MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It's right, it's fair, it's just, it's good, it's shocking. You were not dreaming (or nightmaring, if you live in Indiana). The Saints have won the Super Bowl.
As the fifth team bus -- the one with mostly family and friends of the team -- sped from the stadium to the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami for the most raucous of postgame parties, this merry band of Saints partisans sang and chanted and Who-Datted to their heart's content. On this bus was an eclectic mix, just like New Orleans itself. A couple of seats from the front was the political couple who live in New Orleans, James Carville and Mary Matalin. Behind them sat the 97-year-old archbishop of New Orleans, Philip Hannan, a good friend of owner Tom Benson. In the back was Reggie Bush and his famous-for-being-famous girlfriend, Kim Kardashian. Democratic Party mega-fundraiser Calvin Fayard, a Louisiana attorney, was aboard too.
"Oh when the Saints ... come marching in ...'' They did that one for a while. And "You Are My Sunshine,'' the state song, which has roots to former Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis, and a couple of "Who Dat'' songs. It got quiet for a minute, and Carville piped up loudly: "I still can't believe we won the Super Bowl!''
The play that signifies it all was on the mind of everyone on the bus. In the middle of the rolling party, someone else piped up: "Can you believe we called that onside kick?''
Oh, I can. It had Sean Payton written all over it.
It's the Super Bowl, and I'm going to write about an onside kick, and about two absolute nobodies who so powerfully influenced the outcome of the biggest game in the history of the New Orleans Saints.
That's one of the reasons football's such a great game. The 45th guy on the roster can make the play of the day in the biggest game of the year. David Tyree did it in Super Bowl 42. Chris Reis, with help from a very nervous kicker, did it in Super Bowl 44.
"Ambush,'' Payton said cavalierly, almost diffidently, as he walked by kickoff man Thomas Morstead in the Saints locker room at halftime Sunday night.
Perfect. Ambush. That's the name of the Saints' onside kick, the one that continued the Colts' downfall in Super Bowl 44. The reason it's so perfect is that it's right for Payton, and right for this derring-do team with the cocky defensive coordinator and the only slightly less cocky head coach and players and fans who have yearned for so long to deserve to be cocky. In this case, Ambush was so mind-blowing because:
a. Morstead never attempted an onside kick in a game before Sunday night in his life.
b. Morstead never practiced onside-kicking until 12 days ago.
c. Morstead can be a bundle of nerves.
And so Payton walked by Morstead's locker and dropped that little bomb on him, and he told the rest of the special-teams leaders, and 25 minutes still were left before the start of the second half. Morstead sat at his locker, looked straight ahead and tried to keep his heart from pounding out of his chest.
"I wasn't worried,'' Morstead said later. "I was terrified. He dropped it on me near the start of halftime, not near the end, and it's such a long halftime. All I could think of was how stupid I'd look if the kick doesn't go 10 yards, or if I blow it.''
When the Saints looked at the Colts on tape, they saw two up-men on the front line of the Indy kick-return team cheating. That is, when the kicker approached the ball, two guys on the right of the kick-return unit -- as the kickoff team looked ahead, to the left -- turned and began retreating to set up their blocks for a return just before the ball was kicked. So when Payton saw this, he figured the Saints would definitely try an onside kick at some point of the game.
In each of their three practices last week, the Saints worked on the onside kick five times. They christened it "Ambush'' for the element of surprise, obviously. And they practiced it the same way every time: with Morstead, the neophyte, approaching the ball from the left, as right-footed soccer-style kickers do, and kicking the ball almost across his body to the left, to the exact spot where the Saints thought the two Colts would be leaving early. Payton knew he wouldn't try the kick early in the game; he wanted time to set the Colts up. Before the game, he made a point to talk to ref Scott Green and his crew to be on the lookout for it so they wouldn't be surprised, and so they'd be ready to determine possession in the inevitable scrum.
New Orleans got a big lift just before halftime when a Garrett Hartley field goal narrowed Indy's lead to 10-6. Payton knows how lethal Peyton Manning is, and he knew he ran the risk of giving the Colts 30 extra yards if the onside kick failed, but he knew it wouldn't fail.
He put his trust in the hands of a kicker, Morstead, kicking the first onside kick of his life, and in a special-teamer, third-year safety Chris Reis, perhaps the most anonymous of the 45 Saints who dressed Sunday. Morstead because he was the kicker, Reis because he was the feistiest of his kick-chasers and would scratch and claw for the ball if he had to.
