In repeat scenario, cast likely to change

Colts will face salary cap issues in offseason

Pro Football

Super Bowl Xli

February 06, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

MIAMI -- As soon as the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl on Sunday night, they doused coach Tony Dungy with Gatorade twice and lifted him high on their shoulders.

Twelve hours after the Colts' first NFL title since moving from Baltimore, Dungy appeared ready to try to reach those heights again.

Dungy, who is under contract through the 2009 season, said he intends to return next season.

"Every year, for probably the last three or four years, I've evaluated where I am at the end of the season," said Dungy, whose Colts beat the Chicago Bears, 29-17, in a soaking rain at Dolphin Stadium. "I still have a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the game, and after a night like last night, how could you not love it?

"So I'm not burned out, I'm not tired at all. I'm very fired up and looking forward to coming back. But I'll evaluate it and see where we'll go."

It took Dungy eight days after last season ended before officially committing to coming back.

The suicide of his eldest son, James, 18, had fueled speculation last season that the coach might consider walking away from the game to spend more time with his family.

Dungy, 51, seems to have already made his mind up about returning for his sixth season in Indianapolis.

"Generally, after a couple of days, you feel like everything is rolling," Dungy said. "I do look forward to helping these guys defend this title."

Even with Dungy back, the Colts could have a different look next season.

Indianapolis is just $2.6 million under next season's salary cap and has some major decisions entering free agency.

The most important issue is whether the Colts will be able to retain three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney, one of the league's best pass rushers.

Other free agents include Pro Bowl linebacker Cato June, running back Dominic Rhodes, cornerback Nick Harper, linebacker Rob Morris and returner Terrence Wilkins.

The Colts will take 10 days off before reconvening for personnel meetings.

"It's difficult to repeat in this league," Dungy said. "It's so competitive that any little slippage is not going to allow you to get back to the top. We know how tough it is to get here and to continually be there takes something special. But I think I have special guys."

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, partied with teammates until 4:30 a.m. before returning to his hotel, where he watched game highlights for another couple of hours.

The biggest surprise of the post-game celebration came from Dungy when he passed his cell phone to Manning.

"I was talking to a friend on the phone, and Tony said, `You better take this call,' " Manning said. "I said `Why?' and he said, `Take this call.' So I hung up on my friend, and it was the president congratulating us and inviting us to the White House."

Manning's other memories will be the countless high-fives and hugs he shared with teammates after the game, because it won't be the same team next season.

"That's why you want to take advantage of the moment and take advantage of the team you have now," said Manning, who was 25-for-38 passing for 247 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl. "There's no question that there will be changes. Who knows how many changes?"

Manning returned to Indianapolis yesterday afternoon for a parade and then will head to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Shortly after, he will begin to focus on next season.

Despite validating himself as a championship quarterback, Manning said he doesn't want "the pass" given to Super Bowl quarterbacks who fail to follow up those seasons with productive ones.

"I want to be held accountable each and every year," Manning said. "Next year my goal is to be a better quarterback because I feel like I should because of the experience that I gained this year. And I think you've got to go out and earn it each and every year."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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