The same quarterback once criticized for his inability to win the big game won the biggest game of all. And he did it on an awful day for quarterbacks.
It wasn't all Manning, who was named Super Bowl MVP. It was all Colts in a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in a rainy Super Bowl XLI.
The Colts were more physical, made fewer mistakes and finished stronger in winning their first Super Bowl in 36 years.
But if you're going to single out the All-Pro quarterback when his team falters in the playoffs, then it's only fair to point his way when the Colts play their way to the top of the football world.
The game turned their way in the second quarter after the seven-point underdog Bears had taken a 14-6 lead in a steady rain that increased as the first half went along.
The game turned the Colts' way, in part, because their quarterback was oblivious to the weather or the reputation of the Bears' defense. His first-half numbers were noteworthy on a dry day: 17 completions in 26 attempts for 193 yards, but even more striking in the rain, an obvious factor in three first-quarter drops by the Colts.
"He did what he has done all season," said Colts general manager Bill Polian, who took Manning with the first pick of the 1998 NFL draft. "He overcomes adversity. Whatever people throw at him, he handles it."
He had to handle more than the weather and a supposedly stout Bears' defense. Has there ever been more pressure on one Super Bowl player?
In two weeks of Super Bowl hype, the Bears and Colts often were reduced to secondary roles. The dominant question became: Could the game's biggest name finally win the biggest game?
University of Tennessee fans can celebrate the answer as much as Colts fans. When the former UT quarterback was criticized for coming up short in the games that mattered most, the whole Vol Nation took a hit as well. Critics always referred to Manning's failure to beat Florida, as though he alone were responsible for how the Gators dominated the rivalry in the mid-1990s.
It was unfair criticism then. It's history now.
And two of Manning's coaches and biggest fans were there to see it. UT coach Phillip Fulmer and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe took a break from recruiting to attend the Super Bowl. They arrived on game day and were scheduled to return home late Sunday night.
Fulmer, Cutcliffe and all the Colts fans couldn't have imagined a worse opening few minutes.
First came the rain. It started early Sunday morning and kept coming. It wasn't hard enough to flood a street but it seemingly was enough to disturb an offense as pass-oriented as the Colts'.
Next came Devin Hester, the super rookie kick returner for the Chicago Bears. All he did was return the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown.
Then came the Colts' opening possession, which was as dreadful as the Oakland Raiders on a bad day. After two penalties for false starts by his offensive linemen, Manning threw an interception.
Could an underdog ask for more?
It had bad weather in its favor against a team that plays half its games in the RCA Dome, where there's not a breeze's worth of weather.
It also had the early, early momentum. In fact, it had the fastest touchdown in Super Bowl history.
And if that wasn't enough, it had the supposedly superior Colts and their star quarterback playing like first-class klutzes on their first possession.
"Obviously, it didn't look great after the opening kickoff, but kind of like we've done all playoffs, there was no panic whatsoever," Manning said. "Everybody stayed calm."
After the shaky start, the Colts spent the rest of the game proving why they were seven-point favorites. And Manning spent the rest of the game proving why he's not only the best quarterback in the game, he's also a great quarterback for the biggest game.
Two weeks ago, he helped the Colts overcome a 21-3 deficit against the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. He rallied the Colts again Sunday, completing 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards in weather made for linebackers.
He already had the best statistics of any active NFL quarterback. He had the biggest salary. He even had the best commercials.
Now, he's the quarterback who has it all. He's got the stats, the commercials and a Super Bowl championship.
Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore was asked afterward if he were glad he wouldn't have to hear critics say, "Manning can't win the big one."
"I don't worry about that stuff," Moore said.
After Sunday, neither should anyone else.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.