"I've been kicking off to the right all year,'' Morstead said later. "So when I approached the ball, they left early again and I just pushed the ball to the left. The way I practiced it, it was supposed to hit and spin back. I had a little bit of confidence in it, because every time he called it in practice this week it seemed to work. But still, like I said, I was terrified. I just tried to make sure it went 10 yards, and then just prayed.''
It went 10 yards. It went off Hank Baskett, the fifth wideout on the Colts. The ball bounced toward Reis, plowing single-mindedly toward the spot he knew the kick was going to settle, 10 to 12 yards downfield. At the 42-yard-line of the Saints, Reis dove for the ball, and the scrum began. (Officially, linebacker Jonathan Casillas was credited with the recovery, but Casillas and other Saints said it was Reis who came away with the ball.)
The ball at first lay underneath Reis' legs as bodies flew in trying to get it. "I was able to get the ball into my hands and just cradle it here,'' Reis demonstrated for me later in the locker room, with his hands cradled around his stomach, slightly bent over. "So I just pulled it tight to my body and held on.''
"White ball!'' Reis heard one official yell in the mayhem. The Saints were wearing white. Good.
"Blue ball! Blue ball!'' he heard another official yell. The Colts were blue. Bad.
"So I just figured I better hang onto it for dear life,'' he said. "The Colts were punching at it and grabbing for it, trying to get it out. But I didn't care if they broke all my fingers. There was absolutely no way in the world I was going to let go of that ball. That was our ball.''
The scrum lasted 90 seconds. Officials and players were pulling players out of the pile, and a couple of them just circled back and got back into the scrum and tried to get near the ball again. Did the ball change hands down there? Reis swears no. And when the last man left the turf, Reis had the ball. Six plays later, Drew Brees fired a pass to running back Pierre Thomas that resulted in a 16-yard touchdown, and the Saints had their first lead of the day.
"I can't believe it,'' said Morstead, a rookie from SMU. He's a tall kid, wiry and athletic and thoughtful. "I still can't. You've got to love playing for a coach who puts that much trust in his players. I mean, that was a pretty big risk. And now, to sit here and know it helped us win ... ''
Morstead seemed like he was in a daze.
"You know, every year you see guys in all sports after they win the championship, and they talk about how it seems so surreal. I'm the same way. I'm just trying to soak it all in and realize what happened.''
What happened, fella, is you and Chris Reis just made a play that was the biggest one in preventing Peyton Manning from winning his second Super Bowl, and sent your city into orbit. That's all.
Wrapping up the game, and the Hall of Fame weekend:
I thought Indianapolis lost this game as much as the Saints won it.
In the past couple of playoff games, the Colts have struggled a bit early, then went on to dominate the Ravens and Jets. I thought midway through the second quarter, with a 10-3 lead, the Colts were set up to do exactly the same things.
But they got timid. And they made uncharacteristic mistakes that ultimately cost them the game, the kind of mistakes a technically sound team like Indianapolis so rarely makes in bunches.
First, the drop by Pierre Garcon. GM Bill Polian told me outside the stadium after the game you can't blame Garcon because he got "jacked'' at the line of scrimmage. Maybe, but I watched the replay a couple of times early this morning, and he was well away from the jacking when the Manning pass clanked off his hands. With 8:23 left in the second quarter, and third-and-four at the Colts 28, the Colts were in great position to add to their lead. They were having no trouble moving the ball. Garcon did a 10-yard in cut, beating Jabari Greer with linebacker Scott Fujita over the top, and he was wide open. Manning didn't throw the ball the rest of the half. The Colts had the ball for three offensive snaps the rest of the half.
Two: I hated the decision by the Colts, on third-and-one in the final minute of the first half with two timeouts left by the Saints, to run into the middle of the line. Manning's got 10 conversion throws that he can get one yard with in his saddlebag, and the call is Mike Hart burrowing between a couple of sub-300-pound blockers -- Jeff Saturday and Ryan Lilja. Hart got stoned for nothing. I immediately thought of what Lilja told me during the week: "Sometimes we'll be standing there during the Anthem, and we'll look across the field at the size of the other team, and it's like they're the varsity and we're the junior varsity.'' Well, the varsity steamrolled the JV on that play. And the Saints got the ball back and scored a field goal to make it 10-6 at the half.
Asked Manning about it afterward, and he said the Colts would have gone into their two-minute offense with about 45 seconds left if they'd converted the first down. I don't like how they would have left themselves 89 yards to go in 45 seconds with one timeout to get a touchdown. Why not give Manning a chance to do what he does -- throw the ball in a two-minute drill aggressively? I thought this was inexcusable. I know the logic is, Make sure you don't give the other team a possession before the end of the half. Run the clock. Well, they didn't convert. And the Saints got a possession. And the Saints scored.
