NFL Network Conference Call With Cris Collinsworth & Steve Mariucci

(The following is a transcript of this afternoon’s NFL Network Conference call with network Analysts Cris Collinsworth and Steve Mariucci.)

MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us today on this conference call previewing Patriots/Giants on NFL Network this Saturday night at 8:00 Eastern.

Joining us on this call are Cris Collinsworth, the analyst for the game, and Steve Mariucci, one of NFL Network’s pregame analysts.

I’d like to open it up for a quick question for each of the gentlemen and then open it up to media.

For Cris and coach, from a former coach’s perspective, how would preparing for a game of this magnitude, how would you prepare for it?

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: It is very exciting, and I think you’ve seen the response from the Giants players, that despite the fact that they have absolutely nothing to gain from this game, they can’t move up in seeding position, that they want to play, because they understand the historical significance of playing for an undefeated season and trying to stop an undefeated season.

I just left the HBO show. And Dan Marino was talking about that literally he has more conversations sometimes about the Bears game in which they knocked off the Chicago Bears and ended their perfect season at sort of the tail end of that season in ’85, than he does in a lot of the playoff games that he participated in and the Super Bowl; that’s something that’s brought up.

So you can understand why the Giants players, whether they get the opportunity to or not, are very excited about having a chance to derail the Patriots. And obviously from the Patriots standpoint it’s history. Nobody has ever gone 16‑0. The Dolphins were 14‑0. And the records that will probably be broken in this game, we’re going to have to have a record alert button on the bottom of the screen as the records go by, because there are going to be a lot of records broken in this game, I believe, that will be talked about for many years to come. This is historically significant. So we’re excited about the game, and I think it’s going to be a good one.

STEVE MARIUCCI: From a former coach’s standpoint, when you talk about being in the situation that the Giants are in, I was in it really twice where a playoff ‑‑ the playoffs have been determined. Your seed has been determined once it was the first seed, the home field advantage seed and once was just a wild card seed where you couldn’t improve yourself so you had to go into your last game with that in mind and both times I chose to rest players, and both times we lost. But also both times we won our next playoff game.

So in the long and short of it, it was worth doing in terms of advancing in the playoffs, being a fresh and healthy, rested team for the playoff games, which really is the most important thing. But it certainly doesn’t help you win the game, especially against a team like the Patriots.

So on one hand you’re going to have players and fans hoping that the Giants can snap that streak. They would become America’s team overnight, I think. There’s a lot of people that ‑‑ a lot of Patriot fans that would love to see a 16‑0 season and a lot of people that hope it doesn’t happen. However, from the big picture, at least from a coach’s standpoint, the health of that team is so important for the playoff run.

They know where they’re going in Tampa. And they probably started to get ready for that game as it is.

In terms of the Patriots, their seed is set. They know where they’re going and they know they have a rest. But like Cris said, nobody has gone 16‑0. I’m sure that’s important. And they do have a bye, and I think it’s going to be very important to that franchise and those players and coaches that they see if they can finish the season off the way they started it and dominate people and go and get that 16‑0 run. So their situation is a little different than the fate of Cowboys who have home field advantage and other teams that are seeded permanently for the playoffs, they can make history.

Q. I have a question for both gentlemen. I’m not sure if either of you have heard that the NFL has arranged for the game to be simulcast three ways on the NFL Network, CBS and NBC, and it would appear the fans have spoke and the fans that weren’t going to get the game. I was wondering what your reaction is to this?

STEVE MARIUCCI: I just heard of it a minute ago, I’m excited that the fans across the country and in many countries can watch the game. It’s a game that has great deal of meaning and importance.

And, heck, I’ve got some fans, friends that have called me from Australia and Costa Rica that said I’ve watched the NFL Network on TV down here, and so this game is going to be an interesting game for a lot of people across the world, actually. So a lot more Americans now can watch it at least for this game.

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I give the NFL a lot of credit on this one. It would have been very easy for the NFL to hold out this bargaining chip, if you will, in the negotiations with the cable companies. And I certainly am not going to get into the details of that because I don’t know the details. But I thought it was a major step for the NFL to come forward and say, hey, we understand; this is a bit of a unique situation. This is history being made, potentially, and some records being broken, potentially, that are very significant.

And for them to step up and to step away from the bargaining table for a moment and to say this is what was in the best interests of the NFL fans as a whole, it’s a pretty significant move for them.

Q. I want to direct this one to Steve. How hard was that to pull starters and rest up? I’m sure you weren’t in a situation where you were playing an undefeated team. Do you think that would have changed your direction?

