THE INDIANAPOLIS Colts-New England Patriots playoff game Sunday is a rematch of not only last season's AFC championship, but also of the game that ushered in a season of receivers running wild, running free through NFL secondaries. (Too bad Lance "Bambi" Alworth is long retired.)
In reaction to the perceived mugging of the Colts' high-powered offense, the league cracked down on contact by defensive backs before passes are thrown.
CBS analyst Phil Simms said it has changed the league.
"It's really about throwing the ball," Simms, who will work the game with Jim Nantz, said on a conference call this week. "I don't mean nickel-and-diming, but throwing it downfield.
"Coaches are calling plays they might not have called before. ... [The rule enforcement] did everything the NFL wanted it to do. ... It opened up the game."
No one has opened up the game more than the Colts this season, so the Patriots need to play defense with their offense Sunday, said Simms' fellow analyst, Dan Dierdorf.
"I think New England has to hope ... they're going to win it offensively," said Dierdorf, the analyst with Dick Enberg on tomorrow's Pittsburgh Steelers-New York Jets game. "They don't match up against the passing game of Indianapolis."
The passing game isn't nearly as paramount for the Steelers, Simms said, so rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't necessarily have to perform perfectly under first-time playoff pressure.
"He can be subpar and [still] have a very good game and they can still win," said Simms, referring to Pittsburgh's rushing attack and how the Steelers simplify their offense. "They put very little pressure on the quarterback mentally."
On the same conference call, the NFL's contretemps du jour (I know you love it when I speak French) came under discussion. Here's Dierdorf on Randy Moss and the culture of on-field self-aggrandizement:
"Phil and I constantly run the risk of sounding like old guys. ... We look at today's younger players and some of the things they do as being foreign to us - they are made-for-TV moments.
"Was [Moss' `mooning'] the worst thing I ever saw? No. You can watch TV and see somebody's bare butt, and that's a lot worse than Randy Moss."
As for Fox announcer Joe Buck's forceful condemnation of Moss' actions, CBS Sports president Sean McManus said the play-by-play man's role has evolved over the years into a position with more room for commentary and analysis.
"The old days of the play-by-play man [just] giving down and distance are over," McManus said.
And we momentarily pause to reflect on a childhood spent listening to Ray Scott.
Blast radio play-by-play announcer Art Sinclair is hospitalized after undergoing heart bypass surgery yesterday. ...
The Vikings-Green Bay Packers game drew an 18.4 rating for Fox last weekend, making it the highest-rated wild-card game in five years. ...
Melvin Alaeze of Randallstown is on the East roster for the U.S. Army High School All-American Bowl football game, telecast tomorrow at 1 p.m. on NBC (WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4). ...
ABC will use the SkyCam - the suspended camera familiar to NFL viewers - in its coverage of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships tomorrow (4 p.m. and 8 p.m., WMAR/Channel 2 and WJLA/Channel 7). ...
ESPN has added WNBA star Lisa Leslie to its women's college basketball studio show, starting Sunday on ESPN2. ...
When the networks let NFL players introduce themselves and mention their alma maters (I know you love it when I speak Latin), perhaps you have noticed the former Buckeyes who announce their college as The Ohio State University, which is the official name of the school. And at least they mention their college. I'm sure alumni who share a college with other players are thrilled to hear them say their high schools instead. Hey, it's not like those colleges gave them scholarships or anything.