American Football: Mardi Gras in Miami as Saints win first Super Bowl
The New Orleans Saints completed their long-awaited transformation from chumps to champions by defeating the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in the Super Bowl to claim their first NFL title.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns as he out-duelled the Colts' Peyton Manning to help the Saints recover from a 10-point first-quarter deficit.
"We just believed in ourselves," said Brees, who was named Most Valuable Player (MVP).
"We knew we had an entire city, maybe an entire country behind us. We're feeling it was all meant to be. It was destiny. Mardi Gras may never end."
The Mardi Gras-style celebration in the chilly Dolphin Stadium began when cornerback Tracy Porter picked off a Manning pass with just over three minutes left and raced 74 yards for a score to give the Saints a 31-17 lead.
"It's the kind of play we run a lot and Porter just made a great play," said a dejected Manning, a former New Orleans resident who finished with 31 completions in 45 attempts for 333 yards, one touchdown and that one very costly interception.
"Just very disappointing."
The Saints have been a ray of hope for beleaguered New Orleans since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, leaving death and destruction in its wake.
"Coming to New Orleans and having that opportunity there was definitely a calling," said Brees. "It was an opportunity that not many get in their entire life, to come to a city that had just been devastated by a natural disaster.
"Not only were we rebuilding an organization and a team, but also a city and a region. It was a mentality that we've been through so much yet we're going to come back stronger."
New Orleans had looked shellshocked to be in their first Super Bowl as Indianapolis took a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Garrett Hartley, however, kicked two of his three field goals in the second quarter and, although they trailed 10-6 at the half, the Saints were back in business.
The Saints stunned the Colts with successful onside kick to open the second half and the dividends were immediate. A 16-yard scoring pass from Brees to Pierre Thomas on the ensuing drive gave the Saints their first lead at 13-10.
"It was a huge turning point in the game," said Colts defensive back Melvin Bullitt. "They scored on that drive immediately and we just couldn't stop them in the second half."
New Orleans still entered the final quarter trailing 17-16 but Brees hit Jeremy Shockey on a two-yard scoring pass to give them a 22-17 lead with under six minutes remaining.
Brees found Lance Moore on a two-point conversion that was ruled incomplete but the Saints successfully challenged the call.
Porter, who had a key pickoff against Minnesota in the NFC championship, then effectively sealed the victory with his dramatic interception, pointing to the Saints fans in the end zone during the last 20 yards of his run-in.
Porter said he knew what Colts receiver Reggie Wayne was going to do on the play.
"It was great film study, a great jump, and a great play," he said. "This means so much. Words can't describe how much this means for New Orleans. I am a Louisiana native and this is real big."
The Saints fans among the 75,000 in Dolphin Stadium erupted after Porter's pickoff, knowing their first title was imminent. Thousands stayed well after the game to savour the moment.
"The stadium atmosphere was a huge edge for us," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "I felt like we took the lid off the Superdome and it was outside. It was clearly a Saints crowd and we were happy about that."
New Orleans scored the first time they touched the ball as a new franchise back in 1967 but the team not only lost the game, the city waited two decades before their first winning season.
"Hopefully, they're in the streets partying," said Saints receiver Marques Colston. "These fans have come a long, long way."
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