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Super Bowl XLIV: Dirty Pool Or Gutsy Play Call? A Response To Steve Montana

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Super Bowl XLIV: Dirty Pool Or Gutsy Play Call? A Response To Steve Montana
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's perfectly understandable that some Indianapolis Colts' fans are still in a state of shock and denial over getting beat by the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.

Every excuse from blaming the officials to an NFL conspiracy has been written to rationalize their tough loss after being the prohibitive favorites by both the bookies and the media.

There is a point, though, where denial turns into outright delusion. Steve Montana, a blog writer for Indy who contributes to the Bleacher Report , has basically crossed that line with his latest screeds, attacking the gutsy and, ultimately, game-turning onside kick call by Saints head coach Sean Payton that began the third quarter.

This is a rebuttal to both his initial post and his follow-up , which further attempts to clarify his stance that the attempt amounted to "dirty pool" and violated an apparent "getleman's agreement" that teams who kick off to start the game are entitled to receive the ball to begin the second half.

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First off (as so many commentators have replied to Stevie on his blog), there are simply NO guarantees or entitlements given to coin tosses or kickoffs. All the coin toss verifies to the winner is the option of whether to kick off, receive, or to defer the decision to the second half....which then gives the loser the option of kicking or receiving for the first half.

The Saints are under NO edicts to simply kick the ball to Indy; they reserve, as do any other team, the option to attempt an onside kick in order to maintain possession of the ball.

The risk of giving the opposing team possession with excellent field position deters most teams from trying such a play in most situations, except as a last-ditch, desperation effort at the end of the game. 

The Super Bowl, however, isn't most situations.

Given an opportunity to not only give his All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees a short field to play with, but also keep Peyton Manning and the Colts offense off the field following a very lengthy halftime show, I'm guessing that Payton thought that the rewards would be worth the risk for his "underdog" team. 

Indeed, given the fact that Payton has been known for taking high-risk play calling with potentially huge rewards (see the unsuccessful, 4th-and-goal play near the end of the first half that turned out well for the Saints in the field position battle due to Indy going three and out in the ensuing possession), it would probably be a given that he would attempt such a play.

The fact that Indy was totally unprepared for such and didn't react in time when it was executed is a credit to Payton for his willingness to take chances for his team to win and a discredit for Indy for not being prepared enough.

Montana attempts to deflect criticism for his beliefs by claiming that he wasn't attempting to denigrate the Saints' overall game performance, saying that they did ultimately, in his words, deserve to win...."up to a point".

Problem is, though, that his initial post is filled with assumptions about how Manning would inevitably make the necessary second half adjustments and basically slice through the Saints D for plenty of points.

Considering how the Saints did more adjustments and ultimately did control Manning in the second half (limiting him only to a touchdown), those assumptions now appear quite premature.

Secondly, while the onside kick was the beginning of the turnaround, it was only one of many turning points in the game...and arguably, probably not the main play that decided the ultimate fate. 

Tracy Porter's Pick-6 was undoubtedly the play that mostly sealed the deal for New Orleans.

You could say that Johnathan Vilma's hustle to knock away a long touchdown pass early in the 4th quarter (which led to a missed Matt Stover field goal) could be almost as huge.

Or...Pierre Garcon's drop of a certain Manning pass that would have continued a Colts drive when they were up 10-0.

Or...the inability of the Colts to gain a first down after that goal line stand late in the second quarter, which gave the Saints the ball and led to the field goal by Garrett Hartley that cut the lead to 10-6.

And...let us not forget that the Colts responded to the touchdown following the onside kick with a sustained drive that resulted in a Manning-to-Garcon TD that allowed Indy to regain the lead, 17-13. 

As for Montana's suggestion that the NFL forbid the use of onside kicks to start each half: I find it quite astonishing that someone would suggest that merely to assuage their own home team's comfort, and cause another team to be throttled in their play calling strategy.

A kickoff is NOT similar to a jump ball in basketball or a face-off in hockey.

In any case, there is no guarantee that both sides should get an equal right to possession of the ball.

An onside kick, under most circumstances, is rare except in late-game situations and still quite risky, even in surprise situations.

But, to criticize a coach for attempting and succeeding on such a play merely because your team was on the losing end, and then dismiss his strategy as "dirty pool", is simply unconscionable.

Don't blame the rules for your own team's failure to stop the other guys.

In the end, it wasn't the guys in pinstripes or suits that defeated the Colts; it was the guys with the gold helmets, fleur-de-lis, and white jerseys.

As painful as it may be for Colts fans and hacks like Steve Montana, the better team did indeed win...and last Sunday, that team happened to be the New Orleans Saints.

Just accept it, Indy, and prepare for next year.

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