Today we have Super Bowl XLIV, which was held on February 7, 2010, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, between the three-time AFC champion Indianapolis Colts and the first-time NFC champion New Orleans Saints.
As always, we have a pop quiz, and then homework at the end of the episode. The pop quiz question for today is: Who was the last team to recover an onside kick in the Super Bowl before Super Bowl XLIV? The answer will come at the end of the podcast.
Prelude to Super Bowl XLIV
The New Orleans Saints had never been to the Super Bowl before, much like the Arizona Cardinals. In 2009, though, they put together the most remarkable streak in franchise history, winning the season’s first 13 games in a row. Once they reached 13-0, they lost interest and rested their best players, and they finished 13-3.
The Saints had such a potent offense that it’s hard to find a weak spot on their schedule, not counting the exhibition games once they clinched the #1 seed. The Saints scored at least 30 points nine times. They scored at least 45 points four times. They were practically the second coming of the Greatest Show on Turf from a decade ago.
The Saints crushed Kurt Warner and the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals 45-14 in the divisional round. They then played Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game. Minnesota Vikings legend Brett Favre threw an interception late in the game with the score tied at 28. The Saints then went on to win in overtime, 31-28. After decades of frustration, the Saints were on to their first Super Bowl.
Quarterback Drew Brees had a banner year, throwing for nearly 4,400 yards and 34 touchdowns with a passer rating of 109.6. Running backs Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell combined for over 1,400 yards rushing, plus another 300 yards from Thomas receiving. Their top receiver Marques Colston caught 70 passes for over 1,000 yards for nine touchdowns. Devery Henderson was second on the team with 51 catches for just over 800 yards.
As for the Colts, they started the season 14-0 and were well on their way to a 16-0 record. Sure, most of their victories in the second half of the season were close ones, but with Peyton Manning at the helm, a perfect record looked in range. That’s when head coach Jim Caldwell pulled Manning and the starters out of the team’s Week 16 game against the Jets.
Why did the Colts give up? Why? Who knows. But they threw away the final two games of the season and finished 14-2.
The Colts beat Baltimore 20-3 and got a rematch against the Jets in the AFC Championship Game. They defeated New York 30-17 to advance to their second Super Bowl in four years. Regardless of how the season finished, the Colts looked to be the best team in the league thanks to their stifling defense that perfectly complemented Manning’s offense.
Manning threw for exactly 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns. Running back Joseph Addai ran for over 800 yards and ten touchdowns. The Colts had a pair of players catch exactly 100 balls: receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark. Wayne went over 1,200, and Clark went over 1,100, but both had exactly ten touchdowns. Receiver Austin Collie wasn’t too bad himself catching 60 passes for a little under 700 yards and seven touchdowns.
Even Addai caught 51 passes and three touchdowns. The Colts were absolutely loaded. With defensive end Dwight Freeney picking up 13 and a half sacks, the Colts looked ready to start a dynasty with their second Super Bowl of the latter half of the decade.
Super Bowl XLIV: First Quarter
Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals legend Emmitt Smith tossed the coin, which New Orleans won and chose to receive. The Saints went three-and-out on their opening possession, though, and they had to punt. Manning started the Colts out with a 15-yard pass to Clark.
He then hit Collie for another first down at the New Orleans 25. Manning got the ball to Addai to reach the 20, but receiver Pierre Garcon was unable to catch one on third down. Kicker Matt Stover, filling in for an injured Adam Vinatieri, became the oldest man to play in a Super Bowl as he kicked a 38-yard field goal to give Indianapolis the early 3-0 lead.
Returner Courtney Roby fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, but the Saints got it back. Brees then threw to running back Reggie Bush for 16 yards. But again the Saints offense broke down, and a couple of incompletions led to a punt. Punter Thomas Morstead perfectly kicked one down to the Indianapolis 4.
Manning got the next drive started with a pass to running back Donald Brown to reach the 15. Addai ran for 16 more through a big hole, then he followed a block by Wayne to get 12 more yards. Next, Brown got the Colts within a half-yard of a first down, and Addai picked it up easily on a run up the middle for 26 yards, his longest run of the season. Manning then hit Garcon in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. The Colts had matched the longest drive in Super Bowl history, going 96 yards to make it 10-0.
