Championship weekend has arrived. Ravens-Patriots. Giants-49ers. One matchup that many saw developing in the NFL ether the past several months. The other, not so much. Both, however, feature the same stakes: One team moves on to the ultimate championship game while the other faces the reality of having pushed the same rock up the same hill for yet another season only to finish oh-so-close and yet so far.
And for us fans? Well, we face the same conundrum as we always face this time of year: Do we celebrate Championship Weekend because it’s seven to eight hours of some of the most intense action played at the highest level with the stakes nearly as high as they can possibly be? Or do we hold a wake, because it’s the last NFL day featuring multiple games for eight months?
On this podcast, we give a nod to the football void we’re about to encounter while choosing to celebrate the rest… including the way we’re about to fill the football void.
First, we sink our teeth into the final two games of the conference schedule: the AFC North-champion Ravens against the AFC East-champion Patriots followed by the NFC East-champion Giants visiting the NFC West-champion 49ers. And who better to bite into that massive football sandwich than one of the men who will bring the action of Super Bowl XLVI into your living rooms on Super Sunday: NBC’s Cris Collinsworth. Cris was making the rounds for the FedEx Air & Ground Awards (which you can vote on at NFL.com/FedEx) when we got into the who’s, what’s, why’s and how’s of Championship Sunday and how matters might play out for everyone. Cris mentions which of the four teams left is the most well-balanced and thus has the best shot of winning it all. Be sure to listen for that answer.
Next up is a longtime friend of mine from back in my Bristol days: ESPN’s Chris Fowler. One of the best television hosts in the business phones in from Melbourne, Australia, where he’s honchoing ESPN’s coverage of the Australian Open. While having Fowler phone in from 19 time zones away (we did try to SKYPE first) in the middle of the first major tennis tournament of the year and on the cusp of the most important NFL games of the year may not seem immediately obvious, know this: The NFL is the only major American sport in which the offseason goes into full swing while the postseason builds to a crescendo. Indeed, with the East-West Shrine Game airing on NFL Network this Saturday and the Senior Bowl the next, who better to ask about the top talent lining up to join the NFL than the college football voice of his generation? Just how good is Robert Griffin III? Is Andrew Luck all that people are making him out to be? Was Fowler surprised at how well Tim Tebow fared at quarterback for his beloved Denver Broncos? Thrilled to have one of my good friends on the show. And the first to phone in from a different continent, Nigel Spackle notwithstanding.
Ah, yes. That brings me to The Worm. Longtime podcast favorite and former NFL Network senior producer Jason Wormser visited the studio and why not — his G-Men are on a big-time roll. And as they head into San Francisco for an improbable NFC Championship Game matchup, I matched up The Worm with his old colleague and my “NFL GameDay Morning” compadre Steve Mariucci. Of course, the first order of business had to be the 2003 Wild-Card game in which Mooch’s 49ers came from 24 points down to survive a last-ditch, botched, highly controversial field-goal attempt by the Giants. Fans of the is podcast have heard this story told many times: The Worm was in Candlestick Park that day and while performing “Red Hat” duties for the FOX broadcast, wanted to strangle then Giants head coach Jim Fassel for blowing the lead and referee Ron Winter for not calling a pass interference penalty on the botched field-goal attempt. Once emotions died down from that chat, The Worm and Mooch actually settled in to a quality, level-headed discussion of how this Giants-49ers affair might turn out. Until, of course, we brought up the 2003 game one more time.
Lastly, one of my favorite all-time guests, Josh Charles, rejoined the show. The Baltimore native, die-hard Ravens fan and star of “The Good Wife” on CBS was on the podcast back in September, after the Ravens followed up their season-opening thumping of the Steelers with an inexplicable road loss in Tennessee. As we know, the Ravens shook off that loss (and other in Jacksonville, Seattle and San Diego) to advance to the AFC Championship Game for the second time in four years. The New England Patriots stand between Baltimore and a thrilling chance to win the Super Bowl in the city that took their Colts from them 28 years ago. Charles speaks eloquently on all subjects. It’s fun to hear his passion, knowledge and, yes, nervousness all on display in one chat.
The podcast also features a chat with all the folks who kindly take care of your humble narrator each and every week: podcast producers Chris Law and Chris Brockman and “NFL GameDay Morning” producers Dan Fleshner, Spandan Daftary and Bobby Kortright. We hit all your possible Super Bowl storylines and also set the table for the monster six-hour Champion Sunday edition of “NFL GameDay Morning.” Next week: a monster two-part podcast featuring Alec Baldwin, Michael Strahan, Warren Sapp, Mike Mayock, and Carson Daly, among others. It will result in the first-one hour edition of the TV version of the podcast. We’re raising our game too this time of year. Read