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Saturday sports: Alabama and Georgia go to college football championship; Madden dies


And it's time for sports.


GURA: After a season of surprises in college football, two familiar teams are headed to the Championship - the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs. The unvaccinated quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings gets COVID-19 right before his team's big game, while in the NBA, not even referees are safe from the virus. We say goodbye to coach, broadcaster and video game icon John Madden. Joining me today to sort through all of it is Meadowlark Media's Howard Bryant. Morning, Howard. Happy New Year.

HOWARD BRYANT: Happy New Year, David. How are you?

GURA: Let's start with college football - Alabama and...

BRYANT: Do we have to? (Laughter).

GURA: ...Georgia winning the semifinals last night, and we face off in the Division one championship in less than 10 days, fewer than 10 days, at least as scheduled. What do you make of this matchup?

BRYANT: Well, it's the two best teams. This is the matchup that we've been waiting for. They played each other earlier in the year. Alabama got them. Georgia believes they're the best team. They were No. 1 in the country. And these two semifinal matchups, they were duds. You know, respect to Michigan, respect to Cincinnati for getting there, but these SEC teams are too fast. They're too big. They're almost like little mini NFL teams. The suspense of the College Football Playoff went out in a hurry, but at least we'll get the game everybody's been waiting for.

GURA: Get that game. In the NFL, starting quarterback for the Vikings, Kirk Cousins, tested positive for COVID yesterday, has to sit out Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers - not a small game for either of these two teams.

BRYANT: No, no, no.

GURA: What are Viking fans making of this decision for him not to get vaccinated?

BRYANT: Yeah, depriving the world of the anti-vax matchup between Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins.

GURA: There you go.

BRYANT: This was bound to happen. And we talk about football and team and team playing and the whole thing and the quarterback being the leader, but this has been a failure from the start from Kirk Cousins. It was only a matter of time. Everybody's got COVID anyway, and so - but they need this game. The Packers don't need this game, and so if they go out there, they're going out there. Their backup quarterback might have COVID - that if it all goes down and the Packers get - blow out the game as they're kind of supposed to, people are going to remember Kirk Cousins sort of letting his team down for, you know, the most important game of the year. They have to win this game or it's over.

GURA: Howard, COVID wreaking havoc in every league, in every sport - 97% of NBA players are vaxxed, but the league has been hard-hit by the virus, from players to coaches and even refs. What sort of impact is this having on the basketball season?

BRYANT: Yeah, they've decided the show must go on. So you've got teams out there - I'm waiting for Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to get signed or for Kareem to get signed to a 10-day contract.

GURA: Short-term contract - yeah.

BRYANT: Right? I mean, this is what - we've been heading in this direction for a long time. The National Hockey League, they've decided to shut it down, you know, for several games, but not basketball. And so I think that we're going to look back at this time period, and we're going to have to sort of remember. I don't think we're going to be putting asterisks on these games, but we are going to be looking back in the short term and going, well, we don't even know if the best teams got there because these rosters are just a mess.

GURA: Such a good point. Finally, football legend John Madden passed away on Tuesday. What are you going to remember him for?

BRYANT: Everything. I mean, John Madden - when you think about the growth of the modern NFL, you're thinking about him as a coach. And a lot of people don't even know he was a coach. He's one of those guys that depending on what generation you found him, he was a broadcaster, he was a coach or he was the face of the modern video game and modern sports video game. I mean, for me, he never even had a losing record as a coach - won the Super Bowl with the Raiders and then really did define modern broadcasting.

GURA: Lives on in video games, as we all know, that huge empire that he created. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thank you very much for coming on. Really appreciate it. Happy New Year.

BRYANT: Happy New Year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.