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Monday, February 05, 2007

Indianapolis Colts. World Champions. Wow.

Monday, February 5

By John Oehser -

Patience, Perseverance Give Colts First Super Bowl Victory in 36 Years
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - All season, they came back.
All season, they overcame odds. And throughout that improbable, memorable, dramatic, roller-coaster season, these were the constants for the Colts:

Persistence. Patience. Perseverance.

Think of it: Could they have really won the Super Bowl any other way?

The Colts (16-4), after allowing the quickest score in Super Bowl history, overcame first half deficits of seven and eight points, taking the lead by the end of a sloppy first half. They extended the lead in the third quarter and pulled away for a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears (15-4) Sunday night in Super Bowl XLI in front of 74,512 at Dolphin Stadium.

The Colts, a playoff team five consecutive seasons and in seven of the last eight seasons, won their first Super Bowl in their 23-year history in Indianapolis, and their first since winning Super Bowl V as the Baltimore Colts.

Indianapolis Colts . . .
World Champions.

“In years past, when we've come up short, it’s been disappointing,” said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after completing 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown with an interception.
“We’ve found a way to learn from those losses, and been better for it. It’s nice when you put in a lot of hard work and you’re able to cap it off with a championship. . . . We’ve really tried to enjoy the journey. It’s nice to be able to complete it with a championship.”

Indianapolis Colts . . .
World Champions.

“Our guys just kept saying, 'We’re going to continue to fight – we’re not going to be denied,’ ” said Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, who became the first African-American Head Coach to win a Super Bowl. “That heart will take you a long way.”
It wasn’t always pretty on a rainy night in South Florida, but as was the case throughout the 2006 season, the Colts were gutty. They made plays when they had to, too.

“This is great for (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer) Jim (Irsay), great for Tony, great for the organization,” Colts President Bill Polian said. “This is just outstanding for the city. What an outstanding bunch of guys. They wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“They didn’t believe any of the criticism. They listened to one voice. They kept playing hard and believing in what Tony told them, and they got it done.”
A defense maligned throughout much of the season stifled the Bears for the last three quarters, holding the Bears to 265 yards and coming up with turnovers at crucial times. An offense that was once called soft ran effectively against one of the NFL’s best defenses. Colts running back Dominic Rhodes rushed for 113 yards on 21 carries and the Colts outrushed the Bears 191-111. A team that lost four of its last seven regular-season games won the Super Bowl for the first time in NFL history. An indoor, “dome” team won in the rain.

“As Tony said, we buried virtually everything tonight,” Polian said. “We’re built to play in a dome indoors. We can’t play in bad weather. We can’t play on grass. We can’t stop the run. We can’t play against people who are bigger and tougher than we are. We’re too small. Peyton Manning can’t win the big one. Tony Dungy can’t win the big one.”
All were criticisms of the Colts in the past.
All disappeared on Sunday night.

“To finally get that championship, man – it’s the best feeling,” Colts defensive tackle Raheem Brock said. Making their first Super Bowl appearance in 36 years, the Colts struggled at times early, falling behind, 14-6, but outscored the Bears 23-3 in the final three quarters. The Colts rallied from the eight-point deficit to take a 16-14 halftime lead, and after three quarters, they led 22-17. Early in the fourth quarter, Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden intercepted Bears quarterback Rex Grossman.
Hayden’s 56-yard return down the left sideline all-but clinched a Super Bowl title Manning later called “years in the making.”

And as was the case all season, nothing came easy for the Colts.
Bears returner Devin Hester, projected throughout the week as a key to the game, took the opening kickoff near the sideline, and returned it 92 yards for the first return of a game-opening kickoff in the 41-year history of the game.
The Colts pulled to within one point when Manning passed 53 yards for a touchdown to wide receiver Reggie Wayne with 6:50 remaining in the quarter, but Colts punter Hunter Smith didn’t get the hold down and the extra point failed.
That made it 7-6, and after an exchange of fumbles, Bears running back Thomas Jones’ 52-yard run moved the Bears to the Colts 5. On 3rd-and-goal from the 4, Grossman (20 of 28, 165 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) threw to wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad for a 14-6 Bears lead with 4:34 remaining in the period.

If the first quarter was sloppy and strange, the second quarter was, too, but during it, the Colts rallied from an eight-point deficit to take a 16-14 lead. The Colts cut the lead to 14-9 on a 29-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with 11:17 remaining in the second quarter. Indianapolis held Chicago without a first down on its next possession. Taking possession at their 42-yard line, the Colts used seven plays to drive 58 yards, taking a 16-14 lead when veteran running back Dominic Rhodes ran for a 1-yard touchdown on 2nd-and-goal from the 1. The Colts, who held Chicago without a first down in the second quarter, had a chance to extend their lead on the final drive of the half, but Vinatieri missed wide left from 36 yards on the final play of the second quarter. The Colts dominated the first half statistically, outgaining the Bears, 257-95, and producing 14 first downs to three for the Bears. The Colts finished with a 430-265 total-yardage advantage. Each team committed three turnovers in the half, with the Bears losing three fumbles and the Colts losing two. Manning also threw a first-half interception. Twice in the first half one team fumbled with the opponent recovering only to fumble the ball away on the game’s next play.
Hester’s kickoff return was the first time in Super Bowl history a kick had been returned for a touchdown on the game’s first play.

Afterward, as he addressed the team after the game, Dungy joked that while he knew there would be storms in the game, he didn’t know they would come on the game’s first play. Minutes later, Dungy – long one of the most respected, classiest coaches in the NFL – was still speaking to the gathered media. He not only had become the first African-American to coach an NFL team to a world championship, he further solidified himself as one of the great coaches of his era. He has coached nine playoff teams in 11 seasons, and in five seasons with the Colts, his teams never have failed to make the playoffs. The victory Sunday night put Dungy in other elite company, making him the third person to win a Super Bowl as a coach and a player.
The victory as a player came with the 1978 Steelers and was sweet, Dungy said.
The victory Sunday night . . .

Well, the victory Sunday night was different, he said, meaningful in different ways, from a different perspective, one he said he’ll never forget.
“Winning as a coach, you see the whole organization,” Dungy said. “You see how hard everyone works – our scouting department, our personnel department, our front office, our equipment men, our trainers . . . “I know what everybody put into it. I feel a lot more pride as a head coach because you understand how tough it is. It’s a different feeling.
“I’m just so proud of our organization all together.”

Minutes later, in the crowded Colts locker room, Dungy delivered a similar speech to the team. “We hung tough, and everybody did their job,” Dungy told them team. “When everybody does their job, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. You’re champions. We brought it back to Indianapolis.”

Indianapolis Colts . . .
World Champions.