STEVE MARIUCCI: First part of your question, it is hard to say to a guy or several guys, first you can’t rest your whole team. It’s not like you put your second team in. You don’t have enough players suited up to do that, because guys have got to still participate in special teams, and you have to play the game.

So when you rest players, it might be four or eight or ten at the most. And obviously the primary guy would be the quarterback. At what point do you pull him out?

You’re right, never played against an undefeated team. So I suppose the competitive nature in us all might make us waiver a little bit in that regard.

But I think a coach has to keep in mind what the ultimate goal is, and that is to advance in the playoffs and get to that Super Bowl and win it. Sometimes you’re facing a short week like the Giants, maybe. And you gotta say, ‘geez, I’ve got this guy that’s got this nagging injury and that guy with that nagging injury, is it smart to play him or should I rest him and get him fresh for the playoff game?’ And that’s what you toil with as a coach.

But this game is so unique that way, nobody ‑‑ I know the Giants would love to break that streak. That would make their year. Although, breaking the streak and losing their face the first playoff game doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either.

So that’s why we’re all discussing this all week. It’s been a real interesting topic.

Q. At what point did you sort of come to the realization that this season‑ending game has the potential to be what it is: You know, possibly one of the biggest games in the regular season that we’ve ever seen? At what point during this season did you sort of notice, okay, this is going to be something special?

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I think it was Week 3 that I made the ridiculous comment that I thought this Patriots team was the greatest team I had ever seen, which elicited a “What!” from Bob Costas on the NBC set. But watching them play offense, I just had never seen the kind of weaponry that we’ve seen on this offense.

I just think it’s phenomenal. Not to mention the play, the offensive line, in particular the interior three, the way they pass protect and give Tom Brady room to step up. It’s been a show. It really has been.

So I think from my standpoint I was watching this one pretty closely early on. If you remember, I don’t think the Giants were off to a tremendous start early. So it was more from a: Is it possible that this could be from an undefeated for an undefeated season type of thing. And so, yeah, I think collectively that from the NFL network side of things, anyway, that we’ve been eyeing this one for a long time.

I have to tell you honestly it really surprises me, and I’m proud of the NFL that they stepped up and made this game available to everybody. I really thought that they would continue to use this as a major sort of power negotiating chip with what was going on in these negotiations.

And the fact that they are allowing everybody to watch it in one form or another is pretty impressive.

STEVE MARIUCCI: I think most of us who do the commentary and analysis and so‑called experts before the season even picked the New England Patriots to maybe win the Super Bowl or be the favorite. You took a 12‑4 team made it better in the off season. Naturally you think that’s the team to beat. But it wasn’t until they started winning each game convincingly, and then people started saying, well, boy, this is a good team. Maybe better than expected. We on NFL Network certainly were looking at our eight games and trying to decide which games were going to be great games and certainly the Green Bay/Dallas game was. But this game, at the end, everybody started talking: Can New England go undefeated and what kind of game would that be on the network against the Giants, week 17? It would be amazing, never happened before.

So probably early in the season after five, six, seven games when you started thinking, ‘whoa, this team might be able to challenge and be like those Miami Dolphins.’ We’ve been looking ahead to this game now for a long time.

Q. Steve, I don’t know what else to ask about Belichick, but obviously you faced him before. What magic does he have that’s created this past six years or so?

STEVE MARIUCCI: He’s got a good football team, and not to take anything away from his coaching style and coaching expertise, he’s very good at it and he’s proven that now over time at the Patriots. To be quite honest with you, I don’t know Bill Belichick as well as I know most of the other coaches in the league.

I don’t know him personally. I do know that he does things his way. And he manages that team in a very consistent fashion. He’s been very lucky enough to have premiere quarterback that stays healthy and veterans that buy into his system and so people that come in new, whether you’re a rookie or a Randy Moss or free agent, you buy in right away. There’s no alternative.

And so simply put, he’s got it rolling, and Scott Pioli and Bob Kraft and that entire organization has really put together a solid team from top to bottom. They’ve had injuries before. They’ve stayed healthy this year. But last year they were banged up and they managed to put in some backups and continued to win, which means their scouting department has done a great job of finding other players that are capable.

So the word “dynasty” certainly can be used and let’s face it, the man’s done a heck of a job.

Q. This is for Coach Mariucci, if you were the New York Giants head coach what would you tell them before the game?

STEVE MARIUCCI: I would want that team to think that they can win. I would want that team to think that we need to play this game as hard as we can play a game and as well as we can play a game. And we’re going to give it our best shot.

It will be a little interesting, however, if in fact he has two or three guys sitting in pajamas over on the side which he held out, which could be the case, which in some ways says the next game is more important than this game.

