Hype machine gets cranked for Patriots-Colts matchup

The Baltimore Sun

Looking out over the sports media landscape while hoping for a big breeze to blow the leaves into the neighbor's yard:

Maybe you didn't hear, but the coach who loses Sunday's New England Patriots-Indianapolis Colts game must either appear on next season's Dancing With The Stars in a sequined sweat shirt or audition for American Idol by singing "Feelings."

Somehow, even if that were true, it wouldn't add to the buildup for this matchup of unbeatens. Listen to what CBS' play-by-play man for the game, Jim Nantz, had to say this week (according to highlights from a conference call): "What we have here is the rivalry of its time - the rivalry of its era. It has been this way for a long time since New England had Indianapolis' number and Peyton [Manning] couldn't beat them. Of course, they have turned that around in the last three matchups, coming off the AFC championship game. We have [Tony] Dungy and [Bill] Belichick, Manning and [Tom] Brady, two high-powered offenses, both undefeated - it is just spectacular."

Nantz's partner, Phil Simms, offered his take on the difference between the coaches: "We go to the Colts practices, and you never hear the coaches say anything in practice. The only person you really hear at an Indianapolis Colts practice is Peyton Manning, because he is telling everyone what to do. [Dungy's] style is so different from Bill Belichick's. I asked Bill Belichick once before the Super Bowl in Houston, 'How would you describe your coaching style?' And he responded: 'I coach through fear. I tell people they better play better or I'll bench them or it will cost them their job.' ... Even if you don't follow football, you can see the differences in the personalities of the coaches and the teams. You want to watch and see what is going to happen."

And what will be the difference in the game? Simms said he normally doesn't like to point to the quarterbacks, "but it could come down to which quarterback is just in a groove that day. It could be that close. By in a groove, I mean throwing it into windows that are not big, the velocity, the accuracy, it's all there. ... Quarterbacks are a lot like pitchers. They have days when they can't get that rhythm, or they're just missing a little bit."

Aren't we all just so media savvy? Part of the hype for the Patriots-Colts game is how it might rank among the highest-rated NFL regular-season telecasts of all time. Somehow, I don't recall that being part of the chatter when George Allen's Washington Redskins used to take on Tom Landry's Dallas Cowboys.

What's the best thing about the return of the NBA to ESPN? Hubie Brown. He breaks down plays and players as if he never left the bench and takes obvious pleasure in seeing smart basketball. He also takes obvious displeasure in seeing dumb basketball. Listen and learn.

Two phrases I'm hearing a bit too much of lately from sports talking heads: "dink and dunk" when referring to an NFL team's short passing game, and "flying under the radar," currently being used to single out an NBA or NFL club that might put on a surprisingly strong performance. Given how everyone listens to me, expect to stop hearing those phrases within five to 10 years.

And while we're talking about what I like or don't like (it's kind of a running theme here, isn't it?), my favorite new commercial airing during sports programming - likely soon to be run into the ground - is the car ad in which a squirrel, two birds and a wolf jump into a guy's car through the sun roof and they all sing along to Andy Kim's "Rock Me Gently." Keep those 1970s hits coming.

Random closing thought: Every once in a while, I miss being able to turn on the end of a Channel 11 newscast and see Vince Bagli's sports report. Yeah, he might have stumbled a bit, run over his allotted time, referred to the NHL Oilers as being "Edmondson" or even - one of my favorites - wrapped up by telling the audience to "just read it in the paper tomorrow." But he was our favorite sports uncle, a gentle curmudgeon. It's not knocking the current local sports bunch in any way to feel a bit of nostalgia for the way Bagli always left us with a smile.


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