Tony Dungy, beaming and sporting an NFL champions cap, waded through the mob on the soggy field until he found his quarterback, Peyton Manning. And there they stood in the rain, the winning Super Bowl coach and the MVP, finally savoring a moment that was a long time coming.
A wet and wild night of Super Bowl firsts brought Dungy, Manning and the Indianapolis Colts to the top of the NFL with a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night.
A team built for indoors found its footing on a rain-soaked track. The Colts were far less sloppy, particularly their star quarterback, who proved he can indeed win the big game — the biggest game.
"Peyton is a tremendous player, a great leader," Dungy said. "He prepares, he works, does everything you can do to win games and lead your team. If people think he needed to win a Super Bowl, that is just wrong. This guy is a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest ever to play."
And now he is a champion. So is his coach.
"It's hard to put into words," said Manning, who hit 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards with one touchdown and one interception. "I'm proud to be part of this team. We stuck together, won this game for our leader, Tony Dungy."
Dungy became the first black coach to win the championship, beating good friend and protege Lovie Smith in a game that featured the first two black coaches in the Super Bowl.
"It feels great. I thought about that as I was on the podium," Dungy said. "Being the first African-American coach to win it. I have to dedicate to some guys before me — great coaches I know could have done this if they had gotten the opportunity. Lovie and I were able to take advantage of it. We certainly weren't the most qualified."
Dungy's ring wasn't the only first. It also was the first rainy Super Bowl and the first time an opening kickoff was run back for a touchdown, when sensational Bears rookie Devin Hester sped downfield for 92 yards.
And not since the Buffalo Bills self-destructed with nine turnovers in losing to Dallas 14 years ago had there been so much messiness. The first half was marred by six turnovers, three for each team. Even football's most clutch kicker, Adam Vinatieri, missed a chip-shot field goal for the Colts, who botched an extra point attempt, too.
When much-maligned Bears quarterback Rex Grossman's wobbly pass was picked off and returned 56 yards for a touchdown by Kelvin Hayden with 11:44 remaining in the fourth quarter, it was over.
"I'm so proud of our guys," Dungy said. "We took the hit early with Devin Hester. We talked about it; it's going to be a storm. Sometimes you have to work for it. Our guys played so hard and I can't tell you how proud I am of our group, our organization and our city."
Chicago (15-4), which led the league in takeaways this season, finished with five turnovers, including two interceptions by Grossman.
"A frustrating loss," Grossman said. "There were definitely opportunities for us to take that game, and we didn't do it."
The Colts (16-4) will take it. It's their first title since the 1970 season, when they played in Baltimore.
It was confirmation of Manning's brilliance, even if he didn't need to be dynamic. The son of a quarterback who never got to the playoffs, Manning has been a star throughout his college career at Tennessee and his nine pro seasons with the Colts.
It also was a validation of Dungy's leadership. He helped build Tampa Bay, one of the NFL's worst franchises, into a contender before being fired after the 2001 season. The next year, the Bucs won the Super Bowl under Jon Gruden.
Sunday finally was Dungy's turn. As his players hoisted their coach on their shoulders, he switched his blue Colts cap for a white one that read "NFL champions." Dungy was carried from the sideline, then was lowered so he could share a long embrace and a handshake with Smith.
"I just told Lovie how proud I was of the moment," Dungy said
The Colts reached the pinnacle by winning four postseason games with a defense that made a complete turnaround in the playoffs.
And with a running game that perfectly complemented Manning, thanks to Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, who combined for 190 yards — 113 on 21 carries by Rhodes and 77 on 19 carries by Addai, who also caught 10 passes for 66 yards.
Chicago was denied its first Super Bowl title since its powerhouse 1985 team. These Bears could have used Da Coach, Sweetness and their buddies.
It rained from start to finish; there was even "Purple Rain" during halftime when Prince sang some of his signature songs. And though Vinatieri twice was a victim of the slop, he kicked three field goals.
"We knew handling the ball would be tough," Dungy said. "We showed we could win many ways."
Hester's spectacular return provided a stunning beginning — and a severe jolt to the Colts. The local product and only rookie All-Pro this season pumped his arms to excite the crowd before the kickoff, then lifted the fans from their seats with an electrifying run on which he never was touched.
He barely touched the ball again as Indy went to squibbing kickoffs.
Leading 16-14 at halftime, the Colts spent half the third quarter with a march to Vinatieri's 24-yard field goal. Twice on the drive, Manning fell to the ground while throwing. But he completed them.
Grossman had it even worse on Chicago's initial possession of the second half, twice in a row slipping and getting sacked. Maybe he would have done better on icy turf.
Thomas Jones, forced to carry the Bears' entire rushing load when Cedric Benson was hurt in the first half, was Chicago's best player. But with Grossman ineffective, even inept, all the Bears managed in the second half was Robbie Gould's 44-yard field goal late in the third period.
After Hester's opening dagger, Manning tried to force a pass to Marvin Harrison in double coverage and was picked off by Chris Harris to spoil Indy's first possession, but the Colts struck back on their next series, converting three third-downs. The final one was the most important as Manning got everything on a long pass to the uncovered Reggie Wayne even though Tank Johnson had his hands on the quarterback. Wayne trotted into the end zone for a 47-yard score.
Then the rain ruined three straight plays.
Holder Hunter Smith dropped the snap on the extra point and Vinatieri couldn't get off a kick. Then Vinatieri, well aware of who was lurking deep, squibbed the kickoff to tight end Gabe Reid, who fumbled at his 35, with Tyjuan Hagler recovering for the Colts.
But Manning and Addai botched the handoff on the next snap and Chicago's Mark Anderson recovered, the third turnover in the first 8 1/2 minutes.
Couldn't anybody play this game?
Jones certainly could. He used a sharp cutback to break a 52-yard run, the longest of his career, to the Colts' 5, and Grossman found Muhammad in the front of the end zone for a 14-6 lead.
Jones finished with 112 yards rushing.
A fourth giveaway in the opening quarter, by Benson on his first carry before injuring his knee, didn't damage Chicago.
Vinatieri, who made two Super Bowl-winning kicks for New England, nailed a 29-yard field goal early in the second period, but was wide left from 32 yards at the end of the half.
Vinatieri still set a record with 49 postseason points.