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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Washington, D.C. football fans will not soon forget the beating that their Redskins received last Sunday from the New England Patriots. The Patriots won 52 to 7. Redskins fans are furious with Patriots coach Bill Belichick for running up the score.

His undefeated Patriots are expecting more of a challenge this Sunday. They're going to play the other undefeated NFL team: the Indianapolis Colts.

And commentator Frank Deford expects quite a contest.

FRANK DEFORD: Perhaps it's just my nostalgia for ancient times, but it seems to me that way back when in the 1900s, there were more games of the century than nowadays. And that antiquity, hardly a year went by when we didn't have a game of the century. I don't think, though, that we've yet had a game of the century in the 21st century, so it's certainly good to finally have one.

That, of course, will be when Titans clash - yes, Titans clash, exclamation point - late this Sunday afternoon in the exalted persons of the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. What makes the Colts-Patriots juggernaut collision even more outstanding is that is comes at a time when we are so utterly awash in sport.

I know this is hard to believe, but once upon a time, early November was pretty much the exclusive province of football. But now this time of year is an absolute glut of athletic offerings.

On Wall Street, there is something called the triple-witching hour, which occurs four times a year when certain options and futures you don't want to know about all do peculiar things at the same time. Well, right now, sports fans are living through the quadruple witching hour of sport, when all four major American athletic planets are aligned.

The NFL is in full swing. The NHL has been under way for a month. The NBA opened last night, and the baseball World Series was prepared to last until Thursday, had the poor Rockies even remotely approached the standard of the American League.

Other sports that used to have the good sense to fold their tents before the leaves changed colors now refuse to go away till Santa closes the toy shop. Horse racing just had its climactic Breeders' Cup Saturday so that all the winners could say goodbye to the fans and go to the breeding shed. NASCAR, so far as I can tell, never ends.

But at least all NASCAR is doing is using up tires. Tennis players are flesh and blood. As the men's and women's tours reach toward Christmas, the poor players are falling like it was Gallipoli. The PGA, would schedule a tournament on New Year's Eve in Tibet if Tiger Woods would agree to play.

Can't we put the off back in off-season? Please?

Anyway, that there could actually be a game that could arise above all this autumnal cacophony is amazing. But the Colts, the defending champions, and the Patriots, the once-and-future dynasty, are not only both undefeated, but clearly in a universe apart.

Moreover, their two coaches are the yin and yang, the alpha and omega, the black and white. Bill Belichick, the Captain Ahab of the Patriots, is abrupt, rude, bloodless, and, we know now, also a cheater. Tony Dungy, the Mr. Rogers of the Colts, is polite, spiritual and altogether human.

And for all the inside blather about how defense wins games and special teams matter more than you can possibly imagine, quarterback is still the football cynosure, and the best two, by far, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, are calling signals, throwing passes and appearing in their commercials on Sunday.

That's why it's a really real big game, your first Game of the new millennium.

INSKEEP: Frank Deford's latest novel is titled "The Entitled." He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford