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Saints Named LSWA's "Headliner of the Year"

Unlike an onside kick to start, the second half of a Super Bowl, the Louisiana Sports Writers Association's Headliner of the Year for 2010 is no big surprise.

In fact, it's far from a shocker.

Because their breakthrough victory in Super Bowl XLIV last Feb. 7 was 43 years in the making, the New Orleans Saints helped make the voting a lot easier for LSWA members this year.

The Saints, who claimed their first NFL title with a 31-17 decision over the Indianapolis Colts, were chosen Headliner of the Year by acclamation. It's the third time that's happened since the award's inception in 1999, joining the 2003 and 2007 LSU football teams that won BCS national titles.

It's also the third time the Saints have won the honor, which was voted to them in 2005 after a season-long odyssey in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the following year when, guided by then-rookie coach Sean Payton, they surprisingly finished one game shy of the Super Bowl.

But they finally got there last season, and they made the most of it with a second-half effort symbolic of their season-long mantra: "Finish Strong."

Sparked by a gutsy onside kick call by Payton coming out of the locker room, a play that's appropriately named "Ambush," the Saints went on to outscore the Colts in the final two quarters, 25-7, to set off a Mardi Gras-like celebration in Miami's Sun Life Stadium.

While the onside kick got them started, the game-clincher came when cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted a Peyton Manning pass and raced 74 yards to a touchdown and 14-point advantage with just 3:12 left in the game.

Minutes later, Payton and the Saints hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the first time while quarterback Drew Brees, who was voted the game's most valuable player, clutched his young son, Baylen, as red, white and blue confetti swirled all around them.

The Super Bowl win followed two playoff victories, which followed a 2009 season that saw the Saints become one of only six teams in the NFL's 90-year history to win their first 13 games.

While they didn't go undefeated and lost their final three games of the regular season, including a finale in which they had nothing to play for, the playoffs and Super Bowl were the perfect ending to the most memorable season in franchise history.

It left NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell searching for the proper word to describe what happened as he began the traditional morning-after Super Bowl news conference.

"I keep thinking of the word 'magical,'" Goodell said. "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, the dreams and struggles of that community were all reflected in that football game," he said. "It was really a great night for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region."

Indeed, the Saints played — and won the championship — for a hurricane-battered region.
And they partied with them long afterward, first with a gala championship parade through downtown New Orleans that attracted 800,000 onlookers one week before Mardi Gras, which was renamed Lombardi Gras for a day, then with a tour across the state and region that allowed thousands of fans to see the trophy up close and personal.

"We played for so much more than just ourselves," Brees said after the title game. "We played for our city, we played for the entire Gulf Coast region. We played for the entire 'Who Dat Nation' that has been behind us every step of the way. It's unbelievable."

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