SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Now it's time for sports.
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SIMON: We had a huge sports weekend, the Fourth Grade Boys Basketball Jamboree at Redwood High School in Minnesota and the Southern Maine Middle School Hockey League match in Falmouth. How about it? You were expecting something - oh, right, the Super Bowl tomorrow. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, who have won the Super Bowl more times than B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music, has been credited on this show, versus Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons. Tom Goldman joins us from the studios of Houston Public Media. Thanks so much for being with us, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It's a pleasure.
SIMON: Did the NFL, with the advantage of hindsight, do Tom Brady and the New England Patriots a real solid by suspending him for four weeks so that he's rested and el primo (ph) tomorrow for the Super Bowl?
GOLDMAN: So you don't want to talk about Southern Maine Middle School hockey?
SIMON: No, of course. What do you got?
GOLDMAN: Because I can. No, no, no, let's talk about Tom Brady.
SIMON: OK, yeah.
GOLDMAN: OK. Did the NFL do him a favor?
GOLDMAN: You know, instead of playing in those first four games he did stuff like vacation in Italy, where he was photographed sunbathing nude. And, you know, Scott, that's probably better for your body than being chased by homicidal defensive linemen as long...
GOLDMAN: As long as you apply the right SPF and in the right places. Now, let's remember, though...
SIMON: (Laughter) I'm sorry. This is one of your best lines ever. But go ahead.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Let's remember it was just two years ago. When he was 37, he played in every regular season game except one and he led New England to the Super Bowl title. And by - and, you know, the way he maniacally takes care of himself with diet and workouts and sleep, 39 isn't much different than 37. So he probably could have gotten where they are tomorrow if he played those first four games. But yeah, you know, not doing it saved some wear and tear.
SIMON: The Patriots did OK, didn't they? Didn't - they did more than OK. Weren't they 3-1?
GOLDMAN: They were. You know, nothing this season will match a win tomorrow. But those first four games were significant because New England won three of them, as you said, without Brady, their best player. And they beat Arizona, which at the start of the season was considered a Super Bowl contender. They beat Miami and Houston, two teams that got to the playoffs. And here's the thing about these patriots, Scott. They are maniacally - there's that word again - they are maniacally devoted to team over the individual. Brady says there's a sign in a locker room that says, doing the right thing for the team when it may not be the right thing for you. Now, that's a variation on the old there is no I in team...
GOLDMAN: ...Phrase. But the Patriots live and breathe it. Brady says when you come to New England, you are brainwashed. And he used that word. And it's what was going on in that 3-1 start. Everyone did a little more at their positions because they had to for the team, you know? So while New England players and fans consider Brady's suspension a slap and they despise the NFL commissioner for doing it, it actually is also a badge of honor for how the Patriots responded.
SIMON: Tom Brady may be the greatest quarterback of all time. Or as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck say, the greatest man in the history of humanity.
GOLDMAN: We could...
SIMON: But there is a quarterback who's got better numbers this year, and that's Matt Ryan of the Falcons.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely. And he leads a lethal offense. Behind Matt Ryan, you know, the amount of points the Falcons scored during the regular season tied them for seventh best in history. He's had an MVP-worthy season. They've got great running backs and they've got great receivers. You know, as good as the offense is, Scott, the Atlanta defense is going to be a key. And there are a million keys to the Super Bowl if you Google Super Bowl keys. But the defense is going to be key because we'll find out if their pass rushers can put pressure on Brady because that's the only way you're going to beat him.
SIMON: Yeah, not even the great Tom Brady can throw it from his keister. Tom Goldman. Have a wonderful time, my friend.
GOLDMAN: When he's sunbathing. Thanks a lot.
SIMON: (Laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.