Final: New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17. This is one of the beautiful things about sports. They just won't play out like you expect. This game was supposed to be a high-scoring free-for-all. This game was supposed to go to Indianapolis ... especially after they took the 10-0 early lead. This game was supposed to come down to the brilliance of Peyton Manning. And instead, the Saints came up with a gutsy game plan, a tough defensive scheme, and a huge interception of Peyton Manning himself. It's a great win for the Saints and the city of New Orleans.
:44, 4th qtr: And there it is ... the Saints defense comes up huge, keeps the Colts out of the end zone with 44 seconds left, and after a kneel down (or three -- the Colts have two timeouts left), the New Orleans Saints will be World Championship. Who would have thought those words were possible?
3:10, 4th qtr: You hear the word unbelievable in sports way too often. But ... that was truly unbelievable. Third and five, and Peyton Manning throws the ball right into the hands of New Orleans Tracy Porter. And he goes -- open air, nobody around him -- runs 74 yards for a Saints touchdown. Un-be-lievable. Saints 31, Colts 17, and this place can feel it now. Can feel it. The New Orleans Saints; Super Bowl champs? There are still three minutes left ...
4:33, 4th qtr; It's impossible to see the score difference -- New Orleans by 7 -- without thinking about potential overtime, and the potential of a team winning the Super Bowl on a coin flip. First things first, of course. There's a lot of football left, and they Colts haven't tied this thing yet. But ... you can bet every sports columnist in America is sharpening the knife, just in case.
5:42, 4th qtr: Hold the phone ... after further review that are saying that the Saints DID score the two point conversion on a fabulous play by receiver Lance Moore. So the Saints lead by a touchdown, 24-17, and the ball is now back in the hands of Peyton Manning. Yes, settle in. The next half hour could be something you will never forget.
5:42, 4th qtr: Someone call the people at Alcoa ... this game setting up beautifully for a fantastic finish. The Saints after the odd missed field goal drive right down the field -- that offense is humming now -- and they finish off the drive when Brees hit Shockey on a two-yard touchdown pass. That gave the Colts the 5-point lead so, of course, they went for 2. And this time, Brees' pass fell incomplete. So Saints 22, Colts 17, there are 5:42 left and the ball goes back to perhaps the greatest quarterback ever. Buckle up.
9:07, 4th qtr: Speaking of being aggressive, the Colts coach Jim Caldwell let 42-year-old kicker Matt Stover try a 51-yard field goal. I don't want to sound like a second guesser by: Whah? What chance did Matt Stover have of making a 51-yard field goal? Would it help if I told you he had not made one that long since September of 2006. Meanwhile, you have perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history? Saints driving ... and Caldwell might live to regret that odd decision.
11:46, 4th qtr; The third quarter really flew by fast and now, another "biggest play of the game," on third and 12 Manning completed a 10-yard pass to Wayne. So fourth and 2 from the New Orleans 48 -- gigantic play -- Manning dropped back one step, threw to Wayne, who picked up the first down. Both coaches being aggressive which is making this game fun.
2:01, 3rd qtr; Commercial update: Apparently there is going to be a new Harry Potter Amusement Park opening up this spring at Universal. And based on the commercial both daughters want to go. Well, sure they do. I can already see myself spending way too much money getting them Quidditch jerseys and the right kinds of wands.
3:23, 3rd qtr; The Saints drive and settle for a field goal ... and the way this game is going right now that probably feels like a victory for the Colts defense. That makes it Indianapolis 17, New Orleans 16 ... so there could be a two-point conversion attempt at some point in our Super Bowl futures.
6:10, 3rd qtr: They just had one of those shuffling "find the football under one of the helmet" games on the giant video board. You know, it doesn't matter what sport it is, what town it is, or what kind of crowd: People just LOVE that game.
6:15, 3rd qtr: Well, the shootout seems to have arrived in South Florida -- maybe it was stuck on the bus with my good friend Bernie Miklasz. Joseph Addai spins and pounds his way into the end zone. Indianapolis 17, New Orleans 13. We're not getting to the 48-45 I predicted, but we might not see a punt for the rest of this game.
6:24, 3rd qtr: Just when you forget just how great Peyton Manning is, he will make a throw like he just made to Dallas Clark -- rolling right, thrown just over the outstretched arms of at least three defenders, dropped perfectly into his receivers arms. I always said Dan Marino was the best pure passer I ever saw and Joe Montana had the best touch. Peyton Manning, impossibly, is like a combination of the two.
11:41, 3rd qtr: Many times, I think halftime talks are overrated. But it seems to me that in this halftime, Sean Payton was able to get through to his offense: "Hey, you guys are unstoppable too! You guys scored almost 100 more points than the Colts. Now let's play our game. And they drove right down the field, capped off the drive with and fantastic catch and run by Pierre Thomas. Now it's New Orleans 13, Indianapolis 10, and the whole feeling of this game is different. Now it's the Colts that look tentative, like they're wondering how things got away.
