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By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Sunday, January 21

Are you the Peyton Manning of the armchair or the Tom Brady of the sofa?

When things get tough for your favorite team, are you calm and reserved, a la Brady?

Or do you get frustrated, like Manning, and proceed to throw shoes at the television set and yell at the football gods?

How about today, when the rivalry between the Manning-led Colts and the Brady-driven Patriots hits our television sets at 6:30 p.m. for the AFC Championship Game?

Will the game — which is one step away from the Super Bowl — get you jittery?

Well, you, the fan, are no different psychologically from the players, said Dr. Richard Lustberg, a sports psychologist based in New York City.

Lustberg said that, on some levels, a sports fan can experience the same highs and lows that players feel during a game, especially during the playoffs.

It’s how you handle it that sets you apart.

“When you’re cheering in your living room or screaming at the television set at the top of your lungs, you’re feeling the same things they’re feeling,” Lustberg said. “We tend to look at all players as the same, like they’re some sort of robot. But if you look at stress levels of players, we tend to see that it’s a bell-shaped curve in the locker room. Some can handle it better than others.”

Some fans do, too. Lustberg said some become so nervous that they’re unable to watch, often turning to the radio to find out the results. Some even hole themselves up in their homes after a defeat — lights out, depressed for days, sleeping away their frustrations.

“Fans can identify with losses and disappointments,” Lustberg said. “We experience them in our everyday lives. Who can’t identify with a build-up that ends in a major disappointment?”

Emotions will run high today for players and fans involved in the game between Indianapolis and New England, both of whom have a record of 14-4.

An informal poll of Eagle readers last week showed that Colts-Patriots is the biggest rivalry in the National Football League, with 49 percent of the 160 respondents voting for that pairing. The Dallas Cowboys-Washington Redskins rivalry was second, at 16 percent.

The pressure will be turned up today on Indianapolis, which is 3-7 in its past 10 games against New England, including 0-2 in the postseason. The Patriots have won three of the past five Super Bowls, but the Colts haven’t reached the NFL’s championship game since 1971, when the franchise was based in Baltimore.

Adam Vinatieri, a kicker for the Patriots before coming to the Colts this season, said today’s game has all the elements of a big rivalry.

“Especially for the Colts,” he said. “The Patriots have knocked them out of the playoffs a handful of times (in the recent past). This game means a lot for both teams; don’t get me wrong. But it’s one of those things that, for the Colts, we’ve always kind of felt like if we’re going to take the next step, you have to knock out the champ.”