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Polian's focus stays between the lines

Bill Polian's teams have won 210 games in his career as an NFL general manager. But after waiting 20 years to win his first Super Bowl championship, Polian knows better than anyone that the final game of the season is all that really matters.

So you'd think Polian would be steaming over the hype for today's showdown between the unbeaten Patriots and Colts (4:15 p.m., Ch. 4), which is being billed as Super Bowl 41 1/2 . Polian's Colts are defending Super Bowl champions, yet people are acting as if their title is on the line today. In his Buffalo days, Battlin' Bill would be pounding his fist on the table at the perceived insult.

"I don't view it as an insult," Polian said Thursday from Indianapolis. "But it is laughable. As far as I know, they're not going to give a trophy for it. There's little or no long-term significance to it. I'm not even sure, given the schedules for both teams, that it'll affect home-field advantage that much.

"As Tony [Dungy] said, it's just one game out of 16. There's a lot of football left to play, no matter who wins or loses."

Whoa, Bill. It's hardly just another regular-season game. It's the first time two unbeatens have played this late in the season. It's a matchup of the league's best teams and most successful franchises. The Pats have won three of the last six Super Bowls. The Colts have the NFL's best record since 1999 -- one year after Polian's arrival.

The Colts, looking to defend their Super Bowl title, have quietly won their first seven games for the third season in a row. The Pats, looking to remove the taint of a videotaping scandal, have loudly and unmercifully trampled their eight opponents by 25.5 points a game.

It's a matchup of the game's best quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Brady has thrown 30 touchdown passes and is on pace to shatter Manning's record of 49 in a season. It's a clash of teams that are both ranked among the top four in the league in offense and defense. It's a battle of coaching wits between the sinister, dour, Bill Belichick and the cerebral, low-key Dungy.

Even Dungy admitted today's game at the RCA Dome would be a "circus." The NFL Network scheduled 36 1/2 hours of coverage, culminating with a 13-hour encore of past Pats-Colts games Saturday night.

So there's no denying the public fascination with this game. If nothing else, it's a reward for football fans who have been subjected to some deathly boring games this season.

"Yeah, you're probably right," said Polian. "And whether this one lives up to the hype or not remains to be seen."

Yeah, but it has a better chance than some actual Super Bowls. While Polian feels the significance is being overblown, he's intrigued by the matchup -- as a student and fan of the game. Like everyone else, he's wondering if the Pats can really be this good.

"This is far more about technical football to me than the idea that the world is going to end for whoever wins or loses the game," Polian said.

He marvels at the way the Pats' offensive line functions in concert, and the way Brady runs things at the line of scrimmage. Of course, it's reminiscent of the way football people talk about Manning and the Colts' offense.

There is, of course, a dash of gamesmanship in Polian's praise of the Pats. The more people gush about New England, the less attention and pressure goes to the Colts. It's unheard of for a defending Super Bowl champion to be an unbeaten underdog at home.

"We like it," Polian said. "We're happy to be there. As an organization, we figure the less publicity the better. Not that we're not used to being in this kind of game. We've been in a lot of them. But we'd just as soon go about our business."

The Colts are taking care of business on both sides of the ball. They're fourth in the NFL in defense and second in fewest points allowed. They have two potential defensive MVPs in end Dwight Freeney and safety Bob Sanders. Polian says people talk about the Pats' new receivers (notably, Randy Moss and Wes Welker), while forgetting that there are five new faces on the Indy defense.

"It's not like these teams know each other very well," Polian said. "This is kind of a feeling out process, if you will."

Polian is still touchy about the notion that the Colts have a soft, finesse defense. How can a defense with Sanders be soft? Polian said the defense is better than it was a year ago, better than it was during Indy's run to the Super Bowl.

Polian insists there is no bad blood between the franchises. Last year, remember, the Pats reportedly asked the NFL for extra security for their employees after Polian allegedly shoved a Jets employee on the sideline. Polian and Belichick have a clear disdain for one another and you can bet Polian would love to knock the Pats from their pedestal.

"This is like us and Miami," Polian said. "I mean, the Bills and Miami. And that's a good thing for the league."


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