When Marlin Jackson intercepted Tom Brady's pass with 24 seconds left Sunday night, he did more than help Peyton Manning finally win a big game.
He did more than seal the AFC Championship for the Indianapolis Colts.
Jackson even did more than make Tony Dungy the second black coach to reach the Super Bowl.
To me, Jackson provided the visual finishing touches to what has quietly become one of the most socially significant weeks this country's had in a very, very long time. The past four days, when looked at collectively, will forever remind me of the potential this country still has to be great.
Yes, Dungy and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith will be the first coaches of color on the sidelines in the Super Bowl's 41-year history. But consider these other events:
• In officially announcing his bid on Saturday, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, whose mother is Mexican, became the first Latino to run for president.
• That same day, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton not only announced her bid for the presidency, but several polls listed her as the 2008 favorite, which would make her the first female president.
• On Thursday, ABC executives announced that "Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington will be reprimanded for his anti-gay slur targeted at co-star T.R. Knight.
• Three of the top five films (No. 1 "Stomp the Yard," No. 3 "Dreamgirls" and No. 5 "The Pursuit of Happyness") all focus on black characters without the plots centering around gangs, drug dealers, slaves or poverty. Two of the movies didn't have a single rap song in them. This not only means blacks get to see themselves projected in a different light, but everyone else is willing to pay to see that different image as well, contrary to dominant film studio beliefs.
On the eve of a State of the Union address that probably won't make any of us feel better about the war on terror or the fate of the 21,000 more troops President Bush wants to send to Baghdad, I found the series of events above actually gave me a sense of pride and hope.
True, one could look at them as inconsequential. After all, Washington's potential firing isn't going to stop gays from being beaten, Hillary's still a long way from the Oval Office and there still will be NFL owners who will second-guess hiring a black coach for no other reason than he -- or she -- doesn't look like them. Bill Parcells barely announced his retirement and I've already heard six different guys mentioned to take his place -- all of them white.
But Sunday night, as I watched Lovie Smith try to contain his emotions during his news conference, I could have sworn I heard cracks working their way across the glass ceiling. Do you realize the last time the Bears were in the Super Bowl (1985) there hadn't been a black coach in the NFL since Fritz Pollard retired in 1926?
So, thank you Marlin Jackson, for that fantastic interception. Whenever we see that replay -- and you know we'll see it a lot -- we can all be reminded of the week that demonstrated that we're a lot closer to that "all men are created equal" thing than when the United States started.
No, we're not there yet, and it is frustrating to think a country on a self-proclaimed global crusade for freedom is still besieged with so many embarrassing "firsts," especially firsts based on race and gender. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and Peyton Manning's knee at the end of Sunday's game represented a pretty big step.
At least it did for me.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and host of the ESPN360 talk show "Game Night." LZ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.