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The Latest In Sports

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And did you hear? B.J. Leiderman writes our theme music. LeBron James played his friend and former teammate Dwyane Wade last night, and he walked in wearing a Cubs jersey. Here's a man who lives by his word. Howard Bryant of ESPN joins us now. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: How did this...

BRYANT: I know that made you really happy to say that about LeBron wearing that jersey (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah, yeah. Look, if he wants to try - you know, wants to try and play in the offseason, I'm willing, too - his offseason. OK. Why was he wearing the jersey? He really did make good on a promise, didn't he?

BRYANT: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. And, of course, the Cubs winning and beating Cleveland, as well - I think that a - quite a year for both cities, for Cleveland, especially, having won being down 3-1 earlier. So it was a bit of payback for the city, but I don't think it was a bet LeBron had a problem paying for because it was quite a pretty good season for the Indians, as well.

SIMON: Yeah. Back to baseball in a minute, but I want to ask about football at this part of the season. The Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders are two of the signature franchises of the NFL - America's team and, if you please, America's bad boys. Neither have won a Super Bowl in years, but the Cowboys are 11-and-1 this season, including 11 victories in a row. The Raiders are 9-and-2. What's brought them back?

BRYANT: Yeah. I love it actually. I think it's great. Well, one - it's a quarterback league. You've got the young kid - the rookie Dak Prescott - playing for Dallas, and Ezekiel Elliott, the running back from Ohio State, who - these two are the - two of the greatest rookies that we've ever seen, in terms of, obviously, first single season. And I think that that has brought this back. You've got Derek Carr over in Oakland. It's a quarterback league, so when you've got someone at the front there, good things can happen.

I think this is one of the things that drives me crazy about the NFL. There is a fine line, as I always say, between parity and mediocrity, and the NFL can be mediocre. Everybody's 8-and-8, and there are really no signature teams outside of the Patriots and maybe the Packers when they're good and a couple of others.

But if you're of a certain age, watching the history of the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys mean something. The Oakland Raiders mean something. The Oakland Raiders haven't had a winning season since 2002. The Dallas Cowboys haven't been to the Super Bowl since they won it back in 1995. So you're looking at a generation. You're looking at 20 years of the signature team not even being on the stage. They haven't even been to the Super Bowl.

So this is good news. This is really something, and I think it's fun. I think it's something that - you need games to circle. You need bad guys. You need villains. You need great teams. And I think that's one of the reasons that the NFL actually has a great chance to sort of recover from low ratings this year.

SIMON: It's one of the fundamental features of drama, right? You've got to have good guys and bad guys.

BRYANT: Absolutely. Who cares if every team has the same record?

SIMON: Yeah. Back to baseball - new collective bargaining agreement - what do you notice in this one?

BRYANT: Well, I think the biggest thing obviously was billionaires versus millionaires, as always. The minimum salary went up to $535,000 a year for the (laughter) - for the players. But I think the big deal here is the players and the owners are going to fight over money, and you've got luxury tax now, obviously. The players do not want a salary cap, but it seems like they're going to have one because teams can't spend over a certain amount. But the biggest deal is that that idiotic rule from Bud Selig back in 2002 - no longer will the All-Star Game decide who gets home field.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Finally, we have a meritocracy. Best team gets home field. It's about time.

SIMON: Yeah. Excellent idea. Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks very much for being with us, my friend.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.