Miami Gardens, Fla. The New Orleans Saints, for decades the NFL’s lovable losers, used the biggest stage Sunday to answer the question their fans have been asking for 43 years.
Who Dat think they gonna beat them Saints?
The answer: nobody.
The unbelievable is a reality. The unthinkable has come true. The Saints reached the NFL mountaintop Sunday, knocking off the mighty Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV at Sun Life Stadium.
“Louisiana, by the way of New Orleans, is back!” said Saints owner Tom Benson, standing on a midfield platform while lifting the Lombardi Trophy over his head. “And this shows the whole world!”
And the Saints sealed the deal in dramatic fashion, with cornerback Tracy Porter intercepting a Peyton Manning pass and returning it 74 yards for a touchdown with 3 minutes 12 seconds left to play.
That was the only turnover in an otherwise brilliant game pitting the league’s two top quarterbacks, Manning and Drew Brees.
Brees was selected the game’s most valuable player, having completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns. His 32 completions tied the Super Bowl record set by New England’s Tom Brady six years ago in a victory over Carolina.
The victory marked the greatest moment in the sports history of New Orleans, a city ravaged by the effects of Hurricane Katrina five years ago.
“We had the entire city — and maybe even the entire country — behind us,” Brees said. “What can I say? I’ve tried to imagine what this moment would be like for a long time, and it’s better than I expected.”
For Porter, it was the second huge play in as many games. He intercepted Brett Favre’s pass at the end of regulation to set up the Saints’ overtime victory against Minnesota in the NFC championship game.
This was the first Super Bowl appearance for the Saints, who beat three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks — Arizona’s Kurt Warner, Favre and Manning — to reach the game and earn a victory.
The Colts were looking to win their second Lombardi Trophy in four years, and took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The Saints stayed close, however, with two field goals in the second quarter.
Then, at the start of the third quarter, New Orleans opened in the boldest way, with an onside kick. They recovered the ball, setting up a 58-yard touchdown drive for a 13-10 lead. That possession ended with a highlight-reel catch and carry by running back Pierre Thomas for a 16-yard touchdown.
Indianapolis, which was favored by 4 1/2 points, answered on the following possession. They reclaimed the lead with a 78-yard drive capped by Joseph Addai’s four-yard touchdown run.
But the Colts didn’t hold that lead for long. The Saints, behind the spectacularly accurate passing of Brees, moved back into scoring range at the end of the third quarter, and Garrett Hartley nailed a 47-yard field goal. He became the first player in Super Bowl history to make three field goals of at least 40 yards.
The Saints pulled away for good in the fourth quarter with a pair of touchdowns — a two-yard scoring reception by Jeremy Shockey, and Porter’s interception return.
Porter attributed his pivotal play to “great film study by me, a great jump, and a great play.”
It meant the world to him, and maybe even more to his home state.
“Words can’t describe how much this means for New Orleans,” he said. “I am a Louisiana native, and this is real big.”