- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

MIAMI — The Super Bowl starts its fifth decade tonight with Peyton, Prince and plenty of pizzazz when the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears meet at Dolphin Stadium.

Nineteen years after Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins became the first black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl, Super Bowl XLI will be the first with not just one, but two black coaches, Indianapolis’ Tony Dungy and Chicago’s Lovie Smith.

The most-watched television program of the year — more than 140 million viewers tuned in last Feburary — also pits the NFL’s most prolific quarterback, two-time MVP Peyton Manning of the Colts, against perhaps its most dominant defender, Bears All-Pro middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Those stars and their teammates might face some slippery conditions as showers are in the forecast.

Before the American Football Conference champion Colts (15-4) and the National Football Conference champion Bears (15-3) take the field at 6 p.m., the sell-out crowd of 76,000 — paying $600 or $700 per seat — and the worldwide audience — potentially more than 1 billion people in more than 230 countries and territories — will be treated to the first pre-game show performed by Cirque du Soleil. The show, introduced by Miami’s own Grammy Award winner Gloria Estefan, designed by pop artist Romero Britto and orchestrated by Grammy winner Louie Vega, will include 350 performers.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Billy Joel will follow by becoming the first entertainer to sing the national anthem at his second Super Bowl. Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino and Norma Hunt, widow of Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt — the man who coined the name Super Bowl — will be on the field for the ceremonial pre-game coin toss. Mrs. Hunt, who attended all 40 previous title games with her husband, will be the first woman so honored since Marie Lombardi, widow of coach Vince Lombardi, for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named, 26 years ago.

The often-outrageous performer Prince will entertain at halftime.

The sixth post-September 11 Super Bowl will feature the now-customary heightened security. Federal and state law enforcement agencies, led by the Department of Homeland Security and the Miami-Dade Police Department, will run the operation, which also will include support from the military and private security firms. Temporary flight restrictions will prohibit private aircraft, including blimps, within a large radius of the stadium. Everyone entering the stadium will be subject to strict security screenings.

The fans at home will be treated to a plethora of commercials, ranging from standbys Chevrolet, Budweiser and Coca-Cola to up-and-comers CareerBuilder.com, GoDaddy.com and E-Trade. Those sponsors will pay up to $2.6 million for a 30-second spot. A couple of commercials will likely enter the American catch-phrase lexicon starting tonight.

The Super Bowl has become such an national event — ranking with Thanksgiving — that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a big football fan, discussed the game on ESPN on Friday night. Meanwhile, one ambitious ticket-seller is offering two tickets on Craigslist.com for $14,000, and fans can bet on almost any aspect of the game.

As for the game itself, the Colts and Bears provide the first Super Bowl matchup in 27 years of franchises that existed before 1960.

“It’s great for the league,” said new NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was born in 1959. “The tradition that comes with both of these franchises is just fabulous.”

Though the Colts and Manning made the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years, this is their first Super Bowl since 1970, when the franchise still called Baltimore home.

The Colts overcame the potent running attack of the Chiefs, the fearsome defense of the Baltimore Ravens and a 21-3 deficit against the three-time champion New England Patriots to get to Miami. Although Manning struggled this postseason and the Colts’ defense surged, Dungy’s team still is built on the right arm of his quarterback and the right foot of kicker Adam Vinatieri, whose field goals won two of the Patriots’ three Super Bowls.

The Bears, one of the NFL’s charter franchises, won six championships in the pre-Super Bowl era but have been to this stage only once previously. That was in January 1986, when a record-setting defense propelled Chicago over New England 46-10 and Bears running back Walter Payton and defensive tackle William “Refrigerator” Perry became folk heroes.

This season, Chicago cruised to a second straight NFC North title and beat the defending conference champion Seattle Seahawks and the upstart New Orleans Saints at home in the playoffs. With quarterback Rex Grossman inconsistent at best, Smith — once Dungy’s assistant with the Tampa Bay Bucaneers — will need a strong game from an often-suffocating defense to beat his mentor and close friend and claim the title in just his third season as a head coach.

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