Smith, Dungy glad to face each other

Their longtime friendship made the day even more poignant.

Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy advanced to the Super Bowl with their teams on Sunday and gave the NFL a historic moment that was 41 years in the making.

As the first black head coaches to make it to the nation’s uber sporting event, they couldn’t help mentioning how special it was to be there together.

“It means a lot,” Dungy said after his Indianapolis Colts beat New England 38-34 in the AFC title game. “I’m very proud of being an African-American. I’m very proud of Lovie.”

Smith got there first, when his Chicago Bears won the early game and the NFC title by rolling over the New Orleans Saints, 39-14.

Asked who he’d like to play on Feb. 4 in Miami, Smith didn’t hesitate with his answer:

“We have to play someone and, in my perfect world, I would like to see the Colts be that team.

“Tony Dungy has done an awful lot for our game,” Smith said. “He hasn’t had a chance to coach in the Super Bowl. I would love to see it.”

Four hours later, it was a done deal.

“I’m happy for both coaches,” Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. “I hope we get to the point we don’t have to hear about it.”

Las Vegas oddsmakers made Indianapolis the early favorite by a touchdown.

“I’ll feel even better to be the first black coach to hold up the world championship trophy,” Smith said.

It won’t be easy, though, especially the way Peyton Manning and the Colts are playing.

“I just wanted to do my job and do my job well,” the Colts quarterback said. “I didn’t think I needed to be super. I just needed to be good.”

Manning has been dogged for years by critics who said his greatness was diminished by the fact he couldn’t win a big game. After leading his team back from an 18-point deficit, he finally has the chance – on football’s biggest stage.

“It sounds good,” a beaming Manning said. “It really does.”

For the next two weeks, Smith and Dungy figure to be in the spotlight as much as Manning, perhaps more so.

Smith was one of Dungy’s assistants when they were with Tampa Bay from 1996-2000, and they established a friendship that has grown in the years since.

When Dungy started in Tampa, there were just three black head coaches in the NFL. This season, there were seven.

Now, there will be two in the Super Bowl.

“Any time you’re the first person to do anything, regardless of your race or anything like that, it’s special,” Bears running back Thomas Jones said.

Chicago will play for the NFL title for the first time in 21 years, after Mike Ditka’s Bears shuffled through the regular season and playoffs and routed New England.

This year’s Bears put up one of the league’s most impressive records during the regular season. Unlike those dominant ’85 Bears, this year’s squad was second-guessed nearly all season.

“We’ve overcome a lot of doubters, but we’re here, we made it and it’s definitely a great feeling,” Jones said.