MIAMI– A sellout audience of over 70,000 was not treated to the offensive barrage most prognosticators predicted the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints would unfurl in great weather conditions in Miami’s Sun Life Stadium.
Instead, football fans across the world — the game was broadcast to every nook and cranny in the world that has a television feed — was treated to a real, and I mean real, football game.
Every aspect of football at its finest was on display. A surprise on-side kick, masterful drives by both the Colts and Saints, a great defensive stop on the goal line, controversial overturn of a referee’s on field call on a two-point conversion attempt, and, a fourth quarter interception returned for a touchdown that iced the game.
When the clock finally read zero, left standing in the middle of confetti littered field was the Saints as they beat the favored Colts, 31-17. Imagine that! A team that has long suffered for most of its history as one of the NFL’s doormats, but miraculously now stand atop the NFL.
Just like our beloved Detroit Lions, New Orleans had not even come close to being a championship team. It has not been that long since the fans of Bourbon Street wore bags over their heads to protest the team’s ineptitude, but now all of “Saints’ Nation” is singing, “Who Dat say New Orleans is not a football city?”
I’m always rooting for the underdog, so it was easy for me to wish for the best for New Orleans. Plus there are times when games are much more than just games, and the Saints’ run through the NFL to the Super Bowl was divine intervention.
The Saints became the first team in NFL history to win three playoff games in which they had trailed by seven-or-more points. The stars and the moon and karma were all in alignment as New Orleans (in its 43-year history) won its first ever title.
They did not just win the title, they went out and took it from Peyton Manning and Coach Jim Caldwell. With the spirit of mountain men, world explorers and astronauts — the let’s go out and just do the darn things…the Saints did just that.
“Being down 10-0 in the first quarter we talked about it at halftime,” Saints coach Sean Payton exclaimed. “It is really a credit to our players and the coaching staff that we came out aggressive and did some things that help push us over the top.”
What New Orleans did was implement the most famous onside kick in Super Bowl history at the start of the second half with the score 10-6 in the Super Bowl. If the Colts recover the ball, Manning and company would have had a short field to traverse, and if they scored it would have given them a commanding 17-6 lead.
Instead, the Saints got a fortuitous bounce and recovered the surprise play call. From there, they used the momentum to drive 59 yards for a go ahead touchdown and a 13-10 lead.
“We all knew we were going to get the onside kick,” linebacker Scott Fujita said. “There was no doubt about it.”
Said Payton: “We have practiced the onside kick and I had a firm belief that we would get it done. We needed to do something to change the flow of the game and get our guys jump started.”
Added quarterback Drew Brees: “That is the type of team we are. We play with a very aggressive mentality and confidence, as evident by the onside kick. We came into the game knowing we had to play loose and take a chance in order to win and we did just that.”
Well, it worked.
Super Bowl MVP, Brees, established a Super Bowl record of 32 completed passes, as he completed a noteworthy 32 of 39 pass attempts, for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
However, the play of the game came with a little over three minutes left in the game and the Saints leading 24-17. I was on the edge of my seat as I expected Manniing to drive the Colts back into the game, but cornerback Tracy Porter had other plans as he jumped a pass route and came up with an interception that he took back 74-yards.
“To be an aggressive defense, you have to have players that can play,” Porter said, “and we have the guys on defense that can make the plays.”
The Saints made every play needed to hold off the Colts and more and now they have placed themselves in professional sports lore.
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.