your spirals. Brady's willowy six-yard toss to wideout Jabar Gaffney in the
back of the end zone put New England up 28--21. Manning answered by driving
Indy to the Patriots' two, whereupon Saturday recovered running back Dominic
Rhodes's fumble to tie the game. The two teams traded field goals before rookie
Stephen Gostkowski's 43-yarder gave New England a 34--31 lead with 3:49 left.
Each defense forced punts without allowing a first down, and when Manning
trotted onto the field with 2:17 to go and the ball at his own 20, these were
the stakes: Drive 80 yards and take a trip to Electric Bradyland; fall short
and face at least another year's worth of chokes-under-pressure barbs.
Manning was on his
game even before kickoff on Sunday, as his mother, Olivia, attested outside the
Colts' locker room afterward. Noting that she and her husband, former Saints
quarterback Archie, were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary, Olivia
gestured toward Peyton's older brother, Cooper, and his younger brother, New
York Giants quarterback Eli, standing nearby. "Only one of my boys
remembered," Olivia said, pulling out her cellphone to reveal a text
message sent at 2:58 p.m. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY. I LOVE Y'ALL--PEYTON.
On the most
glorious drive a Manning quarterback has ever led, Archie was hiding in the
tunnel behind the end zone, nervously sneaking peeks at the field. Peyton
sandwiched completions to Wayne around a 32-yard deep out to third-string tight
end Bryan Fletcher. Suddenly it was first down at New England's 11, and a pair
of runs by rookie Joseph Addai set up a third-and-two at the three. The Pats
typically blitz in such situations, but Dungy reasoned that they'd be hesitant
because they'd been burned while doing so--on a Manning fade to Harrison for a
TD--during Indy's 27--20 win in Foxborough in November. He was right. The Pats
sat back. Addai took a handoff and blasted up the middle for the sweetest score
any Colts fan has seen since Johnny Unitas hung up his high-tops.
Still, this epic
wasn't finished until Brady, with 24 seconds to go and the ball at the Indy 45,
zipped a pass over the middle toward tight end Benjamin Watson. Colts
cornerback Marlin Jackson saw it like a neon light on South Beach. He raced in
to make the interception that sent a choked-up coach and his jacked-up players
Long after the
confetti-laced celebration on the field, Dungy retreated to the dressing area
and let his emotions flow. He talked of the inspiration he'd derived from
James's memory and from the other parents of suicide victims whom he has
befriended in the wake of his son's death. And he recalled the goodbye hug he
got from Lauren on Sunday afternoon as he prepared to leave for the Dome.
"I want a
blowout," she'd said, to which her husband replied, "It's probably not
gonna be that way. It's gonna be a nailbiter." Then she clutched him tight
and whispered, "No matter what happens, no matter what you do, I support
On this landmark
Sunday, Lauren Dungy had more company than she could have known--most notably
from a locker room full of players whose leader refused to let them wilt. And
really, why should they have? It was their time.