Let’s face it – we always knew the New England Patriots were big-game chokers.

The Pats were up 21-6 at half-time in their AFC Championship game against Indianapolis. The Colts had been unceremoniously gelded, and the derision had already begun.

This proved, of course, to be premature emasculation. In the second half the Colts engineered the biggest comeback in championship game history, finally seizing the lead with 60 seconds left and holding on for a wild 38-34 victory.

This means that Chicago’s Lovie Smith and the Colts’ Tony Dungy have got their wish and will become the first African-American head coaches in Super Bowl history.

Around 75% of NFL players and six head coaches are African-American, so this is nothing if not overdue. As it happens, Smith and Dungy are also two of the best-liked coaches in the game.

Few would wish Dungy further pain after his footballing disappointments and, more importantly, personal tragedy in recent years, while Smith has won enormous respect for his efforts in turning around a struggling franchise.

For New England, there cannot be too much disappointment. This was merely a
moderate Pats team by their own recent high standards, and only the astounding play-off touch of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady duumvirate made them contenders this deep into the competition.

The only person likely to bear deep scars is wide receiver Reche Caldwell who played as if he was wearing welding-gloves and a blindfold, dropping two sitters than even an English cricketer would have held.

Tactically the Super Bowl looms as a clear-cut case of the Colts offence (all five of Indy’s Pro Bowl selections are from the offence) against the Bears defence (of their seven Pro Bowl picks, only centre Olin Kreutz is from the offence).

Apart from the Smith-Dungy racial angle, look for plenty of focus on Chicago enigma Rex Grossman in the next fortnight. As well as returning to the state of Florida where he was a college star, there will also be stories about how Grossman grew up in Indiana as a Colts fan plus endless analysis regarding the likelihood of ‘Good Rex’ showing up rather than the latterly more familiar “Bad Rex”.

And of course there will also be a squillion stories about Peyton “Why the long face?” Manning and his opportunity finally to fulfil his destiny.

Bears v Colts – let the hype begin.

Peter Fray

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