The New Orleans Saints were once the laughingstock of the NFL, a franchise in a perpetual state of mediocrity – and that’s putting it nicely. They didn’t earn a playoff win until the 2000 postseason, and were hardly competitive in the NFC.
That culture changed in 2006 with the hiring of head coach Sean Payton and the addition of star quarterback Drew Brees. Since then, the Saints continue to be perennial contenders driven by a high-powered offensive attack. Here’s a look at some of the most recent moments in Saints history which ignited Mardi Gras-like parties across New Orleans.
Tied at 28 late in the fourth quarter, Brett Favre looked to be on his way to leading the Minnesota Vikings to a game-winning drive that would’ve notched yet another magical highlight under the legendary quarterback’s belt. The Vikings moved the ball down the field and into Saints territory – until Tracy Porter stopped the drive in its tracks. The cornerback stepped in front of an ill-advised throw from Favre to force overtime.
In overtime, kicker Garrett Hartley booked New Orleans’ first trip to the Super Bowl with a game-winning 40-yard field goal. The Superdome went bananas, and the party got started with fans dancing down Bourbon Street.
2. 2006: Steve Gleason‘s blocked punt in home-opener
Emotions were high in the Saints’ 2006 home opener. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, the Saints were left without a home stadium due to extensive damage to the Superdome. New Orleans was forced to split home games between Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and the Alamodome in San Antonio for the 2005 season.
The Superdome reopened on Sept. 24, 2006 with New Orleans hosting the NFC South division-rival Atlanta Falcons in a national broadcast on Monday Night Football. (The game drew ESPN’s largest-ever audience with 10.8 million households tuning in.) Green Day and U2 performed on the field before the game to heighten the festive atmosphere. On just the fourth play of the game, Steve Gleason broke through the line of scrimmage for a dramatic blocked punt that was recovered in the endzone by Curtis Deloatch for the Saints’ first score in New Orleans in nearly 21 months.
The moment is so etched in Saints lore that a statue depicting Gleason’s blocked punt was erected outside the Superdome in 2012. Gleason currently suffers from ALS and still represents the resilience of New Orleans.
1. 2009: Tracy Porter intercepts Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV
The Saints finally broke through in 2009 for their first Super Bowl appearance in 43 years as an NFL team. Standing in their way were 2009 NFL MVP Peyton Manning, a New Orleans native, and the Indianapolis Colts. Both teams featured potent offenses, but defense dominated much of the game, as the Colts led 17-16 in the fourth quarter. New Orleans took a 24-17 lead on touchdown pass from Brees to Jeremy Shockey, but Manning then led Indianapolis deep into Saints territory for a chance to tie the game.
It was Porter who came up big once again with an interception that he returned 74 yards for a touchdown to seal the game.
In back-to-back games, Porter had intercepted Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. It was fitting that Porter, who was born and raised in Port Allen, La., played a major part in the Saints winning their first championship. As you could imagine, the reaction from the people of New Orleans was absolutely wild.
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