Super Bowl: Manning will be the key today

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 3, 2007

By Dave Goldberg

Associated Press

MIAMI — Forget the perception that the Chicago Bears are mere patsies for Peyton Manning.

They have a decent chance at winning today’s Super Bowl against the Colts. Really.

Maybe these guys aren’t quite the Monsters of the Midway — under today’s rules, Brian Urlacher might get flagged just for breathing on Manning. But their defense can still be pretty scary.

“The Bears have a way of turning first-and-10 into second-and-15 into third-and-20,” Tony Dungy said this week.

Yes, the Colts are seven-point favorites despite the Bears’ 13-3 regular-season record, second best in the NFL to San Diego’s 14-2. There’s a simple reason: It’s not the Bears who are the underdogs; it’s the NFC, which was as bad this season as the AFC was good. Its final four of Indy, New England, San Diego and Baltimore likely would be favored over any of the NFC semifinalists.

Beyond that, these Colts are following a path similar to one taken by a team Manning wants to emulate: the 1997 Denver Broncos.

Those Broncos were eliminated in their first game in 1996 after clinching home field with a month to go. And like this year’s Colts, who lost four of its last seven games, those Broncos struggled a bit, making the postseason as a wild-card team before sweeping through the playoffs and beating Green Bay 31-24 in the Super Bowl.

Last winter, Manning made a point of talking to the two leaders of that team: John Elway and coach Mike Shanahan. Last summer, he suggested that it might not be a bad thing if the Colts had a lower profile for the 2006 season than they had in 2005, when they won their first 13 games.

“You’ve got a team that’s a little ticked off,” Manning said, referring to last year’s playoff failure. “There are guys who will play that way. I think you need that to rebound from last season.”

There’s one more thing the Colts need to do to emulate those Broncos.

No, Manning is unlikely to do a spinorama for a first down, as Elway did in the signature play of that game.

But his gestures and waves at the line of scrimmage, often a ruse, may not be this time — he’ll point at the holes in the Chicago defense at safety and defensive tackle, vacated by the injured Mike Brown and Tommie Harris.

That’s enough to make the final score: Colts 31,24.