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A Winter Classic And New Year Bowl Games: The Week In Sports


No better way to begin a new year than to say - time for sports.


SIMON: Alabama and Clemson closed out the year with monster victories. Clemson - 37-17 over Oklahoma; Bama 38-zip over - well, let's just save a certain team in Michigan the embarrassment. And they'll play for the National Collegiate Football Championship in - what? - nine days. Our man Howard Bryant of espn.com com and ESPN The Magazine joins us. Howard, happy new year. Thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Happy new year, Scott.

SIMON: What do you foresee in that game?

BRYANT: Oh, it's going to be a great game. I have no idea what to expect, considering that you thought that - I thought that Michigan State - oh, sorry, did I say that? - Michigan State-Alabama game was going to be a lot...

SIMON: (Laughter) I was trying to save their feelings, OK?

BRYANT: But the Michigan people want to hear it. They got shut out, and Michigan State didn't. I think when you're Clemson, it's great. You spend the whole year waiting for this moment because you've been a great team all year, but nobody really believes in you because you're not Alabama, or you're not USC or one of the teams that wins every year. But you're undefeated. You're here. You've got Deshaun Watson who's the - probably the best quarterback in the country. And this is it - I think this is going to be fantastic. On the other hand, you've got Alabama that has been a decent team all year then they became a great team midyear. And now they're playing as well as anybody in the country, so I expect a really good game.

SIMON: We don't do predictions, do we?

BRYANT: We don't really do predictions. I don't know who's going to win, Scott. That's why they play the game.

SIMON: Yeah, right. Thanks for reminding everyone.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Right?

SIMON: I want to ask you about the Winter Classic yesterday. This is a game I have grown to love. The Habs, the Montreal Canadiens, defeated the Boston Bruins 5-1, but, you know, the uniforms were great. Those throwback uniforms - the whole atmosphere, hockey outdoors, Bill Belichick taking a turn on the skates before the game - I think this is a great tradition.

BRYANT: (Laughter). Yeah, it is. It's fantastic. And I think one of the reasons why it's a great tradition is because all those kids - most of kids playing - grew up playing on the ponds in Canada and in the United States. And they grew up - it's an outdoor game until you start to become a really good player and you start playing organized in high school and in and juniors. But pickup hockey in the east coast Canadian style is played outside, so to go back to the throwback days of when you were kid playing - and you playing in conditions and you're playing in the wind, and you're playing against the sun and all of these different things that makes it - it makes for a very different environment.

The other thing about it though (laughter) - I'm not sure it's a great environment for the fans because it's a TV event. They couldn't see anything, but it was a good environment to be there.

SIMON: Yeah. And, for the first time, Les Canadiennes of the Canadian Women's Hockey League played against the Boston Pride of the new National Women's Hockey League. How do you think this league is going to do?

BRYANT: No - I hope it succeeds. I think it's fantastic. It just started up this year, and it took a couple of different incarnations of trying to have a women's league, and I think it's great.

I went to 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. I remember, you know, seeing Julie Chu at Harvard and a lot of the great women players that didn't have a place to play. It doesn't have to be compared to the men. It has to be a place where great female athletes get a chance to compete. The fact that they actually played at the Winter Classic as well is fantastic.

So I think it's a really - it's a fledgling league. I hope that it has a chance to succeed. I think being connected with the NHL in any way really helps for that exposure. Good luck to them.

SIMON: Yeah, OK - same here. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you.

SIMON: Look forward to talking to you in the new year. Happy holidays.

BRYANT: Happy holidays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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