Super Bowl XLIV: Payton leads Saints to heaven

New Orleans coach makes decisive call to ensure 31-17 upset win over Indianapolis

They used to be called the 'Aints, a doormat team of the National Football League whose lack of success was a mirror of the stricken city where they played. But with their victory in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, the New Orleans Saints have achieved something beyond even beatification.

The scoreline will record that the Saints overcame the favoured Indianapolis Colts by 31-17. But bare figures cannot convey the import of the franchise's first triumph in the showpiece game of the NFL season, one that represents not just a sporting milestone but a huge step towards laying to rest the trauma of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Like cup finals and heavyweight title fights, Super Bowls often fail to live up their hype. Not this one, however. The Colts and the Saints provided an unequalled drama, replete with controversial plays, sudden reversals of fortunes, bold and game-changing moves by a head coach, a compelling duel between two great quarterbacks and – of course – a storyline for the ages.

The Saints might have been the people's favourites, but they went into the contest as underdogs, and for the first quarter the cold assessment of the oddsmakers seemed justified. The Saints looked overawed and overmatched, crushed beneath the weight of expectations.

Led by Peyton Manning, at least until this game generally regarded as the greatest quarterback of recent times, the Colts took a 10-point lead on a field goal and a touchdown, after Manning connected with the wide receiver Pierre Garcon. The play capped a 96-yard drive, tying the longest in Super Bowl History. At that point, few would have bet against a second Super Bowl for Indianapolis within four years.

But then the momentum changed, as it would prove, for good. Drew Brees, the Saints quarterback, had been hesitant in the early stages. But he found his rhythm. In the first quarter he threw just two completions out of six, for a meagre 22 yards. Thereafter, however, Brees was well nigh perfect, missing his target on only three of 33 passes, throwing for 266 yards and two touchdowns.

At first the rewards were slow to come. For all their dominance, the Saints managed only two field goals in the second quarter. But with the kickoff for the second half everything changed – and the Saints' Sean Payton showed why he is one of the most imaginative and risk-taking head coaches in the game.

"We're going to surprise them," he told the team during the interval. "Defence get ready, we're going to go with an onside kick." The gambit worked even more perfectly than Payton could have hoped. Not only did the Saints recover the kick, regaining possession on their own 20-yard line, but the ensuing drive resulted in a touchdown that put New Orleans ahead for the first time.

The Colts responded with a touchdown of their own, but it would be their last score. After cutting their deficit to a single point with a third field goal, the Saints scored twice in the last six minutes to make their fairy tale come true.

With 5:42 minutes left, tight end Jeremy Shockey barrelled over for a two-yard touchdown, capped by a two-point conversion that gave New Orleans the advantage for good, as well as a seven-point advantage that meant the Colts now needed not one but two scores to get the lead back.

But with 3:12 to play that calculation became superfluous as Manning, under intense time pressure, was out-guessed by the Saints defence. An attempted third-down pass was intercepted by the New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter, who ran 74 yards for a touchdown. In the Big Easy the celebrations could begin in earnest – and so could the debate whether Brees, not Manning, was now the league's premier quarterback.

In the final three-quarters of the game, Saints outscored their opponents by 31 points to seven. In this post-season, moreover, Brees has prevailed over three of the league's most decorated quarterbacks: Kurt Warner of Arizona in the divisional round, Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game and now Peyton Manning on the biggest stage of all.

Afterwards, Manning was generous in defeat. "We just didn't play well enough at certain times and in certain phases. But give the Saints credit. They made the critical plays when they had to and we didn't. And that was the difference in the game."

But history too surely had a hand in proceedings. "We're a team of destiny," Porter said. For no one was that truer than Brees. Discarded in 2006 by the San Diego Chargers, who believed he would never fully recover from major shoulder injury, Brees ended up with the Saints, one of the few teams prepared to take a chance on him.

Payton is one of football's gamblers, as he proved in Miami on Sunday evening. But no gamble was greater than the acquisition of Brees. And none has paid off more handsomely.

Voices
voicesThe Ukip leader on why he's done nothing illegal
Arts & Entertainment
artYouth club owner says mural is 'gift from the sky' so he can prevent closure of venue
Life & Style
Democreativity, a project set up by the Swedish government, is aimed at producing the 'most unlikely video game ever' as a way of promoting democracy to the world
tech
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
people
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film
News
David Beckham is planning to build a stadium in Miami’s port for a new football team he will own
news... in his fight for a football stadium in Miami's port area
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

Graphic Design, Social Media and PR or Permaculture Internships in South Africa

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Work in Cape Town, South Africa for an NGO co...

Teach music or performing arts abroad

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Schools in developing countries struggle with...

Sports coaching volunteer jobs

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?