Super coaches put winning first

PRIORITIES: Coaches Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy are pals, but they're both more focused on becoming the first black coach to win the NFL's biggest game today

AFP , MIAMI, FLORIDA

Sun, Feb 04, 2007 - Page 23

The coaches are best of pals, spiritual soul mates and one of them even goes by the name "Lovie."

But don't let that fool you, because Super Bowl XLI in Miami still promises to be a hard-hitting, savage affair between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts.

Lovie Smith's Bears seek their first title in 21 years against the Tony Dungy's Colts, who started 9-0 but then lost three of their final five before picking it up again in the playoffs.

"I'm excited now, but I am trying to suppress that energy, stay calm, and then on Sunday, just explode," said Colts linebacker Cato June.

Weather forecasters are pre-dicting a soggy day for the game and possibly some thunderstorms.

The Colts depend on a passing game, so rain could be a disadvantage for them.

Indianapolis punter Hunter Smith said wet weather wouldn't bother him.

"I'll just go out and catch the ball," Smith said. "I will dry my hands off. It sounds pretty elementary. I don't get into gloves or anything like that."

It's the third time in franchise history the Colts have tried to win a title in Miami. When still based in Baltimore, they lost to the New York Jets in 1969 and beat the Dallas Cowboys two years later.

But it's the first time that Dungy, star quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison have made it to the Super Bowl.

Manning enters the game as the darling of the Colts offense and having a championship ring to flash would be the crowning glory of his first nine years in the league.

Manning, a seven-time Pro Bowler, is coming off the biggest victory of his career after he led the Colts back from a 21-3 deficit to beat their nemesis New England 38-34 in the AFC championship game.

If anybody can get to Manning it is 1.93m linebacker Brian Urlacher, who posses blazing quickness for a big man.

"The guys have to be tenacious up front," Urlacher said. "We have to rotate guys in and out because the thing about Peyton is that he gets rid of the football so fast."

"You're not going to trick him," he said. "He's seeing every blitz, every defense you could think of. You just try to rotate bodies in and out up front and hopefully get some pressure on him."

On the other side of the scrimmage line, Bears quarterback Rex Grossman comes into the game with plenty of doubters and little job security.

Grossman needs to establish himself early, says former quarterback Joe Theismann, who led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl title in 1983.

"Grossman has been a guy who if he starts slow, he stays slow," Theismann says. "He has trouble digging himself out of holes."

Both teams like to use two running backs and the underdog Bears will be looking to cut off the Colts rushing game as they did against New Orleans in the NFC final.

June said stopping the Bears' running game starts with forcing the issue on Grossman.

"I think pressure, making him uncomfortable in the pocket, stopping the running game and making them one-dimensional," June said. "And then, we can go after him a little bit, get great pressure from our defensive line and make plays in the passing game."

Colts kick returner Terrence Wilkins said: "Specials teams might be the case. Adam [Vinatieri] has kicked some winners in big games like this for us."

"It could be a field goal, a punt return, kickoff return, a tackle -- anything as far as special teams," Wilkins said. "It's possible that it will determine the game."

Dungy played on a Super Bowl winner with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1978, but had never been to one in 15 years as an assistant coach and 10 years as a coach.

Smith was a defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams in 2001 when they lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl 36. It took Smith just three years to make the Super Bowl as a coach.

Cito Gaston is still the only black manager to win Major League Baseball's World Series, earning back-to-back titles with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993.

There has been a series of black coaches that have won NBA titles, starting with Bill Russell as a player-coach with the Boston Celtics in 1968 and 1969.

The only other time two black coaches faced off against each other in a championship game or series was in the NBA finals in 1975, when Al Attles and the Golden State Warriors swept K.C. Jones and the Washington Bullets.