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Saturday Sports: Remembering Dick Butkus; WNBA finals; Red River rivalry

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Red River rivalry and farewell to a football and Chicago legend. Michele Steele of ESPN joins us. Michele, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: You bet, Scott.

SIMON: Number 51 died this week, Dick Butkus. He was 80, Hall of Fame middle linebacker, seven-time All-Pro, the soul of defense. And, in a way, he's Chicago kid, sturdy as a skyscraper, fierce as the wind off the lake in December.

STEELE: Yeah. You know, Dick Butkus right up there on that Mount Rushmore of athletes that played in Chicago but, Scott, a little more special - right? - because he was from here. He was a born and bred Southsider. He went to Illinois. He was drafted by the Bears. He became - you know, you mentioned some of those stats. He became the standard for what it meant to play linebacker in the NFL. The position was different after. He was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year despite never seeing postseason action. And something tells me - I bet you the ghost of Dick Butkus was on the field Thursday when the Bears finally ended that 14-game losing streak.

SIMON: Right. And he helped the offense, as well as the defense, as far as that goes.

STEELE: Yeah, yeah.

SIMON: WNBA finals begin tomorrow. New York Liberty face the defending champion Las Vegas Aces. No team has won the title back-to-back since 2002. What do you foresee?

STEELE: Yeah. Well, the Aces want to do it again. We'll see if they can because they're going up against a very, very strong Liberty team, a super team just like the Aces are. And they're featuring Breanna Stewart, who was this year's MVP. Now, to the Aces' credit, they have Aja Wilson, who was last year's MVP. Stewart and Wilson were opposing captains at the All-Star Game for the WNBA this year. So you got that kind of built-in rivalry, so to speak between those two. You know, I like super teams, especially for casual fans who want to understand quickly storylines and big stars. So they should get good ratings for this series. But more importantly, it should be an exciting one with lots of talent on both sides.

SIMON: Let me ask you about college football today. The Red River rivalry, the undefeated Oklahoma Sooners are playing, as we speak, the undefeated Texas Longhorns - Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Oklahoma - let me double-check this - leads 17-14 in the second quarter. Can we say that without paying lots of expensive broadcast rights?

STEELE: Yes, you're allowed.

SIMON: The last time these two teams play each other before they leave the Big 12 conference because next year, they play for the SEC.

STEELE: Yeah.

SIMON: We assume they're going to keep their rivalry going, but it's hard not to say that this game doesn't mark the end of something important.

STEELE: Yeah, a little bittersweet, right? These are two cornerstone teams of the Big 12. For me, this is the marquee rivalry in the Big 12. And when they go to the SEC, they will be one of quite a few marquee rivalries in that conference. But boy, are they going out here in style because so far...

SIMON: May - I have to interrupt.

STEELE: Yeah.

SIMON: I am told, as we speak...

STEELE: Yes.

SIMON: OK? They scored. The Longhorns scored. So it's 17-17 - or I'm sorry. The - forgive me. Oklahoma scored, right? Longhorns scored.

STEELE: No, Texas.

SIMON: It's tied...

STEELE: Texas just scored a field goal. Texas just scored a field goal, so it's 17-17. And, Scott...

SIMON: Are you watching and talking to me? Is that what you think of my attention to you, Michele?

STEELE: Scott, we got to get you into the booth, me and you. I'll do color. You do play by play. We got you covered here. But boy, 17 all, just under two minutes left in the first half. And, Scott, I tell you - this game has had a little bit of everything. We saw a real quick defense pick off Quinn Ewers, the standout Texas quarterback early in this game. Oklahoma then put on - put points on the board when they got the ball. Defense firing on all cylinders, really, on both sides here. But both of them have figured out ways to score. At the same time, you know, Texas special teams had a blocked punt and a TD. I'm told that Bevo, the Longhorns mascot, enjoying this game so far. It's a nail biter for her (laughter).

SIMON: Michele Steele, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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