When thinking back on the past year in sports, it is unfortunate that the first things that leap to mind are scandals, steroids, and asterisks.
The dark side of sports should never be the highlight of any year. For me, the shining accomplishment of 2007 was Peyton Manning getting the monkey off his back and finally winning a Super Bowl.
Manning had endured a world of weight on his shoulders for not winning a championship, from his days at Tennessee through a string of NFL playoff loses. As 2006 unfolded, the Indianapolis Colts rolled through the regular season at 12-4. But once the calendar turned to 2007, the pundits all started heaping their doubts on Manning's ability to win the "big one."
The Colts then traveled to Baltimore and a date with the Ravens for the divisional playoffs. This game had more than Super Bowl implications—it was a battle, as unforgiving Baltimoreans clamored for victory over their former team.
In Manning’s least impressive performance of the postseason, Adam Vinatieri lifted the Colts to victory with five field goals in a 15-6 win that has to be the most frustrating playoff game to watch of all time.
If the weight of the sports world was not pressing down on Manning enough before the victory in Baltimore, the upcoming AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots added even more weight. All week before the game, the sports world asked: Could Manning get the monkey off his back? That monkey was named Tom Brady.
Outside, three-and-a-half inches of fresh snowfall blanketed Indianapolis, but conditions were perfect inside the RCA Dome. Early in the game, the Patriots offensive linemen Logan Mankins recovered a fumble for a touchdown. Later, Colts center Jeff Saturday would even the score by recovering a fumble for a touchdown.
Finally, with one minute left in the game and the Colts trailing New England 34-31, Joseph Addai bulled three yards into the end zone, and punched the Colts golden ticket for the trip to Miami.
This Super Bowl was ripe with headlines for the media: Could Manning win the big one? For the first time, two African American head coaches were in a Super Bowl. It also was not overlooked that Tony Dungy was still getting over the 2005 suicide of his son James.
After a record-breaking opening kickoff return, and consistent play early from Chicago's Rex Grossman and the Bears it didn’t look good for the Colts during the first quarter in a rain-soaked Miami. However, in the second quarter Manning got his footing down and directed the Colts to a 16-14 halftime lead.
As Prince wailed on his guitar, the Colts made adjustments in the locker room, and came out to dominate the second half. As the final moments of the game ticked off the clock, it was clear that Peyton Manning had overcame the scrutiny and pressure to show that he is not only a premier NFL Quarterback, but also one that will be no stranger to Super Bowl wins.