INDIANAPOLIS - Two weeks ago, Lovie Smith made the three-hour trip from Chicago to watch Tony Dungy's Colts take on Herman Edwards' Chiefs in a first-round NFL playoff game.
The night before, the three old friends and their wives dined at P.F. Chang's in downtown Indianapolis in what was as much a symbolic meeting as a gathering of old pals - three black coaches celebrating the arrival of their teams in the NFL playoffs.
"We talked about starting in '96 in Tampa and some of the things we remembered from then," Dungy recalled on Thursday. "How great it is that we are in the playoffs and that at least two of us have a chance to make it to the Super Bowl. You realized it would be awesome if it happened and, hopefully, it will."
It's officially one game from being awesome.
If the Colts beat the New England Patriots on Sunday and Smith's Bears beat the New Orleans Saints earlier that day, it would put two black coaches in the NFL's marquee game for the first time in its 41 years. Even if just one of them wins, that, too, would be a first.
There were just three black head coaches in the NFL when Dungy started nearly a decade ago in Tampa, Fla., with Edwards and Smith on his staff. Back then, 70 percent of the league's players were black - a percentage that still holds.
This year, there were seven black coaches, including Dennis Green in Arizona and Art Shell in Oakland. Both men were fired after the season. Despite the strides, no black head coach has ever taken the final step.
"Of course, it would be special if that happened," Smith said. "I hope for a day when it is unnoticed but that day isn't here. This is the first time, I think, two black men have led their teams to the final four. You have to acknowledge that. I do, we do. I realize the responsibility that comes with that."