American football: Clear-eyed Colts stand in way of Saints’ Superbowl fairytale

By Cade Lucas

Well it’s almost that time of year again. You know the one. It’s a Monday morning in late January or early February. You switch on the TV and, ‘Oh yeah, that Superbowl thing’s on.’

And so you lounge on the couch in your pyjamas till mid afternoon, trying to work out what a first down is and hoping the half-time show will feature Janet Jackson’s nipples.

That kind of sums up the Australian attitude to the Superbowl and American football in general. We’re strangely compelled by the whole spectacle even if we’re mostly bewildered by what’s happening on the field.

This time, though, things are different for the antipodean gridiron tragic. Gone are the days where the Superbowl was merely an excuse to put Don Lane back on television. Firstly, through Fox Sports and, more recently, the arrival of One HD, American football on television is no longer the anomaly it once was, and rather than having to wait until the final game of the season for some live NFL action, the Australian viewer can more or less watch the whole season from start to finish.

And so interest has risen. While this year’s clash between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts lacks the Australian angle that Ben Graham’s appearance with the Arizona Cardinals provided last year, anyone who’s even paid partial attention to this NFL season knows this match carries with it an abundance of compelling storylines.

No one needs an intricate understanding of the American game to know why New Orleans have virtually all but the most ardent Colts fans ‘rooting’ for them. They’re the underdogs, the sentimental favourites, everybody’s second team.

Having been known unlovingly as the ‘Aints’ (even by their own fans) for much of their dreadful history, New Orleans have risen remarkably over the last few years. Led by head coach Sean Payton, inspirational quarterback Drew Brees and livewire running back Reggie Bush, the Saints powered to a NFC best 13-3 record this season, before post-season wins over Arizona and Minnesota secured them their first ever trip to the Superbowl.

But for most fans these are mere details. The real reason that sentiment is flowing so overwhelmingly in their direction is, of course, Hurricane Katrina. The most destructive storm to ever hit the U.S mainland, Katrina all but flattened the city of New Orleans, but strangely has acted as something of a beachhead for its much-maligned football team.

Since the storm struck during the 2005 season the Saints have recorded 2 of the 9 winning seasons in franchise history. A Superbowl win on Monday morning would signal the culmination of the Saints’ rise from mediocrity and may provide the impetus for the rest of the recovering city to follow.

Unfortunately for the Saints and their heaving bandwagon, the Indianapolis Colts don’t do sentiment. In fact, the Colts don’t really do emotion. A ruthless, metronomic football machine, built in the image of their superstar quarterback Peyton Manning, the Colts advanced to the Superbowl with robot-like efficiency. They racked up a league best 14-2 record during the regular season, before brushing aside the Baltimore Ravens and the plucky New York Jets in the play-offs.

There’s a calmness about Indianapolis. They’ve seen all this before. Three years ago in the very same Miami stadium where they’ll face New Orleans, the Colts outclassed the Chicago Bears to win their second ever Superbowl. While having changed coaches and some personnel since then, they have the self-assured look of a team who are ready to win a third.

And why wouldn’t they be self-assured? Any team would fancy their chances with a genius like Manning in charge. The Colts’ modus operandi is basically this: stay solid defensively and let Peyton prey on opposition mistakes.

It usually works.

New Orleans will no doubt try to belt him from pillar to post; after all, they did it pretty well a fortnight ago against Brett Favre and the Vikings. Manning, however, presents an altogether different challenge. The pre-eminent player in the game at the peak of his powers, Manning is likely to be able to sustain physical pressure better than the creaking Favre.

Against the best defense in the league last time out, Manning copped a hammering early on as the New York Jets skipped out to an 11-point lead. Then, seemingly on cue, he got up, dusted himself off and guided his team to 24 straight points. Game over.

So how do they stop him?

Well, Manning’s father Archie was a star quarterback for the Saints back in the ’70s and Peyton was born and raised in the Big Easy. A Saints fan since birth, few people would like to see them in their first title more than him. He could go easy on them? Or maybe not.

Like I said, Indianapolis don’t do sentiment.

