In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
It is Mardi Gras in Miami, as the New Orleans Saints stunned the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. The Colts seeking the second Lombardi Trophy in four years were a five-point favorite and jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The game turned on a surprise onside kick to start the second half as Drew Brees was named MVP, passing for 288 yards with two touchdowns.
Four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the City of New Orleans, the New Orleans Saints were playing in the Super Bowl. The Saints had been the NFL’s laughingstock for most of their history, as fans came to games wearing paper bags, with the name “Aints” written on them. The Saints went their first two decades without a winning season and did not win their first playoff game until 2000. Emerging from the floods, the Saints acquired Drew Brees in 2006 and made a run to the NFC Championship Game. Coached by Sean Payton, the Saints struggled over the next two years, but got off to the best start in franchise history in 2009, winning their first 13 games. Despite a three-game losing streak, the 13-3 record was the best in franchise history. In the playoffs, the Saints blasted the Arizona Cardinals 45-14. They would need overtime to win the NFC Championship Game, beating the Minnesota Vikings 31-28. The NFC Championship would later become infamous as Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams put a bounty on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.
The 2000s in the AFC were about two teams and two quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts battling Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. While the Patriots had reached the Super Bowl four times, the Colts had their difficulties in the playoffs and have experienced their share of frustration while winning Super Bowl XLI. The Colts had their strongest season yet under new coach Jim Caldwell as they started 14-0 before losing their final two games. Like the Saints, the Colts got back on track in the postseason waltzing past the Baltimore Ravens 20-3 before upending the New York Jets 30-17 in the AFC Championship Game.
The Colts came into the game a five-point favorite and looked to be in firm control as they dominated the first quarter. After the Saints failed to move the ball on their first possession, the Colts got on the board with a 38-yard field goal by Matt Stover. On the Colts second drive, they did even better, as Peyton Manning completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon. After the Colts grabbed a 10-0 lead, the Saints finally put a drive together that ended with a 46-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley. The Colts got the ball back and appeared to be ready to strike again, but Pierre Garcon dropped a pass that could have gone all the way for a touchdown, resulting in the Colts' first empty possession of the game. The Saints went down the field on a time-consuming drive and were on the verge of tying the game when the Indianapolis defense had one of the great goal-line stands in Super Bowl history as Kelvin Hayden and Gary Brackett each made stops at the one on third and fourth down. The Colts were forced to play it safe on their own one after the goal-line stand and punted the ball away with 46 seconds left. That was enough time for Drew Brees to get the Saints into field goal range for Hartley to connect from 44 yards at the end of the first half.
The Colts were going to get the ball at the start of the third quarter. Down 10-6, Saints’ coach Sean Payton rolled the dice with a surprise onside kick by Thomas Morestead that resulted in New Orleans getting the ball to start the second half. The Saints took full advantage and took a 13-10 lead as Brees connected with Pierre Thomas on a 16-yard screen pass. The Colts responded and went down the field to regain the lead, as Joseph Addai ran one in from the four-yard line. By now, we were in a classic duel of legendary quarterbacks, as the Saints got a third field goal from Garrett Hartley, traveling 47 yards. The Colts meanwhile tried to answer, but Matt Stover who was playing for an injured Adam Vinatieri missing a 51-yard field goal at the start of the fourth quarter. The Saints got the ball and methodically went down the field, taking five minutes of the clock, as Drew Bress connected with Jeremy Shockey on a two-yard touchdown pass. Brees than connected with Lance Moore on the two-point try to give New Orleans a 24-17 lead.
With just five minutes left, it was Indianapolis now down a touchdown and facing desperation, down 24-17. Peyton Manning got the ball down to the New Orleans 31 when disaster struck. Looking to get the ball into Reggie Wayne, Manning was picked off by Tracy Porter, who went 74-yards for a touchdown that sealed victory for the Saints. It was the game’s only turnover as Peyton Manning passed for 333 yards, but Drew Brees was named MVP passing for 288 yards with two touchdowns.
The Saints victory came just as Mardi Gras was starting in New Orleans, putting the Saints at the center stage of a week of celebrations, as the usual green and purple beads were replaced with black and gold.