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Jets fans: Your guide to viewing the playoff game

We have crossed the playoff Rubicon, into that rarefied patch of sports fandom in which it is impossible for even the least interested citizens to resist.

You know the routine by now, having lived it many times over, most recently with the 2007 Giants and 2009 Yankees: Otherwise serious TV news people turn into cheerleaders, normally buttoned-down friends don colorful logoed merchandise, Aunt Ethel suddenly becomes as opinionated as a sports talk radio host.

Here's the difference this time: It's the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets who have captured everyone's attention.

Since the Jets last won a championship, the Giants have done so thrice, the Yankees and Mets a total of nine times, the Islanders, Rangers and Devils a combined eight times and the Knicks and Nets twice each - the latter in a league that no longer exists.

Also, men have walked on the moon for the first time.

Now this: For the first time in 11 years, the Jets have advanced to the American Football Conference Championship Game, visiting the Indianapolis Colts on the threshold of their first Super Bowl since Jan. 12, 1969.

Embrace it, because you don't have much choice.

Where to follow the game

For the second Sunday in a row, CBS' announcers for the Jets game will be the reliable, affable Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, the milk and warm Toll House cookies of football announcers.

Nantz is 50 but looks 40. Simms is 54 but looks 35. They surely know their stuff, but they lack the cutting edge brandished by some of their counterparts.

Well, usually.

Simms was feisty throughout during the Jets' victory over the San Diego Chargers last weekend, at various times disagreeing with the officials, Chargers coach Norv Turner and even Nantz.

Not that anyone should be surprised - Simms brings his best stuff for the biggest games. As a Giants quarterback, he was Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXI 23 years ago and he still regularly quotes his old coach, the famously gruff Bill Parcells.

If you prefer Jets-oriented voices - or if you still are holding off on buying a TV in case it's just a passing fad - Bob Wischusen and Marty Lyons have the call on 1050 ESPN radio.

SNY offers a thorough postgame show, highlighted by coach Rex Ryan's news conference.

Then turn to newsday.com and Newsday to read all about it.

Football Nation joins Baseball Town

Outside of New York, Boston and St. Louis, American cities generally prefer football to baseball, and football tends to crush the national pastime - and everything else - in TV ratings.

But while the percentage of homes in Indianapolis tuned to Sunday's game will be far higher than in New York, the metropolitan area is sure to show up in big numbers.

In the divisional round, an average of 28.4 percent of New York-area homes watched the Jets beat the Chargers.

Nationally, the second and third most-viewed shows of 2010 likely will be Sunday's conference finals, trailing the Super Bowl but beating "American Idol" and the Academy Awards.

(The NFC final between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints on Fox follows the Jets.)

Why is that man waving?

The Colts' quarterback is Peyton Manning, whose indispensability to his franchise is rivaled only by that of basketball star LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Unlike James, there is no chance of Manning signing with a New York team this summer.

Manning nearly became a Jet in 1997, when he considered leaving the University of Tennessee a year early, at which point the Jets might well have taken him with the first pick in the draft. Alas, he stayed in school and was snapped up by the Colts a year later.

Many casual observers of the sport wonder why Manning often gesticulates and gyrates for many seconds before ordering the ball to be snapped to him at the beginning of the play.

Don't feel bad. Many avid observers wonder the same thing.

Some of it means nothing but much of it means something, from identifying the middle linebacker, as all quarterbacks do, to altering the upcoming play based on the defense - something he has more freedom to do than most.

Are Giants fans OK with this?

When the Yankees and Phillies met in the 2009 World Series, Mets fans were torn about which of their hated rivals to support. Many went with the Phillies.

There is no comparable level of animosity between supporters of the area's football teams.

Fact is, most Giants fans likely will be rooting for the Jets Sunday, even as they recover from the shock of their team's late-season fade.

It is difficult to build up ill will when the teams meet only once every four years in the regular season and - unlike the area's baseball, basketball and hockey teams - never have met in the postseason.

The teams even are equal partners in the building of a new stadium opening this year.

The rivalry between the teams' fans tends to focus more on the fans themselves than on the field. Jets fans view Giants fans as overly serious, spoiled and sober. Giants fans view Jets fans as, um, none of the above. But it's not nice to stereotype.

How the Colts helped the Jets

The back story to the AFC Championship Game took shape Dec. 27, when the Colts had won all 14 of their games and were leading the Jets in the third quarter in Indianapolis.

It was then that they abruptly removed most of their key players from a game that meant nothing to their playoff status in hopes of preserving their health.

Quarterback Peyton Manning responded by stewing on the sideline, helmet on, as backup Curtis Painter turned a 15-10 lead into a 29-15 loss.

There went the chance of a perfect season, infuriating many Colts fans, annoying many Colts players and opening a door to the playoffs for the Jets, who would have been ousted with a loss that day.

Hence the references this week to the Jets being the Colts' Frankenstein monster. It's alive!

Here's the key question: Is Peyton still so mad about Week 16 he will attempt to squeeze 5½ quarters' worth of scoring into four to make up for lost time?

Xs and Os, but no hugs, for Jets

Most attention will be paid to the matchup between the Jets' top-ranked defense and Peyton Manning's Colts offense.

The Jets figure to rush at him with many players from many angles, because that is what they do, but that risks Manning simply throwing before they can get to him, because that is what he does.

When the Jets have the ball, will they do what comes naturally and try to pound away with running backs at the Colts' smallish but fast defense? Or will they trust their rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, to make big plays?

Final decisions rest with Rex Ryan. He's the portly, emotive fellow CBS will show on the sideline far more often than it does his fellow first-year head coach, the Colts' impassive Jim Caldwell.

Their famous '69 showdown

The Colts and Jets both made franchise-altering moves in 1984 - the former from Baltimore to Indy, devastating an avid football town, the latter from Queens to Jersey, seeking improved restrooms.

Beyond that, they don't have much in common. But they forever will be twinned by the events of Jan. 12, 1969, when the Jets fashioned the biggest upset in Super Bowl history by winning 16-7.

Joe Namath, who famously predicted the Jets would win, waved a finger on his way to the locker room, indicating the Jets were No. 1, which they have not been since.

Now the Colts are the only barrier to a return trip to the Super Bowl for the Jets, again in South Florida and again with a dashing young quarterback at the helm.

There they might encounter the Minnesota Vikings' Brett Favre, their quarterback in 2008.

But that's a story for another day.

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