New Orleans, the city that survived a death blow from Katrina, and Brees, the quarterback whose career was jeopardized by a horribly timed shoulder injury just as he sought to make a real name for himself in the NFL, withstood one last dose of adversity Sunday night at Sun Life Stadium. But what's a 10-0 first-quarter deficit in the Super Bowl when you've already been where Brees and New Orleans have been?
"It's unbelievable,'' said Brees moments after the Saints' 31-17 Super Bowl XLIV win over the Colts was in the books. "Just to think of the road that we've all traveled to get to this. There was so much we had to go through, and [so] much adversity we faced along the way. We played for so much more than just ourselves. We played for our city. We played for the entire Gulf Coast region. We played for all the entire Who Dat nation that has been behind us every step of the way.''
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning picked up his record fourth NFL MVP award this season, but Brees got the honor that really matters in his head-to-head duel with No. 18: The Saints are Super Bowl champions, and Brees was one of the game's biggest no-brainer MVPs of all time.
After a first quarter in which he and his team looked a little awed and a little out of sync, Brees steadied himself and turned in one of the most proficient performances by a quarterback in Super Bowl history. And because of it, New Orleans scored 31 of the final 38 points over the last three quarters and claimed the franchise's first NFL championship in 43 years of existence.
Brees was 32 of 39 overall for 288 yards, with two touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 114.5 QB rating. He also finished the game on a mind-boggling 29-of-32 hot streak -- which included a late first-half spike to stop the clock and a second-half drop by Reggie Bush.
Brees completed his final 10 passes -- the second-longest streak in Super Bowl history -- and his 32 completions tied New England's Tom Brady for the most ever (Super Bowl XXXVIII). He simply got better and better as the game wore on, and so did the Saints.
"I thought Drew was magnificent tonight,'' Saints head coach Sean Payton said of the player he recruited during the 2006 free agency period, when no other team was willing to make a show of faith in a quarterback who had just undergone surgery on his throwing shoulder. "If you look at his location [Sunday], I thought he was fantastic. He has been all year, if you really paid close attention. He's the MVP tonight for a reason, and he's one of the most valuable players in the league.''
In so many ways, this was a vintage 2009 Saints win, and a vintage Brees performance. New Orleans led the NFL in scoring this season, with 510 points. That's 31.9 per game if you do the math, and New Orleans hit its season average almost on the nose. A good chunk of the points (a league-high 141, to be exact) came either off of or because of turnovers, and the Saints defense lived up to their billing on that front -- thanks to cornerback Tracy Porter's game-clinching 74-yard INT-return TD with 3:12 left to play.
But the key to everything on this night was Brees, and how well he kept things together when it seemed the more experienced Colts were getting ready to blow out the Saints in the first quarter. Indy had more points (10) than New Orleans had offensive snaps (nine) in the first quarter, but Brees steadied himself and his teammates thereafter, and the table was turned in dramatic fashion.
"Priority No. 1, coming into this game was to take care of the football; don't give them a short field, don't give them anything cheap,'' Brees said. "No. 2 was to be patient, take what they give us, convert on third downs, keep drives alive, chew the clock up, and go down and get points. We did those things and it resulted in a win.''
The Saints didn't race into the lead in the second quarter, but they did climb back into the game, on the strength of two Garrett Hartley field goals of 46 and 44 yards. The Saints found their footing in that 15-minute span, outgaining the powerful Colts 143-15, and limiting Indy to just 2:34 time of possession on its six offensive snaps in the quarter. And when Payton and the Saints gambled and started the second half with a Thomas Morstead onside kick, which New Orleans recovered, Brees could feel the game's momentum change for good.
"Who would have thought to open the second half that we would do that?'' Brees rhetorically asked. Certainly not the Colts. Once the Saints recovered, it took them just six plays to drive for the go-ahead touchdown and prove that they belonged on the same field as Manning and the Colts.
The Saints' offensive line played the role of unsung heroes on Sunday, giving Brees a clean pocket to throw from all night. Brees walked into the postgame interview tent still wearing his full uniform, and it was almost pristine. No grass stains on his white jersey. No signs at all that he had even played in it.
Brees was sacked just once by the Colts -- by Dwight Freeney in the second quarter -- and he was very rarely harried or hurried. The result: Brees had time to post the second-best completion percentage (82.1) in Super Bowl history, trailing only Phil Simms' 22 of 25 showing (88.0) for the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI against Denver.
"I've seen him that sharp in plenty of games,'' Bush said of Brees. "I knew it was just a matter of time until he proved to everyone the quarterback he is in a game like this. Drew Brees has got to be arguably one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it.''
Resiliency has always been a Brees trait, and it has rubbed off on these Saints. Once they survived the Colts' impressive first-quarter display of offense -- 154 total yards, eight first downs, seven plays of 11 or more yards and two 11-play scoring drives -- the Saints became the more confident and aggressive team. They did so even though the Colts were the favorites and were given a big edge in terms of postseason experience, having won the Super Bowl three years ago in this very stadium.
"The advantage we felt like the Colts had coming into this was they played in this game before, and won it three years ago,'' Brees said. "They kind of knew the emotional drain it has on you early on [in the game]. You try as much as you can to stay calm, stay poised. We've had plenty of games this year when we've gone down at some point -- early, fourth quarter, whatever it might be. We just continued to believe in ourselves and found a way to win. You have to weather it.''
If nothing else, Brees and the Saints know how to weather almost any challenge by now. The lessons of post-Katrina in New Orleans still resonate in the Saints locker room. This is a team that's mentally tough, and they didn't wilt when the Colts looked poised to stage a rout.
"I mean, are you kidding me?'' Brees said of his team's ability to keep the faith. "Four years ago, whoever would have thought this would be happening. Eighty-five percent of the city was under water. People were evacuating to places all over the country. Most people left not knowing if New Orleans would ever come back, or if the organization would ever come back.
"Not only did the organization come back, the city came back and so many players, our core group of players that came in that year (2006) as free agents, we just all looked at one another and said, 'We are going to build together. We are going to lean on each other.' That's what we've done the last four years, and this is the culmination of all that belief.''
In New Orleans, the comeback continues and the rebuilding goes on. But Brees and his teammates are finally champions of the football world. Everybody's chasing the Saints now. For a franchise known for its failures, what a change that will be.