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One Happy Saints Fan

Two weeks ago at this time I wrote the following about DB Tracy Porter after his franchise-saving interception of QB Brett Favre:

Favre made a mistake, but Porter made the play.  He saw the low throw, and saw precisely what he needed to do - anticipate, and get both hands under the ball.  The announcers seemed to put all the blame on Favre - a knock on him that he can't get it done anymore, that maybe he's a bit to arrogant.  That may be - but Mr. Porter deserves a boatload more credit than anyone his given him.

I'll remember the coin flip in overtime, the pass interference call, the gutty drive, the leap by RB Pierre Thomas to get the first down, and the 40 yard FG by K Garrett Hartley.  But the image I'm going to have of this game forever is going to be Porter's interception - stepping in front of that low pass, both hands under it, and then taking off in a fit of adrenaline, giving the Saints a chance to win the NFC championship.

It's incredible.  It makes me misty-eyed.  It may always do so, I don't know.  But it sure is today.
Two weeks ago, to *most* people Porter was a mere afterthought in the wake of the epic meltdown of the Vikings.  Now?  After the Super Bowl, I think everyone in America knows who Tracy Porter is.  Still think the loss was all Favre's fault?  (more)



The play which seems destined to be called "The Pick that Broke Twitter" is appropriately named.  And while the CBS and NFL Network announcers seem happy to re-cast this Super Bowl as a dominating Saints performance, this game was anything but.  Like the NFC championship game, this was a prizefight - and the final outcome was in doubt almost the entire way.

Going in, both teams obviously knew they were dealing with power offenses who feed off the big play.  Both teams knew they were dealing with aggressive defenses which feed off of mistakes.  Therefore both the Saints and Colts gameplans were remarkably similar.  Offenses: two hands on the ball at all times, and have the QB try to pick apart the defenses.  Defenses: leave the middle open, but don't let the big play kill you tonight.  It made for a lot less scoring than you might have imagined before the game - and it showcased the two best quarterbacks in the NFL, QB Drew Brees and QB Peyton Manning and their ability to dissect defenses.

I made the family shrimp etouffee this evening, put a few logs on the fire and put on the worn Saints Izod shirt one last time, hoping to will the Saints through one more game.  Bad things happen when I sit down, so I stood almost the entire game.  And from the get-go it looked like it might be a game filled with bad things as Manning just sliced and diced the New Orleans defense on their opening drive to lead to a FG by K Matt Stover.  After WR Marques Colston dropped an early rifle shot from Brees - had to be Super Bowl jitters - a punt led to anothe disheartening drive punctuated by frustrating RB Joseph Addai runs for first downs (after Manning, looking at the defense, changed the play call to go to running plays).  The 19 yard touchdown strike to WR Pierre Garcon had me wondering if my prediction for a three-TD Saints win might have been, well, a homer pick as the Saints were behind 10-0 and the offense not really doing much of note.

Little did I know - of the four incompletions that Brees would throw in the first two series, he would only throw three more IN THE ENTIRE GAME.  (And one of those incompletions was a spike to stop the clock!)

What's amazing is both Manning and Brees were so efficient and so incredible that the game just zipped by.  Few penalties, no turnovers, with each team (for the most part) tightening up right at the end zone.  Just textbook quarterback play, with Brees making pass after pass and the clock just ticking away.  After the earlier missed open pass to WR Marques Colston, Brees went to him at the beginning of the second quarter for two big first downs, and while Brees' sack from DE Dwight Freeney dampened some momentum the Saints finally got on the scoreboard with K Garrett Hartley nailing a 46 yard FG.  Colts 10, Saints 3.

A Colts three-and-out - and the Saints drive the length of the field, chewing up clock.  They drive all the way to the two hard line - now Brees' offensive motor is running, with RB Pierre Thomas carrying the offensive load and Brees distributing to Colston, WR Lance Moore and TE Jeremy Shockey (whose injury was underreported, but his recovery from that was a gigantic factor in the Saints win).  Only an unfortunate slip by RB Mike Bell and a perfect defenisve read by the Colts against Thomas on 4th down kept them out of the end zone.

