INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The bunch that inspired a frigid procession through Downtown Feb. 5, 2007 after delivering the Lombardi Trophy to the Circle City returns this weekend.
In recognition of the 10th anniversary of the Indianapolis Colts’ 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI after the 2006 season, the team will honor its world champions at halftime of Sunday’s game with the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium. More than 40 players and coaches have RSVP’d they’ll attend.
One who won’t is Tony Dungy, whose responsibilities as NBC analyst conflict with the celebration. Dungy will be in town four nights later when he and Marvin Harrison receive their Pro Football Hall of Fame rings during the Thanksgiving night meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the days leading up to the reunion, some prominent figures share memories of the organization’s first world championship in three decades.
TONY DUNGY: The journey
It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years. Ten years is an eternity. It seems like it was just yesterday.
It was really the entire experience. It was the whole year and putting it together. The year before we had such a dominant team. We started out 13-0 and we’re winning games easily. We don’t really have a one-score game all the way through those 13 wins. We’re playing lights out.
The next year, ’06, we’re winning. We had that nine-game winning streak, but every game was stop them on the last drive or scoring on the last drive. We’re just playing with fire the whole way. In ’05, after week 5 I’m probably thinking, ‘Boy, this could be a Super Bowl year.’ In ’06, we’re winning games but you never got that feeling until we got into the playoffs.
It was fun coaching because it just wasn’t on autopilot. We had some young guys, Joseph Addai, Antoine Bethea. We had the leadership, so you knew they were going to come back well (from losing to the Steelers in the ’05 playoffs). But we didn’t have Edgerrin (James), so that was going to be different, starting with a different back and breaking Joseph into the lineup. We thought Corey Simon was going to play, then he didn’t. He had done such a good job for us in the run defense the year before. We traded for Booger McFarland mid-season to plug that up. Antoine had come into the lineup and we knew that he was going to be good, but you’ve got a good in centerfield. How’s he going to play?
So we had some concerns. We had gotten Adam (Vinatieri), so you knew your kicking was going to be in good shape. If we were in any close games, you didn’t have to worry about that. The biggest worry was how those two rookies were going to play at those critical positions.
We’re winning, winning, winning, and then we go to Dallas in a game we should win and we get a penalty on the interception in the end zone that’s probably going to ice the game. We lose that game and we come back and think we’re doing OK. We lose to Tennessee. We lose to Jacksonville. The way we lost to Jacksonville was tough (giving up 375 rushing yards). We’re starting to get some injuries on defense. Bob (Sanders) played only four games that year in the regular season, which was another concern. We had to fight through that and try to get our run defense settled down. We had some challenges.
By the time we got to November and December we knew we could win close games. That was probably the payoff from the first two months. We’re having to come from behind. We’re having to hold leads. We felt very comfortable doing that.
In the playoffs, we ran the ball extremely well and our defense came around. That’s how you win. We had two games where Peyton (Manning) really wasn’t on; really two-and-a-half games. Against Kansas City, we had the turnovers and we’re running the ball well, but we couldn’t score. Our defense just shut ‘em down and kept them out of the end zone and gave our offense time to go. In Baltimore, it was all field goals. You never had the feeling you were out of the woods, but defensively we just kept stopping them.
The third game (against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game) was the same boat. Our offense can’t get going and we had to fight our way back. Our offense, probably other than that second half of the New England game, didn’t play like it played all year. It was the running game, being fundamentally sound and the defense. That was unique.
It rained all day in South Florida, and for Super Bowl XLI.
I remember telling the guys, ‘I live in Florida and it’s not going to rain all day. We’ll get a little shower and that’ll be it.’ And it was slick and muddy and wet all day. It turned into a game of field position and running the ball. We out-fought the Bears in that type of game. They get a kickoff return and one long run that basically got them 14 points. Other than that, the defense held them to one field goal. It was great to see those guys come on in the postseason and play the way we knew they could play.
It was a year where we won in a different way. That’s the thing I’m really proud of about the team. It adjusted. It adapted. We dealt with a lot of injuries and a lot of different things going on with the lineup. Every week there seemed to be a new hero.
Yes it was Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Dwight (Freeney) and Bob, but it was so many guys week-in and week-out that contributed. We’ve talked about Antoine and Joseph, but against New England, Ben Utecht gets hurt and Bryan Fletcher goes in and has the big catch that gets us in position. We get to the Super Bowl and Ryan Diem goes down and Charlie Johnson has to go in and play against their best defensive lineman, Adewale Ogunleye. He doesn’t miss a beat. Nick Harper goes as long as he can and has to leave, and Kelvin (Hayden) goes in. It was really his first, maybe second meaningful opportunity to play and he gets the game winner.
To me, that’s what speaks about that team. We did it and we did it the right way. I remember Jim Irsay’s first comment at the Hall of Fame (induction) when he called me (to be the Colts coach in 2002). He said, ‘Hey, I want to win as badly as anybody. But the bigger thing is we’ve got to connect with our community. We don’t have that 50-year history like the Bears or the Steelers. We’ve got to do that. We’ve got to have the right type of guys. We’ve got to win the right way.’
I remember standing up there (in South Florida) and thinking we did that. We completed the journey. We won, but we did it the right way. Look at the guys we had, the way we’ve done it, what we’re doing in the community, how they’re looked at. It was really, really a proud feeling that we had accomplished just what Jim wanted to do.
The rest of the story:
Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl and would continue to amass personal milestones. When he retired after the ’08 season, he was the winningest coach in Colts’ history: 92-33. He set an NFL record by taking a team to the playoffs in 10 straight seasons and his Colts set another league mark by winning at least 12 games in six consecutive seasons.
In August, Dungy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2016