Dungy sounds ready to defend title with Colts

Monday, February 5th 2007, 6:22 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ Tony Dungy's first Super Bowl celebration gave him a few moments to remember why he still enjoys coaching football.

Looks like the retirement plans can wait.

After getting drenched in the rain, soaked again in Gatorade, and enjoying a sleepless, festive night, the 51-year old Dungy sounded as if he's ready to do it all again next season.

``Every year, for probably the last three or four years, I've evaluated where I am at the end of the season,'' he said Monday morning. ``I still have a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the game, and after a night like last night, how could you not love it? So I'm not burned out, I'm not tired at all. I'm very fired up and looking forward to coming back. But I'll evaluate it and see where we'll go.''

Some may consider that not definitive enough to quash all the speculation that Dungy might retire after winning the elusive championship ring. But it sure sounded as if Dungy was preparing to become the first black coach to defend a Super Bowl title after becoming the first to win one with Sunday night's 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears.

For Dungy, it was a night to embrace.

He talked about how special it was to watch those final 15 seconds tick off, the thoughts racing through his mind and even a phone call that surprised Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning.

``I was talking to a friend on the phone, and Tony said 'You better take this call,' `` Manning said. ``I said 'Why?' and he said 'Take this call.' So I hung up on my friend and it was the president congratulating us and inviting us to the White House.''

Dungy knew it was coming after White House officials called earlier in the week to make sure they had the right cell phone number.

Not everything went so smoothly.

The weather was the worst in Super Bowl history, with steady rain from start to finish, and it suited Dungy and his Colts just fine. When the slick ball forced them to rein in their potent passing game, their defense and running game assumed a championship-caliber share of the load.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn't seem to mind, either.

``Including the rain, it was a great game, and the elements are part of the game,'' Goodell said.

Dungy and Manning also showed they could win the big game, shaking labels they've been saddled with for years. Dungy made the breakthrough in his 11th season as a head coach and his fifth with the Colts, until now perennial title contenders and late-season disappointments.

Manning, meanwhile, strengthened his standing among the game's great quarterbacks by winning his first Super Bowl title.

``It has been hard to watch these other teams hoist that trophy,'' said Manning, who threw for 247 yards and a touchdown. ``That's a hard pill to swallow. You have to learn from it and realize how badly you want to be up there.''

Manning's younger brother Eli has yet to come close to a title in three seasons with the New York Giants. Their father, Archie, was a star NFL quarterback for 14 years who never reached the playoffs.

Now the family has a ring, thanks to Peyton.

``If people think he needed to win a Super Bowl, that is just wrong,'' Dungy said. ``This guy is a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest ever.''

Manning had plenty of help as the Colts (16-4) earned their first title since the 1970 season, when they played in Baltimore.

Dominic Rhodes ran for 113 yards and Joseph Addai added 77 to help Indianapolis control the ball for 38 minutes. The defense, often the culprit when past title bids came up short, recovered two fumbles and intercepted Rex Grossman twice in the fourth quarter, with Kelvin Hayden's 56-yard interception return sealing the win.

It was the kind of performance needed to win the first rainy Super Bowl. Gusty wind made the conditions even more challenging, and the halftime show had a finale all too fitting _ Prince's ``Purple Rain.''

``We knew it would be a nasty game,'' Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said. ``As a defensive player, you love it. That's the way we played.''

Manning threw an early interception but otherwise handled the ball flawlessly. Twice he slipped on the slick grass as he threw and fell but still managed to complete the pass.

Grossman, by contrast, fumbled two snaps and forced throws trying to rally his team. He can look forward to an offseason of debate in Chicago as to whether he's the Bears' quarterback of the future.

``My confidence never wavered,'' he said. ``We missed some crucial plays, and that's the difference in the Super Bowl.''

The Bears started fast when speedy rookie Devin Hester became the first player to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Burned by the 92-yard score, Dungy ordered squibbed kickoffs the rest of the game.

The Colts, who overcame an 18-point deficit against New England to win the AFC championship game, found themselves in another hole when a touchdown pass by Grossman put the Bears up 14-6.

``Kind of like we've done all playoffs _ no panic whatsoever,'' Manning said.

Manning put Indianapolis on the board with a 53-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne. Rhodes' 1-yard touchdown run put the Colts ahead to stay at 16-14.

The Bears (15-4) managed only 11 first downs, committed five turnovers and came up short playing in their first Super Bowl since Walter Payton led them to the title 21 years ago. But Smith achieved a cultural milestone when he and his former mentor, Dungy, became the first black head coaches to reach the Super Bowl.

Shortly after the game, Smith spoke of returning in 2008.

``We took a big step this year,'' he said. ``Hopefully next season we can take one more step and finish the job.''

Dungy sounds ready to spar with Smith again _ if that's what it takes.

``Generally, after a couple of days, you feel like everything is rolling,'' Dungy said. ``I do look forward to helping these guys defend this title.''