So Tom Coughlin has been in the playoffs before. He’s coached very good teams before. But I think whoever suits up he’s going to expect their best performance of the year. He’ll demand it. He’ll expect it. And he’ll have those guys believing they can win that game even if there’s going to be a few guys that are resting.

And maybe he doesn’t rest anybody or everybody, but he could pull people out depending on how the game goes to protect himself for the next week. But I’m sure he’s going to try to tee it up and win it.

Q. Talking about Belichick and the Patriots, when both of you guys watch film of them, is there a common denominator? Is there a characteristic besides just mere the talent that separates these guys from other teams?

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: You know, I think it’s unselfishness, is the number one characteristic, whether it was Corey Dillon, who, I guess, had a few issues in Cincinnati, came to the Patriots, became a model citizen, won a world championship.

And even when he left went out on sort of good terms with everybody and I thought that was impressive. Then you have Randy Moss, who comes in and understands that he now has a role on this team and the ability of Bill Belichick to allow individual players to do what they do best. It is an overriding factor.

And everything that you see with this football team, Adalius Thomas comes in as a free agent. Everybody thinks he’s going to be this and rush the passer and do all these different things, and he became a bit of a role player, until he really got fully indoctrinated into that football team. And yet you never saw any of these guys complain or think that they were being treated poorly.

There’s some games where the tight ends aren’t in the game plan. There are some games when Laurence Maroney disappears. There’s some games like last week when he’s entirely the focal point.

Yet you never hear of anybody complaining about their role on their team. They have bought into the whole is greater than any of the parts and more significant than any of the parts.

And I think one of the real untold stories is how he has gotten people to settle for less money. No question Tom Brady has settled for less money than he’s worth on the open market in the NFL. Randy Moss, no question he settled for less money than he’s worth on the open market.

So that sort of general, we’re all in this together and we don’t really care about what happens to us individually, that we’re going to try and look for the bigger prize has really been, and the fact that people buy into it, is what has made Bill Belichick so successful with this team.

STEVE MARIUCCI: I agree with everything that Cris said. Also keep in mind there’s a certain cause and effect here. Because when a team is winning, and dominating year after year, then you have players that want to be a part of that and give up a certain part of their salary to be a part of a winning team and have a great chance to get a ring.

And you have fewer complaints when you’re winning. And so the mere fact that they’re winning most of their games over the last several years really keeps the team thing not only in perspective, but the main thing.

And so they’ve been ‑‑ and they’ve lost so many coaches. They’ve had coordinators move on to other pro jobs and other college jobs, as you know. And they don’t seem to skip a beat.

And so they’ve got quite a thing going on there. And I don’t know what the stats are this year, because one of the things that impresses me is they’re a very smart team. They execute. They don’t make a lot of mistakes where they blow a coverage or there’s a miscommunication between quarterback and receiver.

They execute very well. They seem to be a very smart team. Well, a year ago they had the most college graduates of any NFL football team. Does that matter? I don’t know if it does. But it’s just another thing that they’ve got going for them. A lot of veterans. A lot of college graduates, a lot of smart guys. And there doesn’t seem to be anybody that’s high maintenance.

And it’s kind of the envy of the league right now. Everybody wants to be like that, you know?

Patriots/Giants To Be Available to All

Saturday night’s Patriots/Giants regular season finale which is being broadcast by the NFL Network will also be simulcast nationally by BOTH CBS and NBC.

Here is the release from the Network:

NFL ARRANGES FOR NFL NETWORK TELECAST OF PATRIOTS-GIANTS GAME TO BE SIMULCAST BY NFL NETWORK, CBS AND NBC

The NFL has arranged with broadcast television partners CBS and NBC for an unprecedented three-way national simulcast of the NFL Network telecast of Saturday night’s New England Patriots at New York Giants game when the Patriots will try to become the first NFL team to go 16-0 in a regular season, NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL announced today.

“We have taken this extraordinary step because it is in the best interest of our fans,” Commissioner Goodell said. “What we have seen for the past year is a very strong consumer demand for NFL Network. We appreciate CBS and NBC delivering the NFL Network telecast on Saturday night to the broad audience that deserves to see this potentially historic game. Our commitment to the NFL Network is stronger than ever.”

CBS and NBC will carry the NFL Network feed of the game with BRYANT GUMBEL and CRIS COLLINSWORTH in the broadcast booth. The game also will be televised by WCVB-ABC (Channel 5) in Boston, WMUR-ABC in Manchester, New Hampshire (Channel 9) and WWOR (Channel 9) in New York. The telecast begins at 8 p.m. ET with kickoff set at 8:15 p.m. ET.

