, where the game is being played, has felt more like Green Bay or Pittsburgh than, you know, Texas. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us from a snowy Dallas.

Mike, thanks for being with us.

MIKE PESCA: Oh, you're welcome.

SIMON: In addition to the weather, another issue hanging over the game is the pending labor dispute, which makes some people feel this could be the last pro football game we see for a while.

PESCA: The thing to remember about this - and their contract will end on March 3 - so the Super Bowl marks not only an actually game but the begin date for serious negotiations.

And both sides - it's in both sides interests to play it up like we're miles apart and we're not budging. But really there's so much money out there. The NFL and all the league and all the teams made $9 billion last year. And the issue is really how to split it.

The owners had been taking a billion off the top. And then the players had been getting round 60 percent and the owners 40 percent. And the owners want more than their 40 percent, after they already get the billion.

How will this affect fans? Pretty much in two ways. Assuming that there is no work stoppage, what could be negotiated, and probably will, is two more games in the regular season. That could be good for fans, unless it causes more injuries to your favorite players.

SIMON: I was about to say it would be 50 concussions. But go ahead. Yeah.

PESCA: Right. And the other issue which would be good for fans but bad for a couple of high profile rookies is a rookie salary cap. And right now you have a situation where guys who've never played a down are some of the highest paid players in the NFL.

So those are two tangible ways. But I really do think that there's so much money there that it is within both sides interest to get a deal done. Who knows? There's also so much money there that by simply acting obstinate maybe one of the sides could get many more billions of dollars.

SIMON: OK. The wise guys in Vegas say it's going to be very close. What do you see happening?

PESCA: Well, the reason that we would think it would be close, if you look at the teams records the Steelers have a better record. And if you look at their seeding the Steelers were seeded higher.

But the Packers have been playing so well in the postseason. And the Packers particular style of play seems to be, A: well-suited to the arena that they're playing in. Which is to say even though we think of the Green Bay Packers as this great cold weather team, they're actually a very fast team who can benefit from the fact that they're playing on in artificial surface indoors because they want to throw the ball around.

And the second thing that - why that style of play is good for the Packers is the Steelers seem to have a very hard time stopping that. So from a play perspective, from a style of play perspective that is probably why the Green Bay Packers are a slight favorite.

If you look at the track records coming in, I would say the Steelers come from the tougher conference. And they also had a tougher road in the playoffs. The Packers having beat the Eagles, Falcons and Bears, perhaps not as impressive as the Steelers beating the Ravens and the Jets.

SIMON: Got to ask you something in conclusion.


SIMON: Quarterbacks getting a lot of attention. Aaron Rogers of the Packers might be - and I'm not forgetting Tom Brady - the hottest quarterback in pro football right now. Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh quarterback was suspended early in the season after being accused, but not charged, with sexual assault. It's going to be hard for some people to root for him.

PESCA: I think it's an important question when you say, oh, they won't be able to root for Ben Roethlisberger. I mean, the reason the Super Bowl is such a big deal and the reason we care so much about football is that we take it as more than a game. Is that we look at especially the quarterback position and impart virtue on these guys.

The word around Roethlisberger all week, because he has been a nice guy to the media all year, is the word redemption. And I don't know how you use that word. You know, redemption in whose eyes? If he literally didn't commit that sexual assault - he wasn't charged - then there's not much perhaps to be redeemed for. Other than, you know, being kind of a jerk. But that's not the global redemption we're all demanding.

And if he did, in fact, commit a heinous crime, well, then the redemption would be between him and his victim. So how could anything he does on the football field speak to redemption?

Luckily, you know, if you get past that, the game itself should be a really good game.

SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca in Dallas for Super Bowl XLV. Thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.