Just as the playoffs were beginning, voting took place for the MVP of this year's NFL season.
To the surprise of few, Peyton Manning won the poll, receiving 39.5 out of 50 votes to take home his fourth MVP.
Finishing a distant second with only 7.5 votes was New Orleans QB Drew Brees.
At the time, I argued that the MVP should have gone to Brees.
First, Brees had the superior individual statistical season. He threw for more touchdowns with fewer interceptions. He completed a higher percentage of his passes, and had a higher QB rating. And he trailed Manning in passing yards by 112 for the season.
Team-wise, Brees' Saints took an unbeaten record deep into December, just as Manning's Colts had.
And the Saints, with their offense led by Brees, had scored 510 points as a team, almost 100 more points than the Colts, led by Manning.
You could make a case for Manning to win the MVP just about every year, but this year, I said, the edge—and the award— should have gone to Brees.
The real reason Manning won the MVP, it seemed to me, was the atrocious performance of Curtis Painter in relief of Manning late in the season. Watching that comic opera including Colts' fans booing their own team produced a guttural reaction, which made the sidelined Manning look all the more superhuman by comparison.
Meanwhile, in relief of Brees, Mark Brunell of the Saints had also lost, but had not looked nearly as bad.
That the deciding factor in who won the season's MVP might well have come down to who had the more inept backup seemed a disgrace to me.
Part of the beauty of sports is the poetic justice they sometimes serve...
As the Colts and Saints won their respective conference playoffs, we got the Superbowl matchup we wanted: Manning versus Brees.
Early on, things were looking as they should to those who voted for Manning, as the Colts led 10-0 in the first quarter. Manning had the lead at halftime, aided by a Colts running game averaging 7.2 yards per carry.
This was ironic, as one of the arguments Manning MVP award supporters had frequently made was that Brees had better running game support than Manning did.
At halftime of the Super Bowl, the Saints were averaging 1.2 yards per carry on the ground, yet Brees kept them in the game, down only four points at halftime.
This was one of those Super Bowls that came down to the fourth quarter.
First, Manning had a chance to extend his lead, but stalled just past midfield and just out of range for 42-year-old Colts kicker Matt Stover, who hadn't made a FG of that distance in three years, and not surprisingly missed the lengthy 51-yard try.
With New Orleans still trailing, Brees took over and calmly led his team on a come-from-behind touchdown drive. Then he capped it off with an MVP-caliber pass for a successful two-point conversion, forcing Manning and the Colts to score a touchdown to tie.
With 5:42 left, Manning had plenty of time to do what an MVP quarterback would do.
Instead, with 3:12 left, Manning threw a clean interception to the Saints Tracy Porter, who ran it back past the only Colts player in position to stop him—Manning—for a TD that left the outcome of this game in little doubt.
As Manning got the ball back, the Colts weren't without a chance. Scoring one touchdown quickly would be the easy part. Then they would have to recover an onside kick and score another touchdown very quickly.
But as if to drive home the fact that the MVP should have gone to Brees, Manning never got the Colts as far as the onside kick.
After having driven the ball all the way down to the Saints two-yard line, Manning was nearly picked off again, had another pass tipped, and a third fall incomplete in triple-coverage, as the Colts turned the ball over on downs to end the game.
The Saints won the Super Bowl and Brees won the game MVP.
Perhaps that's the biggest problem with the NFL's season-MVP voting: It takes place before the playoffs.
For Manning and the Colts, playoff disappointments are nothing new. Despite their almost annual flirt with regular season perfection, they have stumbled in the playoffs more often than not.
They did win a Super Bowl in 2007, defeating a Bears team that had knocked off the Saints, but this time the two QBs were head-to-head, and to me, Brees proved he was the MVP.
In reaching the Super Bowl, the Colts beat two 9-7 teams lacking even a credible passing game, let alone a vaunted one. It was the Colts defense that won the Ravens matchup.
And although Manning came back to beat the Jets, the performance wasn't terribly impressive coming against a team that wouldn't have even been in the playoffs if the Colts hadn't rested Manning and other starters and put in the aforementioned Curtis Painter to turn over the ball, the lead, and the game in Week 16.
In the bottom half of the draw, Brees and the Saints blew a team led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner off the field in the divisional round, scoring 45 points.
With another 31 points in the conference final, he knocked off another future Hall of Fame quarterback, superhero, and MVP candidate in Brett Fave and his dangerous Vikings. Favre had victory in his grasp near the end of regulation, but threw a fatal interception, the kind Brees didn't throw all year. In the pressure of sudden-death overtime, Brees took the ball and orchestrated a calm and flawless drive to victory.
In the Super Bowl, it was the other way around: Brees led the drive first, then watched his rival throw a fatal interception.
Brees finished a near-perfect 32-for-39 with no interceptions.
It was only fitting this game and season ended not with Manning driving the ball and running out of time, but with Brees taking a knee with the ball in his hands and time remaining.
There was no question he was the MVP of this year's NFL season.
"God is great," Brees said as he received the Vince Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl MVP.
NFL MVP award voters take note: Saints trump superheroes.
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