For Coach and Quarterback, Colts' Win Is a Breakthrough

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 5, 2007

MIAMI, Feb. 4 -- Through a steady rain that made the football so slippery there were more turnovers than touchdowns, the Indianapolis Colts won Super Bowl XLI by wearing down and overwhelming the Chicago Bears. The 29-17 victory ignited a wild celebration among the white-and-blue attired fans in the sea of colorful vinyl rainwear that populated the soggy stands at Dolphin Stadium.

After a week of all-night parties, $150-a-plate brunches, shrimp-and-champagne charity fundraisers and nearly round-the-clock television coverage from beachfront studios, the Super Bowl finally arrived Sunday night to a stadium so dressed up even the grass was imported from a farm in Georgia.

And then it rained all over the party.

The game-long deluge, a first for a Super Bowl, wasn't the only surprise. Chicago's Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown and the underdog Bears led 14-6 after an entertaining, and mistake-filled, first quarter. But Indianapolis wore down the vaunted Bears defense, finishing with more than 400 yards.

The game turned on a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions by Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, who produced one of the worst performances of what had been a maddeningly inconsistent season. Grossman, who led the Bears to a 15-3 record entering the game but was heavily criticized by Bears fans and in the Chicago media, threw two interceptions and fumbled twice.

While Grossman struggled, the Colts' Peyton Manning, who had been criticized for not being able to win important playoff games in an otherwise successful career, was named the game's most valuable player after throwing for 247 yards and one touchdown.

"We truly got this as a team and I'm proud to be a part of it," Manning said. "It wasn't what we expected, coming down to Miami and playing in the rain. . . . We really tried to protect the ball. Obviously, the passing game wasn't going to be as sharp with the weather."

In a duel of gentleman coaches, Tony Dungy became the first African American to lead his team to a Super Bowl title, defeating his friend and onetime assistant Lovie Smith. The game, however, did not offer a display of brilliant coaching strategy. It seemed more a game of survival.

"Our guys just hung tough and played so hard," Dungy said while receiving the Vince Lombardi Trophy given to the winner. "The real test of a man and the real test of a champion is can you continue to fight when things don't go your way. That's what we did."

In its 41 years, America's biggest sporting event has spawned a now traditional lead-up week of entertainment excess that dwarfs the game itself, making it feel like an interruption to a deafening party, as if the music were suddenly turned off. Even with the historic matchup between Dungy and Smith, the most famous man to step on the field tonight was Prince, who appeared out of a wall of fireworks and sang hits including "Purple Rain" as purple lights bathed the stadium during the 10-minute halftime show. Or perhaps it was Billy Joel, who sang the national anthem while playing a grand piano on the 50-yard-line.

Of course, it rained on them, too.

Despite the conditions, the game itself offered plenty of can't-miss moments, even if many of them came on turnovers. The first quarter alone included Hester's 92-yard return, a 53-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Reggie Wayne and a 52-yard run by Bears running back Thomas Jones.

There were six fumbles in all, three interceptions, one muffed hold on an extra point attempt and a missed 36-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter by the Colts' Adam Vinatieri, one of the most accurate place kickers in league history. Manning, who finally won a Super Bowl in his ninth season, threw one interception and fumbled once.

"A lot of it was the rain," Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said. "The ball was very messy, hard to control. . . . I'm just glad we were able to come up with the turnovers and put our offense in scoring position."

But if the game had its gaffes, unlike at past Super Bowls in Miami, players stayed out of trouble off the field. Nobody was arrested. Nobody kept the airwaves humming with brazen acts reminiscent of the pants-dropping by Bears quarterback Jim McMahon during media day in 1986, when he mooned a helicopter, or even the cocksure guarantee of victory by Joe Namath in 1969. Even Prince, known for his raunchy songs and performances, kept it clean and classy.

Perhaps the biggest news break came Friday when ESPN dug up grainy footage of an adolescent Manning wiggling his hips wildly in a red ruffled shirt while dancing the tango for a school performance.

Manning completed 25 of 38 passes and guided his team down the field when it mattered. But running backs Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai produced the most important yards, grinding out a combined 190 on the ground. Addai also led Indianapolis receivers with 10 receptions for 66 yards.

Meanwhile, Grossman struggled. His first interception, the seventh turnover of the night, was returned 56 yards for a touchdown by Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden, providing the final margin.

The second interception, by Colts safety Bob Sanders, did not result in points but helped the Colts take time off of the clock. The Bears' last chance to get in the game slipped away when tight end Desmond Clark failed to hold on to a fourth-down pass from Grossman.

"Everybody was pretty disappointed and frustrated," Grossman said. "You never want to the weather to play a factor. It's not an excuse. They did a good job handling it, and we didn't."

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