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Colts offense is Tom Moore's latest masterpiece

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Peyton Manning is the co-MVP. Edgerrin James is a two-time NFL rushing champion. Marvin Harrison is a five-time Pro Bowl receiver.

Ask the stars of the Indianapolis Colts to name the most valuable member of their team, though, and they agree it's Tom Moore, who never played in the NFL but knows how to play the game.

Moore is the architect of the high-scoring offense that has taken the Colts from back-to-back 3-13 records to within a whisker of the Super Bowl.

"He's tremendous," Harrison said.

Moore, 65, has been winning accolades - and giving opponents nightmares - for years.

The Colts' offensive coordinator coached Hall-of-Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth in Pittsburgh, helped make Barry Sanders the league's most dangerous runner in Detroit and developed the Carter receivers - Anthony and Cris - in Minnesota.

Indianapolis is his latest masterpiece, with its reliance on precision, quick wits and the ability to change things in the blink of an eye.

Gang up against the running game and Moore will burn you with play-action passes. Double-team Harrison and James will pound the ball. Try to take away James and Harrison and Moore lets Manning make the call.

The combination has worked almost perfectly in Moore's six seasons with the Colts. Manning & Co. have produced at least 5,000 yards each year and three of the four highest-scoring seasons in the franchise history.

Manning won the co-MVP award last year following his best pro season. James became the fifth player in league history to open his career with consecutive rushing titles in 1999 and 2000.

And Harrison, who caught a total of 137 passes in two years before joining the Colts in 1998, has established himself as the league's most consistent receiver. Under Moore, Harrison has set NFL records with four straight 100-catch seasons and shattered the league's single-season mark with 143 catches in 2002.

"I credit him for a lot of things I've accomplished in my career," Harrison said.

Moore said the credit belongs to the players.

"This is a player's game," he said in the deep, raspy voice that sometimes bellows from the playing field when things go wrong. "My base philosophy has been that players make plays and, as a coach, you give them a system that allows them to do that."

In Indianapolis, much of that system hinges on Manning. The quarterback rallied the Colts for 21 fourth-quarter points at Tennessee, then burned Green Bay with 247 yards passing in the first quarter and five TD passes in the first half.

"I don't think anybody can run this offense except Peyton," said former Chicago and New Orleans coach Mike Ditka, who worked with Moore in New Orleans. "A lot of it is 'check with me at the line of scrimmage.' Believe me, nobody could run this offense but him."

Colts coach Tony Dungy said Moore's approach hasn't changed much since the early 1970s, when Moore spent two years as a backfield coach at the University of Minnesota. His star pupil in that option offense was Dungy.

"Tom understands there are certain ways you move the ball to win and that's never going to change," Dungy said. "A lot of the things we are doing here, we did at Minnesota in 1973. You still had to make split-second decisions, it was just after the snap instead of before the snap."

Though he's at an age where most people consider retiring, Moore isn't even close.

There are still plays to design, defenses to confound, corrections to be made and championships to win.

And he's happy to do it behind the scenes.

"The Tom Moore stuff rubs me wrong," he said. "It's good for the Indianapolis Colts to have success, good for the city of Indianapolis, it's all that combined. But it's the players who make it work, and our job is giving them the opportunity to be the very best."

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