(Long Island, NY) Fever pitch. Dolphin Stadium was ready to explode with anticipation of the opening kick-off. As the Miami sky darkened with clouds and the light rain that fell threatened to open up, no one in the building seemed to notice. Blaring rock music with images from the two 140 foot video screens was the background as the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts warmed up on the green grass.
As the clock approached 6:25 p.m., it grew louder and louder. Finishing touches by the grounds crew continued after the teams returned to their locker rooms for final preparations. No stone unturned. It was time Super Bowl XLI.
Devon Hester picked up right where he left off in the regular season. Returning six kicks for touchdowns apparently wasn’t enough. A weakness of the Colts was their special teams, finishing 30th in the league allowing field position. Hester promptly took the kick by Adam Vinatieri to the house for a 92-yard score, sending the Chicago faithful into a frenzy. A scintillating start to the World’s Biggest Sporting Event. “We were just trying to come out and set the tempo on special teams,” said Hetser. “We took it upon ourselves that the special teams would be the part that would step up and try to set and example for the first part of the game. And that’s what we did.”
On the Colt’s opening drive, Peyton Manning was picked off and the early momentum stayed with Chicago. “Obviously it didn’t look great after the opening kickoff,” said Manning following the game. “But kind of like we’ve done all playoffs, no panic whatsoever. Everybody stayed calm.”
Later in the first quarter, Manning stepped up in the pocket under pressure and found a wide-open Reggie Wayne for a 53-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was missed, and we had a 7-6 game with 6:50 left, as the rain grew heavier.
Vinatieri then kicked a squibber to keep it way from the dangerous Hester. The strategy worked when the Bears fumbled the kick-off and it was recovered by Indianapolis, who promptly fumbled it back to Chicago on the next play. Thomas Jones then ripped off a 52-yard run to the Indianapolis 5-yard line. “It was just a zone play to the outside,” said Jones. “I ended up cutting back across the field and no one was there.” On 3rd and goal, Rex Grossman found Mushin Muhammad open in the end zone to make it 14-6 Chicago. The Colts controlled the second quarter with a field goal and rushing touchdown to take a 16-14 lead.
With the slick field and ball, the game started to become a fumble fest. Back-to-back turnovers occurred twice in the first half. But Indy missed a field goal attempt on the last play of the half, and the score remained the same. Vinatieri commented, “It wasn’t a great day for kicking, but at the end of the day we found a way to get it done. Ultimately, that’s the only thing that matters.” Indianapolis dominated the majority of the third quarter, but could not get the ball in the end zone. Two field goals by Vinatieri were followed by a good drive by Chicago, which culminated in a 44-yard field goal by Robby Gould to make the score 22-17 Colts. A 53-yard interception return for a touchdown by Kelvin Hayden gave Indianapolis a comfortable 29-17 lead. They made it through the rain, and took home the first championship for the Indianapolis version of the Colts. Manning was named MVP, and finally got that monkey off his back.
“As disappointing as the playoff loss was last year to Pittsburgh, the veteran guys got together and learned from it and felt we were a better team this year and maybe stronger for it,” said Manning. “It’s nice when you put a lot of hard work to cap it off with a championship.”
“I just have to say how sweet this is. How happy I am for our whole organization,” said winning head coach Tony Dungy. “I think it starts at the top with (owner) Jim Irsay and just the way he’s set this whole thing up.” Dungy later led the entire Colts locker room in prayer, just as they have done all season long.
Inside the Chicago locker room, the emotions were far different. “Obviously, we are very disappointed,” said Lovie Smith, head coach of the Bears. When you turn the ball over as much as we did tonight (3 fumbles lost and 2 interceptions), it’s really hard to win. We got off to a great start and had an eight-point lead. We made a little run there at the end, but the turnovers really did us in tonight.”
Bears LB Brian Urlacher added, “The defense and I just didn’t make the plays. All season long we have prided ourselves on our defense and making plays, and we did not come out and do that today.”
Grossman appeared to have more trouble with the wet ball than Manning did. “Getting it from center was the only tough part about it-it would slide off my hands.” Manning stated that he and center Jeff Saturday had practiced wet ball drills throughout the season, which obviously made a difference during the game.
“You look at the season, after we lost our first game, everybody jumped off the bandwagon,” said Saturday. “Everyone talked about how bad we were as a team, how we could never get it done, there was no way our defense couldn’t hold up, our offense couldn’t run the ball. It just got (said) over and over, everybody kept talking about it. We always believed in the guys and they knew that if we played our style of football, we were good enough to win every game.”
Colt fans, rejoice. You are Super Bowl champions for the first time since Jim O’Brien’s field goal won it over the Dallas Cowboys in 1971.