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Saturday Sports: U.S. Open finals; new NFL season

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: U.S. Open championship weekend and an upset already. The NFL season opens with a huge upset. Damar Hamlin back in uniform. Michele Steele of ESPN joins us. Michele, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: You got it, Scott.

SIMON: U.S. Open Women's final today - 19-year-old Coco Gauff plays for her first career Grand Slam title, where she's going to face Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. What do you expect?

STEELE: Should be an exciting match. Sabalenka is bigger and stronger. Gauff is going to have to be more aggressive defensively to keep from having Sabalenka really dictate this match. But on the plus side for Gauff, she said she feels really fresh heading into this final, and that might contrast with Sabalenka, who's had to really grit it out through a long three-set semi. Gauff though, Scott - she's going to have huge crowd support this afternoon as she looks to become the first American U.S. Open champion since 2017.

SIMON: Men's side - Daniil Medvedev of Russia upset - I'll say upset him - Carlos Alcaraz of Spain last night. So the final is going to be against Novak Djokovic. What do you see there?

STEELE: You know, it's a rematch of the 2021 U.S. Open men's final. Medvedev beat Joker. That was his first and only Grand Slam win. And he said he's going to be really leaning into that history to strategize for the final, saying that Novak is never the same after he loses. That's why he has 23 Grand Slams. Medvedev is going to have to be better than he was that day because he's expecting Joker to be.

SIMON: NFL season began with a huge upset.

STEELE: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: Patrick Mahomes and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs lost at home to the Detroit Lions. Lions fans haven't (laughter) been able to celebrate anything like this for 32 years. What do you - you think this is a golden season for them?

STEELE: Yeah. You know, the lowly Lions, the same old Lions - it's not that way anymore. Boy, if you saw that game Thursday night, they looked good beating the Super Bowl winners, the defending Super Bowl champs, the Chiefs. I talked to a couple of Lions players in the locker room, and they told me that a win like this is going to set the tone for the rest of the season. And it's so rare that you hear that from guys. Usually it's a - it's one game. It's a long season. This wasn't just another game, Scott. And if they roll on like they did on Thursday night, Detroit fans are going to have to get used to winning...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...And not being the underdog.

SIMON: Big game Monday night. Aaron Rodgers, first time we've seen him, well - I guess, preseason. He'll be in a Jets uniform, and they face the Buffalo Bills. Damar Hamlin, safety for the Bills, will be back in uniform for the first time since collapsing on the field in January. What do you foresee in this game?

STEELE: Well, he is listed as the fourth-string safety on the Bills' roster, but that's not the most important part. The most important part is just going to be seeing him out there after his cardiac arrest last season. It's going to be emotional, I think, Scott, and certainly a testament to how remarkable his recovery has been. He's expected to be limited to special teams. There's also the chance he's a healthy scratch for this game. And, you know, sometimes, NFL coaches do that just to keep the depth chart balance. But like I said, just him being out there in uniform after seeing him last season laid out on the ground, it's going to be a very powerful moment, I think, for the NFL.

SIMON: Finally tonight, Michele, the barbecue bowl in Alabama.

STEELE: (Laughter) Yes. Texas-Alabama, Scott, the marquee matchup of the weekend. If you're a college football fan, you had this date circled in your calendar. And it's so big, the mayors of Austin and Tuscaloosa are putting a big 'ole barbecue bet on the outcome. Usually, you save this for the college football playoff, but it's such a big game, such a fun matchup that they're doing it early in the season. So it's Texas brisket versus Alabama ribs. I know which one I'm taking. Scott, which one are you taking?

SIMON: Oh, I never bet against Alabama ribs. And I have the Alka-Seltzer near. Michele...

STEELE: That makes two of us.

SIMON: ...Steele of ESPN, thanks so much.

STEELE: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN ROBINSON SONG, "SORCERERS") 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.