Pinned deep in their side - and coach Jim Caldwell unwilling to risk Manning throwing the ball - the Colts three-and-out - and one punt and a couple WR Devery Henderson catches over the middle, the Saints are in field goal range again, this time a 44 yarder nailed by Hartley.  Colts 10, Saints 6, halftime.

Can you ever remember such a crisp, quick first half in a Super Bowl by both teams?  For all the talk of the Saints retroactively "dominating" the Super Bowl, the Colts led the entire first half and while I liked the Saints' chances trailing by 4 at the half, at no time did I feel safe during the halftime show.  The Saints played well, certainly, but they had to play a perfect half to stay within four of the Colts.  Could they do it for another half?  I still wasn't sitting down.

Yes.  Start with, oh, the gutsiest call in Super Bowl history with the onside kick.

*****

It happened almost exactly as the special teams coach might have drawn it up - as P/K Thomas Morstead, who had never attempted an onside kick in the NFL, ran up to kick the ball and then - as if in slow motion - turned across his body and dribbled the ball left.  The Colts were take off guard, the kick bounced off the Colts' player's helmet, and LB Jonathan Casillas won the scrum to get the football.  After the game Sean Payton said that he was trying to take a possession away from Manning, and it worked to perfection.

What gets lost, though, in that gutsy call is the fear that Manning would simply drive the length of the field and pick apart a Saints defense that hadn't figured things out yet.  The Saints didn't dominate the first half because their defense was spectacular - they hung in the game because the Saints offense was picking apart the Colts holding on to the ball while Manning was on the sidelines and only had two possessions in the first half - one in the shadow of his own goalposts.

In any event, the call put the Colts on the back foot and seemed to affect them in the ensuing drive.  Picking up where he left off, Brees went 5-for-5, but this will be known forever more as RB Pierre Thomas' drive, with a screen for a 12 yard gain right after the kick, a seven yard "barrel the head forward" up the middle, and the 16 yard screen pass where he did it all: evaded tacklers, plowed through others and finally just willed his body across the goal line to get the touchdown.  Saints 13, Colts 10.

Manning - who had to be ready to pop after sitting on the bench all game, and hadn't had a first down since the first quarter - promptly proceeded to show why he's Peyton Manning.   Again he was efficient - 5-for-6, including a heartwrenchingly perfect pass to TE Dallas Clark - and just a great field general, audibling out multiple times for runs, including RB Joseph Addai's 4 yard power in the end zone to put the Colts back ahead, 17-13.

Fans memories are short.  In the first three quarters of the game, the Saints only led for about five minutes.  Retroactively, it may seem like the Saints were dominating since they held onto the ball and kept Manning off the field.  As the game was going on, though, the scoreboard kept reading "Saints trailing the Colts" while Peyton Manning was hucking the ball like a guy who was going to win the MVP.  Manning was efficient enough to win the game, playing basically mistake-free football.  It felt like the first mistake might lose the game - but whose mistake would it be?

Even after the Colts scored the touchdown, the Saints didn't seem at all certain to get back into it.  After a nice pass to RB Reggie Bush for 13 yards that wiped out the down marker ref, a Saints drive stalled at the Colts 29 and led to a third Hartley FG attempt of over 40 yards.  If Brees hadn't been so perfect, Hartley could quite honestly been the MVP since he absolutely nailed the 47 yarder that cut the deficit to 17-16.

The 4th quarter started at 8:58 PM Eastern time - that has to be some sort of record, right? 

*****

As the 4th quarter started, the Colts were *ahead*, *had the ball* and Manning had just connected on a perfectly converted 4th-and-2 to WR Reggie Wayne in a spot where only he had a prayer of catching the football.  Folks may think that the Saints were "dominating" then.  I sure didn't.  I was very much standing.

