MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — So often in sports, “Teams of Destiny” don’t quite fulfill their supposed missions. They tend to end up as feel-good stories that ultimately try, but fail, to recapture their missed opportunity.
That’s why the New Orleans Saints‘ 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV is historic. The Saints tied a bow around all the storylines of the rebirth of a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina and a football franchise caught up in decades of ineptitude by whipping an NFL mainstay built to hoist several Lombardi Trophies.
We’ve seen Cinderella teams like Atlanta, Tennessee, Carolina, Seattle and Arizona — franchises that had long losing histories — come out of nowhere to reach the Super Bowl, only to lose and sip ginger ale out of the glass slipper instead of champagne. The Saints, they came and conquered in their first-ever trip to the Super Bowl.
When asked how long the celebration will last, Saints running back Pierre Thomas said, in all seriousness: “Forever.”
That’s because no one in this organization is blind to the fact that this could be the Saints’ only shot. It took more than 40 years just to get here, and it could very well take 40 years to get back. The Falcons, Titans, Panthers, Seahawks, and Cardinals all thought they had something special, a foundation for prolonged success, when they made it to the Super Bowl and lost.
They’re still trying to figure out what they had then to be where the Saints are now. There is no guarantee. That’s why New Orleans coach Sean Payton gambled with an onside kick to open the second half. His team recovered it and eventually scored on the possession to take the lead, changing the momentum of this game. Win or lose, the Saints were going to attempt everything necessary to capture the opportunity.
“You don’t take it for granted, these moments,” Payton said. “You want to slow it down and for our players, everyone else, our coaches, you just want to put it on rewind a little bit. It’s special, obviously.”
The irony of all this was that the Saints were facing one of the NFL’s perennial winners — at least regular-season winners. The point about making the most of playing in the Super Bowl, the Colts’ second in four years, was driven home even more when considering this: Saints quarterback Drew Brees has as many Super Bowl rings as future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.