Monday, February 8, 2010

Saints March Into Super Bowl, a Memorable Win For a Long-Suffering City

In what may have been the most heartfelt game in Super Bowl history, Who Dat Nation can finally celebrate on Bourbon Street. They can begin tossing black and gold beads, feast on gumbo and eat Emerald's prepared food dishes.

There’s a sense the New Orleans Saints are hometown heroes, giving the enthusiastic and authentic folks on Bourbon Street the sweetest win since the city dealt with a devastating crisis.

It was a moment to rejoice as a town and leave behind the dreadful memories of Hurricane Katarina—affliction that deprived and ravaged New Orleans. But finally, fans have something to cheer about, after the Saints rendered years of futility.

For once, it felt like an elite franchise, an experienced franchise prepared to seize its first title in franchise history on pro football’s biggest stage. For once, the Saints aren’t witnessing long-suffering calamity that placed misery and burdens within a community where the unfaithful fans booed, protested and wore paper bags over their heads calling them the Aints.

So the people of New Orleans, people who believes strongly in voodoo dolls and marching with the Saints, couldn’t be more elated to jive on the busiest street in town, listening to the beautiful jazz songs as its greatest victory flourished in South Florida to open a page in the history books.

Living in a country where the biggest game of the year should be declared a national holiday, the Super Bowl isn’t only viewed for the giddy commercial ads or gathering as a family to host a sizable party. It also embraces a storybook season. It seems a surreal season transformed into reality. The Saints proved unflappable in the greatest game of their 43-year existence. It seems the Saints were resilient, entering the game of roman numerals with a posture of perseverance and heart.

“Whoever thought that this could be happening?” Drew Brees said. “Eighty-five percent of the city was under water. People were evacuating to places all over the country. Most people left not knowing whether New Orleans would ever come back, or if the organization would ever come back.”

There you have it. The Saints are your Super Bowl champs. First time is a charm. This is exhilarating for a community that fought through adversity, a community that adores football and appreciates their sudden conquest to raise its first banner in the Superdome.

Not long ago, they were so hopeless and pathetic, to whereas ridiculing and lambasting the Saints was a yearly ritual. Today, of course, we’ve praised them, we’ve rooted them on, we’ve pampered them, and we’ve shared our sympathy. If there’s a cure for healing the tragedy that tore the spirit, the Saints marching to its first Lombardi Trophy is an antidote—a moment the town appeases a franchise that has long passed the lingering pain of failures, a predicament labeling the team for decades.

It took the second decade of the 21st century for the Saints to shake off hideous misadventures and dismay, finally reaching a crescendo in Super Bowl XLIV. But without debate the bigger story was Brees outshining Peyton Manning, forcing the greatest quarterback’s legacy to wait.

Much of the debate leading up to the big game dwelled on whether Manning could add a title to his resume and solidify his legacy. But a legacy materialized before our very eyes, along with a historic achievement. Not only was it revival within a dispirited town, but memories of joy and idolatry. The good people of New Orleans anoint and worship the Saints.

“We were on a mission,” said linebacker Scott Fujita. “For us, it was about much more than just football.”

Keep in mind, that’s how much the franchise means to a feverish crowd on Bourbon Street. They watched their Saints pull off the most impressive victory in Super Bowl history. Once it all ended, the Saints celebrated its first worthwhile championship, a memory that will always remain in the hearts of many.

All season, fans embraced their elite toughness, which revealed a renaissance age. With the resurgence of Brees, who most doubted after having surgery on his throwing arm in 2006, the Saints were an organization willing to allow him a chance.

Sure enough, he’s a true hero producing on a colossal stage when jitters play an effect on a first-timers performance level. The excitement and nervous reactions wasn’t a factor, able to master brilliancy after leaving behind images of a memorable quarterbacking performance.

For all the hype and constant debates of Manning’s legacy, Brees was a minority, and the Saints were still evaluated as an inferior team without enough experience. So much for Manning validating a legacy. Brees hijacked our consciousness on the most dignified night of his career, courtesy of the gutsy onside kick entering the second half that gave the Saints gained momentum.

It’s a rarity to witness trickeries when a championship is on the line, but Thomas Morstead kicked an undaunted onside kick that surprised the Colts and was recovered by Chris Reis. From there, the Saints maintained poise, dominated at will, and Brees continued delivering passes with incredible precision and awareness. That prompted 32- of-39 completed passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns. Amid Brees’ flawless performance, prolific cornerback Tracy Porter picked off Manning and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown.

“When I saw my blockers in front of me, and only Peyton and the offensive linemen left,” said Porter, “I cut back and ran it in.”

That put things out of reach, lifting premature celebrations and dance parties in the street. And lastly, the Saints danced as if they were children traveling from Sun Life Stadium to Disney World. Instead they were jubilating over an impressive 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, excited to be honored with their first memorabilia. While Manning’s legacy takes a downfall—missing intended receiver Reggie Wayne after Gregg Williams’ superb defense executed blitzes—we now realize how elite Brees really is.

“We play for so much more than ourselves," Brees said. “We played for our city. We played for the entire Gulf Coast region.

Without debate, he’ll go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in Super Bowl history in a city where the population admires his humanitarian work, charitable work and involvement within a community that needs much rebuilding. But even greater, the Saints are mentioned in the Super Bowl category.

They now own a spot in history after dominating on the immense platform in sports. They marched until the intriguing contest ended, they marched against a team that had been there before, and they marched to come back from a 10-point deficit, proving title worthy.

There was Saints owner Tom Benson, the 80-year-old man who celebrated as the biggest fan, who stood on the midfield stage to receive the gleaming Lombardi Trophy and shouted to the heavens, “We’re back! We’re back!" He was filled with happiness as was Sean Payton, the best coach to ever lead the Saints. And Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees lifted his son, Baylen, and held him embracing the moment.

“I’ve just told our guys, you’ve got to make me look good on this,” Payton said. “We were going to be aggressive. When you do something like that, you just put it on the players, and they were able to execute. It turned out to be a big change of possession and ended with a score.”

Thousands gathered at Sun Life Stadium chanting “Who Dat! Who Dat!”

It was the Saints fulfilling a life-long dream for a grateful city. Finally, they can alleviate the horrid memories of long suffering.

Well, I guess Mardi Gras begins in the state of the fleur-de-lis.

Celebrate good times and twirl those fancy Saints’ umbrellas.