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.
The prolonged greatness of Manning and everything that he's done with a team that is constantly in the hunt for a Super Bowl, at this moment, is equal to what Brees managed with a meticulously brilliant MVP performance on Sunday night. And with Brees now a Super Bowl champion, he will now be mentioned as one of the best quarterbacks in the game -- as he should.
Brees and his teammates vanquished not only Manning, but Arizona's Kurt Warner and Minnesota's Brett Favre in the playoffs. Brees has put up the numbers since joining Payton with the Saints in 2006, and he really didn't need to be validated, but he has been. He completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
Brees helped New Orleans outscore Indianapolis 31-7 after falling behind 10 points in the first quarter. It was a virtuoso performance of managing the game, and throwing short and intermediate passes against a defense that wouldn't let him go deep.
For most of the second half, which the Saints dominated, Payton had his bigger receivers terrorize the Colts with screen passes and simple comeback and hook routes that were akin to post players in basketball walling off smaller defenders. Brees put the ball where only they could catch it and didn't stop until the game was in control.
"Drew was magnificent tonight," Payton said. "It's a part of the résumé and the career of a quarterback and a great player. He made a lot of bold screen passes, and he had time to do that. He handled it extremely well. If you look at his location tonight, he was fantastic. He's the MVP for a reason and one of the most valuable players in the league."
As well as Brees played, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and his players were equal contributors to the win. Although Indianapolis moved the ball as the game wore on, the sledding became far more difficult. New Orleans got those "remember me" shots on Manning early, not sacking but hitting him. They played a lot more games in the second half with coverages and fronts and blitzes to make him throw the ball a little sooner then he would have liked.
Colts tight end Dallas Clark got open and made plays, especially in the third quarter. He was barely a factor after that. Cornerback Jabari Greer harassed Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne and allowed him to catch just five balls. And then there is cornerback Tracy Porter.
A game after intercepting Favre to keep the Vikings from possibly putting the go-ahead points on the scoreboard late in the NFC title game, he picked off Manning and returned it 74 yards to give New Orleans its decisive edge.
"There's a lot of grit, a lot of determination in this team," Payton said. "We fought so hard, and this is what makes us uniquely different."
The Saints are uniquely different, because this team is made up of so many players other teams didn't want, like Brees, safety Darren Sharper and tight end Jeremy Shockey. There is no telling how much this roster could be deconstructed in the offseason. Even though this team just won the title, a 13-year veteran like Sharper or a high-priced, part-time player like Reggie Bush might not be back.
Injuries, like the one Brees suffered to his shoulder five years ago that made San Diego feel he was expendable, could happen again. The Saints might not be built for the long haul, and they could be a quick-hit wonder.
But they won it all, and they were the first team in this franchise's history to do that. This is a special team for a lot of reasons, but the fact that it delivered on the mojo is what makes the team special.
"This was part of a plan you couldn't see two, three, four years ago," Bush said. "It's a blessing to be a part of history and be a part of a city that needed it. That's special man."