'06 Colts' Super Bowl far from legendary

The Super Bowl victory was significant for Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning, but the Colts' performance was far from stellar. Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

There will always be that final scene in Miami of Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning, the NFL's two lost souls, finally finding their way to the promised land of pro football immortality -- hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, awash in multicolored confetti and, on this night, an unrelenting southern Florida rain.

Dungy, who lost his son James to suicide in 2005 and who had labored like a gentleman farmer in a sallow field of missed opportunities, became the first black head coach to win an NFL title.

Manning, fast becoming defined as a shameless corporate pitchman who happened to put up the biggest numbers of any quarterback in a generation, finally validated his place in the record books -- shedding the Dan Marino label for the John Elway legacy.

And it is that image and those significant milestones that threaten to overshadow one undeniable conclusion: Super Bowl XLI, between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears, was the worst ever.

It was a washed-out disappointment between two football teams that came into the game with very high expectations and -- in most cases on both sides of the ball -- could not have lived them down any worse.

Let's start with the biggest star of the game -- Manning. He came into Super Bowl XLI with a QB rating of 101.0 for the 2006 season, having thrown for 31 touchdowns with only nine interceptions.

The conventional wisdom is that the Colts of Super Bowl XLI were not the worst Colts team in a Super Bowl, that the Colts of the 1970 season were much worse. Well, that's exactly the point. Not much was expected from the 1970 team. Not true of Manning's Colts. Not true of Manning.

In Super Bowl XLI, Manning was pedestrian. He opened the game with an interception and then dinked and dunked his way to a championship. It was a boring performance. Of course, you can blame the rain. Yet four times Manning had great field position, but the offense stalled, failing to get into the red zone. His conservative approach kept the Bears in the game. Indianapolis should have won by 30.

Manning completed 65.8 percent of his passes, but his quarterback rating of 81.8 was the worst of any Super Bowl MVP. He had one touchdown pass and one interception. Only three other quarterbacks were given the MVP trophy with an equal or lower ratio -- Elway had one TD and one INT in Super Bowl XXXIII (given the trophy for sentimental reasons); Len Dawson had one TD pass and one INT and threw a Super Bowl MVP low of 17 passes in Super Bowl IV (was MVP because the voters gave the trophy to the first four winning quarterbacks); and Joe Namath had no touchdown passes, no interceptions in Super Bowl III (he won because, well, it was his Super Bowl).

In Super Bowl XLI, the MVP should've been Colts running back Dominic Rhodes, whose 21 carries and 113 yards kept the Colts' offense on schedule while the normally potent passing game slogged unceremoniously through the soggy night.

The Colts' offense just had no rhythm -- right from the start. Take Manning's interception. It was on a play that the Colts had run all year, had practiced all week in Miami, knowing that the Bears' Cover 2 defense would be vulnerable to it. The play called for tight end Dallas Clark, who had been the Colts' leading receiver in the postseason because Marvin Harrison was getting double-covered so much, to run a seam route underneath the Bears' safeties. But Clark broke too far to the inside, giving Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher a chance to get his giant paw up and deflect it -- interception.

After the game, Manning pinned the blame for the interception squarely on Clark. But a study of the game film shows that Manning clearly had time to pull back on the ball. He threw the pick.

And Manning's only touchdown pass? Reggie Wayne was wide-open because of a major breakdown in the Bears' secondary -- something Chicago had avoided all season. Free safety Danieal Manning was in man coverage while his teammates were in a zone. Manning to Wayne for 47 yards was the MVP's only touchdown pass of the night -- from the game's most prolific passer.

Time now to talk about the other quarterback. After his performance in Super Bowl XLI, Grossman did not quite achieve Steve Bartman status in Chicago, but he came pretty close. Rick Reilly put it best: Grossman "seemed to be playing in ski boots and oven mitts."

The numbers are obvious: one fumble lost, two interceptions. But it was more than that. Grossman's general inability to generate any offensive momentum was demoralizing to a Bears defense that was playing well enough to keep Chicago in the game.

About halfway through the third quarter, the Bears trailed by only five points, 19-14 -- despite Grossman's awful play. Chicago had a first-and-10 on its 46-yard line. Great field position.

As the field began to resemble some kind of southern Florida swamp, Bad Rex surfaced like some B-movie beast to snatch the Bears from a possible comeback. He trips, loses 11 yards. He muffs the snap. The ball squirts backward. He falls on it. Loses another 11 yards. On fourth-and-23, the Bears wisely punt.

But then Bears coach Lovie Smith missed another obviously wise move: remove Grossman for Brian Griese. That was at 5:36 in the third quarter. From that point on, the Colts' offense managed just three points, one Adam Vinatieri field goal. The rest of the Indianapolis scoring was provided by Grossman.

He threw two interceptions. One wobbly pass that looked like a punt was snagged by reserve cornerback Kelvin Hayden, who returned it 56 yards for a touchdown.

Thank Grossman for delivering Manning's legacy and Dungy's place in history.

Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN. His new book is "How Football Explains America."