Sports Outside the Beltway

Let the Hype Begin

The battle of the black shoes will be joined in Miami Sunday, February 4th, 2007. Super Bowl XLI pits the high powered offense of the Indianapolis Colts (Congrats Peyton, Tony and company) versus the stifling defense of the Chicago Bears. Your humbled correspondent couldn’t have picked it worse. Let’s look at each game.

First in the NFC Championship

In order, Lovie Smith last week listed the goals he had for the Bears when he was hired three years ago.

Beat Green Bay. Win the NFC North. Deliver a Super Bowl championship to the NFL’s cornerstone franchise.

He beat the Packers in his first try and is 4-2 against them. He won the division each of the last two seasons. And now he and the Bears are headed to Miami for the Super Bowl, where they will meet the Indianapolis Colts on Feb. 4 to try to complete the trifecta.

Smith’s defense suffocated the New Orleans Saints’ high-octane offense Sunday, and with snow falling in the second half at raucous Soldier Field — reminiscent of the last time the Bears won the NFC title — this group made history. In throttling the Saints 39-14, the Bears were nearly flawless. They had no turnovers, one meaningless penalty for five yards and four takeaways.

The snow mixed with raining confetti as Tony Dorsett presented team matriarch Virginia McCaskey with the George Halas Trophy — the prize named after her father. The low-profile owner, 83, left the field with family after the celebration but was prodded by a daughter to comment.

”I’m speechless,” she said. ”It’s just lovely. Lovie always says it’s never in doubt, so here we are.”

Smith and Colts coach Tony Dungy become the first black head coaches to lead teams to the Super Bowl.

Pay close attention to that theme. It will be profoundly important this week. Various pundits and so-called experts on sports will discuss how important it is that the NFL’s diversity measures have had such an excellent impact. They are wrong. Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy will be coaching their teams in the Super Bowl not because the NFL’s policy of mandatory minority interviews for head coaching positions. They are they because they are damn fine coaches. Lovie Smith turned around a Bears squad that had languished at the bottom of the NFC North. Dungy proved his mettle in Tampa Bay, building a championship caliber team, and in guiding the Colts to one Divisional Title after another. To say either has gotten here because of a quota policy does these men a great disservice.Speaking of Dungy

Twenty-three years after the Mayflower moving vans delivered the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis, the Colts have delivered a Super Bowl to a championship-starved city. Indianapolis hasn’t celebrated a major professional title since the Indiana Pacers won an ABA banner in 1973.

The Colts will meet the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 4 in Dolphin Stadium in Miami. It will be a showdown between old friends and the first two black head coaches to take teams to the Super Bowl.

Lovie Smith, whose Bears beat New Orleans 39-14 earlier Sunday, served as an assistant coach under Dungy from 1996 through 2000 at Tampa Bay.

That can wait. The Colts and their leather-lunged crowd had reason to party Sunday. They slew the dragon, vanquished the ghosts, exorcised the demons of playoffs past. The proud Patriots have won the Super Bowl three of the past five years. They twice dismissed the Colts along the way: in the 2003 AFC Championship Game and in a 2004 divisional game.

It is tough for the NFL to have a better matchup. One unstoppable offense. One dominating defense. Two storied franchises, though one in a different city than where it compiled its storied past. In addition, Patriot fatigue, palpable in much of the world, apart from Patriot Nation, was beginning to show. (How’s that for a silver lining?) It is good to have two teams who have not been to the Super Bowl for awhile in the big game. And while Patriot fans, like yours truly, have whacked Peyton like a Pinata, he earned last night’s victory. He led his team when it counted, late in the game. And in a drive eerily reminiscent of Tom Brady’s finest moments, he won the game. He deserves the accolades he will get this and next week.

Two cities are filled with joy today, basking in the afterglow of what fans hope is just the appetizer. The main course will be served up in two weeks. May the best team win.

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