MIAMI // They had carried the hopes of a storm-battered city with them into Super Bowl XLIV, but when the New Orleans Saints fell behind the Indianapolis Colts 10-0 it appeared their dream would end in one more buffeting. The Colts and their quarterback Peyton Manning, a son of New Orleans himself, were marching up and down the field at Sun Life Stadium, seemingly moving at will. But for all the yards they were gaining they were not quite able to shake the Saints, not quite able to defeat them.
Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans four years ago, the city has been in a fight for survival - and in Miami their Saints were too. And just as the city has begun to rise from the devastation, so too did its symbol of hope. After withstanding the Colts' initial onslaught, the Saints battled back to win their first Super Bowl, 31-17, scoring 15 unanswered fourth-quarter points to claim victory for a city that sorely needed one.
"It's unbelievable," said the Saints' quarterback Drew Brees, who was named the game's most valuable player after completing 82.1 per cent of his passes (32 for 39) for 288 yards and two touchdowns. "We played for so much more than just ourselves. We played for our city. "Four years ago whoever thought this would be happening? Eighty-five per cent of the city was under water. People were evacuating to places all over the country.
"Most people left not knowing if New Orleans would ever come back or if the organisation would ever come back [after having to train in San Antonio, Texas, all of that season and play their home games all over Louisiana]. "We just all looked at one another and said, 'We're going to rebuild together. We're going to lean on each other'. "That's what we've done the last four years and this is the culmination of all that belief."
It was not until late in the first half that Brees and the Saints seemed to shake off their jitters and begin to play the way they had all season. Once they did, things changed. For most of the second quarter Manning was trapped on the sidelines as the Saints' offence held the ball for all but two minutes and 34 seconds of the 15-minute segment. Indianapolis would run only six plays and Manning would throw only two passes for 16 yards - which is one way, perhaps the only sure way, to stop the NFL's most prolific passer.
With the Saints still trailing 10-6 at half-time, Sean Payton, their coach, decided he needed to take a bold step, electing to try an onside kick to open the second half. The surprised Colts' receiver, Hank Baskett, misplayed the ball and New Orleans recovered it. Barely three minutes later they had the lead for the first time, 13-10, when Brees threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas. Indianapolis would get the lead back but Brees's second touchdown pass put the Saints ahead for good, 24-17, with 5:42 left.
Manning then had the ball, there was plenty of time still to play, and no one in New Orleans was feeling safe. It was easy to forget the league's MVP had a far from impressive post-season record of 9-8. And it suddenly became even more unimpressive when the second-year cornerback Tracy Porter outthought the game's most cerebral quarterback with barely three minutes to play on a third-and-five situation at the Saints' 31-yard-line. Manning fired a pass as New Orleans sent a blitz at him, reading it properly but not reading the mind of Porter.
Knowing the blitz was coming and believing the ball would come out in a hurry Porter made a decision as bold as his coach's onside kick. He knew Manning would throw in his vicinity because Porter was one-on-one with Reggie Wayne, Manning's most dangerous and reliable receiver, in a situation Porter had seen before. Porter intercepted the pass on the run and he kept on running, sprinting 74 yards for the score that assured the victory. As he ran, the Super Bowl trophy was on its way to New Orleans. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org