Third: the onside kick. Not to beat a dead Colt, but you simply can't make that mistake in a game of this magnitude.
"That was the difference in the game,'' Polian said. "The onside kick was the turning point, and along with that, not being able to get a yard on third-and-one is what really cost us. Those were two plays in our control, and we didn't make them. Today, they were the better team. They deserved to win.''
Just as the Colts deserved to lose.
Drew Brees was brilliant. He had a true MVP performance.
Brees missed three receivers early, and I feared he'd have a game something like his six-missed-targets game against the Vikes in the NFC title game. But he finished 32-of-39, which was special enough. What made it more special was finishing his game with 29 completions in his final 32 attempts, all the more notable considering one of the incompletions was a drop and another a spike by Brees to stop the clock. That is in the 1986 Simms stratosphere; you may recall Phil Simms completing 22 of 25 throws for a Super Bowl accuracy record. It figures that Brees, who completed 82 percent on this perfect night for football, would challenge the Simms mark; Brees completed an NFL-single-season-record 70.6 percent this year.
On the Saints' final offensive touchdown drive, Brees completed seven passes in seven attempts to seven receivers. On the two-point conversion pass, he threw to an eighth receiver, Lance Moore. You know a coach means what he says about playing everyone on the roster and if you get open the ball's coming to you when on the biggest touchdown drive of the season eight receivers get their hands on Brees passes.
Brees has the best number of any quarterback, including Manning, in football over the past four seasons. This game puts him in a league with Manning and Tom Brady at the top of the league's quarterback pecking order. It's a trifecta now, not a daily double.
Now for the Hall of Fame section.
Answering the questions I've heard most often since the seven-man class (Dick LeBeau, Floyd Little, John Randle, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Rickey Jackson, Russ Grimm) was elected Saturday afternoon:
• On the news of the selections: We considered 10 all-decade players among the 14 players nominated. This was the best group of candidates I've had to consider in 18 years on the committee. You might wonder why Cris Carter and Shannon Sharpe (or whoever else didn't make it) fell short. In Carter's case, I was surprised that Andre Reed passed him and made the cutdown from 15 to 10 while Carter didn't. The difference there might be that Reed's team won bigger games, but that's just a guess. I'm firmly in Carter's corner; I think he's the best boundary receiver I've seen.
Sharpe's a mystery to me too, with his ridiculous numbers (his numbers dwarf those of the seven current Hall tight ends. A mystery, except that so many of these guys are good. I fear it's so difficult to compute these crazy numbers that wideouts and tight ends are putting up. Sharpe's 815 catches and 13 straight playoff wins, and Carter's 1,100 catches and 130 touchdowns, probably should get both men in someday.
• On Little's election: I did not support the Denver running back because I felt his numbers and impact were shy (3.9 yards per carry, one 1,000-yard rushing season, 54 rush yards per game), but as I've said on many occasions, I'm one voter, with an equal vote to the other 43 voters, and the will of the voters spoke loudly. Senior Committee nominees need 80 percent of the vote to be inducted, and both Little and LeBeau got at least the requisite 36 votes to get in.
There's no doubt in my mind that the exhaustive work of Denver Post writer Jeff Legwold either got Little in or was a major factor in his election. The way the system works is that each candidate has his case for election presented by a member of the media from where he played. Then there's free-flowing debate about the candidate. Little's speaker was Legwold. Our bylaws prevent me from discussing freely what Legwold said in the meeting, but with permission of Hall of Fame VP Joe Horrigan, I can say that one factor in Legwold's argument was that Legwold personally viewed about 1,200 of 1,641 carries in Little's nine NFL seasons.
Though I can't tell you what Legwold said in his presentation, I can tell you I discussed this with him after the presentation and Legwold said he kept records of each carry and where Little was first contacted by a defender behind a subpar Denver offensive line. Legwold said about 30 percent of the time Little was first hit behind the line. That's an amazing number. "I saw a runner who had to struggle to get to the line of scrimmage often,'' Legwold said afterward. "He had no time to be a patient runner, because he was in a bad offense with no other options.''
I called Little Saturday night, and he was unaware of the lengths to which Legwold had gone. "Wow,'' Little said. "If he swayed more than one person, I am so deeply indebted.'' Legwold's legwork will be the kind that, to me, future presenters will strive to match.
• On Randle's election: This was an easy one for me. There's a subset position in the NFL at defensive tackle, the three-technique, that's come into prominence in the game over the last 15 or 20 years. Over the last two decades, the best three-technique player is Randle, whose 137.5 sacks for someone who played inside is remarkable. I consider him the best three-technique since the position became prominent. I've heard Brett Favre say it a couple of times: He's the best defensive player he played against.
