INDIANAPOLIS –Tony Dungy liked the chemistry and personality of his 2006 team. That's why the Colts head coach registered absolutely no surprise, only pure elation, after his players marched relentlessly through the playoffs to become world champions with a victory in Super Bowl XLI.
"This may not have been our best team in five years," Indianapolis' fifth-year coach said after his club defeated Chicago in the NFL title game. "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."
The Colts produced plenty to appreciate in 2006. The milestones and major accomplishments started with their coach.
Dungy became only the third man in NFL history to play on a winning Super Bowl team (with Pittsburgh) and also coach one, joining Tom Flores and Mike Ditka.
Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl. After the conference title games, he and his longtime friend, the Bears' Lovie Smith, were the first African-American head coaches to advance to the Super Bowl.
"I'm just honored to be in this position, number one," Dungy said heading into the NFL championship game. "Number two, it makes me think about the guys who were in the league when I came in. I came in in 1981 and there were less than 15 African-American assistant coaches at that time. But there were some good guys, some guys who were exceptional and never really got a chance to do what Lovie and I have gotten a chance to do. So you think about those guys."
Dungy, who like Smith is a man of strong Christian convictions, was proud that his team and Smith's made it to the NFL title game by playing "tough, disciplined football even though there's not a lot of profanity from the coaches, there none of the 'win-at-all-costs' atmosphere."
For the Colts' team, the 2006 regular season and playoffs were loaded with highlights. Indianapolis started 9-0 – after opening 13-0 the year before – and went unbeaten at home en route to a 12-4 record. The Colts joined the Dallas Cowboys as the only teams to produce four straight seasons of 12 or more victories.
Perhaps the most significant development for the 2006 champions was the way their defense – specifically their run defense – rose up in the playoffs to make a Super Bowl victory possible.
In the regular season, the Colts' defenders finished last in the league against the run. Over their last seven regular-season games, four of which were losses, the Colts yielded an average of 191 rushing yards.
But then came the postseason, and something clicked. The Colts held Kansas City to 44 rushing yards in a 23-8 victory in the AFC Wild Card round. Then Indianapolis held Baltimore to 83 rushing yards in a 15-6 triumph. Clearly, the Colts' defense was gaining traction and proved it again by surrendering only 93 yards on the ground to New England in a 38-34 victory in the AFC Championship game.
"Things weren't always as bad as they looked," Dungy said during the playoffs. "We understood what was going on with the defense, the run defense especially. We knew we were going to get some guys back towards the end of the year. And we knew what the problems were.
"We know we can play," the coach added. "We've got some guys who have heart and can work hard, and I'm proud of them."
The formidable defense continued in the Super Bowl as the Colts yielded just 111 rushing yards in their 29-17 victory over Chicago. Besides containing the Bears' ground game, the club's defense enjoyed a night of big plays as it held the opponent to 11 first downs and 265 net yards. The Colts outscored the Bears 23-3 over the game's final 41 minutes, with cornerback Kelvin Hayden providing the final points on a 56-yard interception return.
Peyton Manning, named the game's MVP, passed for 247 yards and a score. Running back Dominic Rhodes rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown. Running back Joseph Addai totaled 66 yards receiving and 77 rushing.
"A wonderful team game," Manning called it.
And that would be an apt description for the Colts' entire postseason push.
In the Wild Card game against Kansas City, the Colts' defense held the visitors without a first down for the first 42 minutes. Adam Vinatieri kicked field goals of 48, 19 and 50 yards. Addai rushed for 122 yards while Manning passed for 268, hitting eight different receivers.
"It was emotion and energy and using the home crowd and the noise and all of those things that you do at home," Dungy said.
The AFC Divisional Playoffs matched the Colts' offense, top ranked in the conference, against Baltimore's number one-rated defense. Indianapolis won with five field goals by Vinatieri. The defense had two sacks and four takeaways. Baltimore's only scoring came on a pair of three-pointers by kicker Matt Stover.
Then came the conference final with the Colts hosting New England. Indianapolis fell behind by 18 points in the second quarter. Still, Dungy would say later that his team went in at halftime and the coach "just felt an energy in our locker room."