This will be the first three-network simulcast in NFL history and the first simulcast of any kind of an NFL game since Super Bowl I in 1967 when CBS and NBC both televised the first meeting of the champions of the newly merged National Football League and American Football League. CBS was the network partner of the NFL at that time and NBC televised the AFL. In that first Super Bowl – in which the NFL Green Bay Packers beat the AFL Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 15, 1967 – Ray Scott, Jack Whitaker and Frank Gifford called the game for CBS while Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman broadcast the game on NBC.

Against the 10-5 playoff-bound Giants, the 15-0 Patriots on Saturday night will seek to become the first NFL team to complete an unbeaten regular season since the Miami Dolphins went 14-0 in 1972. The Dolphins proceeded to win three more games, including Super Bowl VII, to finish 17-0 for the only perfect season in NFL history. The NFL regular season was expanded to 16 games in 1978.

The Patriots also are aiming for their record 19th consecutive regular-season victory dating back to the 2006 season. With six points, they also will become the highest scoring team in one NFL season, breaking the Minnesota Vikings’ total of 556 in 1998. Individually, quarterback TOM BRADY (48) is in position to break PEYTON MANNING’s NFL record for most touchdown passes in a season (49 in 2004) and wide receiver RANDY MOSS (21) will set a new league mark if he catches two touchdown passes to surpass JERRY RICE’s 22 in 1987.

NFL Network is currently available on 240 cable systems, including Cox, plus satellite television providers DirecTV and Dish Network, and the telephone company TV services of AT&T U-VERSE and Verizon FiOS. But a few of the largest cable companies have refused to carry NFL Network on their most broadly distributed and affordable packages.

“NFL Network is a programming service of great interest to fans and should be broadly distributed by the cable industry,” said NFL Network President and CEO STEVE BORNSTEIN. “The only channel devoted 24/7 to America’s favorite sport is not programming that should be relegated to a poorly promoted, pay-extra sports tier that takes advantage of our fans’ passion for the NFL. A few of the biggest cable operators have refused to negotiate. We call on them to do what’s right for their consumers and negotiate agreements for NFL Network that make sense for everybody.”

Top Boston Sports Media Stories of 2007

With 2007 winding down, it’s certainly been another huge sports year in Boston. Here’s a look (in really no particular order) of the top Boston sports media stories of the year. Note that these aren’t just “sports” stories (as the Red Sox World Series victory and Patriots quest for 16-0 would top that list) but media related or created items:

1) Gerry Callahan’s Throat

This story dominated talk for much of the spring and summer, as the WEEI morning co-host had become very hoarse and painful to listen to earlier this year. Callahan announced on April 24th that he was taking “a few weeks” off per Doctor’s orders to completely rest his voice. That few weeks turned into nearly five months, as Callahan did not return to the WEEI airwaves until September. In between that time Callahan actually had throat surgery, and there were many rumors as to the root cause of the problem. To top things off, Callahan and his morning partner John Dennis had contracts that were set to expire at the end of the summer. This resulted in a well-publicized lockout/holdout where Dennis was also off the air for the last weeks of August and the beginning of September, until a new deal was worked out. There were rumors that D&C were being courted by a VC group that was looking to purchase several stations from Nassau Broadcasting and turn them into a regional All-Sports Radio Network. WEEI’s parent company, Entercom, then apparently trumped that option by purchasing the Nassau stations themselves. Dennis and Callahan finally returned to the airwaves on September 10th – just in time for the first “Patriots Monday” of the regular season on WEEI.

2) Ron Borges is suspended by Globe for plagiarism and then “retires.”

In March, Borges appeared to be in top form, throwing a wet blanket on the Patriots signing of free-agent Adalius Thomas. A day earlier on MSNBC, Borges had placed Thomas at the top of his list of free agents that represented the “best value.” However, the same day as the Thomas article in the Globe, Borges also complied the NFL notes for the Sunday Globe, a piece which “contained verbatim passages” from a story previously written by Mike Sando of The News Tribune of Tacoma. The next day, the Globe announced that Borges had been suspended for two months for plagiarism. (Dan Kennedy speculated that Borges might quit over the scandal, a prediction that proved accurate.)

Borges served his suspension, and returned to the Globe on May 13th, with a article on Randy Moss – a ripjob which included this priceless quote from former Raiders Offensive Coordinator turned Bed and Breakfast operator Tom Walsh – “Randy Moss is a player whose skills are diminishing, and he’s in denial of those eroding skills.” That proved to be the last article that Borges wrote for the Globe, as that Friday evening, the paper announced cryptically that Borges had “retired” from the Globe.