• On Rickey Jackson making it over other top front-seven players like Charles Haley and Richard Dent: I'm surprised about Dent. I really thought this was his year. I don't recall many negatives about him. I thought it would be Dent this year, with Haley next in line in the next two or three years. Jackson was a pleasant surprise to me, but I'm thrilled he got in. I've made this point about Jackson, which Joe Montana has echoed: He's one of the two or three best all-around linebackers from 1980 to 2000, behind Lawrence Taylor and maybe no one else. If you'd consider four categories being important for linebacker impact (sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries), consider Taylor's number for the Giants from 1981 to 1993, and Jackson's numbers with the Saints over the same period: Taylor a total of 183.5, Jackson 187. And he played the strong side in the Saints' 3-4 Dome Patrol linebacker group. I thought this was an excellent choice.
• On Grimm making it. I always thought a Hog should be in the Hall because Washington's offensive line is the best over time of the last 30 years. Grimm's resume isn't as deep as some of the offensive linemen we've elected, obviously, but injuries cut short two of his 11 seasons, and in the other nine, he missed only eight games. Played four positions, made the all-decade team of the eighties, and was the one guy on the Redskins I always remember Bill Parcells saying of, "If we let this guy have a good day, we'll lose.''
The Hall is always a hot-button topic, and I'll run a bunch of your e-mail with -- I assume -- your protests over our selections on Tuesday.
"I want to hand this trophy to the MVP of the Super Bowl -- and the MVP of the entire league.''-- Saints coach Sean Payton, handing the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Drew Brees after Super Bowl 44.
"Not bad for number 24.''-- Sean Payton to me, before taking the podium to do his postgame press conference.
In the offseason, I ranked the 32 teams from top to bottom, and I ranked the Saints 24th on my list. To say I've been reminded of that several times in the past few months would be an understatement. I feel quite sure when Payton is 78 and wasting away in Margaritaville, and we run into each other, he's going to say, "Here's the genius who said we'd stink the year we won the Super Bowl.''
"Not everyone knows that the name Hogs came from a description of Russ Grimm. He was lying on the ground at the end of a blocking drill and [offensive line coach] Joe Bugel walked by and Russ had his stomach peeking out of his shirt. Buges said, 'Man, Russ get up. You look like a Hog laying on the ground.' After that the rest of us decided to poke fun at Buges and wear white shirts to practice and we all had Hogs written on them. Buges said to us, 'Why are you doing that?' We said, 'Because we are in solidarity with Russ and if you call him a Hog, you have to call us all Hogs.' That is where the name came from.''-- George Starke, offensive linemate of Grimm's, on the derivation of "Hogs'' as part of the NFL vernacular.
"I think Russ is the greatest guard to ever play pro football,'' Starke said after Grimm went in to the Hall of Fame. I disagree, but as I said earlier in this column, Grimm's the guy I'm happiest for after this year's balloting.
"Well, it's a lifelong dream, really. I just cannot imagine anything else that could be any more rewarding for any individual who has made football [his life] -- I've been fortunate enough to make football my life pursuit. Now, to have my name alongside all those great NFL players throughout history is an incredibly humbling honor. I just can't believe it, to be honest, and I am so much indebted to our current players and to the players who took me to the Super Bowl and kept my name current, even though it's been a long, long time since I've played.''-- Dick LeBeau, on his Hall of Fame induction.
1. New Orleans (16-3). At 10:05 p.m., soon after the Saints won the Super Bowl (can't believe I just wrote that), my friend Josh Norman, who lives in New Orleans, texted me thusly: "Utter delirium in New Orleans right now.'' At 10:28 came this: "I've been all over the world and I've never seen a celebration as epic as this. This is beyond words. The earth is vibrating.''
2. Indianapolis (16-3). I know everyone's concentrating on the Colts not being able to convert third-and-one late in the first half, gifting the Saints with three points before halftime, and for allowing New Orleans to recover an onside kick. But for my money, the Pierre Garcon drop midway during the second quarter was just as big.
3. Minnesota (13-5). So if Brett Favre does retire, who's next? McNabb? Vick? Pennington? The one name I never hear for the starting 2010 QB job in the Twice Cities is an interesting one: Tarvaris Jackson.
4. New York Jets (11-8). I'll bet you a lot of money Rex Ryan gave his middle-finger apology through gritted teeth and hated every word of his statement.
5. San Diego (13-4). I'm starting a pool: Pick the running back who will have the most carries on the Chargers in 2010. My choice? Jahvid Best, rookie, Cal.
