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The Honolulu Advertiser

Associated Press

Posted on: Monday, February 8, 2010

Porter delivers clincher for Saints

 • Saints, dat’s who!
Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

New Orleans' Tracy Porter, center, is mobbed after scoring on a 74-yard interception return late in the game.

MARK J. TERRILL | Associated Press

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tracy Porter

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MIAMI — Right before getting on the team bus to go to the Super Bowl, Tracy Porter sat in the Saints' downtown Miami hotel, getting his head shaved by his regular New Orleans barber.

Patches of hair left on Porter's mostly bald head included a rendering of the Louisiana Superdome, connected by a road to the Vince Lombardi Trophy, as well as "SB 44," a reference to the Saints' meeting with the Indianapolis Colts in the 44th Super Bowl.

"Now you can look at the Lombardi Trophy on the same road back to the Superdome," Porter said.

And that once unthinkable truth came thanks in no small part to Porter himself, a Louisiana native — and former Indiana University player — who made two of the biggest interceptions in Saints history in consecutive games.

His 74-yard touchdown on an interception of Peyton Manning gave the Saints a two-touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter of New Orleans' 31-17 victory over the Colts last night.

In the NFC title game, his late interception of Brett Favre stalled Minnesota's potential game-winning drive. The Saints went on to beat the Vikings in overtime to earn their first Super Bowl berth in the club's 43-year history.

When asked how it felt to make a huge interception against a quarterback such as Manning in such a big game, Porter had already been there.

"I got the same question when I picked off Brett Favre. Peyton, he's a phenomenal quarterback, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, such as the previous two quarterbacks we played in the playoffs," he said, also referring to Arizona's Kurt Warner. "I've been watching (Manning) since my time at Indiana put up points on the scoreboard."

Growing up in Port Allen, across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, Porter watched the Saints every Sunday with his family and friends. He remembers bags on the heads of embarrassed fans during the lean years.

Porter said it was a case of film study paying off. He recognized the formation, with Austin Collie going in motion, and knew Manning would be looking for Reggie Wayne right around the needed distance for a first down.

"When I saw Austin Collie go in motion I said, 'Oh yeah, this is the route they've been running all year,' and yeah, I had it in my mind I was going to jump the route," Porter said. "It was just like I was watching it on film and I made the break on it and here comes the end zone."

He followed a couple of blocks, made one cut, and there was nothing but open field in front of him. He knew he was going to score and pointed to the stands, where Saints fans were jumping out of their seats with delight.

"I was pointing at the 'Who Dat' nation out there," he said.

Manning called the interception a "great play."

"Porter made a heck of a play," Manning said.

Porter was drafted by the Saints in 2008 and earned a starting cornerback spot in his rookie season. But that year was cut short by a broken wrist in the first half of the season.

This season, Porter went down Nov. 15 with what was thought to be a season-ending knee injury at St. Louis.

"I was told that it was a severe knee injury and that I could be out for the year," Porter recalled. "During that time I was real down, thinking I wasn't going to come back — second year in a row — thinking maybe I was jinxed. I was going to be labeled as that player who wasn't durable."

The next day, Porter got good news. It was a severe sprain. His season wasn't over. He returned in Week 15 and played brilliantly in the playoffs.