ONCE AGAIN, YOU CAN THROW OUT THE SCRIPT

MIAMI – After three touchdowns, one interception, three fumbles – two of them back-to-back – one muffed extra point, several cracking hits, a couple of injured players and a 92-yard kickoff return, the Colts and Bears were breathing hard and more than ready for …

… the second quarter?

In a steady, misty shower more common to Dublin than Miami, Super Bowl XLI seemed bent on displaying as many oddities during the game as you see on a weekend in South Beach. You know how rain can turn a high hairdo flat? Turn a cake into mush? Turn a painting into blotches? So did the rain Sunday seem to wash away the identities of these teams and players and leave them, well, blurry.

Peyton Manning, a passing machine, looked like he was playing for Bo Schembechler in the 1960s, handing off more than he threw, playing it safe when he would normally take risks. The Colts’ star receivers, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, were rendered second options to lesser-known running backs. The Bears, supposed to have a run-stuffing defense, allowed Indy’s backs big plays again and again.

And it only figured in a game this confused that the Colts’ biggest play would be made not by the offense, but by the defense, that the play in question would be made by a backup, not a starter, and it would be an interception, the first of his career, by an Indy player who grew up in … Chicago.

Yep. Kelvin Hayden, who took his first NFL interception 56 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown, is a lifelong Bears fan.

“I still root for them,” he told a newspaper last week.

Something tells me the feeling is not mutual.

Indy wins, 29-17. Manning gets his ring – and an MVP trophy. Tony Dungy becomes the first black head coach to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

And Bears fans get to grumble. No doubt this morning they are taking it out on their quarterback, Rex Grossman. We can say this about Rex. He was the only guy to stick to the script.

Grossman wasn’t supposed to be very good. And he wasn’t. He fumbled the snap twice, lost it once, threw two bad interceptions and was lucky he didn’t have more. He looks a bit like the actor Zach Braff and at times on Sunday, he played like him.

It was hardly all his fault, but you know how Super Bowl critics go. I’m afraid when they recall Sunday’s game in the Windy City, Grossman’s name will forever be uttered with a comma in the middle of it.

As in “Gross, man.” No stopping them now

But back to the winners. Good for the Colts. This probably should have been their second or third Super Bowl, as good as they have been in regular seasons. But there was always something that stopped them. Often that something went by the name New England. But having finally beaten the Pats in the AFC title game, you sensed that a Super Bowl win was their destiny. A loss would just start a whole new round of Colts futility, pushing the rock up the hill and seeing it roll back on them.

They needed to get this win, maybe more than Chicago, a team still new to these heights. Now Manning can smile, knowing he’s not only the king of the commercials but also of the game that airs between them.

“It’s been hard to lose those in the playoffs,” admitted Manning, whose Colts were eliminated three times by teams that went on to win the Super Bowl, “but it was harder to watch those teams that beat us hoist the trophy.”

On Sunday, Manning has hoisted his own.

Now, I know about a billion people watched this game. So I would like to say to at least a half billion of them – who may have been watching in tents, mountains, bazaars or even another hemisphere – that this is NOT the Peyton Manning we keep talking about.

Honestly. What you saw Sunday was the cutting-room floor of Peyton Manning’s highlight reel. Yes, he was 25-for-38 for 247 yards and one touchdown, but that touchdown was his only long play of the day, a 53-yarder to Wayne on which Wayne got wide open thanks to a Chicago defensive mistake.

Besides that, Manning had only one pass over 20 yards. He rarely went to his laser passing attack. He didn’t even change the plays that often! He handed off more times than he threw. He ran the ball on third downs, and played it as conservatively as a Fox News broadcast.

Normally, you come out of a Peyton Manning game shaking your head and saying, “Man, that guy is incredible.”

This time you came away shaking your head and saying, “Man, that guy is soaked.”

A low-key reaction

But when it was over, Manning looked relieved. He didn’t holler. He mostly grinned. This is the biggest prize by far in the Manning family trophy case – which is the size of New Hampshire – but Manning downplayed that.

“It’s all happening pretty fast right now,” he said, when asked why he seemed so low-key. “This is kind of how I am, I guess.”

“I don’t think he needed this for personal vindication,” said Dungy, who spoke glowingly about how excellent and prepared Manning is all the time. ” … If people think you had to win a Super Bowl to know that, to justify that, that’s just wrong.”

Meanwhile, Dungy is an even bigger story. His odyssey from heartbreak to heartwarming is an “Oprah” program by itself. Last year, he was mourning the tragic suicide of his son and the ouster of his team by an underdog Pittsburgh Steelers team.

Now, a year later, here he was, talking about the history he made as the first black head coach to win it all in the NFL.

“The Lord doesn’t always take you in a straight line,” he said.

Amen to that.

And maybe Chicago fans should pay heed. Their great defensive team gave up 430 yards. Their quarterback was as shaky as billed. Their running game got mostly stuffed by a team that was – for much of the season – nearly the worst against the run in the entire NFL.

And yet the Bears were within five points in the fourth quarter.

What does it prove? It proves you never know in a Super Bowl. Passes turn to runs. Backups turn to stars. Dry turns to wet. And even longtime sufferers finally get to party. As Peyton Manning can now say proudly, “It could happen to you.”

Even you, Rex.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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