Smith's vision

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:28 PM ET

Until this season -- and even this past weekend -- A.J. Smith may have been best known as the man who brought Doug Flutie back to the NFL.

Sometimes football talent comes in small packages and odd places, a lesson Smith learned well in his days as a personnel man for the Buffalo Bills.

That keen eye and a commitment to build depth rather than panic over an underachieving roster is a big reason the San Diego Chargers are giant killers today.

Now as the Chargers GM, Smith is enjoying what is arguably his finest hour in pro football.

This past Sunday's ouster of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts was validation of the work Smith has done since replacing the late John Butler almost five years ago.

When Billy Volek came in to replace injured quarterback Philip Rivers and Michael Turner held his own for LaDainian Tomlinson the depth shone through.

"You just build a football team and you layer it," Smith said in the Chargers locker room Sunday night "You have the starters and the people that back them up. And the people that have to back them up have to be ready at a moment's notice."

Granted the win came against a Colts team that seemed ill prepared to defend its title, especially defensively. Sunday's win said a great deal about Smith's work.

Not bad for a guy who started as a scout with the Bills in the Super Bowl era, lived under the considerable shadow of Butler and now has made his own mark as a savvy head man.

It was Smith who scouted Flutie extensively with the Argos and lobbied hard to bring him to Buffalo.

As for the task at hand, rather than being viewed as a serious contender, the Chargers are being dismissed as party poopers that ruined a classic AFC title bout -- the defending champs against the undefeated Patriots.

"I don't have anything to do with matchups," said Smith, who was given a four-year contract extension on New Year's Day. "We'll go up there and give them a game."

A football lifer who first learned from the man he helped defeat on the weekend -- Colts president Bill Polian -- it's hard to second guess Smith now.

RATINGS HIT

There is a rather vocal minority of CFL fans which gets insulted at the mere suggestion that the NFL is popular with Canadians.

Why those "fans" can't appreciate both games is a head-scratcher, but whatever.

In any event, playoff television ratings show the American game never has been more popular with Canadian viewers, even outdrawing Hockey Night In Canada twice in the past three weeks.

Helped by the exposure of the entire CTV network, Saturday's NFC divisional game drew 1.04 million viewers followed by the AFC night game that clocked in at 924,000. Those two contests were up 39% and 24% respectively from last year and were stronger than the two NHL games on CBC which had audiences of 911,000 and 740,000.

Part of the reason for the softer NHL numbers was that the Leafs were the late game, but CTV continues to build momentum on the way to its coverage of the Super Bowl.

Sunday's divisional contests were also strong despite afternoon starts.

The San Diego-Indianapolis contest at 1 p.m. had a solid 850,000 followed by 597,000 for the Cowboys and Giants at 4:30 p.m.

With the clout of CTV and cross promotion from sister station TSN, its almost a guarantee that the Super Bowl will draw a bigger audience than the Grey Cup for the second consecutive season.


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