- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

MIAMI — Peyton Manning can’t win the big one, and Tony Dungy can’t win when it counts.

Five years after they teamed up in pursuit of the title that had eluded them separately for so long, Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and peerless quarterback Peyton Manning finally proved they know how to win on football’s greatest stage.

Playing in a driving rainstorm, Manning led the Colts to a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium, giving Dungy a place in history and Manning a resounding answer to the critics who for so long doubted him.

“The disappointments that you have along the way make it feel that much better when you finally do accomplish things,” Dungy said. “As a player, I won my second year and kinda felt that’s the way [it’s supposed to be]. With this one, you realize how hard it is to do. You appreciate it more. I know what we went through to win this one.”

The victory completed a surprising, four-game run through the playoffs for the Colts, a team whose success over the past decade was built on its potent passing game.

This postseason, however, a resurgent defense and an effective running game helped the Colts subdue the Kansas City Chiefs’ powerful ground game, the fierce defenses of the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears and a three-time champion in the New England Patriots.

The frustration of losses in all those previous, unsuccessful trips to the playoffs — there were six for Manning and eight for Dungy — melted away in the downpour at Dolphin Stadium.

“This may not have been our best team in the last five years, but it was certainly the best group ready to fight the four-week battle we had to fight,” Dungy said.

The Super Bowl ring was accompanied by another award for Manning, who was named MVP.

Manning struggled in the AFC playoffs, but last night he completed 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown, a 53-yard bomb to receiver Reggie Wayne in the first quarter. Manning picked apart a tough Bears defense, helping the Colts control the ball and giving them a dominating edge in every key statistical category.

“Peyton is a tremendous player, a great leader,” Dungy said. “He prepares. He works. He does everything you can do to win. If people think he had to win a Super Bowl to validate him, that’s just wrong.

“He’s got that behind him. I don’t think there’s anything you can say now except this guy’s a Hall of Fame player.”

After nine seasons, Manning is well on his way to surpassing Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the NFL’s all-time leading passer.

And now, Manning has something Marino never did get: a victory on pro football’s biggest stage.

“We [found] a way to learn from some of those losses and we’re a better team because of it,” Manning said. “As disappointing as that playoff loss was last year, we were stronger for it. It’s nice to be able to cap off that all hard work with a championship.”

The victory also earned a special place in history for Dungy, who became the first black coach to win a championship. Dungy bested his friend and protege, Bears coach Lovie Smith, who also is black.

“I really thought about that up there on the [victory] podium,” Dungy said. “I really have to dedicate this to some guys who came before me: Jimmy Raye, Sherman Lewis, Lionel Taylor. I’m certainly not the best, not the most qualified. I know some other guys could’ve done it given the chance.”

It appeared at the outset that Smith might come away with Dungy’s spot in the record books.

Sensational Bears rookie Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, the first such score in Super Bowl history. On the Colts’ first possession, safety Chris Harris intercepted an off-target throw from Manning intended for receiver Marvin Harrison.

Manning, however, connected with Wayne to make the score 7-6, Bears (the Colts botched the extra-point attempt). Following an exchange of fumbles, Bears quarterback Rex Grossman replied with a 4-yard pass to Muhsin Muhammad for a touchdown and a 14-6 lead.

The first two quarters were wet and wild — the teams combined for six turnovers — and the Colts went into the locker room with a 16-14 lead.

But the Colts’ offense proved too much even for a very strong Bears defense. Rookie running back Joseph Addai gained 143 yards rushing and receiving and caught 10 passes. Dominic Rhodes rushed for a game-high 113 yards. Manning displayed his usual efficiency.

The Bears, meanwhile, struggled badly on offense. They managed only 14 yards during the second quarter in which the Colts took a 16-14 lead. They fared only slightly better in the third, gaining only 26 yards as the Colts expanded their lead to 22-17.

Despite those struggles, the Bears still were in position to win in the fourth quarter. Trailing by five, the Bears faced a first-and-10 at their own 38-yard line.

Grossman threw a deep pass intended for Muhammad, but cornerback Kelvin Hayden intercepted and ran 56 yards down the sideline for a game-turning touchdown.

Four plays later, Grossman was picked off again with 9:55 to go.

Grossman had been criticized all season long for his erratic play, and yesterday he did nothing to silence his detractors.

Grossman finished 20-for-28 for 165 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also lost a fumble on a snap.

“A frustrating loss,” Grossman said. “There were definitely opportunities for us to take that game and we didn’t do it.”

The result was that the Bears were outgained 430-265 and outrushed 191-111 by a Colts unit known as a finesse offense that couldn’t win outside of the fast track of the RCA Dome.

Yesterday, Dungy, Manning and the Colts proved otherwise.

“I think we confused the world,” center Jeff Saturday said.

They did indeed.

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