Throughout most of his football life, Drew Brees has probably felt like Rodney Dangerfield. He gets no respect. After finishing High School in Austin with a 28-0-1 record as a starter, none of the major Texas colleges offered him a scholarship. So he went to Purdue where he broke all the Big Ten passing records. But because he's undersized, he fell to San Diego in the second round of the draft. After 3 years, San Diego decided it was time to go in another direction so they drafted Eli Manning who was quickly traded for Phillip Rivers. That's when Brees started lighting it up and even made the pro bowl, but with Rivers waiting in the wings the Chargers only gave him a lowball offer that was on par with what backups make. In his final game with the Chargers, only minutes away from a big free agent pay day, the Broncos Gerard Warren crushed the QB, damaging his rotator cuff and completely tearing his labrum 360 degrees. With concerns over how he'd come back from the injury, only the Saints made a strong push to sign him. He quickly validated their faith in him by becoming only the second passer in league history to have four consecutive 4,000 yard passing seasons. But just as things were going well, adversity struck again when his mom, who was under investigation for fraud, took an overdose of pills in August and killed herself. She was 59.
Rising above it all, Brees led the Saints to their best start in franchise history and their first Super Bowl appearance. But still no one gave them any respect. Tony Dungy was so confident in the Colts he was quoted as saying about Manning, "I think they're going to be so far ahead that people are going to say, 'Oh, ho-hum, he played a good game, they won by two scores, the Colts won their second championship.' He's going to have those rings Sunday night. I don't think it's going to be close." And there's little doubt that on paper, the Colts are the better team. Too bad for them the game's not played on paper. And what was Tony Dungy thinking anyways? When are people going to learn not to create poster board material? So while the Colts may have the better team, and their fans feel they deserved to win, in the words of Clint Eastwood in the movie "Unforgiven", just before he shoots Gene Hackman, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."
Breese completed 32 of his 39 passes for 288 yards and 2 TD's, while leading the resiliant Saints to a stunning 31-17 victory. But as is usually the case, this game came down to a few key plays. None was bigger than the decision to try an onside kick to start the second half. Generally speaking, onside kicks work about 10% of the time. But that's when teams are expecting them. When teams are caught by surprise, they work 60-70% of the time. "We were really excited when he made the call," Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas said, "That changed everything." Although, not everyone was excited. Saints rookie punter Thomas Morstead, who was going to have to attempt the kick said, "For 20 minutes, I sat at my locker terrified. Not worried, terrified." The kick bounced off the Colts receiver Hank Baskett, and Chris Reis recovered the ball for the Saints. Brees efficiently led his team down the field for a TD and, after starting the game in a 10-0 hole, they now found themselves up 13-10. Considering that Manning, who threw for 333 yards, took the Colts offense down the field for a TD when he finally did get the ball in the second half, it's a safe bet that without the onside kick the Saints would have found themselves in a 17-6 hole instead of being down by only 4.
Brees may have been named the MVP of the game, but the Saints unsung hero was Garrett Hartley. Only in his second year, Hartley was suspended at the beginning of the season for testing positive for a banned substance. Even after his 4 game suspension was over, the Saints didn't bring him back onto the roster until late in the season. The reason they finally did bring him back was because Hartley has a stronger leg than John Carney, even if Carney is a little more accurate. And everyone got to see just how strong that leg was when he became the first kicker in SB history to make 3 FG's of 40 yards or more. If he misses any one of those three it would have completely changed the dynamic of the game.
Even when the Saints did make a mistake, not being able to punch it in from the 1 yard line on 4th down, it ended up working in their favor. But while the Saints were playing near perfect football, the Colts made plenty of costly errors. Pierre Garcon dropped a 3rd down pass that resulted in the Colts first punt of the game. Reggie Wayne dropped a TD pass that would have cut the lead to 7 and given the Colts at least the chance to try for an onside kick. Matt Stover missed a 51 yard FG that would have increased the Colts lead to 4 late in the game, but instead gave the Saints great field position. On a side note, can someone please tell me why Stover was in their in the first place? The Colts just went for it on 4th down from their own 48 and succeeded. Why didn't they try it again? Certainly Manning has a better chance of converting a 4th down than Stover has of hitting a 51 yarder. And of course, the biggest mistake of all was the pick-6 Manning threw to Tracy Porter. Did anyone else notice how Manning made almost no effort to tackle Porter? It's the Super Bowl. What are you saving yourself for?
If I didn't know better, I'd have thought Hollywood wrote the script for this game, complete with shots of Brees holding his son after the win. Even Jeremy Shockey got into the whole redemption thing by catching the final go ahead TD. But the best part of the night was when Len Dawson was caring the Lombardy Trophy to the podium. At first, just a couple of Saints players are there reaching out to touch the trophy. But soon, he's literally mugged by the entire team. I haven't seen someone faking a smile that bad since the last time I watched a beauty pageant. It really was cringe inducing. But eventually he did make it to the podium and the Saints are finally able to call themselves world champions. Even if by "world", we mean the United States.