After gushing over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in my Super Bowl preview, there was only one way for me to recap tonight’s Super Bowl: An apology letter to Sean Payton, Drew Brees, and the New Orleans Saints.
Dear Sean Payton, Drew Brees, and the New Orleans Saints,
I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I have ridiculed your success over the past month. I’m sorry that I have called your coaches and players inadequate. I’m sorry I didn’t believe. I was wrong. You proved that tonight. Now I must face the music.
First, to coach Payton. I’m sorry I underestimated your talent. Even though I still don’t like you (a title won’t change this), you proved you belong in the NFL’s elite coaching fraternity. For the first time ever, the MVP award should have gone to a coach. Your players executed, but you gave them life. The decision to go for the touchdown -down seven late in the first half- was a mistake. And yet, you didn’t back down. You stayed aggressive. The onside kick was brilliant. If it failed, you would have undoubtedly been cast as the goat of Super Bowl XLIV. With the kick’s success, you won your team a Super Bowl Championship. Additionally, your game plan and strategy were impeccable. You’ve proven yourself as one of the best. I’m sorry for making fun of your smirk.
To Drew Brees, I’m sorry I ignored your charisma and leadership, especially this week. Manning was all I could talk about or discuss. Today, you outplayed a legend, and in doing so, became one yourself. When your team was trailing, you provided points. When a big play was needed, you made the throw. In a tight game, you avoided turnovers. I’m sorry I underappreciated you.
To kicker Garret Hartley, I’m sorry I picked the older guy. The ice flowing through your veins was unexpected. From 46, 44, and 47 yards, you were true. I’m sorry I overlooked you.
Finally, to the New Orleans Saints, I’m sorry I doubted you. I’m sorry I picked the Colts. I was certain that enough support had swung your way over the past week to render the “no one believed in us” affect irrelevant. I was clearly wrong. You battled harder, played better, and wanted it more. You took Indianapolis’ powerful jabs early on and overcame your own mistakes to deliver haymakers and uppercuts in decisive moments. I declared you the lesser team, yet you controlled all three facets of the game. As well as you played, Super Bowl 44 came down to three crucial plays. Let’s quickly recap.
One. The Colts conservative play call on 3rd and 1 with less than a minute in the first half. You don’t turn around after a goal line stand and sit on the football. You’re playing with house money at that point. Manning went 80 yards on 4 plays two weeks ago against the league’s best defense. Throw the ball! If the Colts put 7 on the board there to go up 17-3 at the half, or even 3 to go up 13-3, Payton would never have attempted the onside kick and risk trailing by three scores.
Two. The onside kick. Gutsiest call we may ever see. Payton saw an opportunity to take back the game. The Saints already got lucky with the field goal at the end of the first half after blowing a red zone possession, so Payton knew things were breaking his way. He took a shot and didn’t miss. The Colts were stunned but recovered to regain the lead. Regardless, Payton’s onside kick delivered a shocking blow to a contender that had yet to be cut. Like a boxer surprised by his own blood (think Rocky IV), the Colts were vulnerable and on the ropes for the first time this postseason.
Three. Manning’s game-ending interception. Manning made the call and executed the play. For one of the few times this year, Manning failed to read the defense. Saints CB Tracy Porter jumped the route and booked New Orleans for a Tuesday parade. Manning’s 4th quarter was horrendous. His throws were off and it was clear he wasn’t comfortable. If I told you Manning’s offense would be outscored 31-7 in the final three quarters you would have laughed. His overall numbers weren’t awful, but Manning failed to score points and literally threw the game away on the potential game-tying drive. Just 24 hours ago Manning was on the verge of establishing himself at the top of “Quarterback-Everest.” After Sunday’s events, Manning will be back in base camp. His ascent was premature, his lungs not ready. The opportunity to reach that peak hasn’t evaporated, not yet anyway. Manning simply needs to recoup, and hope the weather allows him another chance.
For now, New Orleans is the home of the NFL’s elite. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Saints were the better coaches; the better players; the better team. To the 2009 NFL Champions, I’m sorry.