15:00, 3rd qtr: Well, that was unexpected. The Saints start off the second half with an onside kick ... that's the sort of gutsy call that everyone loves when it works and hates with every fiber of their being when it doesn't. And -- after what seemed like a 45 minute meeting by the officials as they untangled everyone -- it WORKED. Saints with the ball. Now this is a ballgame!
Halftime: The Who Started out with Pinball Wizard which sounded oddly polka. They then jumped into Baba O'Riley, and there were some really cool lasers, we got some of Townshend's whirlwind guitar playing which was also cool. Then it was into "Who Are You," and the crowd was supposed to do a little dance with their cell phones, which really didn't work. But we did get some good and loud guitar. They did a snippet of "See Me, Feel Me." And they finished it off with a little "Won't Get Fooled Again." I didn't think The Who was an inspired halftime choice -- and compared to recent shows by Prince, Tom Petty, U2 and Springsteen it wasn't especially inspiring -- but for nostalgia's sake it was fun enough to see them perform.
Halftime: And now, The Who performs or, as a friend of mine calls them: "The Who Knew They Were Still Performing?" The big question with The Who performing is this -- what gets broken, Pete Townshend's guitar or Pete Townshend's hip?
Halftime: Well, it was an entertaining first half, but probably different from what most of us expected. The two teams only scored one touchdown between them, and the biggest play of the half -- Gary Brackett's stuffing of Pierre Thomas and fourth and goal -- was a defensive play. Saints seemed on the brink of getting blown out but did just enough, offensively and defensively, to stay in the game. But they're only just in the game ... the Colts get the ball at the start of the second half.
End of 2nd qtr: Excellent and gutsy timeout by New Orleans Saints when the Colts faced third and one paid off. The Saints got the ball back, drove 22 yards and managed a field goal on the last play of the half. Indianapolis 10, New Orleans 6.
1:30: 2nd qtr: Wow, no, the Saints did not put the ball in Brees hands. Instead, they gave it to Pierre Thomas, tried that right side again, and Gary Brackett just stuffed the play. Incredible. Another gigantic turn. The Colts will probably be happy now to run out the clock ... they get the ball at the beginning of the second half.
1:55, 2nd qtr: It was Mike Bell over the right side, and he had nothing so he tried to bounce the play outside. No go. Fourth and goal from the 1. The Saints pretty much have to go for it, and it looks like they will. But they'll probably put the ball in the hands of Brees this time.
2:00, 2nd qtr: Well, here you go, our first "biggest play of the game." Third down and goal from the Indianapolis 1. The Saints clearly need a touchdown here ... I suspect they will go for it on fourth down if they don't make it. Look for Pierre Thomas or mike Bell over the right side of the line, behind Jahri Evans.
3:47, 2nd qtr: Huge play for Saints -- third down and 2, it appears that everyone on the Colts forgot to the cover Lance Moore. He picked 21 and the Saints are back in scoring range. Amazing how quick the complexion of a game can change. ... And just as I wrote those words, Drew Brees connected with Marques Colston to move the ball to the Indianapolis 3.
8:14, 2nd qtr: And what do you know ... New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma made that big play, stuffing Joseph Addai on 2nd and 1. Then Pierre Garcon dropped a pass on third down and the Colts punted for the first time. Things might be settling down a bit.
Commercial update: Margo said the girls liked some commercial featuring a beaver and a violin. No update on what it was for or why the beaver was playing the violin or even the quality of his fiddle playing. I guess they liked it and the rest is left to my imagnation.
11:35, 2nd qtr: A late hit by the Colts seemed to give the Saints a little bit of energy and hope ... exactly what they needed. Saints into Colts territory now. Scoring is pretty much mandatory if they want to stay in this game.
Commercial update; I, of course, have no access to the television commercials, so I am relying on the critical skills of my wife Margo, and my two daughters Elizabeth (8) and Katie (5 today). Their first report: "The girls liked the Simpson's Coke commercial, though Katie thought it was an ad for Sprite." ... That seems like a flaw when someone is not entirely sure what product is being advertised.
End of first quarter: That went just about as poorly as it possibly could have gone for the Saints. They suspected that they could not stop Manning before the game began ... now they know. The offense looks jittery. The score is already 10-0 and they are deep in their own end. They need something good and something fast because this is exactly how Super Bowls become blowouts.
:34, 1st qtr: And now it's scary time for the Saints. The Colts complete their 96-yard yard on a perfect 19 yard pass from Manning to Garcon, who had slipped behind defenders. If the Saints can't stop the run -- and it appears they can't -- they really have almost no chance of stopping this Colts offense tonight. Drew Brees and that offense better wind it up or this could turn ugly quick. Indianapolis 10, New Orleans 0.
