- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- On the Friday evening before the start of the AFC playoffs, Bears coach Lovie Smith had dinner in Indianapolis with his close friends, Tony Dungy and Herman Edwards, before the two squared off for their first-round playoff game between the Colts and Chiefs.
His Bears in a bye week, Smith sensed history. The three African-American coaches, devoted Christians and family men, were striving for the Super Bowl. Smith and Edwards learned NFL coaching from Dungy, their mentor when they worked for him with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a special moment.
Super Bowl XLI will be even more special. Dungy's Colts, who beat the Patriots 38-34 in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, will meet Lovie's Bears. The NFL has been waiting 41 years for the first African-American head coach to patrol the sidelines at a Super Bowl. Now there will be two, and one will be the winner. Actually, the nation will be the winner in this one.
"You always talk about it,'' Dungy said of the chance to be the first African-American head coach in the Super Bowl. "When [Smith] took the job in Chicago, I said, 'I'm happy you are going to the NFC and maybe we can play against each other.' When we had dinner three weeks ago, he and I and Herm were still in it. We talked about maybe two of us will play against each other. You hope it happens. It's going to be great going against them. They are a great team.''
Hopefully, Edwards, the Chiefs' head coach, will make it to Miami. How can he miss it? This is history.
"We had a chance to visit for about two hours,'' Dungy said of the family dinner with Smith and Edwards before the playoffs. "We talked about how we really got started in 1996 in Tampa. Some things don't change, the things that Lovie, Herm and I believe in. That's the exciting thing for me. I'm so happy Lovie got there because he does things the right way. He's going to get there with a lot of class, no profanity, no intimidation, just helping his guys play the best that they can. That's the way I try to do it."
Super Bowl XLI will be all about class. Peyton Manning finally made it to his first Super Bowl after nine years. Manning's Colts are a seven-point favorite in a game that might be considered the biggest quarterback mismatch in a long time. Manning is the game's top quarterback. The Bears' Rex Grossman always seems to be a pass away from being benched in favor of Brian Griese.
This is the Super Bowl matchup that has defied the odds. The favorite could be the first Super Bowl winner since 1983 that didn't finish in the top 10 in scoring defense. Toward the end of the season, the Colts and Bears, both of whom have undersized Cover 2 defenses, were consistently gashed on the ground. The Colts are among the worst run defenses in NFL history.
"Everybody was thinking the 3-4 defenses were the best thing since sliced bread,'' Colts defensive tackle Anthony McFarland said. "In the end, you have two Tampa 2 or Minnesota Cover 2 or whatever you call it going against each other. Both teams are small. Both teams have fast linebackers and fast defensive linemen."
Dungy and Smith are all about simplicity. In an age of complexity, the Cover 2 relies on simplicity. Instead of getting lost in a playbook of zone blitzes and multiple reads and confusing coverages, Dungy and Smith devise schemes in which fast, quick linebackers simply make plays.
Dungy and Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin developed the Cover 2 when they were together in Minnesota working for Dennis Green. Dungy made the Cover 2 a staple when he brought Kiffin to Tampa Bay and turned the Bucs into a dominating defense. Players loved it. A middle linebacker might drop back into coverage to give a Cover 3 look, but Dungy set up the defense so players made plays.
In Super Bowl XLI, you will see fast, undersized players flying around the field as if they are in fast forward. Many doubted the Colts' ability to go to the Super Bowl because of their poor regular-season run defense. They figured Larry Johnson, Jamal Lewis and others would treat the Colts' defense like speed bumps.
Dungy didn't panic. He made minor adjustments. McFarland started to come on as the biggest defensive tackle. Linebacker Rob Morris helped out on the strong side. Safety Bob Sanders returned from a knee injury to charge up from the secondary to knock down backs.
"It's about attitude and intensity," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "It's not always about X's and O's and perfect defense. Guys weren't making plays [during the Colts' slump]. That's why you see an 80- or a 60-yard run. Even if a guy doesn't happen to make a play now, another guy is there to help. We are doing the same thing we've always done. Now, guys finally got it in their heads that we've got to be accountable. ''
Super Bowl XLI is about simplicity. Playmakers make plays. That's the defensive philosophies of Dungy and Smith. They try to find the best athletes. Then they coach them up and let them loose on the field. On the sidelines, neither coach panics, something Manning appreciates.
"That's something I've said since Coach Dungy has been here," Manning said. "He's calm on opening kickoff, and he's calm when you're down 21-3. He's just a cool customer. I think that really spreads through the rest of the team, that it cannot be a panic situation and you can't try to get it all back at once.''
Patience is a virtue, which translates into a matchup of two class people who meet as friends in Super Bowl XLI.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.