Closing thoughts on Saints, Peyton & The Who

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Drew Brees is the toast of New Orleans after bringing the franchise its first Super Bowl title.
(Getty Images)

If you are too young to remember the birth of the World Wide Web, the death of Kurt Cobain or Dana Carvey’s true-to-life impression of the first President Bush, you probably think the Super Bowl is a moniker devoid of irony.

And why wouldn’t you? Last Sunday, for the 12th time in 15 years, we saw an entertaining game that was reasonably competitive until the latter stages. For the third consecutive year, we witnessed a fourth-quarter climax that was, dare we say, super.

Unless you are a Colts loyalist, or someone who took Indy and gave the points, you had to enjoy the New Orleans Saints’ come-from-behind, 31-17 victory in Super Bowl XLIV. It was a victory that brought bliss to a battered region full of long-suffering sports fans, validated a coach’s chutzpah and elevated one of the sport’s good guys, Drew Brees(notes), from star to local folk hero.

For those reasons and others it was, as a very perceptive friend of mine remarked Wednesday, the most emotionally satisfying Super Bowl he remembers watching. And he has seen most of the XLIV, including the seemingly endless procession of lopsided stinkers so common during the dark years (1981-95).

In that 15-year span, only four games were remotely suspenseful, and 10 were decided by more than 16 points. For so many of those years, the only thing compelling about the second half of the Super Bowl was to see who’d win the Bud Bowl – and which guests at your party could stay awake until the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy (at which point the droning discourse of then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue would serve as a human Ambien pill).

So yes, this is a great time to be a football fan, and covering the Ultimate Game sure beats digging ditches.

During my 12-day odyssey that began with a charity drive and ended with a delirious ride to the Fort Lauderdale airport with ex-colleague and fellow all-night-writer Peter King, I talked to some of the football world’s smartest and most entertaining individuals.

I also learned some things, five of which I’ll share with you here before going into hibernation:

Photo
Williams

1. Gregg Williams can coach. Actually, I already knew that – when the Saints hired Williams as defensive coordinator last January, I sent Sean Payton a congratulatory text, wrote that it was a great move and eventually picked the Saints to make the playoffs because of it. What I’m really looking forward to is the prospect that, a year from now, Williams could get a second crack as an NFL head coach. His three-year run in Buffalo from 2001-03 was a bit ragged, and his 17-31 record cemented his fate. But I remember that Tom Donahoe, then the Bills’ general manager, didn’t do Williams a whole lot of favors with his personnel moves, and I firmly believe that experience, plus Williams’ subsequent stints as a coordinator in Washington, Jacksonville and New Orleans, will make him far more prepared the second time around. In the meantime, it’ll be fun to see Williams and Payton, a pair of coaches with similar personalities but a potentially combustible relationship, team up for at least one more season in New Orleans.

When I caught up with Williams on the confetti-strewn Sun Life Stadium field after the game, he talked about cornerback Tracy Porter(notes) jumping a Peyton Manning(notes) pass to set up the game-winning interception for a touchdown as part of an overall philosophy both he and Payton impart to their players: “Our motto is this: Live on the edge, play on the edge. Look over that edge. See that cliff. When you start to fall off, I’ll be there to grab you. Until you get there, we won’t be any good. You’ve got to be able to make the play. You can’t be afraid to make a mistake in this league, otherwise you’re a robot. I don’t want to coach robots. I want to coach football players. I want to coach guys who are fearless. I’m never going to get on a kid for getting aggressive. You can’t be paralyzed out there.”

Who wouldn’t want to play for this guy? I know these things change in a hurry, but for now put Williams on the short list of hot coaching candidates for 2011 with Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and, to the extent that they’re interested, ex-Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy.

