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Saturday Sports: NFL divisional playoffs, the end of Sports Illustrated?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Oh, bad times at a beloved brand in sports journalism, NFL playoffs, another round of the latest great rivalry. And is this a typo? The Detroit Lions - two wins away from the Super Bowl. Michele Steele of ESPN joins us. Hi there, Michele.

MICHELE STEELE: Yes, it is real for Lions fans. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Well, we will get to that. I've sad news. My gosh. Sports Illustrated announced it's laying off most of its staff. This has been one of the great homes for journalism in America - Frank Deford, Ralph Wiley, Sally Jenkins, Grant Wahl, George Plimpton, for goodness sakes. To be on the cover itself was considered history. What does this say about sports journalism?

STEELE: They had Robert Frost cover the All-Star Game at one point, Scott. Yeah. The last few years, though, have...

SIMON: John Updike - I could go on.

STEELE: Sure.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: Sure. You could go - it feels like it's building up to this if you've followed SI over the last few years because it's been very turbulent for that publication. You know, the ad market is shrinking. There have been multiple owners. And Friday, the union for the magazine's workers said most of its employees were laid off. You just feel so badly for them. They pour their hearts into this publication.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: Now, the group that runs SI - it's called Arena Group - they say they'll continue to run it on a skeleton staff for now, or someone else will get the license to publish it, so it's not over, Scott, but it's greatly diminished. It's very sad, and nobody knows what's next.

SIMON: Yeah. All right, divisional playoffs in the NFL - let's get to business. The Texans at Baltimore, later tonight the Pack visits the San Francisco 49ers, but the - no question. Kansas City Chiefs play the Buffalo Bills. Is this the time the Bills finally get their playoff win against the Chiefs, or is this regrouping time?

STEELE: Yeah. Well, if the Bills are going to slay the dragon, as it were, in the Kansas City Chiefs, this is their best chance to do it. The thing is Mahomes - Patrick Mahomes - he's 2 and 0 against Buffalo in the playoffs. The difference this time is that Mahomes is going to do something tomorrow he's never done, Scott. He's going to play a road game in the postseason. He's always been home in Arrowhead.

SIMON: Right, 'cause their record is so good. Right, yeah.

STEELE: Exactly. So I was in Kansas City this week. I listened to Mahomes. He sounds real upbeat about the challenge. He says he's friends with Josh Allen, and there's nothing quite like beating your friend. I have a hunch that Bills fans, Scott, might have a snowball or two ready.

SIMON: Finally, how can you not root for the Detroit Lions this year? Won their first postseason game in more than 30 years last week. They faced Tampa Bay - just two wins away from the Super Bowl, aren't they?

STEELE: Yeah. You know, 12 teams have never won the Super Bowl. Three of them are playing this weekend, including the Lions. And, boy, their fans have gone through so much. All of their fans would, of course, love to see them win a Super Bowl, but for one fan, Scott, it's a little more urgent - 83-year-old Larry Benjamin. He's a lifelong fan. He's in hospice right now. And when he saw Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown dye his hair blue, he asked his caregivers to do the same thing to his hair. And his son posted the picture to social media. It went viral. St. Brown, the player, called him, sent him a jersey. He told the local ABC station, I tell everybody I'm living on borrowed time.

SIMON: Oh, God bless.

STEELE: I'm going to do everything I can to enjoy these remaining days. And, Scott, he's hoping to live to see the day that the Lions make the Super Bowl. I think if you don't have a dog in this hunt, it's easy to root for the Lions. It's easy to root for Larry.

SIMON: How can you have a heart and not root for the Lions? Our friend Michele Steele of ESPN, thanks so much.

STEELE: Sure. 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.