Since that time, Borges has made a few radio appearances, proclaiming that he got “screwed” in this episode and hinting at pending legal action on his part. He continues his occasional work for Pro Football Weekly, has written articles for the Kansas City Chiefs official team website, and become an occasional blogger.

He’s not missed.

3) The death of Alan Greenberg.

A guy who is missed by many is the late Alan Greenberg. On the evening of March 6th, the New England sports media world was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of 55-year-old Hartford Courant Patriots beat writer Alan Greenberg. His passing touched many in the industry who were moved to write in to BSMW and express their thoughts about the man that Greenberg was. This resulted in an organic tribute to Greenberg on this site, a totally unexpected, and incredibly touching, event. In order, here are the entries that contained the tributes to Greenberg:

Entry One – March 7th Morning.
Entry Two – March 7th Afternoon.
Entry Three – March 7th Evening.
Entry Four – March 8th.
Entry Five – March 11th.

The tributes were acknowledged and much appreciated by Greenberg’s widow, Anne-Marie Greenberg, who expressed her thanks to all who had taken the time to write in about her husband. As a reminder, a trust fund has also been established for the Greenberg’s three children. You can contribute by using the following contact information:

Greenberg Children’s Trust
c/o Citizens Bank
450 Boston Post Road
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776

4) Comcast SportsNet takes over FSN New England

Back in February it was reported by Keith Reed in the Globe that Comcast Corp, which already owned 50% of Fox Sports New England, was about to purchase the remaining half of the network. That deal was consummated by the end of April.

Comcast certainly enjoyed good timing with this purchase, though it may not have seemed so in May, when the Celtics drew the worst possible position they could get in the NBA draft lottery. Celtics boss Danny Ainge turned lemons into lemonade with trades for All Stars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to join Paul Pierce, resulting a a rebirth of Boston Celtics basketball. By the time FSN New England was officially re-branded as Comcast SportsNet on October 1st, many Celtics-related programming additions had been announced, including full 30-minute pre and post game shows, a weekly Celtics magazine show, and the move of Greg Dickerson to full-time sideline reporter for Celtics games. Other changes could be made soon, as there has been talk of making CSN a full-time regional sports network with a sports news-gathering staff that would seem to be a challenge to NESN in the local market. There is also talk of CSN getting their own HD Channel on the Comcast HD tier sometime before the end of this Celtics season, which would see all Celtics games, home and away on the network broadcast in high definition.

5) Spygate

One of the ugliest times in recent Boston sports memory was the fallout after the opening day win over the New York Jets when former Bill Belichick protégé Eric Mangini blew the whistle on his former team and mentor and had a Patriots employee who had been videotaping the Jets sideline against league rules busted.

This led to two weeks of pure hell for Patriots fans, as you couldn’t turn around without some reference to the scandal, always with a “gate” at the end. Patriots reporters filled blog entries with quotes from around the league, where past (and future) opponents such as the Steelers, Colts, Chargers, Eagles and Jaguars took their shots at the Patriots and questioned the validity of their past wins and championships.

While in print locally things were relatively tame (no doubt because the writers knew they have to deal with the team on a daily basis), but when the news side of the media here ventures over to sports, it is always a trainwreck. News people who know nothing about football or the NFL were suddenly at Belichick press conferences, jumping up and demanding answers. It was much worse on the national level, where columnists, commentators and analysts denounced the Patriots as “cheaters” demanded a suspension for Belichick, and perhaps even an asterisk to be attached to their accomplishments. Forfeits were even mentioned as a possibility as were a suspension from postseason play for the franchise. Letters to the Editor in local papers lamented how they could no longer use the Patriots as role models for their children.

While the Patriots did indeed violate league rules as determined by the commissioner, the over-the-top coverage and bashing of an otherwise model franchise led to a new low point in sports media – remarkable considering some of the group about which we’re talking about.

Others worthy of mention:

The arrival and first games of Daisuke Matsuzaka in a Red Sox uniform.

Gary Thorne claims that Curt Schilling’s bloody sock in 2004 was “painted.”

Former Boston Globe baseball writer Larry Whiteside passes away and is later elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Albert Breer leaves the Metro West Daily News to cover the Cowboys for The Dallas Morning News.

With the Celtics back in the spotlight, Boston Globe sports editor Joe Sullivan hires Marc J Spears to take over the Celtics beat, filling the staff position vacated by Ron Borges.

With the Red Sox down 3-1 in the ALCS, comments by Manny Ramirez are misrepresented by the media.

The Patriots ongoing quest for the perfect season, in among the “spygate” and “running up the score-gate” and what ever other “gate” media scandals.

Five years of BSMW!