Paul E. Anna: High Points
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
The year is young, but we already have a great candidate for the feel-good sports story of the year.
The New Orleans Saints’ 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts this past Sunday in Super Bowl XLIV (that’s 44, for the Roman Numeral-challenged) was one of the most exciting and significant games ever played in the increasingly popular NFL.
Buoyed, no doubt, by a perfect snowstorm that converged upon the mid-Atlantic states (another example of the power of the mighty and monopolistic National Football League), the audience for the television broadcast of the game was the largest in the history of the medium.
Close to a third of this country’s inhabitants saw the Saints rally from a 10-point deficit to win their first Vince Lombardi Trophy in their XLII-year history. (Yes, that is 42 years.)
Once the final score was official, there was an outpouring of good cheer, not just in New Orleans but around the nation, as the Saints had clearly become the fans’ favorites. I am sure there were those in Indiana who boo-hooed a bit following the loss, but I can’t remember a game where so many emotionally supported one team over another, even though bettors had made the Colts a 5-point favorite.
The feel-good factor was bolstered by a general consensus that the City of New Orleans deserved a break following the devastation visited upon it in August 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. A professional football team winning a big game can never replace the lives lost, the homes destroyed and the dreams deferred for those who, to this day, must deal with the aftermath of both a killer storm and a poorly maintained levee system. But the Saints’ win will forever be remembered as a triumph of a team representing a city that needed a boost.
Those of you who watched the game (most of you, I’ll bet) know that the turning point came late in the 4th quarter when the Colts were driving toward a tying touchdown. Needing five yards for a first down, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, born and raised in the City of New Orleans, threw a short slant pass to his top receiver, Reggie Wayne. The Saints cornerback, Terry Porter, read the play perfectly, jumped the route and picked off the pass, returning it 74 yards for the points that essentially sealed the win.
Porter is a great story in his own right. Raised in Port Allen, La., he went to school at Indiana University, so he had roots in both teams’ home states. Like the City of New Orleans, he came back from adversity, having injured his knee during the regular season; he’d been pronounced out for the year before his return for the playoffs. He had been beaten repeatedly by Wayne in the game and yet, when it mattered most, he made the critical aggressive move that won it.
But for me, the key was Manning. An intense competitor with a steely determination to win, he could never be accused of consciously making such a key mistake at such a critical time as he did with that pass.
But in my heart of hearts I would like to think that he is, deep down, a son of the city that raised him. I’d like to think that, in that brief moment, the soul of New Orleans that resides within him rose up and took just … this much … off that pass. That the throw was just … this much … inside. That he couldn’t help himself and, as a result, gave one up for the City of New Orleans.
That may be pure folly on my part. But frankly, the thought made me like Peyton Manning even more than I did before. And that is the feel-good sports story of the year.
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