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Manning the MVP of His Biggest Victory

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br-38338.jpg Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, right, embraces coach Tony Dungy following the Super Bowl XLI football game ...

Manning the MVP of His Biggest Victory

By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer

2 hours ago

MIAMI - Peyton Manning grabbed the Lombardi Trophy with a choke hold, hoisted it in the air with one hand and barely cracked a smile. His career-long journey toward a title finally over, Manning was already preparing for life as a champion.

"It's all happening pretty fast right now," he said after being voted the Super Bowl MVP in the Colts' 29-17 victory over Chicago on Sunday night. "I'm kind of _ this is just kind of how I am, I guess. I'm excited."

Judging from Manning's reactions, he seemed more relieved than ecstatic after finally letting his play answer all the nagging questions about winning the "big game."

Detractors usually followed their acknowledgments of his greatness with this: Manning could only earn his place alongside legendary quarterbacks John Elway, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw with a Super Bowl win.

No need to worry any more. With another brilliantly crafted performance in the rain-soaked, windy conditions many thought could derail the Colts' championship run, Manning left behind the doubters.

He played his game _ changing plays, gesturing at the Bears and, of course, completing passes. The two-time NFL MVP finished 25-of-38 for 247 yards with one touchdown and kept the Bears confused all night. It was the Colts' biggest victory since moving to Indianapolis in 1984, and gave the Colts the distinction of being the first dome team to win a Super Bowl outdoors.

But Manning couldn't forget entirely what it took to get here.

"It's been hard not only to lose in the playoffs, hard to watch these other teams hoist that trophy knowing they were the ones that _ the team that beat us won the Super Bowl," Manning said. "That's a hard pill to swallow. You have to learn from it."

The Colts finally did.

With their tag-team running backs piling up 190 yards, and a defense that allowed only one Bears touchdown, Manning, at last, had a winning combination.

Like Elway, who needed a game-breaking runner (Terrell Davis) to win a Super Bowl, or Dan Marino, who never did get over the hump, the Colts needed to rely on more than Manning's arm Sunday. They ran for one touchdown, scored on an interception return and got three field goals from Adam Vinatieri. Manning remained as patient with the offense playing from behind as he was protecting a fourth-quarter lead.

For more than a decade, Manning lived with the unflattering image of a non-winner. At Tennessee, he never beat Florida, and the year after he left, the Volunteers won the national title.

In Indianapolis, the doubts were reinforced. When he started 0-3 in the postseason, people wondered if he'd ever win a playoff game. When he finally did, people said he couldn't beat New England. When he did that, the critics contended he still hadn't won a Super Bowl.

Now that he can wear that shiny, new championship ring, Manning no longer will be lumped with Marino, Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon and Dan Fouts, who never won a Super Bowl, yet are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"He's done it, he's gotten it behind him," coach Tony Dungy said. "I don't think there's anything you can say now, other than this guy is a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest players to ever play the game."

It took Manning about one quarter to figure out the Bears' defense. Then he carved it up. He moved Indianapolis by masterfully finding open receivers, calling runs and converting third downs, and his 53-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne came with a Chicago defender draped around Manning's waist.

Even an early glitch on kickoff coverage that led to Devin Hester's 92-yard TD return couldn't get Manning off of his game.

Manning played with poise and methodically led the Colts back. He got a field goal to draw within 14-9, then let Dominic Rhodes carry for a 1-yard TD run that gave Indy a 16-14 lead. He set up Vinatieri for two second-half field goals that made it 22-17, and the defense sealed it with Kelvin Hayden's interception return for a score.

It was Manning who always heard the loudest complaints until he became a champion.

"I don't really play that card," he said when asked if he had anything to say to the critics. "I don't believe in that. I'm proud to be the quarterback of this team, this team that won a championship."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

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