Dungy's delight at historic triumph

Indianapolis Colts 29

Chicago Bears 17

TONY Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl when his Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 at Dolphin Stadium on Sunday.

The soft-spoken Dungy bettered another black coach, his friend and protege Lovie Smith, in the showcase game of a sport that was criticised for racial discrimination in its early years. "I'm proud to represent the African-American coaches and to be the first African-American to win this," Dungy told the crowd. "It means an awful lot to our country.

"I thought about all the guys who came ahead of me, who could have done it and didn't get the opportunity. I dedicate the game to them."

The 51-year-old Dungy, a deeply religious man, said it meant more to him that his Christian values had produced success. "Lovie Smith and I are not only the first two African-Americans but Christian coaches showing that you can win doing it the Lord's way and we're more proud of that," he said.

Smith worked as an assistant to Dungy with Tampa Bay Buccaneers where the pair struck up a close friendship.

Although black players have long had prominent roles on the field and more than 70 per cent of current NFL players are African-American, minority head coaches have been much rarer.

In 2002, the NFL introduced the 'Rooney Rule' which ensured that at least one minority candidate was interviewed for vacant head coach positions. Dungy's triumph came 13 months after his 18-year-old son James committed suicide but he chose to reflect on the collective nature of the team's success.

"I'm so proud of our guys," Dungy said. "Our guys hung tough and played so hard and I just can't tell you how proud I am of our group, our organisation and our city."

Peyton Manning added the missing ingredient to his Hall of Fame credentials by orchestrating the victory. The seven-times All-Pro quarterback slammed by his critics for failing to win when it matters, exorcised his big-game demons by completing 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown. "In years' past when our team's come up short, it's been disappointing," Manning, the game's Most Valuable Player, told reporters. "Somehow we found a way to have learned from those losses and we've been a better team because of it."

Dungy believes the criticism of Manning was unfair but will probably linger. "Maybe people will say now, 'If he doesn't win two in a row, it's not good enough,'" the coach said. "But he's done it, he's got it behind him. I don't think there's anything else you can say now other than this guy is a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest players ever to play the game."

The Colts received an early scare when Devin Hester's 92-yard kick-off return on the opening play of the game gave the Bears a 7-0 lead. Indianapolis responded with a 53-yard scoring pass from Manning to wide receiver Reggie Wayne but the conversion attempt was botched and the Bears held a 7-6 lead. A four- yard touchdown from Rex Grossman to Muhammad following a fumble by Indianapolis gave the Bears a 14-6 lead with 4:34 left in the opening quarter.

Adam Vinatieri, a three-time Super Bowl winner with New England, kicked a 29-yard field goal to slice the Bears' lead to 14-9. Indianapolis took a 16-14 lead, an advantage it never lost, with six minutes left in the half on a one-yard touchdown by Dominic Rhodes, capping a seven-play, 58-yard drive. Two Vinatieri field goals in the third quarter gave the Colts a 22-14 lead before the Bears' Robbie Gould countered with a 44-yarder to trim the Chicago deficit to five.

But early in the final period, cornerback Kelvin Hayden, pictured left, picked off a pass by Grossman and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown to complete the scoring