Before I issue the obligatory congratulations to the New Orleans Saints for winning the Super Bowl, I must say that I predicted against them. Despite my immense hope that they would win, I picked against the Saints. After looking at the match-up for this year’s NFL Championship, I though for sure the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning had a second Super Bowl locked up. After Manning’s first pass of the game was completed to Dallas Clark for 18 yards, I was even more convinced that Manning was set to carve up the Saints’ defense and that the Colts were en route for another championship.
But as the game played out and the Saints rallied from an early 10-0 deficit to win 31-17, I began to realize why I am not an NFL analyst and why I am not a gambling man. Despite giving Manning (arguably the best quarterback in the league) the ball with just over five and a half minutes left, the Saints did what they did best and forced a turnover. Tracy Porter picked Manning off and returned the INT for a touchdown, giving the Saints a 14 point lead, and effectively, the franchise their first Super Bowl title. Saints quarterback Drew Brees played a nearly perfect game, completing 82 percent of his passes, while tying the record for most completions in a Super Bowl with 32. He had two touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He kept an aggressive, fast, and well-prepared Colts defense at bay, and, in turn, continually found hole after hole in the defense.
The game left me thoroughly impressed. The Saints were the new guys in town. All week, so much was made of the Colts’ experience and the advantage it gave them. Their last Super Bowl victory came on the same field; the team stayed in the same hotel, followed the same practice schedule, and had all the experienced players. The Saints had never been here before. They were bearing the weight of an entire city on their shoulders. And they wore that burden like the consummate professionals. They were neither shell-shocked nor overwhelmed with the stage on which they were competing. New Orleans came out and played a helluva ball game, allowing Manning to play well, but stepping up big in the crucial moments.
When the lights shined brightest, with the Colts breathing down their necks, driving and threatening to send the game to the first overtime in Super Bowl history, the Saints manned-up. They got the stop they needed, forced Manning into a rare mistake, baited him, and ripped a championship right out from under him. The Saints made it look easy. They took their lumps, and waited for their opportunity to strike. They didn’t let an early deficit rattle them, or knock them off their game. No, they just kept plugging along, biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to strike. And when that time came, they did not disappoint. It was an extraordinary showing of passion and desire and heart.
After the final whistle blew, and head coach Sean Payton had enjoyed his Gatorade bath, CBS showed a scene of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. You could see the enthusiasm of a city that had bled over onto its football team. And it was well deserved. A great season, with a great ending.