Their longtime friendship made the day even more poignant.
Just four hours after the Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith became the first black head coach to lead his team to the NFL's promised land — the Super Bowl — he had company: Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, reports CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts.
But opportunities have been hard to come by, notes Pitts. In the NFL, where nearly 70 percent of the players are black, only seven of 32 head coaches this season were black.
As the first black head coaches to make it to the nation's biggest sporting event, Smith and Dungy couldn't help mentioning how special it was to be there together.
"It means a lot," Dungy said after his 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 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.
Whether it was the inconsistent play of quarterback Rex Grossman or the sudden vulnerability of its traditionally tenacious defense, few believed the Bears (15-3) had what it would take to get to Miami.
None of that matters now. Not after the Bears made enough big plays on defense and used a steady running game in the sleet and snow of Chicago to beat the Saints.
"This is why we play the game, to get to the Super Bowl and win," All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "This overshadows everything."
Manning and the Colts (15-4) know the feeling. The All-Everything quarterback from one of football's most talented families had two league MVP awards and a handful of records but had never earned a shot at a Super Bowl ring — until now.
"It could still be, 'Can he win a Super Bowl?' and then if he does, everyone will shut up," Dungy said.
The Colts are playing in the Super Bowl for the first time since they beat Dallas in 1971, when the franchise was still based in Baltimore. After beating three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady and the Patriots, Manning has the chance to silence his critics.
"I don't get into monkeys and vindication," he said. "I don't play that card. I know how hard I worked this season, I know how hard I worked this week. It's always nice when you can take the hard work, put it to use and come away with a win."
© 2007 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.