Peyton Manning exorcises his demons
Manning, since his days at Tennessee, has always carried the stigma of being unable to win the big game. As a Volunteer, against his arch rival Florida Gators in the SEC, Manning put up a goose egg -- zero wins. In the NFL, Archie Manning's son has historically been below average against play-off competition; he has been 0-2 against the Patriots and he has had to watch Tom Brady bask in the spotlight to the tune of three Super Bowl rings. All of that changed when he led his Colts back from a 21-6 half-time deficit -- the largest comeback in a Conference Championship Game -- and defeated his storied rival, Brady, and the team, the Patriots, helping fuel the opinion that Peyton was destined to crumble under pressure.
The fist and second black coaches in Super Bowl history
In the 40-plus-year history of the Super Bowl, there has never been a black head coach on the sidelines; make way for Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. Both coaches have taken a long road to get to this point. Dungy landed an assistant job with the Steelers, Chiefs and Vikings and parlayed that into a head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he hiredm Lovie Smith as one of his assistants. Smith was a college assistant for more than a decade before he had his first crack in the NFL. Previous to the 2006 season, black head coaches were 0-3 in Conference Championship Games, two of which are owned by Dungy (in 2000 with Tampa Bay and in 2004 with Indianapolis); Dennis Green lost the third one with the Vikings in 1999.
Prince returns to center stage
The Super Bowl has always been as much about the spectacle as it is about the game itself. Nothing could validate that notion more than having Minnesota's biggest pop star ever, Prince, perform at the half-time show. Prince has essentially been incognito for years. He has released several albums, but has retracted from the spotlight -- mostly because of his long-running battle with Warner Bros. To have Prince Rogers Nelson as your half-time performer could be better than learning that Marisa Tomei likes your short, bald and quirky persona.
Dungy gets over the hump
Tony Dungy spent three unspectacular years in the NFL as a player, but his tenure as a coach spans three decades and he has coached the Steelers, Chiefs, Vikings, Buccaneers, and Colts. With the Steelers, he was a part of the Steel Curtain; with the Vikings, Dennis Green and company fell just short; and with the Bucs it was the same story. At no point during his career as an NFL coach did he reach football's biggest stage. Then, just after leaving the Bucs, Jon Gruden took over the team and brought home the Vince Lombardi Trophy. As the Colts' head coach, he and his staff have routinely blazed a trail through the regular season, only to fizzle when the play-offs arrived -- until 2006-'07. Tony's attention to detail, especially on defense, finally paid off and brought him to the Super Bowl.
The Monsters of the Midway back to the top
The last time the Chicago Bears ventured to the NFL's summit was in 1986. Since Da Bears did their Super Bowl Shuffle to the chagrin of football purists everywhere, they have been on a roller-coaster ride of wins, losses and heartbreak. Through the late ‘80s, they were a good -- but not great -- team under the direction of Ditka and they couldn't get back to the team that they once were because of injuries and age. The ‘90s were nothing short of abysmal for the former Decatur Staleys, as they amassed only two play-off wins. In 2001, under Dick Jauron, they went 13-3 and looked unstoppable until they lost at home to the Eagles. In 2005, they earned another NFC North crown before they made another early exit at home against the Panthers. The prevailing feeling was that 2006 was no different, but Brian Urlacher and the forceful Bears defense proved everyone wrong by defeating the NFC Champion Seahawks and the Saints, 2006's "America's Team."
Lovie sticks to his guns
As far back as preseason, many NFL pundits were ready for Coach Smith to give Rex Grossman, due to his inconsistency and inexperience, the heave-ho in favor of Brian Griese. Most analysts felt that Griese, a seasoned starter, would be the only way for the Bears to get to the Super Bowl. Grossman hit the ground running, but started to show his immaturity mid-season. As the pressure mounted, Griese began to receive half of the starter snaps during practice, but Smith never pulled the trigger. Instead, he allowed his young QB to grow -- and it paid off big time. Rex didn't have to be spectacular, just smart.
Undefeateds provide foreshadowing
Around mid-season, the NFL had two teams that were undefeated. Not coincidentally, these same two teams will be battling each other in Super Bowl XLI. The Colts started 9-0, winning several close games and showing excellent balance between their famous offense and their small-but-quick underrated defense. This kind of resolve almost always pays off in the postseason. The Bears began their season 7-0, but winning in a markedly different way -- they were pummeling their opponents. Grossman resembled Dan Fouts circa 1982, and the defense -- led by Urlacher, Tommie Harris and Mike Brown -- was scoring almost as often as the offense. Both teams hit a mid-to-late season lull, but got back to their roots in the play-offs.
Breaks in the action are just as interesting
Anyone who is worth their salt knows that you need deep pockets to advertise during the Super Bowl -- a 30-second spot goes for a modest $2.5 million. However, the steep price tag also ensures that companies want to get their message across. The Super Bowl commercials are as much a part of the next days' water-cooler conversation as the game itself. Budweiser always produces a clip that has people talking for days, and who can forget Mean Joe Greene, the Budweiser frogs, Monster.com's famous ad that stated, "When I grow up, I want to have a brown nose" or Reebok's Terry Tate: Office Linebacker? As soon as the first break in the action comes, everyone is on the edge of their seats.
The best against the best
Take a minute and think about today's NFL, and what you consider to be a great offense. Unless you've been living in a cave, one of the first teams that should come to mind is the Colts. They have a smart, accurate passer; precise route running from the wide receivers, continuity on the offensive line, and backs that can hit the hole and move the chains. As a result, the Colts have been in the NFL's top three in total offense for four straight years. Now, flip to the other side of the ball: What comes to mind when you think of great defenses? If you didn't say the Bears, you haven't been paying attention. The Bears have been in the top five in total defense each of the last two years, and in 2006 they led the league with 44 takeaways. What's the best part? These two juggernaut units will be on the field at the same time.
Indianapolis' wish finally granted
Back in 1984, Baltimore Colts then-owner Robert Irsay secretly negotiated a move of his team to Indianapolis, breaking the hearts of Baltimore citizens and creating a divide that has still to be closed. No one could have predicted that 22 years would pass before this storied franchise finally punched its ticket to a Super Bowl. Prior to 2006, the Indianapolis Colts won five division titles, had nine play-off appearances, and had zero to show for it. Peyton's magic comeback in the 2006 AFC Championship Game against his arch rival Tom Brady and the New England Patriots was a thing of beauty. Manning brought his Colts back from an 18-point deficit to win Indy's first trip to the game Irsay had hoped for when he moved the team in the middle of the night.
Click here to check out AskMen.com's Top 99 Women of 2007.