MIAMI — Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? The amazing, long-anticipated answer has come.
Nobody. Not when it mattered most.
Putting a bold exclamation point on what was already a storybook season, the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIV.
Quarterback Drew Brees passed for 288 yards and two touchdowns, and Port Allen native Tracy Porter returned an interception 74 yards for the clinching score to make New Orleans’ first Super Bowl trip in its 43-year history a success.
“It was all meant to be,” said Brees, named the game’s Most Valuable Player, speaking of his decision to come to the team and of the team’s ultimate moment. “It was all destiny.”
As the final seconds ticked off the Sun Life Stadium clock, the Saints gave head coach Sean Payton the obligatory Gatorade shower, lifted him to their shoulders and began a celebration amid confetti and fireworks, as thousands of Who Dat supporters stood at their seats and partied like it was New Year’s Eve and Fat Tuesday combined.
And who could blame them?
A franchise that contemplated leaving New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina trashed the city and its stadium in 2005 now brings the Vince Lombardi Trophy to a region that has seldom had reason to even dream such a thing could happen.
The win came almost 30 years to the day after one of sports’ greatest upsets, the Miracle on Ice. It matters little that, facing the 5‰-point favorite Colts, New Orleans wasn’t as big an underdog as the U.S. Olympic ice hockey team that beat the Soviet Union juggernaut in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
That year the Saints won only one game. But if Sunday’s game didn’t erase the memory of New Orleans fans wearing bags on their heads, it showed that these are not the latter-day Aints.
Facing a likely future Hall of Fame quarterback for the third consecutive game — and this time it was one who grew up in the Superdome’s shadow and as the son of one of the bad old days’ few stars — New Orleans was superior on both offense and, more surprisingly, defense.
Peyton Manning was trying to lead the Colts to their second Super Bowl title in four years and have a Manning hold the Lombardi Trophy for the third time in that span. (Younger brother Eli won it with the New York Giants in 2008.) Such heights are far loftier than their father, Archie, experienced while never enjoying a winning Saints season from 1971-82.
New Orleans frustrated Manning as it had Kurt Warner and Brett Favre in the playoffs. Though he completed 31 of 45 passes for 333 yards, only one was for a touchdown, as the Saints didn’t allow him to create the big plays that have been his hallmark.
When New Orleans took a 24-17 lead with 5:42 left, Manning had plenty of time to tie the game. But that is where Porter made the biggest play of his athletic life. On third-and-5 at the New Orleans 31, the cornerback stepped in front of a throw to Reggie Wayne and, after a couple of cuts, took it past a delirious Saints bench for a touchdown and a 31-17 lead with 3:12 left.
“When I saw my blockers in front of me and only Peyton (Manning) and the offensive linemen left, I cut back and ran it in,” Porter said.
Manning marched the Colts as far as the New Orleans 3, but his last-gasp pass bounced off Wayne’s hands with 44 seconds left to play, and the stadium began to rock.
After falling behind 10-0, the Saints climbed back with a combination of execution and a gambler’s nerve. The bold play didn’t always work. Instead of asking Garrett Hartley to kick a chip-shot field goal in the second quarter, Payton tried to run it in from the 1, and linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session stopped Pierre Thomas cold.
So, Payton doubled down.
Trailing 10-6 at the half, he surprised everyone with an onside kick that reserve safety Chris Reis recovered at the Saints 42. It ignited a drive that led to New Orleans’ first touchdown, a 16-yard screen pass to Thomas, and its first lead, 13-10. Though Manning would answer with a drive punctuated by former LSU star Joseph Addai’s 4-yard touchdown run, Brees responded in moving the Saints to one of Hartley’s three field goals and a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey. A two-point conversion pass to Lance Moore gave the Saints a 24-17 edge.
“Ever since you start playing football, you’re dreaming about playing in this game,” Shockey said. “I dreamed and prayed all day and night about being in the situation I’m in right now.”
More than an hour after the game, the chants of hundreds of other black-and-gold-clad fellow dreamers were chanting their team’s famous question.
It was, of course, rhetorical. At long last, they had the answer they wanted.
WHO DAT??? What an excellent football game!!!
Of course (to those who don't know), the title of this post is an old joke that we 'Aints fans USED TO say. But, no more!!!