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,
"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
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
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.
"Ambush,'' Payton said cavalierly, almost diffidently, as he walked by kickoff man
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
New Orleans got a big lift just before halftime when a
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
"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
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,
"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.
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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.
There's no doubt in my mind that the exhaustive work of
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.
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.''
"Not bad for number 24.''
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
"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.''
Dolphins fans must be puking this morning. On their own field, the player
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.
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
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.''
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 (
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
"Classic ladies,'' he said last week. "Beautiful ladies.'' And then he showed them off.
Lucy? Ricky's Lucy?
"Lucy's beautiful!'' Ayodele said. "Lucy was hot! I had to get her.''
This year, he's going to add
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.?
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.''
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
b. Very good job by
c. Kudos, too, to
d. One final bit of props for a story I liked, by
e. I bet NFL Network folks wish they'd hired squeaky-clean
f. The NFL could have knocked over team execs around the league with a feather when they announced nine-year NFL line judge
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,
i. Does someone have a translation of what
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?
n. Trivia question: Who are
o. "I think I'll come back,''
p. By the way,
q. Apropos of nothing, I met
r. The New Orleans
2. I think I like the fact that
3. I think
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
6. I think this is what I liked about Super Bowl 44:
b. Loved the choice of
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
g. Dwight Freeney had the kind of sack they might replay if he gets into Canton someday.
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
7. I think this is what I didn't like about Super Bowl 44:
c. Reggie Wayne: three quarters, one catch, five yards.
d. So much for my claim of
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
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?
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
i. Trivia answer: Klein, Green, Pope and Izenberg are the sportswriters who have covered every Super Bowl.
j. Had a good hour Tuesday with