The Colts by 10.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    GOOOOO SAINTS!!!!!

    31-17

  2. Richard E. Jones says:

    YEAH, John.

    And Peyton was intercepted in most uncharacteristic fashion in the 4th quarter.

    The interceptor? A bloke with the unlikely first name (for a male) of Tracy.

  3. John Butler says:

    Richard

    Are any names really unlikely in the USA? Anything goes there.

    Peyton had a game he’d prefer to forget. Unless old home town sentiment got to him. But he didn’t look happy.

  4. Richard E. Jones says:

    I’M hoping for a much better 2010 for my boys, the Cleveland Browns.

    Bought a Browns’ cap in San. Fran. when there for 5-6 days last October. Their merchandise is just about the worst seller of the 32 NFL teams. The orange and brown isn’t much of a look.

    But the little Chinese American who sold the cap to us said it was the last Cleveland one he had in stock. I reckon he probably ordered in only 3 or 4.

    The Browns did finish off the regular season reasonably well nevertheless, posting 5 wins in total.

  5. Steve Healy says:

    Well done Saints, winners against the odds. I need to see some of the replay tonight

  6. Richard Naco says:

    I feel dirty.

    I’m sitting here wearing my 1995 version of the Saints jersey (#97) and just trying to cope with the overwhelming sense of discombulation that comes when my beloved ‘Aints aren’t the ‘Aints no more. This winning stuff – I mean it’s ok for Geelong, Arsenal & the Boston Celtics (some of my other great & long held loves) – but the Saints???!!! They were meant to be my moral counterweight, my proof that I wasn’t just a rider on the next passing bandwagon. And after the party that will be New Orleans for about the next six months (give or take a decade), will anybody else ever care about any other team?

    I almots wish I barracked for Cleveland right now.

    (I lie.)

  7. I am a fickle NFL supporter – I don’t really get the game (I’ve got the basics down pat, and am starting to get the hang of 3rd & goal, etc), and I follow whichever team Benny Graham plays for. Rather confusing last year when I leaped from Jets to Saints to Cardinals. I think I may stick with the Cardinals, though, once Graham retires – they seem to have embraced him best, and he’s become a superstar there (to the point he shocked all by laying an AFL-style hip-and-shoulder which more-or-less turned the game; to say the Americans were stunned that a punter should tackle so ferociously, if at all, is an understatement).

    Well done to the Saints today – it was a really good and close contest for most of the day, though the final scoreline made it look like a bit of an easy/comfortable win. Hmm … anyone else drawing parallels here? At least, for Saints fans, they won this one…

  8. Great game. As someone who doesn’t actually have a team per se, I was struggling to work out who to cheer for before I remembered:

    Four years ago, the Saints home ground sheltered thousands from the devestation of Hurrican Katrina. Four years ago as a a city struggled for hope recovering from Katrina; one of the worst natural disasters in history, it faced the prospect of their team packing the moving vans for San Antonio. This a city, known for its nightlife, but no sporting history. 42 years without a solitary championship, let alone a Superbowl appearance. This is a city that was screaming for success, this city and their fans (Richard included), have arguably endured more suffering and hardship than any other major sporting team. Not even the most bitter St.Kilda or Footscray fan would begrudge this fact. They deserved it.

    Their opponents were arguably the antithesis. Indianapolis have a relatively successful history but you struggle to root for them. They relocated from their home in Baltimore in 1983, and facing the opportunity of going unbeaten in the season and being regarded as the greatest team ever, tanked in the final rounds. They rested Manning, replacing him with a second stringer named Painter who arguably should have stuck to that profession. Add to this a coach who has being dubbed the ‘living corpse’, this is a team I could not root for. The only thing in their favour being that the Colts were the first team with cheerleaders. Yet even then this occured in Baltimore.

    It’s why I was over the moon when the Saints fought back from a worrying first quarter, and why I nearly wrenched my shoulder out of its socket as I cheered the intercept that sealed the game.

    Congratulations New Orleans and your fans. You deserve it. Now if only I can find a team to support of my own.

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