Colts slog their way to Super Bowl victory

MIAMI (MCT) &mdash A lifetime of torment ended last night for Peyton Manning. A lifetime of unquestioned adoration awaits.

Manning’s Super Bowl dream, born not long after he was, finally was realized on a wet and wild night at Dolphin Stadium, where he parted the raindrops and led the Colts to a 29-17 victory over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

Vanquishing his postseason demons for good, Manning undressed an over-rated Chicago defense, passing for 247 yards and a touchdown to lift the Colts to their first world championship since moving to Indianapolis in 1984.

Afterward, Manning &mdash voted the game’s MVP &mdash seemed more relieved than thrilled. Maybe he was focusing on his next TV commercial.

“This is just kind of how I am, I guess,” said Manning, who directed a team that shed its finesse label by outslugging and outslogging the Teddy Bears. “I’m excited. This is something we’ll enjoy for quite some time. It’s hit me.”

The game was historic, if not a classic. Tony Dungy became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl, defeating his close friend and former protege, Lovie Smith, who was also competing for the honor. It was a lump-in-the-throat moment, seeing the affable Dungy, whose teenaged son committed suicide only 14 months ago, cradling the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

“No tears at all,” Dungy said amid the bedlam. “Just complete joy.” The 51-year-old Dungy also refused to commit to a return to the sideline.

The two coaches probably will wince when they review the film of the game, the first in Super Bowl history to be played in rain. The two teams combined for eight turnovers, five by the Bears, who should be called Duh, Bears.

Maligned quarterback Rex Grossman (20-for-28, 165 yards) lived up to his nickname – Wrecks – committing three turnovers. He lost a fumble and threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, including a water-balloon toss that was picked off by backup cornerback Kelvin Hayden and returned 56 yards for a touchdown to make it 29-17 with 11:44 remaining.

“It’s extremely disappointing when you get this close to a world championship and you come up short,” Grossman said. “There’s nothing else to say.”

After Grossman’s fumble, the PA system blared the recent hit “You Had a Bad Day.” It was a night for appropriate music. Prince ended his halftime show with “Purple Rain,” and soon it was blue-and-white reign as the Colts celebrated amid a storm of confetti.

“It was nice to be able to hoist that trophy,” said Manning, the artist formerly known as a postseason choker.

Manning was down by a touchdown before he stepped on the field, as Devin Hester became the first player in Super Bowl history to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown (92 yards), but America’s Quarterback rallied with Colts from 6-0 and 14-6 deficits with his mind as much as his arm.

Resisting the urge to throw deep against the Bears’ cover-2, Manning (25-for-38) dinked his team to five scoring drives, including a 53-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Reggie Wayne and three field goals by Adam Vinatieri, Mr. February.

Perhaps Manning’s smartest move was putting the ball in the hands of his runners, rookie Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, who combined for 190 yards on the ground.

They bludgeoned a Bears’ defense that played with the ferocity of the Cookie Monster, not the Monsters of the Midway.

“I think the playoffs were just kind of a great laboratory for him to show his whole game,” Dungy said of Manning. “He was thinking, getting us in the right place. … It was pretty awesome to see that.”

The Colts wore down the Bears with an inside running attack that turned middle linebacker Brian Urlacher into a ghost. During one stretch over the second and third quarters, the Colts ran 23 of 24 plays from scrimmage, the Bears’ lone play a fumbled snap by Grossman. Chicago went 56 minutes in real time without running a play.

“We played the cover-2 and one of the weaknesses of a cover-2 defense is the checkdowns, and Peyton knows that,” Urlacher said. “He threw a lot of checkdowns, but we really needed to do a better job of tackling.”

Especially against the run. Rhodes, who recently lost his starting job, came off the bench to rush for 113 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown in the second quarter that gave the Colts the lead for good, 16-14. Addai was a two-way force, rushing for 77 yards and catching 10 passes for 66 yards.

“To outplay them at their game, that says a lot about us,” said Dungy, whose team controlled the ball for 38:04 to the Bears’ 21:56.

Manning had plenty of help. The Colts’ maligned defense, the worst against the run in the regular season, capped a remarkable postseason resurgence. In the crucible of the fourth quarter, when it was still a game at 22-17, the Colts put up a brick wall.

The Bears took a 7-0 lead before the smoke from the pregame fireworks had cleared. Hester, the record-setting rookie, sent a surge of electricity up Route 95 to his hometown in Riviera Beach, Fla. The Colts’ response? They stopped kicking to him.

From there, it turned into a rugby match, with the slippery ball bouncing all over the place. There were four turnovers in the first quarter, and several big plays. Amid the muck, Manning kept slinging in the rain.

“If people think you have to win a Super Bowl to validate (your career), that’s just wrong,” Dungy said. “But he’s done it, he’s got that behind him. I don’t think there’s anything you can say other than this guy is a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest to play the game.”