If there ever was the perfect storybook finish, it has to involve the New Orleans Saints and their destined trip to pro football’s pinnacle of success—winning the Super Bowl.

Five years ago most pro football moguls believed there never again would be football played in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city and breached the levees that surround much of the Crescent City and the Superdome needing millions of dollars in repairs.

The Saints literally were a team without a city or much of a fan base left in the area. Many of the members of the team and employees of the Saints’ organization didn’t even have a place to live, let alone a place to continue working.

But this football-crazed area was not going to give up having an NFL franchise without a fight, because many of the league officials were already testing the waters of San Antonio and Los Angeles to move the Saints to another city.

The State Legislature was also determined to do whatever necessary to keep the Saints in New Orleans and came up with the necessary money to repair the Superdome so the 2006 season could be played there.

It was a big order, especially when most areas of the city needed major repairs and reconstruction, but it almost became Priority No. 1. Many of the members of the Saints put up their own personal money to assist the city to get back on its feet as quickly as possible.
The Saints had labored 20 years before posting their first winning record in 1987. After a 3-13 finish in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina forced them to play their home games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge, the Saints made a head coaching change.

Sean Payton left his job as offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys to accept the Saints’ head coaching position and many things started falling into place.

As the city of New Orleans and the Superdome were being rebuilt, Payton also began to reconstruct the team, making it more suitable to his style of coaching. The Saints drafted well and picked up some key players that would prove to be important cogs in the Saints’ success story.

The Saints made their return to the Louisiana Superdome in a Monday Night Football contest Sept. 25, 2006 after a one-year absence and throttled the Atlanta Falcons 23-3. Things got better as New Orleans won their division, but lost in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Over the next couple of years the roster changed with the drafting of Reggie Bush in 2006, plus Jermon Bushrod, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore and kicker Garrett Hartley to name a few youngsters Payton thought would help turn the franchise around.

The addition of veteran free agents Drew Brees, Jeremy Shockey, Scott Shanle, Darren Sharper, Jonathan Vilma and Mark Brunell solidified Payton’s roster. This should be the season (2009) that would tell the tale if Payton’s project was successful or not.

New Orleans won their first 13 games and was the talk of the city, state and even country. The Saints seemed to be everybody’s darling team.

The Dallas Cowboys came to town and in a “must-win” situation, upset the Saints 24-17, derailing their dreams of a 16-0 season. New Orleans lost their next two regular-season games to Tampa Bay (20-17 OT) and Carolina (23-10) but already had earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Good teams also seem to be the luckiest ones and the Saints were fortunate in the NFC championship game that aging Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Brett Favre elected not to run with the ball and threw an errant pass that was picked off, sending the game into overtime.

Again Lady Luck waved her magic wand and the Saints won the coin flip. They got the kickoff and marched into field goal range for Hartley, who blasted the football through the uprights giving the Saints a stunning 31-28 victory and sending them to the Super Bowl for the first time in their 43-year history.

The first half of Sunday night’s Super Bowl XLIV extravaganza looked nothing like the high-scoring shootout that was predicted as the Saints managed two Hartley field goals and trailed 10-6 at the intermission.

Payton then did something no other coach in Super Bowl history ever dared to try by calling for an onside kick to start the second half. It worked and the Saints recovered, marched downfield and scored on Pierre Thomas’ unbelievable 16-yard touchdown run with a screen pass from Brees, putting the Saints ahead for the first time 13-10.

The Colts answered with Joseph Addai’s second TD of the game from three yards out, and Hartley booted his third field goal from 47 yards out, becoming the only kicker in Super Bowl history to boot three field goals of more than 40 yards.

The score remained 17-16 in favor of the Colts midway through the fourth quarter as Brees directed a 59-yard drive, connecting on short passes and throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to Shockey with 5:42 left in the game.

 This was Brees’ 32nd completion of the game to tie a Super Bowl record, putting the Saints ahead for good and earning him the game’s Most Valuable Player award.

A controversial two-point conversion—the only one in Super Bowl history—put New Orleans ahead for good 24-17 after Payton disputed the game official’s ruling of an incomplete pass. But a slow-motion replay showed that Saints’ receiver Lance Moore actually made a sensational catch for the two-point conversion.

On the next series the other Peyton—Indy quarterback Manning—made the game’s only big mistake as his pass intended for favorite receiver Reggie Wayne was picked off by Saints’ cornerback Terry Porter, who raced untouched 74 yards to paydirt, virtually icing the game at 31-17 and starting the celebration in the French Quarter that probably will be still going on when Mardi Gras officially begins next Tuesday.

Sean Payton clearly out-coached his counterpart Jim Caldwell and was carried onto the field by his jubilant players. “It’s really a credit to everyone, these players here,” Payton said. “They carried out the plan.”

KWICKIES…Jack Nicklaus, talking to reporters before his 70th birthday Jan. 21, said Tiger Woods’ goal of passing his record of 18 major championships will be “a little tougher” if Woods, who now has 14, sits out this year. Three of the majors are at courses—Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews—that Tiger “basically owns.”

The West Orange-Stark Alumni Baseball Game is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 20 at Ronnie Anderson Park starting at 5 p.m. Former WO-Stark Mustangs, Lutcher Stark Tigers and West Orange Chiefs are invited to participate in this ragball game. For more information contact Annely Domas 670-5309, Jesse Riojas 313-1019 or Tony Dallas 882-1943.

And while on the subject of baseball, the Texas Longhorns are ranked No. 1 on the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Top 25 Poll, with LSU No. 2. Other Texas schools in the top 25 include No. 6 Rice and No. 12 TCU.

JUST BETWEEN US…Drew Brees was the first Texan to start at quarterback in a Super Bowl game. Brees attended Austin Westlake High School before leaving the Lone Star State to attend college at Purdue.