It is very hard to win a Super Bowl championship, just ask the Indianapolis Colts and the guys who led them there: quarterback Peyton Manning and head coach Tony Dungy.
The Colts and Manning beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 on a soggy day in Miami - avenging, in a way, the Saints’ loss to Chicago in the NFC Championship just two weeks earlier. Manning is, after all, a native of New Orleans, so we’ve got a clear connection.
And, to be honest, once Mannnig and the Colts got past the first quarter they really dominated play out on the field.
But you wondered how tough an afternoon it would be when on the opening kickoff the Colts made a mistake five other NFL teams did during the 2006 season - and that was to kick a ball to return specialist Devin Hester ... who ended up in the opponent’s end zone.
Hester, the first-year speedster from Miami (FL), made Super Bowl history by returning the opening kickoff 92-yards for a touchdown.
While the touchdown certainly got hearts racing in Indianapolis, it didn’t unravel Dungy and Manning.
“I just told the guys on the sidelines that in the BCS college football championship game, Florida didn’t come unglued when Ohio State’s Ted Ginn ran the opening kickoff back for a score,” Dungy said.
“God may have given us a test two weeks ago when we were down 18 points to the New England Patriots and then fought our way back to a victory. I just told them that we were well prepared. I said let’s just play our game.”
And the Colts did just that in a light rain that at times became a driving rain.
Led by Manning the Colts fought back, and when he hit former John Ehret High School (New Orleans) wide receiver Reggie Wayne on a 53-yard touchdown pass to make the score 7-6, the Colts had stopped the momentum generated by Hester’s electrifying kickoff return.
The Bears offense had one stellar drive of 57 yards in four plays that netted a TD when quarterback Rex Grossman hit wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad to raise their lead to 14-6.
But after that it was all Colts.
Manning took over the game, finishing up with passing stats of 25 of 38 for 247 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. The play of halfbacks Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes was superb, too.
Manning won the MVP of the Super Bowl, but you could argue that the running and receiving talents of Addai and Rhodes were really the difference makers.
Addai, the former LSU standout halfback, rushed for 77 yards on 19 attempts, and he also caught 10 passes for 66 yards coming out of the backfield.
Rhodes, the back-up to Addai, rushed for 113 yards on 21 attempts and scored one rushing touchdown and he caught one pass for eight yards.
The ability of the Colts offense to keep the speedy and aggressive Bears defense off guard was big, too.
Also give credit to a much-maligned Colts defense. The defense played at a championship level for most of the affair in Miami, limiting a shaken Grossman to just 165 yards passing, one touchdown with two pass interceptions.
While the Bears were able to rush for over 100 yards, with Thomas Jones doing most of the damage, you’ve got to remember that most of the 111 total rushing yards came on a 52-yard gallop.
The Bears also fumbled the ball four times and lost three of them to the aggressive Colts defense.
For Manning and Dungy the wait to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy was a long one, but a journey that should serve as a lesson of perseverance to others.
Dungy had built a lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers team up to a perennial Super Bowl contender during his six season-tenure there in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. But two straight losses in the opening round of the playoffs had ownership of the Bucs feeling his style of coaching would never get them to the sport’s biggest game.
One year after Dungy was released, the Buccaneers, with coach Jon Gruden running the show, won a world championship Super Bowl, but football life in Tampa Bay has not been anything close to “Disney World” football since.
For Manning, last year’s losses to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots twice, and also to the Pittsburgh Steelers, had many wondering if he could ever lead his team to a world championship.
The question marks about both of these good men were answered to the affirmative in Miami.