With a thunderous crack, in the arms of the Killer P’s they fell. Like mighty redwoods, their thudding collapse resounded throughout football. Indianapolis and Philadelphia defeated. Super signal-callers and sexy storylines sacked.

Peyton Manning, passing maestro. Smashed.

Donovan McNabb, just plain winner. Trashed.

Tony Dungy, genius reborn. Bashed.

Andy Reid, coaching legend. Crashed.

Eagles’ Defense, bend but don’t break. Mashed.

Colt’s O-Line, great wall of flesh. Slashed.

Again we see it demonstrated: the immovable object always stops the unstoppable force. Defense wins championships. Or as Madden might so eloquently put it: “Boom!”

In the case of the Indianapolis Colts, we should have seen the boom coming. From the instant their playoff jinx was lifted with the dismantling of the Broncos, the boys from Indy became the sexy Super Bowl pick. The team with the flashy offense, the redemptive coach, and the cerebral quarterback. The kind of team you write tear-jerking personal interest stories about. The team the casual fan roots for. The sexy team.

That’s all fine and good, except sexy teams don’t win championships. Unless they have an exemption from God, like Kurt and Brenda Warner. Ugly teams win championships. Ugly teams like the New England Patriots.ÊWith ugly players like Antowain Smith and David Givens. And ugly coaches like Bill Belichick.

No, I’m not talking in literal aesthetic terms, noodlebrain. I’m talking football aesthetics. I’m talking chin straps and zone blitzes. Post patterns and smelling salts. Goal posts and toss-sweeps. On those terms, the Patriots are ugly. Not sloppy. Ugly. Sloppiness implies sloth: lazy players and unprepared coaches. Just the opposite is true of New England. They win with hard work and solid X’s and O’s. They do more with less talent than any team in the league. This makes them ugly.

Antowain Smith? Buffalo retread. Probably has no right to be a starting runningback in the NFL. Tough to take down, but doesn’t have a great burst or much lateral movement at all. On Sunday, he bulldozed his way for 100 yards on 22 ugly carries. David Givens? Probably Tom Brady’s fifth or sixth best pass catcher. Not too tall, not too fast, not too much of anything. Against Indy he had eight ugly catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. Bill Belichick? Not much for media interviews. Cares more about X’s and O’s than food or shelter. Wears a hooded sweatshirt on the sideline. Frustrated the entire football-watching populace by settling for field goals on four separate trips into the red zone on Sunday. Got the sure points rather than make the sexy choice and go for six. Watched it pay off. U-G-L-Y. He ain’t got no alibi. He ugly. Like a fox. Like John Fox.

Yes, the Carolina Panthers are playing in the Super Bowl. Do not panic. You find this very disconcerting, I know. Why? Because at least Belichick and the Patriots have done the whole ugly-duckling-beautiful-swan-rags-to-riches-coal-to-diamond-glass-slipper-Super-Bowl-champions schtick before. We the football nation are used to their homeliness. But we must adapt to this new Panther ugly, this Carolina team of overachievers.

Two years ago, they were 1-15. They looked, smelled and tasted like a bad football team. And they still do. But to further demonstrate that coaching + parity = remarkable turnaround, they have been transformed from ugly losers into ugly winners under the tutelage of John Fox.

Perhaps, I am too harsh. They have some very legitimate super-star caliber players on defense. Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins and Dan Morgan are phenomenal talents. And on offense, Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster are a two-headed runningback monster every NFL squad should be jealous of (and hope to pillage via free agency). Wide receiver Steve Smith is Mighty Mouse in cleats, and the offensive line is passable.

But they’re still ugly. They out-coach you (ahem, Mike Martz) and out-physical you (ditto, Andy Reid). They win with willpower and preparation, not flash and panache. They win with Trent Dilfer Jr.

I know you’ve never heard of him. Half the time, he claims never to have heard of himself. In fact, Jake Delhomme is so dadgummed wide-eyed and fresh-faced, he transcends his nickname, “Bobby Boucher.” He’s such a naive, straight-laced, fired-up Cajun, Bobby Boucher should be named after him. On Sunday, Delhomme heroically outdueled Donnovan McNabb not with what he did (he completed only 10 passes for 104 yards) but what he didn’t do (throw an interception, of which McNabb had three). His first quarter touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad was so poorly thrown, that the Eagles’ defensive backs’ perfect positioning took them right out of the play. Luckily for Delhomme, Muhammad made a beautiful adjustment, came back to the ball, and gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead they would not relinquish.

So on to the Super Bowl they march,Êthe new ambassadors of ugly, to meet the reigning Lords of Ugly, the Patriots. At home will be the media darlings, the Colts and Eagles. And after losing his third straight NFC Championship, Donovan McNabb will face a Philadelphia frenzy of negativism from which he may never emerge. In this time of trial, he must wonder if there is any true justice. After all, on Sunday he may have played the ugliest game of his entire life.