Super Bowl: Gutsy onside kick turned the game around for Saints
By Tim Kawakami
San Jose Mercury News
An onside kick won the Super Bowl for the New Orleans Saints, which couldnít have happened to a nicer, gutsier team and football-loving Bayou population.
Yes, a daring, triumphant onside kick won the Super Bowl.
How perfectly New Orleans: surprising, risky, raucous and, in the end, elevating.
I would imagine there will be a party on Bourbon Street for, oh, the next 15 weeks or so, and, yes, the people of Louisiana deserve 150 party weeks if they want them.
But it all started with the onside kick ó the first one tried before the fourth quarter in Super Bowl history.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton called it to open the second half, the Saints recovered it, and Indianapolis went into shock almost instantly.
Result: New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17, in a game that looked like the Colts could and would win easily.
Thatís the absolute definition of a game-changer, by the way.
OK, it must be said that MVP Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, Jonathan Vilma and Tracy Porter all played incredible roles in the Saintsí upset victory.
And history will record that future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning cemented the Coltsí defeat by throwing a stunning interception that Porter returned 74 yards for a put-away touchdown in the final minutes.
By the way, I was dead wrong on this game, as wrong I could possibly be, and Iíll be deservedly hearing from Saints fans for many days about it. (I wasnít in Miami for the game, sorry to disappoint Saints fans if they were searching for me there.)
But all other aspects of Super Bowl XLIV are just the details and the shadings of what happened Sunday.
The entire thing turned on one moment ó the onside kick, which symbolized the Saintsí full-tilt aggressiveness, clearly fueled New Orleans for the second half and literally snatched the game out of Manningís hands.
It was 10-6 at the time. If the Saints had kicked off normally to the Colts to start the third quarter, it seemed fairly likely that Manning would zoom down the field for a gut-shot touchdown and a 17-6 lead.
Instead, the Saints caught the Indianapolis return team totally off guard, and all hell broke loose in the battle for possession.
As bodies flew and the referees struggled to figure out what had just happened, that wasnít just a battle for the ball.
That was a battle for the game.
And, no shock, the Saints ended up with the ball and, eventually, the game. They were alert. They were aggressive.
They were launched toward victory from that moment on.
Six plays later, Thomas banged into the end zone after catching a screen pass, and New Orleans had its first lead.
Manning took back the lead on the next series, but the rhythm of the game had been permanently altered.
The Saints were the attackers. The Colts were so discombobulated that rookie coach Jim Caldwell, pressing the matter, sent out 42-year-old kicker Matt Stover to try a 51-yard field goal that was way out of his range.
Stover missed. The Saints took over in great field position and raced back down field for the touchdown that gave them the lead for good.
From the moment of the onside kick to the end, the Saints outscored Indianapolis 25-7.
Right now, I canít think of an in-game coaching decision that has had a greater positive effect on victory in Super Bowl history.
Bill Walsh was the primal force driving the 49ersí Super Bowl success. Bill Parcells pushed the New York Giants, Chuck Noll the Pittsburgh Steelers and Joe Gibbs the Washington Redskins.
Tony Dungy (who loudly predicted his former team would win easily Sunday) was the calm hand running the Colts when they won Super Bowl XLI.
But they all brought great teams into the game. Sean Payton had a legitimate underdog, faced quick adversity against a Hall of Fame quarterback and had the population of New Orleans yearning for a victory.
Payton knew he had to do something bold. He called for the onside kick. He shocked the world.
It won the Super Bowl. Thatís worth a salute, and one hell of a great party.