Out of the shotgun - and Manning going no-huddle to try to keep the Saints "D" off-balance - Manning finally showed his first cracks on the evening.  Already barely in field goal range, he threw right to WR Austin Collie that was sniffed out by CB Malcom Jenkins for a three yard loss.  While nobody at the time saw it that way, this was a huge play - after a home-run throw to Collie was overthrown (and sniffed out by LB Jonathan Vilma, who would have had the pick had Collie not made an all-pro move himself to prevent it) a 48 yard FG try for K Matt Stover became a 51 yard FG try.  The kick was up - it had enough distance - but at the last possible moment shanked left and was no good.

Brees lines up with great field position.  As great as his game was, it would be this drive that would cement his legacy for good or bad.  He had to know this.

Brees orchestrates a perfect drive.  Again.  No pass goes more than 10 yards - he simply looked at all his options, many of them involving a home-run ball, and instead just zipped the ball perfectly underneath to awaiting receivers.  RB Reggie Bush gets a first down run, and later grabs a completion for a first down.  WR Robert Meachem then gets in on the act with a 6 yard catch.  Again, it's just textbook quarterbacking and making the perfect decisions every time.

It ends with a quick out on 2nd and goal at the 2 to TE Jeremy Shockey to give the Saints their first lead since the beginning of the 3rd quarter.  The 2-point conversion to WR Lance Moore looks incomplete - but Payton challenges, and the replay shows clearly that Moore put the ball completely across the goal line.  Two point conversion good, and the Saints have the momentum now: Saints 24, Colts 17.

That set up DB Tracy Porter on 3rd-and-5 at the New Orleans 31.

*****

At the time, Manning still hadn't made many mistakes all game, and folks forget Manning converted two big first downs to get the Colts in a pretty good position to tie the game.

But you never know when you're going to make the play to win the game, the season, the world championship, the Super Bowl.  Or make a second straight play that will forever - I am convinced of this - make me misty-eyed as a Saints fan.

It's worth taking the article from NFL.com to have the man explain it better than I could:
On a third-and-5 play, with New Orleans leading by seven points and Indianapolis driving, Porter saw Austin Collie in motion, read the Colts' formation and knew the ball was going to Reggie Wayne on a short in-route.
"We knew that Collie was a guy that they usually put at No. 1," Porter said. "Once he motioned down, we knew (Wayne) was going to run to the sticks. I saw him do that. I jumped the route, and the ball came to me."
 "I'd seen it over and over -- third down," Porter said. "That was a big route for them to convert on. Through the numerous amounts of film study that we've done all week in preparing for the Super Bowl, and it all happened just like I was watching it on film. I made the break on it, and here comes the end zone."
Boom.  Porter points at QB Peyton Manning, who is trying to get in his way (and DE Will Smith promptly pancakes him, presumably saying something appropriate while doing so, like 'You just lost the Super Bowl, Mr. Manning.').  Three points with the right hand.  Ball switches hands.  Three points with the left hand.  End with the Deion Sanders.  Touchdown.  It wasn't over, but it *was* over.  Another huge Saints win - the hugest - and once again, DB Tracy Porter is the responsible party.

I sat down.

*****

It was over.  The Saints were going to win.  Sure, it wasn't a done deal yet.  But somehow, everyone in America knew.  Peyton wasn't going to make it all the way back.  He'll battle, but he'll fall short.  It was over.  You don't recover from this.

Peyton Manning face.  OK, it's really over now.

Unbelievable.  The Saints won the Super Bowl.  They WON!  26 years of waiting for this.  26 years!  Endless years of reminders of "Aints", Mike Ditka, Aaron Brooks, Ricky Williams, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, and - for Heaven's sakes - Vaughn Dunbar.  Countless other teams making the Super Bowl - even the friggin' Falcons, with OUR DAMN KICKER! (K Morten Andersen!) 

All those Giant, Patriot, Packer, Viking, Bronco, Steeler, Cowboy fans.  For the first time ever, they're behind the Saints.  They did it.  And it was worth the wait.

I will never grow tired of those Tracy Porter interceptions.  Never.

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