Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?
Well, Archie’s boy might have something to say about that.
In a stunning turn of events, the team led through its formative years by a strong-armed quarterback named Archie Manning has finally made it to the Super Bowl. And look who’s standing in the way of the first NFL championship in New Orleans’ largely forgettable 43-year history as a pro football city.
None other than Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
Archie’s son guided the Colts into the Super Bowl with a 30-17 victory over the upstart New York Jets in Sunday’s AFC championship game. About four hours later, the Saints stamped their ticket for South Beach by beating Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings, 31-28, in an overtime thriller that decided the NFC title.
The winners will face off for the ultimate prize Feb. 7 in Miami.
Sounding like the doting father, Archie Manning made it clear last month that he’d root for either of his quarterback sons, Peyton or Eli of the New York Giants, should they face the Saints in the playoffs. But the family subplot hovering over this game will give everyone plenty to talk about for the next two weeks.
Archie Manning was a hotshot quarterback out of neighboring Mississippi when was selected No. 2 overall by the Saints in the 1971 draft.
Everyone in New Orleans thought he was just the sort of player who could break the shackles of expansion ineptitude and turn around a franchise that went 14-40-2 over its four seasons in the NFL.
That might have been the case — if the Saints had bothered to bring in some linemen who could block or some receivers who could catch.
Playing nearly a dozen years in New Orleans, Manning became the pitiful face of a team that couldn’t seem to do anything right. He spent more time sprawled out on his back than a Bourbon Street reveler. The Saints never cracked .500 during the Manning era — in fact, near the end of his career, the team plunged to 1-15 and fans took to wearing paper sacks on the heads, calling themselves the ’Aints.
Manning moved on to Houston, then finished up his career in Minnesota, of all places. His career record as a starter was 35-101-3, a .263 percentage that ranks as the worst in league history among quarterbacks with at least 100 starts.
The Saints didn’t post a winning record until 1987, their 21st season in the league. But that’s all in the past now, erased by a high-scoring team that won its first 13 games this season, wiped out Arizona in the divisional round, then ended the twice-retired Favre’s hopes of getting back to the Super Bowl at age 40.
It didn’t come easy. The Vikings were in position to win it at the end of regulation before Favre improbably tried to pull off a tough throw back toward the middle of the field while rolling to his right, the ball was picked off to send the game to overtime.
Then, the team that spent a year on the road after Hurricane Katrina pummeled their city, then became a rallying cry for its rebirth, drove into Vikings territory to set up Garrett Hartley’s 40-yard field goal. The kick sent a celebrating crowd pouring out onto Bourbon Street for a party sure to last through the night.
The Colts’ victory wasn’t nearly as dramatic, and the revelry in a city known for fast cars and sleepy nightlife wasn’t nearly as raucous. Then again, this is a group that has come to expect success since Archie’s boy arrived, reaching the Super Bowl for the second time in four years.
Indy closed out the 2006 season with a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Now, the Colts are headed back to the big game, to face the team that hails from the city where Manning was born, the gold-and-black clad group he grew up cheering for as a child.
Who dat he’s got to beat to win another ring? Yep, it’s the Saints.