6. Dallas (12-6). Now that the triplets are in, when does the campaign start for Larry Allen's election in 2013?
7. Arizona (11-7). I'm waiting for the first Cardinals lineman (Deuce Latui) to say next summer, "Wait -- coach Grimm actually played football?'' This just before Arizona assistant head coach Russ Grimm leaves for three days to get inducted into the Hall of Fame.
8. Green Bay (11-6). You people in Wisconsin are lucky to read Bob McGinn in the Journal Sentinel every day.
9. Baltimore (10-8). If I'm the Ravens, I pounce on Donte' Stallworth with a totally incentive-laden contract. It's just what they need (a veteran receiver who still has a chance to be good) at low guaranteed money. And it's just what he needs -- a blank canvas. A chance.
10. Philadelphia (11-6). Breakout Eagle of 2010: LeSean McCoy.
11. New England (10-7). The appointment of no one as offensive or defensive coordinator is curious. I don't see it as a money issue. I see it as an issue of there's no one out there I can bring in worth disrupting the staff.
12. Pittsburgh (9-7). Don't fret, Steelers fans. One of these years Dermontti Dawson is going to make the Hall of Fame.
13. Carolina (8-8). I realize Julius Peppers is coming off a good season, but I'll believe he won't be a Panther when I see it. Who else is going to step up and pay him more than $15 million a year, on average? He's just not worth Manning money.
14. Cincinnati (10-7). Terrell Owens in stripes will happen the day I run an ultra-marathon.
15. Houston (9-7). Eric Winston, the Texans' tackle, is very good on Twitter. Here's what he said on national signing day for high school football seniors: "Lol. Speaking of ND, I might have been one of the few guys to get a phone call from HC George O'Leary. The next day, he resigned.''
Offensive Player of the Week
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans.
Dolphins fans must be puking this morning. On their own field, the player Nick Saban and Miami doctors passed on outdueled the great Manning to win the Super Bowl. "You just had to know Drew to know he was going to be OK, even when a lot of doctors questioned him,'' said GM Mickey Loomis.
OK? How about superb? A 32-of-39 Super Bowl is so much more than any Saints fan had a right to expect from Brees. We've talked about Brees a lot in recent weeks as the great community-minded man, and he is. But more than that, he's a great football player, with no weaknesses. Scouts now have to look twice at 6-foot quarterbacks who are very smart. I know I'd have my eyes open. In the biggest game of his life, Brees had one of the five or 10 best games of his life, and that says everything about him.
Defensive Player of the Week
Tracy Porter, CB, New Orleans.
He's rapidly earning the name Mr. Clutch in his own locker room. He had a huge pick-six at Miami early in the season, another pick to send the NFC championship game to overtime, and then, in the biggest game of his life, he "jumped the route,'' Peyton Manning said. Porter picked off a pass intended for Reggie Wayne that, had it hit its intended target, might have tied the game up. "We're up by seven, and that interception was a 10- or 14-point swing,''Sean Payton said. "That really clinched the game for us.'' Porter and Jabari Greer form a good combo platter for the Saints' long-term future at corner.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Garrett Hartley, K, New Orleans.
Late in the third quarter, Hartley was an MVP candidate, with 46-, 44- and 47-yard field goals, the first time in Super Bowl history a kicker has had three field goals outside the 40-yard line. Not bad for a second-year guy who played college ball at Oklahoma. "Just trying to do my job,'' he said afterward. "I was a little nervous before the game, but when I'm out there, all I'm thinking is get it over the crossbar.''
Coach of the Week
Sean Payton, head coach, New Orleans
Down four at the half, Payton, obviously, onside kicked to start the third quarter -- and to start finishing off the Colts. Think how far this team has come in four seasons. When Payton took over, the mayor of New Orleans was hoping the team would stay for one year, maybe two, at least, because the finances in town were so tenuous. At the end of that first electric year, Payton had turned the Saints into playoff contenders. After scuffling for a couple of years, Payton and GM Loomis made all the right moves this year (Darren Sharper and Greer, particularly) and got the team its first title ever. Outside the stadium Sunday night, cradling the Lombardi Trophy like he never wanted to let it go, Payton said, "I want this night to go in slow-motion. I want to remember everything.''
Goat of the Week
Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis.
Last week, Favre throws the late pick to blow it. This week, it's Manning who, down 24-17 with 3:25 left to play and driving, threw errantly to Wayne, allowing Porter to romp 74 yards with the insurance touchdown. Manning was a respectable 31 of 45, but he didn't make the big throws when they were needed, like the last four minutes. Manning will be miserable about his throw to Porter and about this loss for weeks. Months, maybe. Doubt you'll see him in any "Cut that meat'' commercials.