Peyton Manning missed a chance to elevate himself among the all-time great quarterbacks.
(Getty Images)

2. When assessing a quarterback’s credentials as an all-time great, magic supersedes statistics. While declaring last week that it was premature to anoint Peyton Manning (pending a second Super Bowl victory) as the greatest quarterback of his era, let alone ever, I didn’t explain why my short list of the best to play the position starts with Joe Montana and includes Johnny Unitas and John Elway. If I had, Sunday’s game would have served as a perfect illustration. What Montana, Unitas, Elway had in common – and what Tom Brady(notes) has demonstrated most conclusively among present passers – was an ability to elevate their game, and that of those around them, at the most crucial moments. With the season on the line, with both comfort zone and margin for error eroded, these guys became, well, magical.

This is not to say that Manning doesn’t have that quality. He has pulled out his share of big games that appeared lost, and he made only one mistake last Sunday, albeit an enormous one. But for all his mastery of the position and outrageous numbers, I want to see him achieve greatness in a completely desperate situation a couple more times before I start contemplating whether he’s the best of all time. Ideally, I’d like to see him do something two-thirds as cool as this.

3. Momentum is a myth. I was dismissive of this trendy theory back in December, and I’m downright disdainful of it now. The next time I hear someone imploring a coach whose team has already clinched a prime playoff seed to play his starters or risk losing precious ‘mo’ for the playoffs, I’ll shout that person down and cite the Saints as Exhibit A. After a 13-0 start, New Orleans was the first team in history to lose its final three games and go on to win the Super Bowl. Payton rested Brees and numerous other starters in the season finale against the Carolina Panthers, suffering a 23-10 defeat. After a bye week, the obviously rusty Saints came out and put 45 points on the defending NFC champion Cardinals in a divisional-round rout. The rest is history.

4. If Jimi Hendrix came back to life and played a 12-minute version of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) at halftime of next year’s Super Bowl, he’d be ripped apart in the blogosphere for inferior and uncreative solos. Translation: The world is full of cynical know-it-alls who get off on trashing true genius, and about 85 percent are posing as authorities on the Internet.

Look, I understand that The Who as halftime entertainment does not appeal to some demographics, and it’s convenient to pass off Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend as has-beens (it’s a bit more difficult with the legendary Keith Moon’s replacement, Zak Starkey, son of Ringo Starr and one of the sickest drummers on earth). But if you think the band’s 12-minute set sucked, don’t even try arguing with me unless you a) were in the stadium and b) were at the Thursday media conference when Daltrey and Townshend performed three songs with acoustic guitars at the Ft. Lauderdale Convention Center. My review of that stripped-down set: The old rockers were totally comfortable, completely clean and vocally and musically brilliant. As someone who enjoys music from other genres, including hip-hop and alternative rock, I’m open to expanding the horizons in future years. But some of the suggestions I’m hearing are a bit tone deaf.

Not every band or performer can thrive in a stadium setting – trust me, I’ve witnessed plenty that couldn’t pull it off. And flash-in-the-pan acts that lack a suitable body of work are hardly the solution. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if the NFL had, say, featured Hoobastank or Creed as the Super Bowl halftime act about seven years ago?

5. Just when you think the NFL is too good to be true, harsh reality inevitably intervenes. The Feel Good Super Bowl was watched by the largest American television audience in history, surpassing the “M*A*S*H” series finale in 1983. The league is enjoying a golden age of quarterbacks, jersey sales are skyrocketing, and everyone and his second cousin has at least one fantasy team. Even in a dubious economy, as other sports leagues struggle, the NFL continues to thrive. So, what’s on the horizon? A bitter labor war, naturally.

The salary cap is about to disappear, perhaps permanently, and a year from now we may well be looking at a protracted lockout designed to beat the players’ union into submission. As I wrote on Monday, I believe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director De Smith are smart, reasonable men who care deeply about the game. However, I don’t have a very good feeling about where things are headed, especially if the NFL obtains a favorable ruling in the American Needle case from the U.S. Supreme Court later this spring. Let’s hope I’m being unduly skeptical. After all, I used to think the Super Bowl was destined for dullness, and look what happened.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. In addition to being an outstanding basketball coach, North Carolina’s Roy Williams is a decent man with a levelheaded sense of his place in the world.

