Super Bowl redefines Brees, Saints
The head coach of the New Orleans Saints showed up in blue jeans and a wrinkled collared shirt. As a topper, Payton had Mardi Gras beads around his neck. Informality aside, it’s doubtful that any Super Bowl-winning coach has seemed so happy to win the Lombardi Trophy.
“This thing laid in my bed next to me last night,” Payton, 46, said of the trophy. “I rolled over a couple times, I probably drooled on it. But man, there’s nothing like it.”
With the trophy on display on a podium stand five feet away, Payton eyed it covetously several times. Finally, he couldn’t help himself.
“I’ve got to grab this a second,” Payton said, walking over to pick up the trophy. For the rest of his press conference, and afterwards, he didn’t just hold the trophy, he caressed it, even kissed it.
Around midnight Sunday, it was Joe Lombardi’s turn to hold the trophy. Lombardi, the Saints’ quarterbacks coach, is the grandson of the legendary Vince Lombardi, for whom the trophy is named.
While holding the trophy, Joe Lombardi posed for a picture with his father Vince Jr., and his two brothers. As Payton watched, “I just thought to myself: ‘You gotta be kidding me!”’ he said. “If you believe in heaven, and you believe Vince Lombardi’s there looking down on his grandson, it doesn’t get any better.”
Just another special twist to a very special season for New Orleans—the city and the team.
“I keep thinking of the word ‘magical,”’ NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, speaking of the Saints’ 31-17 victory the night before. “When you think about the relationship between the Saints and the Gulf Coast and the city of New Orleans, it was more than just a football game and more than just a football team.
“The hopes and dreams and the struggles of that community were all reflected in that football team. It was really a great night for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region, and I think they all sort of lifted one another. I think it also demonstrates the value of sports. As I say, it was more than a football game.”
And after Sunday, Drew Brees is more than simply a very good quarterback. Super Bowl XLIV was supposed to be the game that validated Manning as arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Instead, it was Brees who grabbed the glory, and it was Manning who threw a crucial interception that he’ll remember for a long time.
So now it’s Brees who must be included in the discussion of the game’s great quarterbacks. He will never be viewed quite the same.
“That’s what everybody keeps telling me,” Brees said Monday.
Funny how it works in the Super Bowl. Eight years ago, the heavily favored Rams were on the brink of establishing themselves as a football “dynasty” when the upstart New England Patriots shocked them in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Two years ago, the heavily favored Patriots were about to establish themselves as a true dynasty by winning their fourth Super Bowl of the decade. Instead, they were shocked by an inspired New York Giants defense led by then-coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
And now, Brees has outplayed one of the game’s legends. In the end, quarterbacks are measured by championships. Nine years into his NFL career, Brees now has as many as Manning.
“You play this game to try to be the best,” Brees said. “And play this game to win the ultimate prize, which is what we were able to win last night—a world championship. A Super Bowl championship.”
Three seasons ago, the first season together for Payton and Brees and many others in New Orleans, the Saints made it as far as the NFC championship game before losing to Chicago. That was 2006, the first season for the Saints post-Hurricane Katrina.
“As we made that run in 2006, Joe Vitt talked about at some point we are going to win a championship together, and when we do we will walk together forever,” Brees recalled.
Always passionate and inspirational, Vitt joined the Saints’ staff in ’06 as assistant head coach/linebackers coach after a tumultuous 2005 season in which he was Rams interim head coach for the final 11 games.
It didn’t happen in ’06, but the Saints got that championship Sunday night in Sun Life Stadium.
“This is something that can never be taken away from you,” Brees said. “And as long as we live, even beyond our lifetime—our kids’ lifetime, our grandkids’ lifetime—this is something that will always be with us. It will be part of our legacy. And that’s special.”
So special that a part of Brees still wondered if it wasn’t a dream when he opened his eyes Monday.
“I had to wake up this morning and turn to my wife and say, ’Did yesterday really happen?”’ Brees said. “She said, ‘Yes, it did.”’