There are many things in the world I do not understand, and the tattoo part is one.
Saints' backup defensive lineman Remi Ayodele has the faces of six women tattooed on his left arm.
"Classic ladies,'' he said last week. "Beautiful ladies.'' And then he showed them off. Marilyn Monroe, right down to the cheek mole. Dorothy Dandridge. Audrey Hepburn. Aaliyah, the late R&B star. Bettie Page, the pinup model from the fifties. And Lucille Ball.
Lucy? Ricky's Lucy?
"Lucy's beautiful!'' Ayodele said. "Lucy was hot! I had to get her.''
This year, he's going to add Jayne Mansfield. As you can tell, he has a bit of an obsession with the starlets of yesteryear. "That's when women were the hottest,'' he said.
I wonder what will happen when Ayodele, a bachelor, finally meets the woman of his dreams. Will his seven other gals be an impediment to the relationship?
"My wife would have to understand,'' he said. "They're all my girls.''
Four from Super Bowl week:
1. One hour, 16 minutes to drive the 27 miles from Fort Lauderdale to South Beach. On Monday. That's why I love my hotel room at the Super Bowl.
2. Why is there a hockey team adjacent to a shopping mall in the middle of Luxuryville, Fla.? Rick Gosselin and I went to the Panthers-Flames Friday night (yes, we are hockey loons), and I was taken with the fact that you drive and drive and drive and there's a huge shopping mall and boom -- the BankAtlantic Center just appears. On the first Friday night in February, you go from the heavy air of south Florida to the chill of a hockey rink. We had a good time at the game, but it's not a very lively place.
3. South Florida is an odd mix. At the Broward County Convention Center, where the media worked last week, there's an adjoining strip mall with a French bakery and some lunch items. I went in and ordered a tuna on croissant, and the woman behind the counter had trouble understanding me. She was French, and spoke no English. "Croissant ... tuna?'' I said, and she said a bunch of things in French, and I'm not fluent, so I just nodded, and I looked around at the other help there, and no one seemed to know English, and I thought: How odd. A real French bakery, in the midst of an American/Hispanic area. I wonder who goes in there, and what happens if they want to order something more complicated?
4. I will say this about the rooms at the very nice Doral Golf Resort and Spa, where I stayed Saturday night after a speaking engagement there: Not sure whether the rooms are separated by cardboard or oak tag, but I was able to hear a fairly intense conversation between a couple of golfers ticked off at their round the previous day. And it was nice of them to let me hear the proflowers.com commercial 64 times on various ESPN shows. "Proflowers value is incredible!'' Wow! How informative. I thought I was in the Superdome when Minnesota had the ball two weeks ago.
"Peyton Manning is treating New Orleans worse than FEMA did.''--@NJ_stevepoliti, the often-mentioned Steve Politi of the Newark Star Ledger, after Manning had the Colts up 10-0 in the first half.
As they say in the NFL, "NFL.'' Not For Long.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Super Bowl week:
a. What kind of parents would allow their 13-year-old son, as happened with quarterback David Sills of Delaware -- to make a commitment to a college while the kid is halfway through his seventh-grade year? It is February 2010. His freshman fall term in college would begin in September 2015. Thus did David Sills commit to play for Lane Kiffin -- or whoever the coach for USC will be six seasons from now. It's depraved for an institute of higher education to guarantee a seventh grader a scholarship. It's irresponsible for parents to commit their son to such a major decision five-and-a-half years before he has to make it.
b. Very good job by Greg Garber on ESPN's "Outside the Lines'' show Sunday on the endlessly interesting concussion issue, particularly his interview with former Giants middle linebacker Harry Carson, who has had post-concussion syndrome and memory loss from a long career as an NFL run-stuffer. "They can call me a malcontent,'' Carson said, crying on camera. "No one's gonna shut me up.''
c. Kudos, too, to Chris Mortensen, for his terrific job with Dr. James Andrews on Drew Brees' revolutionary shoulder surgery in 2006. Mort, with Andrews, saw the MRI of Brees' ruined shoulder, and Andrews said the damage from the injury suffered in the last game of the 2005 season with San Diego was so severe that there was a 360-degree tear of the labrum -- basically, that it was torn from the bone -- and that the bone broke through the skin from underneath the shoulder. Gruesome, and very valuable to know how great the surgery was ... and how incredible it was that Brees even played football in 2006.
d. One final bit of props for a story I liked, by Alex Marvez, of FoxSports.com, on high school football players in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood looking up to Pierre Garcon, and coping with real life. One of the things I liked about the story is the nugget about high school players who have to earn money to help support their families by babysitting -- and the coach who has to feed the little kids between practice breaks so the players won't have to drop off a struggling team.
