Purple rain at the Super Bowl. Golden memories for Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts.
In a sloppy, exciting, rain-soaked NFL title game on Sunday, the Colts defeated the Bears 29-17 behind 247 yards passing from Manning, the star quarterback who finally won the big one after nine record-setting seasons that were missing very little besides a championship.
"We put a lot of hard work and a lot of effort into this," said Manning, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player. "It's all happening pretty fast right now. I'm excited. It's something we'll enjoy for quite some time."
It was a surreal scene for the NFL's showcase game, played indoors or in perfect weather for almost all of the previous 40 years, but not this time.
In a good ol'-fashioned South Florida soaker, the football squirted loose and bounced all over the waterlogged field. It resulted in eight turnovers, including two late interceptions thrown by Chicago's Rex Grossman that sealed the game for Indy.
"It wasn't what you'd expect, coming down to Miami," Manning said.
At halftime, Prince took to the stage and sang through the deluge - the violet stage lights shining into the storm to make the perfect setting for his hit finale, "Purple Rain."
When the crazy evening was over, the Colts had brought the first NFL title back to Indianapolis since their late owner, Robert Irsay, relocated them there in 1984. Manning finally broke through. The game and entire week served as proof that nice guys don't always finish last.
The sight of Manning, the solid citizen, and Dungy, his soft-spoken coach, soaking up the rain - along with the confetti and the hugs - as they held the Vince Lombardi trophy were moments to remember.
They came at the end of this historic meeting between Dungy and Lovie Smith of the Bears, the first black head coaches to lead teams to the Super Bowl.
These men also made it notable by the way they conducted themselves - two quiet, churchgoing, kindhearted leaders who proved they could succeed without shouting, intimidating, bullying or humiliating players to do it.
"One thing I liked about the whole process is that there were no negatives all week," Dungy said. "It was very professional, very gentlemanly. There were no incidents. To me, that's what it's all about - that you can win professionally, you can win with class."
Dungy's postgame celebration included a long embrace with Smith at midfield and a few whispered words, as they closed out their week together, but apart.
They knew coming in that one would have to lose and the other would be the first black to coach his team to a Super Bowl win. And they insisted their friendship would withstand the strains of the Super Bowl spotlight.
"I just told him I was proud of this moment," Dungy said. "I didn't think the weather let both teams play the games we could play. But I appreciate what he's done in Chicago, they way he's done it, the type of guy he is."
Dungy was right, this was not an American football masterpiece. In fact, very little about the game went by the book.
It began with a 92-yard kickoff return by Chicago's Devin Hester for a 7-0 lead 14 seconds into the game. As the rain picked up, the conditions made this look less like a meeting between the league's best teams and more like a survive-the-elements contest.
The Colts turned out to be much better.
Manning threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne and finished 25-for-38 for a touchdown and an interception. The Colts dominated the game statistically - gaining 430 yards to only 265 for Chicago - but didn't put it away until early in the fourth quarter, when second-year cornerback Kelvin Hayden intercepted Grossman's pass and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown and a 29-17 lead.
Manning will have plenty of good memories from this one, a game in which he picked and poked through the rain and the Bears to win the title that eluded he and his famous father, Archie, for all those years.
"He's a tremendous player, a great leader," Dungy said. "He prepares, he works, he does everything he can do to win ballgames and lead teams. If people say he needed to win a Super Bowl to validate it and justify it, that's just wrong."
While Manning and the rest battled the elements, most of America enjoyed this one from the comfort of living rooms and bars across the country. Around 140 million were expected to tune in to what is traditionally America's most-viewed TV show - many watching as much for the commercials, the halftime show and the rest of what has become the country's biggest unofficial holiday, the AP reports.
However, some who paid $5,000 (EUR 3,800) and up for tickets on game day had their limits. The fourth quarter was played in front of a noticeable number of empty seats, as fans sought shelter inside the stadium, or maybe back in their hotel rooms, away from the drenching rain.
The Colts? They just soaked it all in.
"It's an emotional game," Manning said. "I think everyone's pretty drained right now. We put a lot of hard work and a lot of effort into this."
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