MIAMI - If you were standing outside Dolphin Stadium on Sunday afternoon and watched as the Indianapolis Colts got off their team buses, you'd probably wonder how in the world they ever made it to this far.
Few teams, if any, in the 41-year history of the Super Bowl were less imposing-looking than the Colts.
"I know," said John Teerlinck, the Colts' garrulous defensive line coach. "They look worse than you. Our midgets and our runts and our misfits. We laugh about it all the time. . . after we kick your (expletive)."
Teerlinck isn't alone. Any numbers of Colts' coaches and players freely admit that if football were a contest measuring size and athletic ability, they wouldn't even be in the playoffs.
"If it was just a backyard brawl, I think we'd be in trouble," tight end Dallas Clark said. "But luckily, there's rules and referees. We don't really physically scare anyone."
It should make obvious sense why big always has been better in the National Football League. There are personnel directors who establish standards of height and weight for each position, and are loathe to make one exception on their roster of key players let alone many. Bill Polian, president of the Colts since December 1997, isn't one of them.
In the last seven drafts, the overall selection number of the Colts' first pick was 28, 30, 11, 24, 44, 29 and 30. Players with ideal specifications generally aren't around that late in the draft. When they aren't, a team either can settle for a lesser player to match their physical mold or a better player that doesn't fit the profile.
Polian's team of exceptions, described by one scout in the Colts' division as "ugly-looking and really small," wouldn't come close to the Chicago Bears in an eyeball test. Yet, the Colts should have more than enough to win Super Bowl XLI.
Wait, the bus driver just swung open the door. There's strong safety Bob Sanders, all 5 feet 8 1/2 inches of him, and free safety Antoine Bethea (5-11, 203). Here come cornerbacks Jason David (5-8, 175) and Nick Harper (5-10, 182).
The linebackers are walking off next. Gary Brackett, the middle linebacker, is listed at 5-11 but admits to being closer to 5-10. Cato June (6-0, 225) used to be a safety but was converted to linebacker by coach Tony Dungy.
The bulbous Teerlinck momentarily blots out the sun as he leads his D-line toward the locker room. When his players follow, you feel an ounce of pity because so many are so undersized.
Robert Mathis, the left end, might be listed at 6-2, 245, but don't go by that. His official height is 6-03 /8, and Mathis admitted his weight was down to 231. The other end, Dwight Freeney, looks like a giant by comparison at 6-1, 265.
Raheem Brock, the three-technique tackle, is a mere 6-3 1/2 and 265. Teerlinck believes nose tackle Anthony McFarland, a squat 6-0 1/2, is down to about 290, but McFarland maintained that he was 305.
Now it's time for the arrival of the offense.
Clark, who laughed heartily with a nearby teammate when asked how much he weighed, is first off. He's 240, not 252, the weight given him by those responsible for the weights on the Colts' roster. The third tight end, Bryan Fletcher, is a stringbean at 6-5, 230.
The great wide receiver, Marvin Harrison (6-0, 185), is just "a little skinny guy," according to the AFC South personnel man. Aaron Moorehead (6-5, 230) is massive for a slot wide receiver but can't run.
When the offensive linemen appear, it's the same old story. Guards Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott are around 290. So is the center, Jeff Saturday. Left tackle Tarik Glenn is listed at 332 but was described by the scout as "a big, fat slob." Right tackle Ryan Diem (6-6 1/2, 320) is big as a house but has slow feet.
You look at quarterback Peyton Manning, you see a big, tall man possessing almost none of the athletic traits that a Donovan McNabb, a Michael Vick or a Brett Favre does.
Now the Colts have left the loading area and the Bears' entourage has arrived.
First off is strapping Brian Urlacher, the epitome of a physically dominant football player. The outside linebackers are big. The defensive ends are rangy. Defensive tackle Tank Johnson is about as ripped as you can get and the other interior players aren't small, either. And Charles Tillman (6-1, 196) is the prototypical cornerback.
More typical of NFC teams, three of the Bears' offensive linemen have excellent dimensions. Rugged Muhsin Muhammad (6-2, 215) is just about the only wide receiver in the league who goes looking for collisions. So does running back Cedric Benson (5-10 1/2, 220). Quarterback Rex Grossman (6-1, 217) might be the team's only starter without much stature or athletic ability.
At this point, you might have reason to doubt the Colts as a 7-point favorites.
Do not. The Colts are a classic finesse team built to play on artificial turf inside a dome, and their less than auspicious history in big games on grass does make one pause. But in this case looks really are deceiving.
In seeking reasons why the Colts will win, you start with speed. The Bears will be shocked by the tempo of the Colts' offense and by how fast the Colts' defense runs to the football.
Then you come to Manning, the brilliant simplicity of the Colts' offense and the remarkable continuity and prowess of their coaches on that side of the ball.
Two weeks ago, the Colts defeated New England and Tom Brady, a better team than the Bears. They did it by overcoming a 21-3 deficit with scoring drives of 80, 76, 76, 67, 59 and 80 yards.
In that game, the Colts never once put four wide receivers on the field. They never lined up three split receivers on a side. They never used a bunch formation. They almost never shifted or employed motion.
With almost every NFL team giving new meaning to multiplicity on offense, the Colts are about as static as static can be. Nowadays, it's hard to find an offense that will go more than a snap or two in succession without changing personnel.
But the Colts are dramatically different.
Of Harrison's 78 plays against New England, he was wide right on 76. The other wide receiver, Reggie Wayne, was outside left 57 times and slot left 14 times among his 81 snaps.
The third split receiver usually was Clark, who played 25 snaps from the left slot and 20 from the right slot. Clark was used as a conventional tight end on 34 snaps, and in those situations when the Colts wanted a third wide receiver it was Moorehead on 24.
Offensive coordinator Tom Moore and his wide receiver, offensive line, quarterback and running back coaches all have been together for five seasons. Manning, Harrison and Wayne have been together since `01. Clark arrived in `03.
The element of deception comes with Manning's machinations. He goes to the line with a suggested play, his players line up where they almost always line up, he waits for the defense to commit and calls the play.
"We don't try to out-scheme people," quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell said. "We're fundamental and basic."
Unless Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera can confuse Manning with looks he didn't anticipate, good luck. The problem for Rivera is that his defense isn't deceptive and has shown only a few blitzes.
The Bears must pressure Manning with their four linemen because their defensive backs won't be able to play man coverage against Harrison and Wayne. That rush might materialize but probably won't largely because Howard Mudd does such a masterful job with a group of offensive linemen that most teams wouldn't want.
"They've gotten to the point where their offensive line is almost irrelevant," the AFC South scout said. "They do a nice job of coaching it. They just kind of get in your way for a little bit and it's OK. Ball's gone or they're running a screen."
In completely understated fashion, the Colts are arrogant on offense. They're saying, "We don't care if you know where we are. We have Manning, we have fantastic receivers and we have a superior coaching staff."
It's a formula that won't win the Colts any body-building contests but should win them their first Super Bowl.