Underdog tag belongs to Manning 

Dey’re a great story, dese Bears. Dey’re not "Da Bears" from 1985, but dey’re "Dese Bears" and dey’re pretty easy to root for. Why? Because we love da underdog, dat’s why.

(Sorry, kinda hard to stop talking like Da Bears’ fans when it’s Super Bowl time, Chicago-style. Shoulda seen me yesterday ... I was actually shuffling like Sweetness and trying to convince the wife that runnin’ the ball was like makin’ romance. She didn’t buy it, so I didn’t get to run the ball all weekend.)

Da point (er, the point) is that we love underdogs in this country and the Rex Grossman-led Bears are about as under a dog as you’ll find. Under normal circumstances, we’d all be pulling for this old-fashioned dominating defense, led by the new-school version of Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus and Jack Lambert in the middle and beating the tar out of the Lombardi Trophy before hoisting it triumphantly in blood-soaked fingers.

Come on, the 15-3 Bears as a

7-point dog? No respect, we’d grump. And we’d root for ’em to rub it in the face of the superstar gunslinger on the other side.

But not this time. Not when the gunslinger on the other side is the mild-mannered, clean-cut, close-but-no-cigar Peyton Manning. Manning, you see, as the favorite, is even more of an underdog than the Bears.

For nine years, Manning has carried the expectations of greatness with class and character. And for nine years he has exceeded them all. He has won — a lot — and he has put up the most eyepopping passing numbers since Dan Marino rewrote the record books in the 1980s. But for most of those nine years, Manning has been part of a one-dimensional show in Indianapolis, without the defensive piece needed to complete his championship puzzle.

Well-chronicled have been his struggles against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in the postseason, and much has been made of his counterpart’s success in that fully matured rivalry. It was beginning to look as though Tom Brady was going to be this decade’s Joe Montana to Manning’s Marino, and when Joe Cool II had 60 full seconds to go 80 yards last Sunday, Manning’s spectacular second half looked to be in vain once again.

But with Brady out of last-second miracles, the door has now been opened for the world’s first Hall of Famer/underdog hybrid to validate his career with a title.

Manning has earned his own place in history, with or without a championship ring. But on Sunday, he’ll be playing for more than his own legacy. When he enters that first huddle in Miami, he’ll be carrying Marino with him. And they’ll be joined by guys like Barry Sanders. And Jim Kelly. And in a larger sense, Charles Barkley. And Patrick Ewing.

Manning will be playing for all the Hall of Famers — the best of the best — whose spectacular careers are considered diminished in the eyes of those who don’t understand that individual excellence cannot always overcome team deficiencies.

The Bears are a great story for Chicago, and for those of us who like the underdog — but Peyton Manning and his Colts are a great story for history, and for those of us who are tired of seeing the true kings of sports go uncrowned.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@examiner.com.

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