MIAMI—As devastating as their 29-17 Super Bowl XLI loss to the Colts was for the proud Chicago Bears, it was worse for their coach: Lovie Smith will forever be remembered as the first African-American coach to lose a Super Bowl.
"I give full credit to the Colts," Smith said, exhibiting admirable class and dignity by speaking to reporters moments after the game ended, despite the heartbreak he certainly felt at failing on football's biggest stage during the first Sunday of Black History Month. "We were outplayed and outperformed today, but I'm proud of my team. I just hope they are still proud of me."
Smith became the first black coach to lead his team to the Super Bowl less than three weeks ago when his Bears defeated the New Orleans Saints mere hours before the Colts advanced past the Patriots. His story was covered to exhaustion by the media, who made endless comparisons of Smith and Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl. However, some say the comparisons break down when considering that in his Super Bowl, Williams, unlike Smith, won.
"Let's not forget that this is still a great moment for any coach," said Dan Marino, who covered the game for CBS. "No, Lovie Smith didn't call a perfect game. No, it wasn't his day. Should he have done some things differently? Of course. But at the end of the day, I hope we can see this as something more than a huge disappointment for the black community."
"I just hope this doesn't become a focus for negativity," said CBS' Shannon Sharpe. "Responsible people, truly knowledgeable people, will be looking at all the positive achievements black coaches made this year—Smith's among them. I know that certain people will say that it just isn't time yet for a black coach to win the Super Bowl. And even though Smith lost, I think those people are just wrong."
With Smith's dubious place in history now assured, prominent figures around the league worry that his ignominious loss will only add to the stereotypes surrounding black coaches.
"Will this feed the stereotypes about African-Americans? Probably," said Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, who says he has "enormous respect" for Smith's coaching ability and work ethic. "There will be those who look at the Super Bowl and say the same old crap they've been saying forever—'See? Black coaches can't coach in the rain. Black-coached teams turn the ball over too much. Black coaches' quarterbacks are overrated panicky idiots who throw the ball downfield without even looking and get picked off.' Bunch of crap, of course. But after Sunday's game, it's going to be that much harder for him to shake that off."
"I'm sorry, but Lovie Smith let us all down," said Tony Dungy, the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl. "I'm sorry, I love the guy—you know Lovie used to work for me—but he was totally outcoached out there. He looked lost—the other team had him spinning his wheels, looking helpless, unable to cover his weaknesses. It infuriates me that America had to see a black man so totally outmaneuvered in the biggest game of the season."
"Face it, Lovie got beat bad," Dungy added. "America really needed an African-American coach to win that game. And thanks to Lovie Smith, we got to see an African-American lose."