Rooting with the Heart

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It began like any other football game. With a coin toss and a kick off by the Colts. The Saints wanted to establish the running game. The Saints passed on the second play and pressure collapsed around Drew Brees. It was 3rd and 2 and that led them to a long pass that was off its target. For the team (the Saints) that scored on first possessions more than any other this year they left the first possession in the biggest game in franchise history with a 3 and out.

The Colts started off with a dagger to Dallas Clark for a quick first down.

Later, on a long 3rd down, Peyton backpedaled out of trouble to chuck a pass and get within 25 yards of the end zone. The Colts drive stalled and the game was officially underway. The first quarter was all Colts. The second was all Saints and they went into the half with a 10-6 deficient but a with a hint of momentum.

There is a play in football called the onsides kick. It typically happens when a team is attempting to make a comeback from being down and usually happens late in the game. And onsides kick occurs on a kickoff play (kickoffs happen at the beginning of every half and after a team has scored). The rule is that the ball must be kicked and after it has past ten yards it is anyones ball. Usually a team tries to kick the ball far and pin the other team in a war of attrition of field position. With an onsides kick, the kicking team intentionally kicks the ball just close enough to ten yards so that it will bounce high and then become fair game for their team to try and recover it. Basically everyone is scrambling for the ball – it is a free for all.

Coach Payton of the New Orleans Saints did something that no other coach has ever done in Super Bowl history. He tried an onsides kick, tactically, to start the second half. That surprised the entire country and in doing so, they got the ball back, scored quickly and stole the momentum completely — the game never seemed to the Colts – Saints nation started sitting pretty with their halos and memories of Katrina not far behind. They would end up securing the victory with a 4th quarter interception of MVP Peyton Manning en route to a 31-17 win.

We in the media like to make predictions about how games will turn out; who will be the heros and the goats, who will make gutsy calls and who will stumble when it mattered most. We like to be right and obsess over data and tendencies to prove our points. If you looked around the country, concerning Super Bowl 44, the same conclusion was being drawn: on paper the favorite was the Colts, but people were rooting for the Saints.

Even President Obama was torn. I was one of those who claimed that my heart was pumping the gold of the soon-to-be Mardi Gras town. I can say that my wife told me to root for the Saints and therefore I said that I was going with my heart and rooting for the Saints — even though I secretly wanted first year coach Jim Caldwell to make history, and for the Haitian fans to rally around Pierre Garcon, and for Peyton Manning to be crowned the best of all time. But something deeper was tugging at me. I must admit, I had an ulterior motive — the Saints victory would validate my own playing career.

Let me explain.

Once upon a time I was a two-bit role player for a lowly Division 1-AA team in New England. We played a powerhouse William & Mary team with a dynamic young safety named Darran Sharper. The whole league had heard of him. He was already a legend in the Yankee Conference (now the Colonial Athletic Association). I did something that day that was great — I blocked three punts in one game and they all came while I was being blocked by Mr. Sharper. For me, this Super Bowl was also about my own quest for meaning of a football career that was long ago reduced to black letters on the pages of a University of Rhode Island football media guide.

So I am, of course, happy about the spiritual resurgence of the city of New Orleans and about the transformation of the ‘Aints to the Saints, erasing the struggles of the past 42 years of only winning two other playoff games. They made history in an exciting fashion. The acceptance of the trophy where quarterback Drew Brees shared an intimate moment with his newly born son was especially touching – that is what championships are made of, the biggest achievements having the most impact on the smallest people.

For me, my moment came in knowing that sometime, somewhere I could say that in my small and uneventful career that I played against a Super Bowl champion. It made me think of the countless players who played with and against all the new and past champions.

What did this New Orleans Saints victory mean to you?

Football, my friends, is not an individual game. It is a game of true teamwork expressed in the developing of very large men becoming a family-like unit in the shortest amount of time and in the poetry of whom can sustain that throughout the entire season. Football can be, as philosopher Hobbes has said, a “nasty, brutish and short,” but a little American common sense has made it for one day echo the words of Thomas Paine when he said, “’Tis not the affair of a city, a country, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent.”