That energy erupted in the second half. The Colts blew past New England with 32 points in the final two quarters. They totaled 455 net yards and got credit for the biggest title game comeback in four decades.
Manning passed for 349 yards. Vinatieri hit three field goals. Center Jeff Saturday scored on a fumble recovery and defensive tackle Dan Klecko caught a one-yard touchdown pass on plays that would be seared in the minds of Colts fans for ages.
It was, as Manning might say, another wonderful team game.
One day later, as Dungy analyzed the conference title game and looked ahead to the Super Bowl, he beamed with fondness for his squad.
"Well, I always say it's fun to come in on Mondays and talk about wins, and this is one of the most fun ones I've ever had," he noted. "As I said last night, I couldn't be more proud of our team. That's obviously not easy to do the way we did it, falling behind to a team like New England that had so many veterans and is so experienced. To get down three scores is difficult, but we hung in there. I thought we kept our composure."
Two weeks later, following their return from the Super Bowl, the Colts shared the triumphant times with fans during a downtown Indianapolis parade and a ceremony in the RCA Dome. The team was in the midst of an impressive run, having made the playoffs in seven of eight seasons, and the players, coaches and club Owner and CEO Jim Irsay wanted to assure that the city knew its support was appreciated.
When thousands of fans gathered in the stadium for the rally on a frigid, two-degree Indianapolis night about 24 hours after the Super Bowl, Dungy held the Lombardi Trophy in his left hand and hoisted it high in the air. The crowd let loose with a deafening roar.
RECAPPING THE 2006 SEASON
Memorable moment: The Colts' season opener in 2006 was against the New York Giants. Nick Harper's huge defensive play, an interception in the final four minutes, boosted Indianapolis to a 26-21 victory. But quarterbacks and family were the dominant themes before and during the game as the Colts' Peyton Manning and the Giants' Eli Manning became the first brothers in NFL history to start at QB for opposing clubs. Peyton passed for 276 yards and a touchdown and led the Colts to scores on their first four possessions. Eli threw for 247 yards and two scores. Each tossed an interception.
A sign of things to come: The Colts traveled to New England for a November 5 game and captured a 27-20 victory over the rival Patriots. Indianapolis produced five takeaways. Manning passed for 326 yards and two scores. Some observers might call it a statement game. It showed that the Colts had the right stuff in 2006 to put away strong teams – indeed, arch-rivals – like the Patriots. And, of course, the Colts and Patriots would meet again in the AFC title game, where Indianapolis won a second time and moved on to the Super Bowl championship. For many Colts fans, the game remains the most treasured result in the club's Indianapolis ear.
Simply the best: The Super Bowl victory brought some much-deserved attention to Colts Coach Tony Dungy. The team's 12-4 mark in 2006 – its fourth season in a row of 12 or more victories – put Dungy's NFL career record at 114-62. It was the highest winning percentage (.648) among active coaches.
Manning on the mark: Manning's onslaught on the NFL record books continued. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 4,397 yards with 31 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He was the only quarterback in NFL history to start his career with nine consecutive seasons of 3,000 or more yards and 25 or more passing scores.
Good hands, Part I: Manning's wide receivers, too, continued their superb play. Marvin Harrison caught 95 passes for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns. Harrison had receptions in his first 170 NFL games, a league-high to open a career. Reggie Wayne had 86 receptions for 1,310 yards and nine scores in 2006.
Good hands, Part II: Rookie running back Joseph Addai proved to be a valuable weapon as he caught 10 passes for 66 yards in the Super Bowl while also rushing for 77 yards. Addai led the team in postseason receiving with 22 catches.
Defensive whiz: The Colts' defense proved its mettle in the playoffs. Linebacker Cato June showed how consistent he could be during the entire season. June led the Colts with 162 tackles and tied for the team interception lead with cornerback Nick Harper, each with three.
Money in the bank: Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri personified poise and productivity in 2006. He connected on 25-of-28 field goal attempts during the regular season. That set the stage for the postseason, when he hit 14-of-15, including all six of his tries from 40 yards or longer.