A team built for indoors found its footing on a rain-soaked track and outplayed the Chicago Bears to win the NFL title 29-17 Sunday night. The Colts were far less sloppy, particularly their star quarterback, who proved he can indeed win the big game - the biggest game.
That's what it was for Tony Dungy, too. He became the first black coach to win the championship, beating good friend and protege Lovie Smith in a game that featured two black coaches for the first time in Super Bowl history.
It was a game of firsts: the first rainy Super Bowl and the first time an opening kickoff was run back for a touchdown when sensational Bears rookie Devin Hester sped downfield for 92 yards.
And not since the Buffalo Bills self-destructed with nine turnovers in losing to Dallas 14 years ago had there been so much messiness. The first half was marred by six turnovers, three for each team. Even football's most clutch kicker, Adam Vinatieri, missed a chip-shot field goal, and an extra point attempt was botched, too.
The second half wasn't quite so ugly, but when much-maligned Bears quarterback Rex Grossman's wobbler was picked off and returned 56 yards for a touchdown by Kelvin Hayden with 11:44 remaining, it was over.
Chicago (15-4), which led the league in takeaways this season, finished with five turnovers, including two interceptions by Grossman.
The Colts (16-4) will take it. It's their first title since the 1970 season, when they played in Baltimore.
Manning ended up 25-for-38 for 247 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
It was confirmation of his brilliance, even if he didn't need to be dynamic. The son of a quarterback who never got to the playoffs, Manning has been a star throughout his college career at Tennessee and his nine pro seasons with the Colts.
Now he is a champion.
It also was a validation of Dungy's leadership. He helped build Tampa Bay, one of the NFL's worst franchises, into a contender before being fired after the 2001 season. The next year, the Bucs won the Super Bowl under Jon Gruden.
The Colts hoisted their coach on their shoulders and he switched his blue Colts cap for a white one that read "NFL champions." Dungy was carried from the sideline, then was lowered so he could share a long embrace and a handshake with Smith.
Then Dungy waded through the mob to find his quarterback, giving him a big hug.
The Colts reached the pinnacle by winning four postseason games with a defense that made a complete turnaround in the playoffs.
And with a running game that perfectly complemented Manning, thanks to Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, who combined for 190 yards - 113 on 21 carries by Rhodes and 77 on 10 carries by Addai, who also had 66 yards receiving.
Chicago was denied its first Super Bowl title since the powerhouse 1985 team. These Bears could have used Da Coach, Sweetness and their buddies.
It rained from start to finish; there was even "Purple Rain" during halftime when Prince sang some of his signature songs. And though Vinatieri twice was a victim of the slop, he kicked three field goals.
Hester's spectacular return provided a stunning beginning - and a severe jolt to the Colts. The local product and only rookie All-Pro this season pumped his arms to excite the crowd before the kickoff, then lifted the fans from their seats with an electrifying run on which he never was touched.
He barely touched the ball again as Indy went to squibbing kickoffs.
Leading 16-14 at halftime, the Colts spent half the third quarter with a march to Vinatieri's 24-yard field goal. Twice on the drive, Manning fell to the ground while throwing. But he completed them.
Grossman had it even worse on Chicago's initial possession of the second half, twice in a row slipping and getting sacked. Maybe he would have done better on icy turf.
Thomas Jones, forced to carry the Bears' entire rushing load when Cedric Benson was hurt in the first half, was Chicago's best player. But with Grossman ineffective, even inept, all the Bears managed in the second half was Robbie Gould's 44-yard field goal late in the third period.