It's Super Bowl week, but unfortunately the Indianapolis Colts won't be playing in it, as this year's game features the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. The Colts' franchise, dating back to their days in Baltimore, has played in four Super Bowls, however, and we're going to take a look at each one of those this week leading up to this year's Super Bowl. Some games will be good ones for the Colts, while others won't be. Today we look at one of the good ones, as the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI.
Through his first nine seasons in the NFL, Peyton Manning had yet to reach the Super Bowl. He had quarterbacked a 13-3 team in 1999 and a 14-2 team in 2005, but both lost at home in the divisional round of the playoffs. The 2003 Colts team made the AFC Championship game but couldn't get past the Patriots, who became a big hurdle for the Colts - winning three of four Super Bowls in the early 2000s. Manning was just two years removed from a record-breaking 2004 campaign in which he threw 49 touchdown passes and won his second NFL MVP award, but the one thing that he had yet to check off of his career accomplishments list was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. It was about more than just Peyton Manning, though the focus was on him. Could Tony Dungy finally reach and win a Super Bowl after coming close a couple of times? Could Bill Polian really build a Super Bowl winning team after the Bills team he built lost four in a row in the early 1990s? These were the questions surrounding the Colts as they entered the 2006 season.
It started just like any other season, with the Colts starting 9-0, but then things fell apart. The Colts lost four of their next six games, including an awful defensive showing in week fourteen against the Jaguars, as Jacksonville ran all over the Colts for 375 yards. The Colts were AFC South champions and were 12-4, but nobody expected them to do much in the playoffs. With the return of Bob Sanders, the Colts' defense suddenly became dominant, however. The team beat the Chiefs at home in the Wild Card round and then beat the Ravens on the road in the Divisional round - both powered by the strong defense. Fittingly, the AFC Championship game would be against the Patriots, and it would be held in Indianapolis.
We could spend a lot more time discussing that game, but it will go down as one of, if not the, greatest game in Colts history. They fell behind 21-3 only to storm back and tie it up, getting into a shootout between the best two quarterbacks in the NFL in Manning and Tom Brady. Trailing 34-31 with just a few minutes left to play, Manning led the Colts down the field and the drive was capped off by Joseph Addai's two-yard touchdown run to put the Colts up 38-34 with a minute left to play. On the next drive, Marlin Jackson intercepted Tom Brady's pass to send the Colts to the Super Bowl.
It's important to reflect on the events leading up to the game just as much on the game itself, because so much more went into the meaningfulness of the game than just the 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears. It was about finally getting that monkey off of Peyton Manning and the Colts' backs. It was about an incredible playoff run. And it was about the Colts, for the first time in 36 years, playing in and winning a Super Bowl - the first time they did such in Indianapolis. On February 4, 2007, in Miami, Florida, the Colts were finally playing the in Super Bowl.
It was a rough start for the Colts in the game against the Bears, as Chicago's star kick returner Devin Hester took back the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Midway through the first quarter, the Colts would get their own touchdown, as Peyton Manning found a wide open Reggie Wayne for a 53-yard touchdown pass in a steady rainstorm - the first time in Super Bowl history the game was played in rain. A touchdown pass from Bears quarterback Rex Grossman gave the Bears a 14-6 first quarter lead, but from there it was all Colts.
Powered by a strong running game, Indy scored the next 16 points - three field goals from kicker Adam Vinatieri and a one-yard rushing touchdown by Dominic Rhodes. Bears kicker Robbie Gould hit a field goal shortly before the end of the third quarter to draw Chicago within one score, 22-17, entering the final period.
The Colts' win was essentially sealed when, midway through the fourth quarter, second-year cornerback Kelvin Hayden picked off Rex Grossman's pass and returned it 56-yards for the touchdown, putting the Colts up 29-17 - which would end up being the final score.
The Colts carried their head coach off the field, as Dungy finally won a Super Bowl. Peyton Manning was named the game's MVP after a 25-for-38, 247 yard, one touchdown performance (with a pick), but more so because of the meaning behind it. Bill Polian, Jim Irsay, and the other Colts finally got to hoist that Lombardi Trophy as well.
While the most prominent player from the game ended up being Peyton Manning, the Colts were powered by a strong run game and an impressive defense. The Colts held the Bears to just 265 total yards of offense, 11 first downs, and forced five turnovers (compared to the Colts' three). The running back duo of Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai combined to rush 42 times for 190 yards and a touchdown - with Rhodes rushing for 113 yards and a score and the rookie Addai rushing for 77 yards, adding 10 receptions for 66 yards. Altogether (combining both rushing and receiving), the two backs combined for 264 of the Colts' 430 total yards.
The game would go down as the only Super Bowl win of the Peyton Manning era, but it was certainly a memorable event - and not just the game itself, but everything leading up to it and all of the background to the story. While it would be the franchise's only Super Bowl win during the Peyton Manning era, it wasn't the only time the Colts' reached the Super Bowl with Manning at quarterback - and we'll look at that next game tomorrow.
Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference page for Super Bowl XLI.