American Football: The Saints finally march in

By Cade Lucas.

It was gonna be great.

I had all these grand pretensions of getting right into the swing of the Superbowl.

It was gonna be all buffalo wings, cheese fries and Budweiser.

Instead it was gluggy porridge and black coffee as I staggered out of my bedroom just in time for the kick off after sleeping in.

Still bleary eyed, I turned on the TV to find that Channel 10 had done their best to turn the Superbowl into one of their ubiquitous panel shows.

Andy Maher was doing the hosting duties, with Ed Wyatt and Steve Carfino the resident Yanks, along with erm … Dave Hughes, whose only qualification for being on the show seemed to be that he’s very experienced at being on Channel 10 panel shows.

Fortunaltey I missed most of the pre-match jibber jabber and so once Queen Latifah and Carrie Underwood and their vocal gymnastics were out of the way, it was on.

For all the talk pre-match about New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina and fairytales, the conventional wisdom dictated that if Peyton Manning played well Indianapolis would win. They were the favourites, with the better record and more experience.

If a lifetime of watching dull sporting finals has taught me anything, it’s that the experienced favourite usually trumps the romantic underdog. A quick browse of last weekend’s Australian Open finals results reinforces this sound logic. And anyway, New Orleans are known as the Saints, therefore condemning them to a lifetime of being romantic losers.

The opening exchanges only served to confirm my feelings on the outcome.

Manning started with the ball and began pinging passes to his receivers like he was throwing bones to his dog. The opening drive ended with a Pierre Garcion touchdown and soon the score was 10-nothing. When Drew Breese got the ball he was sacked by Dwight Feeney, a player who’d been struggling with an ankle injury during the lead-up and was lucky to be playing at all.

It had all the makings of a long slow Colts victory lap.

Too often you get the feeling that sides who benefit from the feel good fairytale factor just content themselves with that. They appear happy to be there, as though that’s enough of an achievement in itself.

Fortunately the Saints and their coach Sean Payton were having none of that. First, they found a novel way of nullifying the impact of Manning and the Colts offense: they just kept them off the field. From the start of the 2nd quarter until deep into the the 3rd, Breese and the Saints threw completion after completion as Manning cooled his heels on the bench for nearly an hour.

While the impact wasn’t immediate, the tide slowly turned. A Garrett Hartley field goal got them on the board and it was only the nimble feet of the Colts defense that prevented Pierre Thomas giving them the lead on the stroke of half-time.

It was 10-3 at the break and as The Who belted out Won’t Get Fooled Again during the half-time show, Sean Payton devised a plan to fool the Colts at the resumption of play. In the first of several risky calls, Payton decided to go with an onside kick, which The Saints then recovered to ensure possession for the start of the half.

A Pierre Thomas touchdown soon followed to put the Saints in front for the first time. With the momentum now flowing steadily in New Orlean’s direction, the Colts finally got the ball back late in the third. A rushing touchdown to Joseph Addiah put them back in front before Garrett Hartley once again came to The Saints rescue, nailing his third field goal of the match make it 17-16 at the final change.

While Indianapolis remained in front, any notion of favouritism had drained from them. Even from the suburban couch, you could feel the expectation building that New Orleans were about to achieve something momentous and that Indianapolis were simply getting in the way.

The Colts surrendered possesion early in the final quarter when Matt Stover’s 42-year-old legs couldn’t convert a 50-yard field goal. New Orleans were now sniffing blood. The resultant drive produced a touchdown for Jeremy Shockey and rather than content himself with another field goal, coach Payton went for the jugular and called for a 2-point conversion. The move looked to have paid off when Breese found Lance Moore in the endzone only for it be ruled incomplete. Again Payton threw caution to the wind and challenged the call, thus putting at risk one of his remaining time-outs if the challenge failed. It didn’t. The call was overturned and the Saints now led 24-17 deep into the last.

Fortune was favouring the brave; it was favouring New Orleans.

It was now time for Manning to return to the game and pull Indianapolis back the from the precipice. Hardly sighted since the first quarter, all that time sitting down seemed to have ebbed away at his confidence. His shoulders were hunched; his face was long; his body language reflected the scoreline. This didn’t look like a man ready to launch an audacious comeback.

Whereas his passes in the first quarter hit teamates like tracer bullets, this time they only found opponents. Tracey Porter picked off a Manning pass and sprinted unhindered to the endzone, with the Saints coaches and support staff going spare on the sidelines. It’s one of those scenes that’s set to be replayed in slow motion, with a U2 song as the soundtrack, for the rest of time.