e. I bet NFL Network folks wish they'd hired squeaky-clean John Lynch last year. Not a good weekend for Michael Irvin or Warren Sapp -- and not a good weekend for the NFL shield when two of their own network analysts, on consecutive days, are in the news on rape and domestic-abuse allegations.
f. The NFL could have knocked over team execs around the league with a feather when they announced nine-year NFL line judge Carl Johnson was succeeding Mike Pereira. "Who's Carl Johnson?'' one GM asked me the other day. Well, he's from Thibodaux, La., and an NFL release says he has experience "managing a large sales force for a major company in Louisiana.'' I tried to get an interview with Johnson during Super Bowl week, but was denied access. When I do talk to him, you'll hear from him. I'll miss Pereira, who will retire in April after nine years on the job. He's been a superb explanatory device for the league. I hope Johnson has a gift for patience as well as the ability to get the story right quickly.
g. Pereira to Johnson is not exactly Madden to Collinsworth, but the officials are in a crucible every Sunday. There is intense heat, and Pereira handled it superbly. I like people who admit mistakes, and Pereira admitted his share -- even it was his men, not him, who made them.
h. Now that was an awkward TV moment, Rich Eisen. Especially with Mike Irvin on the set.
i. Does someone have a translation of what Joey Porter uttered on NFL Network? I think it was something like, re Dwight Freeney: "Ankle? Ankle? You ain't sitting with no ankle. Set 'em up for the okedoke.'' Translation (dangerous, with Porter): I think Freeney's faking it.
j. It's fine to have the Super Bowl in south Florida, but it's the most disjointed Super Bowl I ever remember. Traffic makes sane travel between Miami and Fort Lauderdale impossible.
k. And I just heard the AFC team practice facility at TCU in Fort Worth will be 36 miles from the media hotel in Dallas next year. Yikes. These regional Super Bowls make me long for San Diego and New Orleans.
l. Actually, every year I long for Super Bowls in San Diego and New Orleans. Can I please help put the spade in the ground in Escondido or wherever out there, just to make the Chargers stay in San Diego and the Super Bowl is played in San Diego once every five years? Please?
m. Rey Maualuga checking into Betty Ford later this month, by the way, according to Adam Schefter. Good nugget.
n. Trivia question: Who are Dave Klein, Ed Pope, Jerry Izenberg and Jerry Green? Answer in 10i.
o. "I think I'll come back,'' Plaxico Burress said on the CBS pregame show, "and it'll be like I never left.'' Where, exactly? At age 34 on opening day 2011?
p. By the way, Chad Ochocinco, Bob Costas will remember your lie to him on national TV. Not a good idea to tell a fellow like Costas you're going to change your name if Darrelle Revis shuts you down, and then he does it twice in the next two weeks, and you say, in effect, Just kidding! Had my fingers crossed!
q. Apropos of nothing, I met JohnRatzenberger last night. Cliff Clavin. Big Saints fan.
r. The New Orleans Times-Picayune is printing 193,000 extra copies of the paper today. Incredibly, I don't think that will be enough.
2. I think I like the fact that Gary Kubiak gets faith shown in him and a contract extension by owner Bob McNair, but it doesn't take away that the Texans haven't won a very big game in Kubiak's tenure. The Texans are a talented team, an on-the-cusp team, but we've been saying they're on the verge for three years now. So they're also an underachieving one. Though the Texans are in a division with two consistently strong franchises in Indy and Tennessee, if they're 8-8 next year, McNair may live to regret that extension.
3. I think LaDainian Tomlinson is doing the right thing. He needs to go elsewhere. Because if he stays in San Diego, he's never going to be happy sharing the running-back role with some young whippersnapper, or a young player and Darren Sproles. And the Chargers can't go into 2010 with Tomlinson playing any major part of the rushing game. When you've gone from 5-2 yards per carry in 2006 to 4.7 ('07) to 3.8 ('08) to 3.3 in 2009, that's not a dropoff. That's falling off a cliff. Tomlinson will be 31 this summer, and it's time he finds a team (Houston? Green Bay? Seattle?) where he can play a nice Fred Taylor role.
4. I think this might be the last MMQB column for a while you won't hear a peep about labor.
5. I think the most interesting writer's comment about our Hall of Fame election process Saturday came from a J.W. Nix, of something called Bleacher Report. He decried the process that resulted in former Chargers and Cardinals coach Don Coryell not being elected to the Hall on Saturday. Wrote Nix: "This is a despicable crime still perpetrated by the voters, as shown by the recent induction process. It also shows that Canton must change their induction system. [Retired players] are the ones who truly know who belong, especially considering there are countless voters not even knowing what positions many gridiron legends played ... [This year's voting] also shows the corrupt political process involved in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.'' America. What a country.