Super Bowl XLIV: Second Quarter
Brees now had to get things turned around; only one team ever came back from down 10 points in a Super Bowl, and that was a Washington Redskins team that won 42-10. Brees got a first down on an 11-yard pass to Colston. Bush then ran a couple of times, and on the second one, he was hit late out of bounds, drawing a 15-yard penalty.
Thomas caught a pass and broke some tackles to get to the Indianapolis 40. Brees then went over the middle for Colston, earning another first down at the 29. The Saints proved unable to move the ball from there, but kicker Garrett Hartley made a 46-yard field goal to get New Orleans on the board.
The Colts went three-and-out, and Plum Borough, Pennsylvania legend Pat McAfee punted it down to the 28. Brees threw to Colston for 13 yards, then went to tight end Jeremy Shockey for another seven. Receiver Lance Moore broke wide open and hauled a catch in for 21 yards. Colston followed with a catch for 27 yards. After the two-minute warning, the Saints were stuck at the Indianapolis 1. Bell tried pounding in, but he got hit for a loss of half a yard. Head coach Sean Payton told the Saints to go for it on 4th-and-goal. But Thomas was stuffed by linebacker Gary Brackett, and the Colts took over on downs near their own 2.
The Colts played it very conservatively, running the ball on three straight plays. That cost New Orleans two timeouts, but it allowed them to get the ball back with under 50 seconds to go in the half. Brees fired to a wide-open Henderson for a first down to the 32. He spiked the ball with 20 seconds left. Another pass to Henderson ended in bounds, and the Saints had to burn their final timeout. Brees then went to Bush for a short gain with five seconds left, and he stepped out of bounds to allow Hartley a shot. Hartley calmly made the 44-yard attempt, and the Saints went to the locker room trailing 10-6.
Super Bowl XLIV: Third Quarter
The turning point of this game came on the opening kickoff of the second half. Morstead lined up to kick it deep, but instead, he kicked an onside kick. The ball bounced off the hands of Colts receiver Hank Baskett, and after one of the biggest scrums in the history of American football, the Saints came out of the pile with the ball. From that point onward, the Saints had the momentum.
Brees threw to Thomas to get a first down at the Colts 45. A couple of passes to Henderson yielded another first down. Colston caught one for about nine yards, and Thomas followed with a run for eight more. Brees then threw a little screen pass to Thomas, who juked his way to a 16-yard touchdown that put New Orleans out in front, 13-10.
The Colts were not dead yet. Manning threw to Clark for eight yards, and Addai caught one for a first down. Addai ran for 11 yards, then Manning found Clark again for 26 more yards. Brown ran it down to the 15, and Clark caught one and rolled on down to the 4. Addai then made a double spin move to get into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown, and the Colts retook the lead, 17-13.
But Brees answered back quickly. He threw to Bush for a first down in Indianapolis territory at the 48. Next, he found Henderson for another new set of downs at the 36. His third-down pass to Shockey came up short of the sticks, but Hartley made his third 40-plus-yard field goal of the game. His 47-yard field goal cut the Saints’ deficit to one.
Super Bowl XLIV: Fourth Quarter
Manning got the Colts back down the field, starting with a pass to Collie for a first down, and followed by a 17-yard pass to Garcon. A short pass to Wayne got the Colts within two yards of a first down, and Caldwell chose to go for it. Wayne caught a pass for a first down at the New Orleans 32 to pick it up. The Colts couldn’t go much further, though. Stover tried a 51-yard field goal to extend the lead to four, but he missed it wide to the left.
Brees led the Saints right downfield to take the lead. First, Bush ran it into Indianapolis territory, then Brees hit Thomas at the 42. His next pass went to Henderson for a first down. Bush hauled one in for eight, then Brees found Colston for eight more. Next, it was receiver Robert Meachum with a six-yard catch. Thomas carried the ball twice from there to get down to the 2. Brees then fired a quick pass over to tight end Jeremy Shockey, and the Saints retook the lead, 22-17.
On the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Brees threw to Moore, who bobbled the ball while reaching over the goal line with it. The ball came loose, and the officials ruled it no good. However, since it was a matter of crossing the goal line, the fact that he had possession at one point with the ball past the line meant that he had actually scored. The two-point play made it 24-17 in favor of the Saints.
