Since the earliest days of professional football, there always have been three golden rules:

* Never take points off the board.

* Never strike an on-field official.

* Never sign Bruce Coslet to a multiyear contract.

Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Orlando Brown violated Rule No. 2 last Sunday. Accidentally hit in the right eye by referee Jeff Triplette's penalty flag, Brown then shoved Triplette to the ground.

I have seen video of the Brown-Triplette incident 47 times--and that's just on Nickelodeon News. It appears an agitated Brown, suspended indefinitely by the NFL, made a serious mistake. You don't hit referees in football, you don't spit on umpires in baseball and you don't choke your coach in basketball (unless you relocate to New York and have a good agent, in which case you can get commercial endorsements).

Rather than shove Triplette, Brown should have retreated to the sideline and waited for Leno or Letterman to call.

It's not every day a yellow handkerchief weighted with BBs flies through your face mask.

In fact, watching ESPN, which treats officiating disputes like CNN treats nuclear arms accords, I learned that the NFL now must absolutely, positively address the method in which penalty flags are thrown.

The Man would like to save everybody a lot of time in this area by offering a simple solution: Instead of tossing penalty flags, have referees serve players with subpoenas.

(TV Note: According to USA Today, budding analyst Boomer Esiason is making "a strong stretch run" on ABC's "Monday Night Football." And, according to Pravda, the former Soviet Union should be "up and running" again by late spring.)

(Statistical Note: Odds against being hit by lightning indoors: 4.25 billion to 1. Odds against Ty and Koy Detmer each throwing a touchdown pass on the same day outdoors: 4.37 billion to 1.)

(Postseason Note: As expected, the NFL ruled Tuesday that the NFC East winner this season will not advance to the playoffs.)

As always, the following picks against the point spread are for recreational purposes only:

Colts (-13 1/2) at Browns: I have seen the sweeping vista of the Grand Canyon. I have seen the resplendent Manhattan skyline at dusk. I have seen the grandeur and beauty that is Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower. But I have never seen anything as magical and majestic as the sight of those AFC East champion Indianapolis Colts galloping ingloriously toward Super Bowl XXXIV. Pick: Colts.

Redskins (-6 1/2) at 49ers: Jeff Garcia is to the 49ers' dynasty what George Lazenby was to the James Bond series. . . . I ran into Daniel M. Snyder the other day in Safeway. I believe he was buying Aisles 4 through 10. . . . Popular 49ers Christmas carol: "I Saw Mommy Chop Blocking Santa Claus." Pick: 49ers.

Raiders (-2 1/2) at Chargers: Last week I told you the "exact final score" of a certain game would be Chargers 19, Dolphins 16. In actuality, it was Chargers 9, Dolphins 12. Hey, if I could predict the future precisely and perfectly, you think I'd be wasting my time with flaky field goal kickers? Pick: Chargers.

Vikings (-3) at Giants: New York's Tiki Barber needs 756 yards rushing over final two games for first 1,000-yard season. . . . Jeff George is to winning football what Inspector Clouseau is to law enforcement. . . . Giants' playoff hopes can fit in an Altoids box. Pick: Giants.

Chiefs at Seahawks (-3): If Gunther Cunningham were not a football coach, I believe he would be a marine biologist specializing in the sleeping patterns of pycnogonid sea spiders and stalked crinoids. It's just a hunch. Pick: Seahawks.

Jets at Dolphins (-4 1/2): Sign of the times: Dolphins cheerleaders have replaced "S-U-C-C-E-S-S, that's the way you spell success," with "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime, say hey!" Pick: Jets.

Cowboys (-8 1/2) at Saints: Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano and his Saints counterpart, Bobby April, got together Thursday night and watched each other racing down the sidelines on game films. Pick: Saints.

Cardinals at Falcons (-2): Key factor: Falcons offense huddles too close to line of scrimmage, allowing opposition to hear what's being said. Pick: Cardinals.

Bengals at Ravens (-7 1/2): To the best of my knowledge, Bengals management has determined that Bruce Coslet is not Y2K-compliant. Pick: Bengals.

Bears at Rams (-11): Bad news for Rams: Star Fleet Security Council unexpectedly summons Kurt Warner to Rygel 7 to "report his findings." Pick: Bears.

Jaguars (-3) at Titans: In holiday spirit, Titans G Bruce Matthews has been nicknamed "The Mannheim Steamroller." Pick: Titans.

Bills (-2 1/2) at Patriots: If Pete Carroll is on the next train out of town, Drew Bledsoe ought to at least be his porter. Pick: Bills.

Broncos at Lions (-4): Sadly in Denver, Dale Carter has become the spitting image of Bill Romanowski. Pick: Lions.

Packers at Buccaneers (-4): Buccaneers P Mark Royals now active longer than the House of Windsor. Pick: Packers.

Panthers (-3 1/2) at Steelers: In Pittsburgh, the two-minute warning is given to fans two minutes before every Mike Tomczak pass. Pick: Steelers.

Last week: 9-6.

Season record: 97-107-10.