At first the fear was that the New England Patriots might not be inclined to give their best against the Colts in Baltimore Sunday.
That was after it became clear to everyone involved that if the Miami Dolphins, as expected, beat the Buffalo Bills. Saturday the Patriots would have no chance at the AFC East title even or a playoff better if they best the Colts.
Now, because of indiscreet remarks by some of the Patriots, the game in Baltimore is taking on the aspect of what a New England spokesman described yesterday as a "holy war." He was trying, vainly to cool it down.
Patriot linebacker Steve Zabel was quoted as saying about his team's slim chance of making the playoffs, "Forget about that if we'll beat their (the Colts') a - ."
Running back Ike Forte, said "We're going to win no matter what. We're going to win and that's the final word."
The media in Boston have called Baltimore coach Ted Marchibroda everything but bright because he did not call for a safety against Detroit last Sunday and the Lions blocked a punt with 14 seconds remaining for the touchdown that beat the Colts.
The loss had the freak effect of all but eliminating the Patriots from the playoff picture.
Publicist Pat Horne of the Patriots arrived in Baltimore to "advance" the game and said he was amazed to read a headline in a newspaper there saying "New England Players Vow Physical Revenge."
The next day he read another that said, "Colts Have Physical Score to Settle, Too."
Horne complained the first headline was over a story that had no quotations to substantiate any "physical" threat.
Asked about Zabel's remarks, Horne said, "You have to understand that Zabel is a put-on guy. He probably clinched his first too, as a gag and then smiled as he walked away."
And Forte's remarks?
"They're probably legitimate. If I were a coach and he didn't say something like that, I wouldn't want him on my team.
"But that headline about the Colts having a physical score to settle is ridiculous. It is based on (defensive ends) Julius Adams and Tony McGee raising their fists after our 17-3 victory over Baltimore in October.
"They do that in every game as a gesture of being elated after a good play.
"Would you believe that two Baltimore radio stations wanted to send reporters up to talk to our players: to ask them about reports that we thought the Colts threw the game to the Lions just to get us out of the playoffs? We said we would not permit it."
Horne did not mention that a Boston newspaper devoted nearly its entire first sports page to the "holy war" and sent a reporter to Marchibroda's news conference Monday.
Forrest Blue of the Colts was quoted as saying he was one of the few aware of what a loss to Detroit would mean to New England's playoff hopes.
"I knew the whole game." the center was reported as saying. "And I didn't give a (bleep) one way or another. I knew it wasn't life or death for us, that the only way the game made a difference was it Miami beat New England. I knew after New England won that the only team our game was important to was New England . . .
"But it wasn't some (bleep) conspiracy. That's what you guys (writers) want us to say. There wasn't anyone who wanted to lose to keep New England out of the playoffs. That's ridiculous. Probably 45 of the 48 guys didn't realize what happened."
A spokeman for the Colts said none of the their players wanted to talk about Sunday's game.
"New England is doing the popping off, " he said, savoring the psychological advantage. "If we win Sunday, we will win the title because we will have a 10-4 record and New England 9-5: it's that simple.
"As far as Miami is concerned, if they win and tie our record, we will beat them out with a better conference record and by point differential in our two games. We beat them 45-28 and lost to them 17-6."