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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Commentary

Saints far from NOLA’s saviors


Drew Brees, seen here signing an inert bomblet for Aviation Ordnanceman Andrew Burk last May, has been at the center of the New Orleans Saints’ rise to the top of the NFL. | Courtesy of U.S. Navy

In some ways, the New Orleans Saints were lucky to just be on the field for Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Were it not for a misguided Brett Favre throw or Jared Allen’s “heads” call in overtime of the NFC Championship Game, the Saints may not have reached the pinnacle of professional football.

But it goes back further than that.

The Saints made tough calls when they were needed. They signed quarterback Drew Brees to a contract when both San Diego and Miami saw only a bum shoulder. They bought into Sean Payton even though he had never been a head coach.

Payton wanted to win so badly he took a $250,000 pay cut to bring in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was an assistant head coach at UH under Jack Pardee. The Saints management agreed with what Payton was doing and returned that portion of his salary.

Smart thinking, too, as under Williams, the Saints finally fielded an aggressive defense to go with their prolific offense.

On Sunday, Payton, Williams and Brees showed they weren’t content with following the script on the field either. They created their own luck instead.

Before the largest televised audience in American broadcast history, Payton opted for a risky all-or-nothing onside kick to start the third quarter. That gamble paid off when the Saints recovered the ball and drove to the end zone for a momentum-changing score.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that for seemingly the first time all year, Peyton Manning became flustered and made a mental mistake at the wrong time. When cornerback Tracy Porter read Manning, he correctly identified the play as an underneath route and turned that gamble into a 74-yard interception return for the game-sealing touchdown.

In that sense, it’s true that Manning failed to finish the job, but that shouldn’t detract from the MVP-season he had. Manning might be the best quarterback of this era. Those who insinuate that one mistake takes away from his greatness are doing the sport a disservice.

The bottom line is the Saints were the better team that night. And yes, New Orleans deserves to celebrate after waiting 43 years for a championship.

But to say this marks a watershed moment in New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina is misguided. One title won’t bring New Orleans back to its pre-Katrina population level, nor will it restore its economic activity.

With a lot of time and work, the city will fully rebound. Once that day arrives, Saints fans will be able to point to their first-class football team as a symbol of prosperity.

For now, it bodes well for the city’s future that it was finally able to taste the sweet success of the ultimate victory after it rallied around the Saints in 2005.

For their fans, including those who’ve had season tickets since 1967, it was a moment in the Promised Land after spending way too much time in the desert.

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