It is 4:10 a.m. Central Time as I write this, and there is still the noise of celebration outside my Canal Street hotel.
Player after player in the Saints' locker room talked about winning one for the city. And they did. "These people didn't want to leave,'' Superdome manager Doug Thornton said on the field almost an hour after the game. "They just wanted to stay and feel the moment and not let it end.''
The two keys to the victory, to me, were Sean Payton (for setting the tone that a coach who models himself after Bill Parcells and Jon Gruden can set) and Drew Brees (for being a good leader and a community leader and a franchise quarterback).
Think back about them. Payton interviewed for the Green Bay coaching job and the Saints' job in 2006. He preferred the Green Bay job, obviously, because of the quarterback stability (Favre and Aaron Rodgers were there) and because of the instability of the Saints after Hurricane Katrina. The Packers' job came down to him and Mike McCarthy. The Packers picked McCarthy. The Saints picked Payton.
Then it came down to two teams for Brees -- Miami and New Orleans. But when the Dolphins doctors told then-coach Nick Saban that Brees was an injury-risk coming off major shoulder surgery that they couldn't sign off on, Brees had to take the Saints. He may have anyway, but the Dolphins as a primary option weren't going to be there at the end, so the decision was easy.
Payton and Brees were orphans of the NFL, in a way, in a place where there were so many orphans of the storm. And here they are, the two men who propelled the Saints to the Super Bowl.
"What's great about doing it here,'' said Payton, "is that four years ago, there were holes in this roof. The fans in this city and this region deserve it.''
And they were partying pretty hard last night, and may still be as you read this.
I'll say only one thing about the overtime rule: It stinks.
I won't repeat every one of my objections to the rule that puts an inordinate amount of importance on the coin flip on overtime winners, but the NFC game was a classic case of why it's a bad idea to not give each team one possession in overtime:
The Vikings called heads, and it came up tails. New Orleans returned the kick to its 39-yard line. That meant if the Saints gained 28 yards, they'd be in field-goal range for Hartley. They got 17 yards in drive sustaining penalties, and 32 yards on their own, and Hartley's 40-yard field goal won it.
On the other sideline, Brett Favre stood waiting for his chance, the same way Peyton Manning waited for a chance that never came 55 weeks ago in San Diego. And I ask you two questions: Do you want the coin flip to have that much importance in determining the outcome of a playoff game? And if you think it doesn't matter, why have only seven teams that won the coin flip since overtime was reinstituted in 1974 chosen to kick off and play defense?
Your witness, counselor.
I am giving the Colts short-shrift this morning, and I apologize to all of you for that.
The one thing that impressed me when I went to Colts camp last summer was how advanced Pierre Garcon was. I heard great things about fourth-round rookie Austin Collie, but it was Garcon who lit up camp the day I was there for two practices. He was smooth, lithe and didn't shy away from contact. His maturation, and that of Collie, shows why we should fear the Colts not only in this Super Bowl but in the years ahead. Peyton Manning has found his replacement for Marvin Harrison. It may actually be two people, Garcon and Collie, who combined for 18 catches and 274 yards Sunday in the 30-17 win over the Jets.
Just watch Garcon. He may be a small-college kid (from Mount Union, Ohio), but he has the agility and toughness of a Division I player. Late this year, he began to show the kind of reliable hands a taskmaster like Manning requires. He's only 23. Collie's 24, mature beyond his years, and Manning seems to trust him as much as he does Garcon already, after only nine months of exposure to the Colts' encyclopedic offense.
I know it's very early to say this, but the Colts, with Anthony Gonzalez coming back presumably healthy next year, will have their best stable of receivers in years -- Reggie Wayne, and Garcon on the outside, Gonzalez, Collie and Clark in the slot. That's not only going to present problems for the Saints 13 days from now in the Super Bowl, but also it gives Manning the stable of receivers he needs for the last six or seven years of his career.
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