1:00, 1st qtr: Colts were the worst rushing team in the NFL this year. But it's important to remember that the Saints can't stop the run either. And the Colts have gashed New Orleans early. Joseph Addai just faked the cleats off Saints safety Darren Sharper and ran for 23. The Colts already have 62 yards rushing, scary for a team that averaaged barely 80 per game this season.
3:14, 1st quarter: Manning just (seemingly) changed the play at the line, went with a handoff to Joseph Addai that picked up 16 yards. How frustrated does that have to be for a defense and defensive coordinator when Manning, time and again, changes into the perfect play for your defense? Colts on the march again.
5:00, 1st qtr: Wow, Marques Colston just dropped a pass thrown right in to his hands with nobody around him. For you old time NFL Films fans, I could not help but think of only one thing: "Bless Marques Colston's heart, he's got to be the sickest man in America." Drop leads to punt and once more Saints defense is on the spot.
5:55, 1st qtr: Reggie Bush with a catch and run leading to the Saints first first down. You would have to say that Bush has been a pretty big disappointment in his early carer, but there really is a jolt of excitement that hits when he gets his hands on the ball. Anything seems possible. Maybe tonight is his kind of night.
7:17, 1st qtr: From where I'm sitting, I can see John Cougar Mellencamp enjoying the game. Being an Indiana guy, I can only assume he's seriously rooting for the Colts. Will tonight hurt so good? Will it R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A? Will it ... OK, I'm pretty much out of Mellencamp song puns.
7:25: 1st qtr: I don't know if this was one of the betting lines, but here's a good one. Will Matt Stover make a field goal tonight longer than his age. He is 42. He fell just short on this 38 yarder.
7:30. 1st qtr: And the Saints do get a third down stop -- when Manning and Pierre Garcon just miss. That's the sort of thing New Orleans will need -- they will need to disrupt the Colts offense just enough to get incompletions on third down. Matt Stover kicks a 38 yard field goal to make it Indianapolis 3, New Orleans 0.
8:30, 1st qtr: Wow, Colts convert on first two third downs. That's a bad sign for New Orleans. The Saints' only hope to keep the Colts in check is to get off the field on third down. Manning looking as sharp and invulnerable as expected.
11:00, 1st qtr: A three-and-out for the Saints ... Colts came out in hard man-to-man, challenging the Saints. That was a bit of a surprise. Now, we see if the Saints can actually slow down Manning. Even Saints defenders seemed dubious.
15:00, 1st qtr: Saints start off with the ball, and we should get a pretty good feel right away for their frame of mind. The one thing several people noticed this weeks is the Saints seemed awfully happy to be here. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- they SHOULD be happy to be here. But are they here to win or here to celebrate a great season?
Pregame: Huge, huge thumbs up to Carrie Underwood's National Anthem. Not only did she go old school -- no music, no choir, no props, no gimmicks -- she also sang the song as it is written, without the various key changes to show offer her voice. Awesome version. Just awesome.
Pregame (6 minutes before gametime): They are now giving out the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and the winner is: Kansas City's Brian Waters. I have known Brian for a long time -- written about him many times -- and I could not be happier or prouder. He's one of the great guys in football, and one of the great stories.
Pregame (8 minutes before gametime): My good friend Bernie Miklasz, excellent columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is apparently stuck on a bus and circling the stadium in some sort of unending nightmare. No one will let them in. No one will let them park. This has to be like some sort of psychological torture test.
Pregame(12 minutes before gametime): The first full-throated Who Dat chant from the crowd. I suspect it won't be the last one tonight.
Pregame: Early indications are that there are a few more Saints fans here than Colts fans. I'd say 60-40, Saints fans. What does this mean? Probably not a lot. But I don't think it will be particularly quiet for Peyton Manning when he's trying to change plays at the line.
Pregame: The general feeling here seems to be that this could be a great Super Bowl. In fact, I cannot remember a Super Bowl game where people -- media people, fans, everyone -- seemed so HOPEFUL before a game.
This, of course, is just my feeling -- but as I remember it, nobody seemed too jazzed before last year's Steelers-Cardinals game, though it turned out to be a great game. Most seemed to believe the Patriots would annihilate the Giants the year before, and that the Colts were quite a lot better than the Bears the year before that. I think you have to go back to the Broncos-Packers game in 1998 to find a game that people honestly seemed to think, coming in, had a chance to be a classic. And people seem even more excited about this game.
I suppose this is because the feeling coming in is that neither team will be able to stop the other. The mind imagines something like that classic Dolphins-Chargers playoff game, the one where neither team had any chance of stopping the other, the one where San Diego tight end Kellen Winslow died four times during the game and still came back to make winning plays at the end.
Of course, it might not work out that way. The Saints might just be happy to be here. The Colts might suffer with a wounded Dwight Freeney. Turnovers could turn the game into an early rout. Who knows? But as Super Bowl XLIV begins, there are big hopes for something that everyone will remember.