Saints Won Because They Played Desperate, Hungry Football

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Saints Won Because They Played Desperate, Hungry Football
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There's something incongruent when you hear the line, "New Orleans Saints, Super Bowl Champions," but it's no fluke.

The team that was vying with the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals for the title of most inept, hopeless, losing team in NFL history shed that image in a big way by winning Super Bowl XLIV 31-17 over the Indianapolis Colts.

Who knows?  The future is bright for a few more triumphs for the Saints in the coming decade.  2010 could be remembered as the first year of the dynasty.

The Saints were the underdogs in this game because the franchise had never won anything before and because almost nobody on the team had any Super Bowl experience when compared to the Colts, particularly the Drew Brees-Peyton Manning match-up.

Most notably, Manning was expected to make the big plays when he had to, while Brees was only given a reasonable shot at doing it.  Instead the game will be remembered for Manning's mistake, and the winning team's decision to play the most unconventional football so far in Super Bowl history.

The Saints won because they were desperate and hungry enough to throw away the conventional playbook.  The credit goes to coach Sean Payton.

Jim Caldwell, the Indianapolis head coach, was not out-coached, but he wasn't prepared for how much New Orleans was willing to abandon orthodox football.  Few coaches would be prepared for New Orleans' tactics.

You kick the field goal and get the points when offered and don't try any on-side kicks when they are not necessary.  Unsuccessful stuff like that gets head coaches questioned and then fired if they keep it up.

The Saints played this game like the way Al Davis envisioned the Oakland Raiders should play in his dreams, with total abandon, pulling out all the stops, and holding nothing back.

Payton and the Saints played this game like it was their only chance to win the Super Bowl, that they might never get back to the championship again.  They were willing to try desperate things like kicking an on-side kick to start the second half and gambling on fourth down near the goal line in the first.

The on-side kick also acknowledged one other fact; that with the two offenses and quarterbacks on the field, it may come down to whoever had the ball last would win.

It was accurate strategy.  So long as the game was within the one-score range, the team that had the ball last was likely to be the winner.

In Payton's strategy, he assumed that each offense was unstoppable and would come away with some points each time it got the football.

In these circumstances, turnovers would be the difference because it would give a team a chance to increase the margin beyond the one score range and also because it would take the ball out of the opponent's offense's hands.

That score was 2-0 in favor of the Saints—the on-side kick and the Manning mistake.

Manning was allowed to rust on the bench for virtually all of the second quarter and the on-side kick kept him there.  While he sat, his frustration at not being able to perform grew.

And when he got behind the eight ball, he probably got too anxious to make the big play.  That's when the mistake occurred.  New Orleans got a two-score lead and the Colts couldn't come back.

There was nothing memorable about the New Orleans victory except the two unconventional play calls and the interception.  Pierre Thomas made a few Colts miss tackles, but so did Joseph Addai for Indianapolis.  There were no long bombs or dramatic runs.

But it was the desperate, hungry strategy behind the New Orleans play-calling, the willingness to abandon the orthodox for the unconventional that was memorable.

That is why "New Orleans Saints, Super Bowl Champions" is not everybody's imagination.

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