Super Bowl column: Saints gamble their way to victory
By MIKE LOPRESTI
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It had to happen this way for the New Orleans Saints, for the fairy tale to be perfect. They could not just win the Super Bowl. Champions from unscarred places do that. They needed a fitting New Orleans way to do it.
Back home, their city has become an expert in coming back.
And here the Saints were, down 10-0 and looking like Peyton Manning fodder.
Back home, being bold and fearless and inventive became as much a daily requirement as the toothbrush.
Here, Sean Payton called an onside kick to begin the second half and transform the game. It will live as long as there are Super Bowl coaching stories to tell, the act of a riverboat gambler straight off the Mississippi. How long has New Orleans honored such men?
Back home, they yearn for heroes to help the rebirth.
Here, the quarterback who has taken New Orleans to his heart out-Manninged Peyton Manning. Drew Brees threw 17 passes in the second half Sunday night. He missed one.
Back home, they know a little about overcoming odds. They've been asked to do it for more than four years, ever since the wind and water came in.
Here, the Saints beat the team they were not supposed to be able to beat, by outplaying the quarterback they were not supposed to be able to outplay.
Does the sun rise in New Orleans Monday like it hasn't risen since 2005?
Who Dat Nation can decide that on the way to the victory parade.
"New Orleans is back," Saints owner Tom Benson said, holding up the Lombardi Trophy. "And this shows the whole world."
"This is a blessing to the city of New Orleans," linebacker Jonathan Vilma said.
The Saints won 31-17 Sunday night, and anyone watching understands the moment that truly began to happen.
What must the halftime have been like for Payton? As the rock show shook the stadium - The Who meets Who Dat - he had to watch the minutes go, knowing he was about to launch one of the most brazen plots in Super Bowl annals.
Try an onside kick to start the second half? You're already trailing 10-6 and you're going to take the chance of giving Peyton Manning the ball with only 40 yards to go for a touchdown?
Do that, when another roll-the-dice move - going for a touchdown on 4th and 1 in the second quarter - had come up stuffed?
If it fails and the Colts go up 17-6, you're cooked in a pot faster than jambalaya. But you only think that way if you're worried it won't work.
Payton understood this was the night to hold nothing back.
Back home, his city would have wanted no less.
So the onside kick worked, as the Colts snoozed. Six plays later, the Saints had a touchdown. The Saints had a cause. The Saints had belief.
The Saints also had a lead. They later lost it, then got it back. The third quarter rolled into the fourth, which Manning owns as surely as he owns his garage.
But not this time. Not against this team. The Saints kept blitzing, trying to force the mistake Manning rarely makes. He could have exacted a horrible price. Or . . .
Tracy Porter could cut in on Reggie Wayne's pass route and swipe the pass and run 74 yards the other direction for the play that sent them dancing onto Bourbon Street. If they weren't already.
The NFL was littered this season with teams that almost but not quite beat the Colts. Others had the talent the Saints have.
Maybe they didn't have the purpose, or the gall. Or maybe the storybook ending was too far along to be stopped. Forty-three years and books full of misery had gone on long enough. The Colts didn't have a chance.
"We had a whole city and maybe a whole country behind us," Brees said. "There was a feeling it was all meant to be. It's destiny."
But destiny can't put his coaching name on the line, like he has nothing to lose, and never blink.
Only Sean Payton could. A New Orleans man, a New Orleans team, a New Orleans moment. The city not only lives, it parties.