2. After rebuffing Bill Romanowski’s bid to be the Redskins’ strength and conditioning coach, Mike Shanahan attempted to appease the ex-NFL linebacker by offering him a position as ”’Roid Rage Consultant.”

3. Upon seeing these photos of Jets coach Rex Ryan, a.k.a. Sexy Rexy, former Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody insisted, ”I will only play for the Jets.”

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

If Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew follows through on his desire to own a NASCAR team, is this how he’d advise his drivers to handle their disputes on pit row?

LET’S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Saints linebacker Scott Fujita(notes), for writing a highly entertaining Super Bowl diary (and giving my dad a shout-out).

THIS WEEK’S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

In its most important game of the season to date, the Cal basketball team rolled past Washington, 93-81, at Haas Pavilion Thursday night. Led by intrepid senior guard Jerome Randle (33 points) and expertly prepared by coach Mike Montgomery(notes), the Golden Bears (16-8, 8-4) remained in first place in the Pac-10 with six games remaining. Meanwhile, college softball season is upon us, and as many longtime readers can attest, that is a glorious development. I look forward to watching coach Diane Ninemire’s 11th ranked Golden Bears do some damage this season, as a decorated freshman class (led by a pair of terrific high school teammates, pitcher Jolene Henderson and catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt) joins a nucleus led by returning stars Valerie Arioto, Marissa Drewrey and Jamia and Elia Reid. It’ll be fast and furious, and it all begins Friday against Texas A&M at the Arizona State Tournament.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

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ROLLIN’ WITH THE ROYALS

The Reading Football Club is finally making a run at a return to respectability, recording a pair of 2-1 victories over Doncaster and Plymouth to distance itself from the Football League Championship dungeon. The 22nd-place Royals still sit below the relegation line but are within two points of six other teams and still have 17 games to avoid a send-down to League One. In the meantime, Reading continues its unlikely run at the FA Cup with a massive match against league-leading West Bromwich Albion at Madejski Stadium on Saturday. The winner would advance to the FA Cup quarterfinals. The Royals, who’ll go for their fourth consecutive league victory at Crystal Palace on Wednesday, will look to striker Shane Long to continue his hot streak – the Irish international scored once against Doncaster and twice against Plymouth, including a game-winning penalty kick with just seconds remaining in stoppage time.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

After celebrating the most satisfying Super Sunday in its highly festive history, the great city of New Orleans awoke to a collective hangover that only a greasy breakfast at the Camellia Grill could cure. Was that New Orleans mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu I heard warbling from a Bourbon Street barstool while shaking like Gwen Stefani and summing up a city’s post-libation state of mind? No doubt. (To the tune of ”Sunday Morning.”)

Sappy pathetic little Saints
That was the team we called the Aints
Sundays full of complaints
Katrina washed us all away
Then Sean Payton taught them how to play
And we boozed like rock stars Sunday

Threw it up like Drew Brees
On Monday morning
Out came those shots and Hurricanes
Without any warning
All over my shoes
All over my shoes
There goes that new-car smell … oh well

Didn’t drown our sorrows for a change
We played so good it felt so strange
Now I feel this pressure on my brain

I threw it up like Drew Brees
On Monday morning
Out came those shots and Hurricanes
Without any warning
All over my shoes
All over my shoes
There goes that new-car smell … oh well

Someone handed me a Turbo Dog
After six I was in a fog
Tracy Porter took it to the house
Took two Jager shots with my spouse
Thank you for the red beans and rice
Thank you now my carpet looks nice
Cause I no longer have it in me
And now I look like Wilford Brimley

Threw it up like Drew Brees
On Monday morning
Out came the oysters and beignets
Without any warning
And I feel like dying
But inside I’m smiling
We’ll all be troupers
Cause we feel super
There goes that bad-team smell … oh well

Oooo … on Monday morning
Without a warning
Monday morning
Oh, I feel like dying
Inside I’m smiling
Monday morning

Michael Silver covers the NFL for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Mogotxt, Twitter and Facebook. Also check out ridewithsilver.com. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Feb 12, 2010