In the run up to this years’ championship I thought it might be fun to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game.
As the NFL is celebrating a 100 seasons I was tempted to do a century long retrospective. However for a lot of modern NFL fans, it feels like the game’s history starts with the, (retrospectively named), first Super Bowl. Not many will mention the undefeated APFA 1920 winners the Akron Pros.
The Run up to the Game
The 2009 season saw the NFL pass its 90th anniversary. It was also the 50th anniversary of the formations of the AFL.
The Colts and Saints began the season 14–0 and 13–0 respectively. Not surprisingly then a lot of people saw them as prohibitive favourites for their conference titles. This was the first time in NFL history two teams won their first thirteen games.
The league was looking at safety measures to reduce the impact of head injuries. Nice to see player safety take priority. Or was it more that Congress was holding hearings about the treatment of NFL players on the field? Particularly those ‘receiving concussions and other major injuries’? You decide!
Indianapolis were on a sensational run of success, especially in the regular season. Since 1999 they had gone 128-48 over those 11 seasons. They had gone 7-8 in the playoffs over that period but finally broken their duck by winning Super Bowl XLI 3 seasons earlier.
The Saints had nothing like that success in their previous decade to the game. They had gone 73-87 prior to bursting into a 13-3 season this year.
Included in that was a 3-13 2015 season completely overshadowed by Hurricane Katrina hitting the city. New Orleans’ 2016 season that saw them go 10-6 and reach the NFC title game had been cathartic for the recovering city. Now, if they could win here it would put an exclamation on their regeneration.
In the AFC the number 1 ranked Colts had finished 14-2. They had lost in week 16 & 17 of the season, but in the latter they were resting players.
They had smoothly progressed through the playoffs beating the 9-7 Ravens by 20-3, and the 9-7 New York Jets by 30-17. The only blip had been being behind to the Jets 17-13 at halftime – but the Colts had owned the second half to move to the Super Bowl.
The way the AFC playoffs had gone however the Colts had faced the bottom 2 seeds.
In the NFC meanwhile the Saints had made the show thanks to defeating the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals 45-14 & the 12-4 Minnesota Vikings 31-28.
They had made the Super Bowl thanks to beating two Division champions. The NFC Championship game had been a classic and taken an OT kick to decide it in the Saints favour.
Sean Payton has been coaching the Saints since the 2006 season. He currently has a 131-77 regular season record and is 8-7 in the playoffs.
Of most interest to UK based fans is probably the time he spent at QB for the Leicester Panthers.
Payton would have darker times after the Super Bowl win and was suspended for the 2012 season following the Bounty Scandal. He was the first coach in the modern era to be suspended for an entire season.
Since returning to the sideline he has had the Saints in the playoffs on 4 occasions and won the last 3 NFC South titles.
The Colts were coached by Jim Caldwell in his first year as Head Coach. He had been part of the coaching staff that had brought sustained success to the Colts leading up to this one.
This was the high water mark for Caldwell as coach of the Colts. He was gone after a 2-14 season in 2011 that saw him finish with a 26-22 record as coach in Indianapolis.
He would resurface in Detroit and lead them to a 36-28 record from 2014-2017.
The Game Itself: Super Bowl XLIV
The game was the last of the 10 previous Miami based Super Bowls to be played prior to this years’ event.
I am on record saying I love Special teams play. So to see the kickoff to the second half of this game be so pivotal was a thrill.
Instead of giving the ball back to Peyton Manning & the Colts with a chance to open up a double-digit lead, Sean Payton dialed up an onside kick. The Saints executed it perfectly, and arguably created the momentum to propel them to their first NFL title.
Colts start strong
The Colts had owned the first quarter. Taking a 10-0 lead thanks to a 38 yard Matt Stover Field Goal & Manning hitting Pierre Garcon for a 19 yard touchdown to cap the quarter.
In that first quarter the Colts had run 22 plays covering 149 yards and taken nearly 10 and a half minutes out of the game. All the more impressive their TD drive had started at their own 4 yard line.
At the same time they had restricted New Orleans to just 9 plays covering only 32 yards on their first two drives.
The Saints finally got going on their third drive. 11 plays saw them go 60 yards to a Field Goal. They held the Colts to back to back 3 and outs in the second quarter.
Meanwhile they had another 12 play 71 yard drive but turned the ball over on downs. The Saints brought it to within 4 with another Field Goal just before the half.
So the score stood at 10-6 to Indianapolis at halftime. People expected Manning and the high powered Colts O to get the ball first to start the third quarter. Which is when the saints pulled their surprise.
With the onside kick momentum in the game shifted. Drew Brees and the Saints attack needed only six plays to hit a 16-yard TD pass to Pierre Thomas to give New Orleans a 13-10 lead.
The Colts fought back with a 10 play 76 yard drive capped by Joseph Addai’s 4-yard TD run to retake the lead 17-13. That was their last lead.
Sealing the deal
It was a pick six that sealed the deal for New Orleans later in the game . Ironically made by former Indiana Hoosiers star Tracy Porter.
The Colts in the second half post TD were held to drives resulting in a missed Field Goal, an interception and a turnover on downs.
The Saints hit their third 40 yard + Field Goal to trail by one going into the final quarter. Once there, Brees hit Jeremy Shockey on a 2 yard TD pass for the go ahead score. A 2-point conversion pass to Lance Moore gave the Saints a 7 point lead.
Porter sealed the deal appearing in front of a Manning pass intended for Reggie Wayne and went 74 yards to put it beyond doubt.
What Came Next
The Saints followed their Super Bowl win by going 24-8 over the next two seasons. They didn’t make it past the Divisional Round of the playoffs however.
The Colts followed their AFC title by going 10-6 and losing a Wild Card game. Peyton Manning did not play a single down in 2011 and the Colts finished 2-14. Manning moved on to Denver, where he would pick up another Super Bowl title.
The poor season had a positive effect for the Colts however as it brought them another franchise QB via the draft in Andrew Luck.
Over the past 5 seasons the Colts have gone 37-43 and made one playoff appearance.
At the same time the Saints have followed three successive 7-9 seasons from 2014-2016 by going 37-11 over the past three seasons. They have had back to back 13-3 seasons and been knocked out of the playoffs in overtime on both occasions.
Colts fans would love to get back to the glory days of regular season domination and chances at titles.
Saints fans will be hoping recent form continues, while worrying about how long future Hall of Fame QB Dew Brees has left. They will probably be offering up a prayer not to see an overtime game in their playoff future too.
Featured image from: Pinterest