Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV: Heart Says New Orleans Saints, Head Says Indianapolis Colts

Make no mistake about it, Super Bowl XLIV this Sunday has the potential to be an all-time classic. The two best teams in the NFL, led by the two best quarterbacks, in a real David vs. Goliath clash.

I think it's fair to say that no one—outside Indianapolis Colts fans—would begrudge the New Orleans Saints a victory in their first-ever Super Bowl appearance. With Drew Brees pulling the strings, the Saints have have a leader who lives and breathes everything La Nouvelle-OrlĂ©ans on and off the pitch.

When Brees was released by the Chargers in 2006 after concerns about the health of his arm, few would have thought that this was the guy to build a team around. His only real suitors were the Dolphins and the Saints, but after meeting with Sean Payton and touring a devastated New Orleans, a wonderful relationship ensued.

Payton was able to sell rebuilding not only the team, but also the entire city—after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina—to Brees by telling him that the Saints were central to restoring pride and hope to the beleaguered community.

Since then, Brees has worked tirelessly off the field in charity work for the city, but that endeavour has been more than matched by his phenomenal exploits on the field.

As one of the smaller QB's in the game, Brees is always a target for major hits, and he does not possess a major gun for long bombs, but he is supremely accurate. In a lot of ways, he is like a young Joe Montana.

Since 2006 with the Saints, he has produced four consecutive 4,000 yard seasons, including an amazing 5,000 yard haul in 2008. With Brees' accuracy combined with Payton's free scoring offense, it is little wonder that the Saints scored a remarkable 510 points this term, an average of 30 points per game.

The New Orleans Saints will be fighting on three fronts: against the Colts, for their city's people, and for survivors in Haiti. Johnathan Vilma's parents were born on the earthquake-ravaged island, and over the past couple of weeks, he has spent much time helping its victims.

The Colts will go into this game as slight favourites. Led by Peyton Manning, Indianapolis will be appearing in their second Super Bowl in four years. And while Manning is probably the standout quarterback in the game today, he is not the greatest QB of all-time as some pundits have made out.

The 33-year-old Manning has a fantastic record as QB. Since 1999, he has produced 4,000 yard seasons every year bar 2005, giving him 10 4,000-plus years, which will surely gain him a deserved place in the Hall of Fame.

Without a doubt, he is the man to beat. As the leading puppet master in the NFL today, Manning has led the Colts offense to an excellent 25 point average per game.

He has become the foundation for all that is good about the Colts and is every bit the ying to Brees' yang.

Since September 1998, the Colts have named just one starting quarterback: Manning. No other team in the NFL can boast such an achievement.

For example the Chicago Bears have started 16 passers during that same period, the Dolphins and the Ravens have called upon 15, and the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have started 14 apiece. In short, Manning is beyond special, but he is also incredibly tough.

Manning is not only physically brilliant but also possesses one of the strongest, most accurate arms in the league. He is also blessed with an incredible intellect and can read any situation. There is nothing any defence can throw at Manning that he hasn't seen before. He is the ideal leader, as much a coach as a player.

Such is the respect that rookie head coach Jim Caldwell has for Manning that for every play, he gives his QB three plays, and lets him decide on which one is use. It is a tactic that obviously works as the Colts now find themselves in Miami.

Where the Colts move ahead of the Saints is when you sit right down and look at the rest of their offensive weapons. Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark each caught over 100 passes this season, and the arrival and development of Pierre Garcon has really caught the eye.

Hailing from the footballing wilderness of Mount Union in Ohio, Garcon was a sixth-round draft pick in 2008. One of the Colts scouting system's real successes, Garcon has become integral to the Colts offense, becoming Manning's long-distance go-to guy.

In his first real full season, Garcon made 47 receptions for 765 yards and four touchdowns.

For all the links between New Orleans and Haiti, the link between the Colts and Haiti is maybe even closer.

The youngster has donned the Haitian flag during the Colts' two playoff wins in an attempt to raise awareness of the problems on the ravaged island. He has even stated that he stays up all night watching coverage of the devastation in an effort to burn the images into his mind, hoping they inspire him to win on Sunday.

Garcon has taken every opportunity to raise awareness of the problems in his mother's country by raising contributions through his Twitter site, to talking about Haiti in almost every interview.

Such are the plethora of fantastic duels and stories in this matchup, it is very easy to forget that the Colts QB Peyton Manning's father was also a QB for the New Orleans Saints in the '70s.

If there is anyone who is known as Mr. New Orleans it is Archie Manning. To this day, he still makes the city his home and has done sterling work to help the victims of Katrina over the last couple of years.

It is the irony of ironies that the team he loves like no other has finally got to its first Super Bowl against the team led by his son.

For him this weekend, blood will be thicker than water as he cheers on his son over his home team.


Bookmakers see this game as potentially the highest scoring Super Bowl in history, and have set a 57 point total as the most likely score. With the two best offenses in years going head to head, that may indeed happen.

If it does, I don't think anyone will care who wins.

My heart says the Saints, but my head says the Colts...