By Damon Hack
January 24, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- The quarterback was standing with his father and his brothers, the owner was standing with the Lamar Hunt Trophy, and the rookie coach, at last, was standing with a smile.

The Colts had decked the Jets, 30-17, to earn their second trip to the Super Bowl in four seasons, giving one of the three dominant NFL franchises of the 21st century its latest opportunity to make its mark, and there was a feeling that something bigger than victory was happening.

"We are competing with history," said Jim Irsay, the Colts owner. "And it's something that means a great deal."

For Peyton Manning and the Colts, history will not be a perfect record, but it still may be a perfect season. The Colts are returning to Miami with a chance to join the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers as the only multiple Super Bowl winners since the Denver Broncos went back-to-back in the 1997 and '98 seasons.

"The history with us is going to be tied with Peyton's career, when he started and how long he plays," Irsay said. "So, if he's like Brett Favre, there's a lot more history to be written. You're trying to see how you measure up."

Of Manning's quarterback peers, only Tom Brady (three rings) and Ben Roethlisberger (two) have won more Super Bowls, and only Manning can add to his total this season.

The Colts' sterling reputation around the league would only grow, as well.

"I talked to [Patriots owner] Bob Kraft a couple of years ago when we won the championship game," Irsay said. "He agreed, there's nothing like the first one, but this is deeply fulfilling and we know we have another game to go. But it's such a remarkable accomplishment to do it the way we did it."

It was precisely how the Colts did it -- by resting starters during Week 16 and 17 and forgoing a chance at a 16-0 record -- that raised the ire of Colts fans and football fans around the country. Many viewed the Colts as kicking aside a chance to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins in winning the Super Bowl following a perfect season.

Instead, the Colts shut out the world and healed up their aching roster. Total vindication could be four quarters away. Irsay said it was rewarding to get to the Super Bowl the way the Colts did, "to win 14 and then to use that advantage to get ready to try to do everything we can to win a world championship."

All across the Colts locker room, pride was expressed in various ways. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne donned a white hard-hat that read, "Super Bowl under construction," the same hat he wore on the team's first day of training camp. Linebacker Clint Session recalled the calm of the Colts defense at halftime, after which it didn't give up a single point. And Cooper Manning talked about the younger brother he still teases to this day, despite Peyton's heroics, including Sunday's comeback victory in which he threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns.

With Peyton sitting in front of his locker, Cooper stood in front of him and recalled a high school basketball game in which Peyton thought the game clock was about to expire. Instead there was a minute left.

"Peyton threw [the ball] the length of the court and it hit the top of the shot clock, so [the other team] got the ball," Cooper said. "So inside of two minutes, I've always found him panicked. I'm glad to know he finally did something right."

Peyton shook his head and smiled. His Colts were on their way to Miami. More history could be waiting for them.

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