While The Colts had one last drive, the 31-17 scoreline was never in doubt. As if to put an exclamation mark next to his and his team’s wretched evening, Manning threw a further two intercepts as he vainly searched for a miracle.

Over on the Saints side of the field they’d already moved on. The NFL doesn’t seem to bother with final sirens or whistles. As the last few seconds ticked away the Saints were having their very own Mardi Gras on the sidelines, with Sean Payton copping the obligatory Gatorade drenching.

Fairytales don’t often happen in sport and the cynic in me couldn’t see it happening here either. But after witnessing this, maybe next time I’ll forget about the stats and the records and just emerse myself in the story.

This was one for the romantics.

St Kilda take note.

Comments

  1. Good report, Cade.

    I’d read nothing on the Superbowl, but I gained from your piece a real sense of the tactics and feel of the match.

    Some nice lines, too. I especially like the bones to the dogs.

  2. Cade,
    It was indeed a great game.
    For the Saints, the aftermath will be interesting, with reports stating that up to half of their
    roster is out of contract.
    How bad was the half-time show featuring The Who ?
    Keith Moon and John Entwistle would be turning in their graves!
    Darren Dawson.

  3. John Butler says:

    Great stuff Cade

    Sean Payton’s call for the onside kick to start the second half may be the gutsiest coaching call I’ve ever seen. If it had failed, and the Colts had scored in response, he would have been criticised until the end of time.

    Fittingly, a riverboat gambler’s spirit saw New Orleans rule the day.

  4. John Butler says:

    PS: I agree Smokie, The Who looked like they should have remembered that line in “My Generation”.

  5. Smokie and John The half time show was an absolute shocker ! The boys couldnt even lip sync. Time to put the cue in the rack

  6. ” And anyway, New Orleans are known as the Saints, therefore condemning them to a lifetime of being romantic losers.”

    Not quite, Cade. Spot the odd team out.

    AFL Saints – St Kilda – One premiership in 93 years in the VFL, none in 20 years in the AFL

    NFL Saints – New Orleans – see above

    EPL Saints – Southampton – Over seventy years from formation until it first reached First Division/Premier League. No First Division/Premier League Championships, One FA Cup (1976)

    NRL Saints – 15 NSWRL Premierships, eleven in succession (1956-66). Perhaps the difference is that they are called The Dragons as well as The Saints.

  7. OOps, I should have named the NRL Saints – St George.

  8. Richard E. Jones says:

    SO Daff you’re clearly not an aficionado of the nfl.com website, one of my own “most visited”.

    For Peyton to throw interceptions was most uncharacteristic. I thought Colts’ running back Addiah was really good, and he got the touchdown Indianapolis needed in the 3rd quarter.

    After some initial nervousness, the Saints’ wide receivers were good and Shockey grabbed the pass for a vital touchdown. The Tracy Porter pick-off from a Manning pass was sensational.

    The Who are from my (ageing) generation but unlike the Stones they’ve lost their vocal cords. Daltrey and Townsend were woeful.

  9. pauldaffey says:

    JB,

    As a Southern-ophile (blame the evolution of language), I love that riverboat gambler reference.

    Sounds like it’s very true. I imagine someone in the States has written a report based on that very premise.

  10. Richard Jones says:

    WE should have mentioned Saints’ QB Drew Brees won the Super Bowl MVP award.

    Who dat? MVP stands for Most Valuable Player and is the equivalent of our Norm Smith Medal.

    But on a much bigger stage, of course. Daff and others — go to nfl.com and see the reports/pix of the New Orleans street party.

    It’s bigger than Mardi Gras, their annual shindig.

  11. pauldaffey says:

    Richard,

    I like American football but I don’t get to watch it and, no, I’m not a regular visitor to nfl.com.

    Will have a look at the pics, though.

    I’ve been to one game: Patriots v Oilers at Foxboro in 1993. When people describe the barbecues in the carpark at Foobball Stadium in Adelaide, I’m always reminded of Foxboro.

  12. Richard Naco says:

    (sigh)

    Geelong come back after trailing at three quarter time to win it all in 2009.

    New Orleans come back after trailing at three quarter time to win it all in 2010.

    And the celebrations in the Big Easy will segue easily in to the Mardi Gras in a week’s time.

    Moments to cherish …

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