There has never been a black head coach in the 41-year history of the Super Bowl, but when this season's big game kicks off a week on Sunday both sidelines will be under the guidance of an African American.
Tony Dungy, of the Indianapolis Colts, will face his long-time friend and former colleague, Lovie Smith, head man of the Chicago Bears, in Super Bowl XLI in Miami on 4 February. The Bears secured their first appearance in the NFL's championship game for 21 years with a 39-14 thrashing of the New Orleans Saints. Four hours later, the Colts rallied from a 21-3 deficit to beat the New England Patriots 38-34.
Achievement for black players is nothing new - Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl when his five touchdowns helped Washington to defeat Denver 19 years ago - but for coaches progress has been slower. The news that both Dungy and Smith have smashed one of sport's few remaining colour bars is likely to have repercussions far beyond American football. In the United States it is already a moment for political and social reflection.
"They are evidence of the unfolding of the American Dream," said the civil rights activist the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Charles Tillman, a defensive player with the Bears, said: "I am thankful for everybody who fought for us getting a vote, for drinking out of the same water fountain, for Rosa Parks, so we no longer have to ride on the back of the bus. A lot of people gave up their lives for that. I think Lovie and Tony Dungy represent everything they stood for."
The Bears had the easier passage. The visiting Saints, the Cinderella story of the season in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, seemed overwhelmed by the occasion at snowy Soldier Field. They conceded four turnovers and never threatened. The Bears built a 16-0 lead before half-time and, following a pair of touchdown runs from Thomas Jones, another from Cedric Benson, and a Rex Grossman pass to Bernard Berrian, sealed their first Super Bowl berth since 1985.
The drama in Indianapolis was more compelling. The Patriots, winners of three of the past five Super Bowls, built a 21-6 half-time lead but the Colts came alive in the second half to tie the scores at 28-28. The Patriots edged ahead again until, with a minute left, the Colts took the lead when Joseph Addai powered home on a three-yard run. Less than a week after Martin Luther King Day, and just before Black History Month, two black coaches were bound for the Super Bowl.
"I'm proud of being an African American," Dungy said. "I'm proud of Lovie. It's going to be special."
* Bill Parcells, 65, retired from coaching yesterday, leaving the Dallas Cowboys after four seasons. His NFL head-coaching career featured three Super Bowl appearances and two titles.
Results: AFC Championship Game Indianapolis Colts 38 New England Patriots 34; NFC Championship Game Chicago Bears 39 New Orleans Saints 14.Reuse content