Bears, Colts head to Miami for historic Super Bowl
Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 2:52 p.m.
Their longtime friendship made the day even more poignant.
Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy advanced to the Super Bowl with their teams on Sunday and gave the NFL a historic moment that was 41 years in the making.
As the first black head coaches to make it to the nation's uber sporting event, they couldn't help mentioning how special it was to be there together.
''It means a lot,'' Dungy said after his Indianapolis Colts beat New England 38-34 in the AFC title game. ''I'm very proud of being an African-American. I'm very proud of Lovie.''
Smith got there first, when his Chicago Bears won the early game and the NFC title by rolling over the New Orleans Saints, 39-14.
Asked who he'd like to play on Feb. 4 in Miami, Smith didn't hesitate with his answer:
''We have to play someone and, in my perfect world, I would like to see the Colts be that team.
''Tony Dungy has done an awful lot for our game,'' Smith said. ''He hasn't had a chance to coach in the Super Bowl. I would love to see it.''
Four hours later, it was a done deal.
''I'm happy for both coaches,'' Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. ''I hope we get to the point we don't have to hear about it.''
''I'll feel even better to be the first black coach to hold up the world championship trophy,'' Smith said.
It won't be easy, though, especially the way Peyton Manning and the Colts are playing.
Manning has been dogged for years by critics who said his greatness was diminished by the fact he couldn't win a big game. After leading his team back from an 18-point deficit, he finally has the chance - on football's biggest stage.
''It sounds good,'' a beaming Manning said. ''It really does.''
For the next two weeks, Smith and Dungy figure to be in the spotlight as much as Manning, perhaps more so.
Smith was one of Dungy's assistants when they were with Tampa Bay from 1996-2000, and they established a friendship that has grown in the years since.
When Dungy started in Tampa, there were just three black head coaches in the NFL. This season, there were seven.
Now, there will be two in the Super Bowl.
Chicago will play for the NFL title for the first time in 21 years, after Mike Ditka's Bears shuffled through the regular season and playoffs and routed New England.
This year's Bears put up one of the league's most impressive records during the regular season. Unlike those dominant '85 Bears, this year's squad was second-guessed nearly all season.
''We've overcome a lot of doubters, but we're here, we made it and it's definitely a great feeling,'' Bears running back ThomasJones said.
Whether it was the inconsistent play of quarterback Rex Grossman or the sudden vulnerability of its traditionally tenacious defense, few believed the Bears (15-3) had what it would take to get to Miami.
None of that matters now. Not after the Bears made enough big plays on defense and used a steady running game in the sleet and snow of Chicago to beat the Saints.
Manning and the Colts (15-4) know the feeling. The All-Everything quarterback from one of football's most talented families had two league MVP titles and a handful of records but never got a shot at a Super Bowl ring - until now.
''It could still be, 'Can he win a Super Bowl?' and then if he does, everyone will shut up,'' Dungy said.
The Colts are playing in the Super Bowl for the first time since they beat Dallas in 1971, when they were still based in Baltimore. After beating three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady and the Patriots, Manning has that chance to silence his critics.
After 41 years, Chicago Bears Coach Lovie Smith, below, and Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy, left, are the first black head coaches to make it to the Super Bowl. This marks a historic event in the National Football League.
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