6. I think this is what I liked about Super Bowl 44:
a. Bill Cowher on the CBS pregame show, saying what needs to be said about the fifth quarter that needs to be fixed in this game: "Both teams need to touch the ball in overtime.''
b. Loved the choice of Brian Waters, the Kansas City guard, as the NFL Man of the Year. As one of the voters in the process, I've liked Waters for some time, and I'm glad to see him get recognized. He's contributed 82 college scholarships to underprivileged students, and given thousands of backpacks with school supplies to kids in the Kansas City area.
c. Saints came in wanting to play keepaway from Manning. Second-quarter time of possession: Colts: 2:34.
d. The onside kick. What a call by Sean Payton.
e. Brees' five-of-five first drive to start the third quarter. After missing three open receivers in the first half, his third quarter was gold, Jerry. Gold!
f. The spinning, weaving touchdown run by Joseph Addai, who did it all by himself. Beautiful run.
g. Dwight Freeney had the kind of sack they might replay if he gets into Canton someday.
h. Pierre Thomas is a much better player than he gets credit for. He's as instinctive a runner and pass-catcher as any back in the playoffs this year except Adrian Peterson. He just always knows where the pressure's coming from.
i. First pre-fourth-quarter onside kicked in 44 games. Loved it.
j. Nice game. The officials weren't intrusive. Good job by Scott Green and his crew.
k. Excellent playoff run by Jonathan Vilma.
7. I think this is what I didn't like about Super Bowl 44:
a. Jimmy Johnson male-enhancement drug endorsement. "Go long,'' he says in the libido ad. "I do.'' Someone get me disinfectant for the TV.
b. Usama Young's cover ability. You've got to be competitive, man. Young let Pierre Garcon deke him into next week at the line of scrimmage, and Manning could have made a terrible throw and it still would have been a touchdown.
c. Reggie Wayne: three quarters, one catch, five yards.
d. So much for my claim of David Thomas-as-impact-player: one catch, nine yards.
e. Colts had the ball for 29:49 and managed 17 points.
f. Strange day with two powerhouse offensive teams: no 80-yard rusher, no 90-yard receiver on either team.
8. I think Bill Polian won't say it, but I bet he'll think at some point this week: Are we destined to be Atlanta Braves? A team that wins divisions and pennants but only one world championship?
9. I think I'll be reminded most of today that my Player of the Decade is 9-9 in the playoffs.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. It's been an exhilarating season. Thanks for reading. I'll be writing weekly through mid-June. Looking forward to the Combine, a weird free-agency period, and the draft.
b. Looking forward to a few days away first.
c. I'm going to the World Cup in South Africa. That should be fun. Monday Morning Quarterback might be turning into Wednesday Afternoon Goalie for a couple of weeks. Who knows?
d. Will get away for a few days this week, and one of the things I'll do is go see the white-hot Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center. I've never seen a hockey game in L.A. Does the ice work?
e. Coffeenerdness: Dom Bonvissuto, my SI.com NFL editor, now knows what I'm talking about. He tried the coffee at the Super Bowl last night, same as I did last week at the Pro Bowl in the same stadium, and it was similarly rancid. Tweeted as much. But Harvey Greene, the Dolphins media czar, is not going to take that. No siree. He's mad as heck and he's going to get good coffee in there next year, he says.
f. Thanks to all the south Floridians who made our lives easy (other than the traffic) in the past week. You've got a good group down here, a selfless bunch of people who tried to put on a show the community would be proud of.
g. The Who seems a little pass� to me, and I like The Who. Time to modern-up the halftime. If I'm 52 and say meh to The Who, that's not good.
h. Really enjoying Mike Vaccaro's The First Fall Classic, about the 1912 World Series. I always love books that make you feel like you're there, which this one does.
i. Trivia answer: Klein, Green, Pope and Izenberg are the sportswriters who have covered every Super Bowl.
j. Had a good hour Tuesday with Jason Cole's journalism class from the University of Florida, and I informed the group that the cleverest Tweet or e-mail would make this column. Uh, Dave Gardner, you sent the only e-mail or Tweet -- and so you win. "My goal in life is to be mentioned in Monday Morning Quarterback. I've never told anyone that, but it's true.'' Inside joke (a good one), and Dave wins. Wrote Dave: "I figured if it worked for you with the New York Times, it might work with me too.'' Smart guy.