Who dat? Turns out, no one.
Not Kurt Warner, not Brett Favre, or Peyton Manning. Not Eli Manning or Tom Brady during the regular season, either. The Saints went through a gantlet of quarterbacks this season, cranked up to 11 in the playoffs, and came out world champs.
They won a game few outside their rabid fan base thought was possible. And it was a beautiful mix of offense parlaying into defense, and vice versa.
They outcoached, and after the first quarter, outplayed the Colts to win the Super Bowl.
Sean Payton, Señor Huevos, made big call after big call. Going for it on fourth (a fail). Onside-kicking to open the second half (a major win). Taking a risk early and failing certainly did not deter him. The Colts, I felt, let the Saints dictate the play after taking control early. You simply can't let a team down 10 points call the shots the way they did.
Gregg Williams, riding his team like a master jockey, went to the whip several times. He coaxed (and coached) every iota of skill, guts and grit out of his defense, especially the back seven. He asked and received.
It was a fun game to watch. Seeing Manning get six plays in the second quarter and then, expecting to get the ball to open the third, having to gear down and watch the Saints go down and score. To me that was a huge deflation for him. And before that, seeing Pierre Garcon drop a sure third-down conversion to prevent a longer drive, that had to hurt badly.
As for the interception ... I believe that one is on Reggie Wayne. He had a bad, bad game. I expected him to have a huge one. Everything lined up for Wayne to have one of the best games of his career. But the Saints took it away from him, and he failed to cross the defender's face (I believe) on Manning's pick-six to Tracy Porter. I think Manning wanted Wayne to run a slant or some kind of in route, but he failed to finish off the route and looked confused. Have we ever seen that with those two? Not in the past few years, certainly.
Drew Brees looked tight early. I felt it. He was double-pumping, overthrowing, looking and acting nervously. But he shook it off quickly. It almost felt like he needed that Rocky punch to snap him out of it a little bit. He needed to take a shot or two (from the Colts' offense) to get into the game. And boy, did he ever. Brees was nearly flawless after the Saints' second drive. He spread the ball around perfectly, taking advantage of the Colts' Charmin-soft defense.
They did not come after him the way I thought. I really believed that Larry Coyer, especially getting a big lift from Dwight Freeney early and having taken away seven points on the fourth-down, goal-line stop. Freeney was a warrior early. He was whipsawing Saints OLT Jermon Bushrod on pure adrenaline early in the game, throwing Brees down on the gutsiest sack of the season from a three-man rush. But the Colts had to know that Freeney couldn't keep that up for another half. They should have known they had to blitz.
But they didn't, they so worried about the big play, keeping their safeties deep and playing their corners off the wideouts, that they played right into the Saints' hands.
Don't get me wrong: The Saints won this game as much or more than the Colts lost it. They were the better team today. They had a mental edge after that Manning touchdown drive in the third quarter.
And how about Garrett Hartley? Three 40-plus field goals? Underrated hero, for sure. Kickers are kickers, yeah, but the kid drilled three no-doubters and made Payton's decisions a lot easier through the game. His kicker was hot, so he had options every time the Saints crossed the 50.
Quite a game. So many lasting images from this one. A lot of great individual performances, but a total team win. We're getting spoiled with these entertaining Super Bowls after a few lean decades in the 1980s and '90s. Let's hope the owners take notice of what a great product they have when they consider the future of this league and the possibility of a lockout in 2011.
But for now, the nation belongs to the Who Dats. They earned it the hard way. Congrats, New Orleans.