INDIANAPOLIS – The way Peyton Manning saw it, the analysts had it all wrong.
Because while those analyzing Super Bowl XLI tried again and again to equate the Colts' victory over the Chicago Bears as a defining, justifying personal moment, Manning – the Colts' quarterback – said at the time to only consider it that way was to miss the point.
Yes, the moment was big. Yes, it was memorable.
And yes, it was absolutely historic.
But Manning, then in his ninth season, said while the Colts' 29-17 victory over the Bears in a rain-soaked game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., in early February 2007 was all of those things, it was about those things for the Colts as a team far more than it was anything personal.
"It was a wonderful team game," Manning said. "Everyone did their job."
How much was Super Bowl XLI about team?
*Manning completed 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown with an interception.
*Rookie running back Joseph Addai caught 10 passes for 66 yards and rushed 19 times for 77 yards.
*Veteran running back Dominic Rhodes rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
- The Colts' defense, stingy throughout the post-season against the run, remained as much, allowing Bears running back Thomas Jones 112 yards, but allowing the Bears as a team just 111 yards. Fifty-two of Jones' rushing yards came on one play.
And that defense? The one maligned throughout the season?
Throughout the historic victory in South Florida, they made big play after big play, with safety Bob Sanders forcing a fumble early and intercepting a pass late, then with cornerback Kelvin Hayden turning in a game-clinching play in the fourth quarter.
Hayden's play came with the Colts leading, 22-17, and while they had momentum, the Bears were still very much in the game.
But then Bears quarterback Rex Grossman threw a long pass down the right sideline, and after Hayden intercepted, he returned it 56 yards down the sideline for a touchdown that clinched the Colts' first Super Bowl championship in 36 years.
"I was just thinking about getting into the end zone," Hayden said. "We stepped up the whole post-season where we just made the plays and the defense buckled down."
With the victory, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl. He and Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith had been the first African-American head coaches in a Super Bowl when their teams qualified for the game two weeks before.
"I feel good I was the first one to do it," Dungy said.
While the night was about history for the Colts, their memorable moments came in a scene few expected: the rainiest night or day in the Super Bowl's 41-year history.
"I don't think the weather let both teams play the way they can play," Dungy said afterward.
But if the weather were unusual, one factor was very familiar for the 2006 Colts:
They had to overcome adversity to win.
And for a second consecutive game, that meant playing from behind.
The Colts, who had rallied from a 21-3 deficit to beat the New England Patriots, 38-34, in the AFC Championship Game two weeks before, again trailed in the first half against the Bears.
"We've been down 21-3, we've been down 21-0," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "We've been down in the fourth quarter before. That doesn't matter."
In the Super Bowl, the deficit came with record-setting quickness, with Bears returner Devin Hester took the opening kickoff and returned it 92 yards for the first touchdown on the opening play in Super Bowl history.
"We talked about it last night," Dungy said afterward. "There will be some storms we might have to weather.' Well, we didn't panic."
The Colts answered quickly, but it wasn't until the second half they took control.
A 53-yard touchdown pass from Manning to wide receiver Reggie Wayne made it 7-6, Bears, but Jones' 52-yard run set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Grossman to wide receiver Muhsin Muhammed to make it 14-6. The Colts pushed to a two-point lead by halftime, with Adam Vinatieri converting a 29-yard field goal and Rhodes scoring on a 1-yard run.
Vinatieri's 24-yard field goal early in the second half made it 19-14, Colts, and the teams traded field goals before Hayden's interception return clinched it for the Colts.
Manning was voted the game's Most Valuable Player, and as was the case following the AFC Championship Game victory over New England, observers angled to portray the victory as career-altering and legacy-defining.
And as was the case the previous week, he deflected the questions.
"I've never played that card," Manning said. "I've never bought into that."
As for Manning's teammates and coaches, they said playing the card wasn't necessary.
"Win or lose, he was still going to be a great player," Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson said. "This cements it. Now, he's into the books as one of the all-time greats."
Said Dungy, "If people thought that (Manning's career was somehow incomplete without a Super Bowl title), that's just wrong. But now, he's done it. He's a Hall of Fame quarterback, one of the best that's ever played the game."
Whatever the victory meant for individuals around the Colts, what it meant to the Colts as a team was unquestioned. They had been to the playoff five consecutive seasons and seven of the last eight, and each of those seasons had ended with a playoff loss.
Each season, Dungy said, was different, and there may have been previous Colts teams that had been better at times. But the '06 team?
Dungy said there was something special about the group.
And on a rainy night in South Florida, it was special enough to be called champions.
"This may not have been our best team in five years," Dungy said, "but it was the closest and the most connected -- and it showed in the way we played. The disappointment you have along the way, it helps you appreciate it more after you finally do achieve it."