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Anticipation Builds For Football Matches


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. And it is time for sports.


WERTHEIMER: It is the first Sunday of the NFL season. NPR's Mike Pesca is back with us this week for a look at today's action on the gridiron. Mike, welcome.


WERTHEIMER: The regular season under way. We've got 13 games on tap, including two former playoff teams head-to-head - the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. Which matchups will you be paying attention to?

PESCA: Well, that will be an interesting one, because I, for one, am not a huge believer in San Francisco, which is, I think, exactly how San Francisco likes it. But if you look at their accomplishments last year, where they had best record in the NFC. Lot of close games. And in general, if you sneak out wins in close games, what the layman thinks is it shows you're tough and you can win the close ones. What I think statistics show is that you get in too many close games. And a lot of single plays here and there could turn the other way. But the one I'm really interested in - and I think most fans are - is the return of Peyton Manning. Missed all of last year. He might not be the best quarterback, because now we're in an era where quarterbacks throw for, you know, 48,000 yards or whatever, but I think he's the most compelling quarterback; the way he directs a game, the way he goes to the line and shouts out seemingly nonsense words, like chocolate, Zulu, Sunday, pizza. What? What does this mean?


PESCA: He's telling people where to go and he's got that back. In the preseason games, he seems to have that mojo back. And the line and his receivers there in Denver are responding to the chocolate, soul train, pizza mantra.

WERTHEIMER: OK. Mike, the New York Jets face the Buffalo Bills today. What do you make of the Jets' quarterback strategy with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow?

PESCA: Or is it a marketing strategy that has quarterbacks attached to it? You know, Tim Tebow sells a lot of tickets. And I work in New York, and we have one of those buildings where they have an elevator that shouts ads at you as you ride up. Thanks for that. I don't get paid for that. The elevator's desperate to sell some Jets season tickets. So, I know that they have not sold out every home game, the elevator tells me. And this is one of the reasons Tebow was signed. Sure, Tim Tebow, a miraculous quarterback, who is really terrible at throwing the ball but pretty good at running and he's great with a quote and has a wonderful smile and looks good with his shirt off running in the rain. None of those things seem to coincide with winning football games, but the Jets have Mark Sanchez, their first-string quarterback, who also has shown a penchant for inaccuracy. I recently saw the Jets' GM saying, well, we've emphasized some things with Mark Sanchez - like accuracy. How do you emphasize accuracy?


PESCA: I have no idea why it would be in a quarterback's strategy to be inaccurate. So, yeah, it's a whole big, fun thing that you know who loves it more than anyone? The New York Giants. They won the Super Bowl and they're totally under the radar. That's where they like to be.


WERTHEIMER: Do you think that the transition from college to the big league is getting tougher for some of these guys?

PESCA: Yeah, except the colleges are like the big leagues, it seems, and I'm not just talking about the instances where players have been paid. But if you look at these, say, defensive players who come out of a program like LSU, they just step in and they're fantastic right away. They always talk about the speed of the game. I think, you know, this weekend, the speed of the game, if it catches up or hurts anyone, it'll be these replacement referees, who seem to want to have a little conference after every play and decide where to spot the ball.

WERTHEIMER: So, Mike, what's the curve ball this week?

PESCA: Taylor Townsend - she's 16, she's a tennis prodigy. She's the number one girl, or junior female tennis player in the world. So, you'd think the USTA would be really happy with her but, no. The United States Tennis Association told her to lose weight. And in fact, it didn't even pay her way to come to the U.S. Open. She lost in the quarterfinals. But she's been winning all along. So, it's kind of a fraught subject, to tell a young female athlete you have to lose weight. I get that a part of tennis is the fundamentals of being in shape and having, you know, the necessary fitness to compete on the highest level. But when you tell someone who's only had success we're not even going to let you play in the tournament until it's my way or the highway, it seems like an overly stern lesson. I don't know that 16-year-olds actually will change their behavior based on that. They probably have to see the negative effects of not being in shape. And right now, Taylor Townsend is a sympathetic figure and so far pretty much a winning one.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mike Pesca. Thank you very much, Mike.

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

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