Manning now had to lead a touchdown drive to tie the game. He threw to Garcon for 17 yards, before nearly getting picked off. He went back to Garcon on a slant pass to pick up a first down, then found Wayne twice to move the chains and get to the 31. Two plays later, though, on third-and-five, Manning threw a careless pass that was picked off by defensive back Terry Porter, who returned it 78 yards for a touchdown. That made it 31-17, Saints, and the game was practically over.
The Colts moved it back down into New Orleans territory, starting with a couple of catches by Clark. Manning then went long to Collie for a first down at the New Orleans 30. That brought on the two-minute warning. Manning came out of the break with two passes to Addai.
Manning then almost got picked off in the end zone by defensive back Jabari Greer, but it fell incomplete. The Colts also got called on the play for offensive pass interference. While Manning got the Colts back down to the 3 on a pass to Addai, the Colts soon faced fourth down. Manning’s fourth-down desperation pass over the middle fell incomplete, and the game was over. The New Orleans Saints were Super Bowl champions for the first time in franchise history!
Super Bowl XLIV: Aftermath and Awards
Drew Brees was named MVP after a brilliant, pinpoint day. He completed 32 of his 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His passer rating was 114.5. There is no argument that he was the best player on the field in this game. There wasn’t anyone else even close. This was the highlight of his Hall of Fame career, and when he enters the Hall of Fame, they will play the video of this game forever.
The next-best player on his team? I’ll throw a curveball here. How about a split award between kicker Garrett Hartley and punter Thomas Morstead? Hartley made three field goals of 44 yards or longer, as well as two extra points. As for Morstead, he made the most clutch surprise onside kick in Super Bowl history. The last team to recover one was Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX, which is the answer to today’s pop quiz question.
The best player on the losing Colts was Peyton Manning. Yes, he threw a pick-six, but he also threw for 333 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t the reason they lost. His pick at the end came in desperation as he tried to rally his team from down seven. Manning didn’t wilt in this big game, but he was just not good enough to win.
For Least Valuable Player, I’d give it to Wayne, who caught just five passes for 46 yards on 11 targets. Those numbers are not going to cut it in the most important game of the season. And sure, he may have been double-covered, but it’s not like he was opening it up a ton for the other receivers. Just a bad day for Wayne.
The biggest play of this game is obvious: the onside kick that changed everything. It changed the momentum, it changed field position, it changed possession, and most of all, it changed the score. What a call that was! Payton’s decision is one of the most aggressive decisions in Super Bowl history, and it paid off big time.
The best play you don’t remember? That would be New Orleans’ stop on third-and-inches from about the Indianapolis 11 near the end of the first half. If running back Mike Hart picks up the first down on that play, the Colts run the clock out for the first half and go to the half with a 10-3 lead. But the Saints made that stop, and they called timeout with 46 seconds left, eventually getting a field goal out of it. No one remembers it, but it was a key sequence in this game.
The best player you don’t remember is Pierre Thomas, running back of the New Orleans Saints. He had 85 scrimmage yards and a receiving touchdown in this game. He was often forgotten because the Saints had Reggie Bush, one of the most dynamic and explosive players of all time. Thomas earned his spot on this team through his shifty running, and he deserves to be remembered.
This week, for homework, go with Payton and Brees: The Men Who Built the Greatest Offense in NFL History by Jeff Duncan. While I don’t think they’re the greatest offense in NFL history, they’re certainly one of the best.
The Saints deserved to win more than just this one Super Bowl, but I can think of another team like that. In fact, that team will be the subject of the next episode. Aaron Rodgers goes to his first Super Bowl as a #6 seed. The Steelers go for their “Stairway to Seven,” but will they instead be “Stuck at Six”?
Find out next time, as the Green Bay Packers take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV! In the meantime, please consider buying one of my books at tommyaphillips.com. This is Tommy A. Phillips, signing off. So long!
Lombardi Memories is a show that takes you back in time, into January or February, to the greatest one-day spectacle in all of sports. This is the every-other-Tuesday podcast that looks back at each and every one of the 50-plus Super Bowls and tells the story of who won and why. Tommy A. Phillips is your host on this Super Journey. He’s an author of multiple NFL books. You can purchase below.
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