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Saturday Sports: Ohio State And Alabama To Face Off In National Championship

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You know what else doesn't get boring? Time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Bama - and since this is NPR, I'll explain that's short for Alabama - beat Notre Dame - a university, not a cathedral - in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State upset - I'll say they're upset - Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. And more women shatter more glass ceilings this week in sports.

Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Well, you're welcome. And happy new year, Scott.

SIMON: And happy new year to you, too, my friend. Alabama - 31-14 last night. Ohio State stunned Clemson, which had been No. 2 - not anymore - 49-28. Justin Fields, the Ohio State quarterback, had six touchdowns, I believe. And I want the Bears to sign him right now. What a game.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Wow. You know, for those who didn't see, Scott, he took a nasty hit to the ribs in the first half - a hit so nasty, the defensive player who speared him with his helmet was kicked out of the game. Fields kept playing and visibly wincing. And he ended up throwing four touchdown passes after the hit, giving him, as you said, a total of six, leading Ohio State to a win that avenged a loss to Clemson in last year's College Football Playoff. So, yeah, I think that qualifies as valiant on a football field.

SIMON: What does a national championship really mean this year, though?

GOLDMAN: Well, that's a very good question. And I think what you're saying is it doesn't mean as much because of the way college football lurched through the season - you know, many games canceled, many players, coaches tested positive for the coronavirus. Nearly 20 bowl games were called off because of the pandemic. And Ohio State, in fact, only managed to play and win six games before last night. And some, including Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, said that should've disqualified Ohio State from playing in the College Football Playoff. Then you had the Big Ten conference change some rules to make it so Ohio State could qualify for the playoff. And the Buckeyes got some players back early after they'd tested positive for the coronavirus so they could play in yesterday's game.

After all that, you still have two college football powers playing in the title game, and with Fields and the Buckeyes earning a lot of new fans after last night, the college football season will probably end up meaning a lot to a lot of people, especially in Alabama and Ohio.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a couple things that happened this week shattering glass ceilings and follow a theme this year. Becky Hammon became the first woman to serve as head coach in an NBA game when Gregg Popovich got the toss for rejecting - for arguing a call from the Spurs. So she, for about a half, coached the Spurs. And then the Red Sox are hiring Bianca Smith as a minor league baseball coach, the first African American woman in that position. 2020's been quite a year.

GOLDMAN: It has been. You know, it's interesting, too, about Hammon. You know, she acknowledged the moment after the game, but mostly, she seemed like any coach who was annoyed after a loss.

SIMON: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: And, you know, that's how...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...You hope the moment can be significant, too, if it normalizes having a woman in that position so other females with basketball experience and knowledge can get there, too. They're out there, Scott, and have been out there. Hammon just got the first chance. And, you know, you mentioned Bianca Smith.

I mean, we've all - you know, we're relieved to see 2020 behind us, but it was important, as you say, for women and milestones. Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants became the first on-field coach in Major League Baseball. Kim Ng...

SIMON: Yup.

GOLDMAN: ...You know, remember, hired as the team's general manager, the Miami Marlins' first woman, first Asian American to have that job. And then Sarah Fuller of Vanderbilt - first woman to play in a top-tier college football conference. So it was a banner year for women in milestones. We'll see if 2021 can continue that trend.

SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks so much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND'S "KREYOL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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