HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN:

HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN - city of big bottoms and small minds.

Monday, February 8, 2010

WHADDAYA KNOW! THE TEAM I WAS PULLING FOR PULLED IT OUT!

OPINION


Gregg Rosenthal

New Orleans is a city that understands what it means to live in the moment. On Sunday night, in the first Super Bowl appearance in the Saints’ 43-year history, they played in the moment. They coached in the moment.

They could have played not to lose. Instead they went after their first NFL title. By doing so, the Saints aggressively swiped Peyton Manning’s chance to win a second crown.

The Saints spotted Indianapolis 10 points, and then took control of the game. They did it by remaining patient on offense, tackling better, and never showing Manning the same look on defense twice.

Oh, and Sean Payton made the gutsiest play call imaginable.

The “ambush”
The most famous onside kick in Super Bowl history was called “ambush.” We can’t think of a more fitting description to what the Saints did to the Colts.

Seriously, who calls an onside kick down 10-6 to open the second half of the Super Bowl? If the play didn’t work, Payton would have been crucified.

Payton told his team all week to expect the play. They practiced it again and again, and he felt like they had a 70 percent chance of recovering the ball. When Payton told the team at halftime that the kick was coming at halftime, the players loved it.

“We all knew we were going to get it,” linebacker Scott Fujita said. “There was no doubt about it.”

Payton was so sure he was going to call the play, he told the officials before the game. They asked Payton what the kick would look like if it was called. He said, “It’s not an if.”

Pierre Thomas, still breathing heavy 45 minutes after the game, couldn’t stop shaking his head in disbelief about the win. But the onside kick made perfect sense to him.

“Well, we knew all week that their return team would jump — you know, take a step back real quick before the ball is even kicked. … We did it at the right time.”

The image of the Colts retreating while the Saints charged forward is appropriate. Even when the Saints failed, it seemed like they were going for broke.

Payton’s propensity for aggressive calls didn’t always work. He chose to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line late in the first half, and the Saints were stuffed. What could have been a huge boost for the Colts instead turned into a footnote.

The Colts’ strategy after their goal-line stand was symbolic of the rest of the game. Indianapolis had a chance to try drive for a score with Peyton Manning, football’s best quarterback at the two-minute drive. Instead, they called three straight running plays.

The Saints stuffed a third-and-one run by Mike Hart, then punted back to the Saints. New Orleans drove for a quick field goal to cut the halftime score to 10-6. The Saints won by going for broke. The Colts lost by running plays to Mike Hart.

Biggest key to the Saints' upset win?
Drew Brees outplayed Petyon Manning
Dwight Freeney not 100 percent for Colts
Sean Payton's gutsy calls, namely the onside kick to start the second half
Tracy Porter's 74-yard interception return for TD late in game

“They stuck to their game plan more than we stuck to ours,” Colts defensive tackle Dan Muir said.

Even the Saints’ haircuts were more aggressive. Could you imagine one of the Colts shaving “SB 44” into his head like Saints cornerback Tracy Porter did before the big game?

Porter, of course, provided the game’s biggest play by jumping in front of a Peyton Manning pass and taking it 74 yards for the game’s final score. The Saints changed their defensive looks all night, from a 3-4 alignment to 4-3 and back. They blitzed from a variety of places, including multiple times right before Porter’s interception.

“That series of plays, trying to set up the route and hopefully set the formation that they would call, it kind of fell into our place right there,” said defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Strategy is nice, of course, but you still need heroes to make the magic happen. And Williams relied on his underrated crew of players.

“To be an aggressive playcaller, you have to have players that can play,” Porter said afterward, still beaming. “And to have the guys the guys on defense that can make the plays that we make, Gregg’s philosophy and the players on our team, it’s like a match made in heaven.”

Williams got an assist on that call from some of his heady players.

“Our linebackers did a great job of convincing me that the next time we got in that situation to call that pressure … they suggested to me about three or four plays before that to make sure I come back to that on that down and distance again,” Williams said.

The smarts of the linebacker crew also showed up earlier in the fourth quarter. The Colts had a 17-16 lead and faced a third-and-11 from the Saints’ 33. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma was set to blitz, but changed the play at the last minute.

Instead of pressuring Manning, Vilma sprinted back from the line of scrimmage to break up a long pass attempt to Austin Collie. It was perhaps the game’s most underrated play and combined Vilma’s intelligence with his athleticism. It may have saved a touchdown.

Drew Brees deserves all the praise he gets Monday, but the Saints’ defense had a huge part in this win. The Saints were the league’s highest scoring team this year, but it wasn’t all about the offense. The team’s defense had an uncanny knack of converting turnovers into points.

The Super Bowl hype began with Williams’ call for his players to record some “remember me” hits on Manning. They didn’t get to the quarterback as much as they hoped, but they maintained a bloodthirsty attitude throughout the game.

“We wanted to get hitting Manning and throw off his timing,” Darren Sharper said. “We thought we forced two first ballot Hall of Famers into retirement — we’ll see about Brett — our goal was to try to get a third.”

Manning certainly isn’t going to retire, but he will remember this game for the rest of his life as the title that got away. But if he’s honest with himself, he’ll realize the Colts didn’t lose this one.

The Saints took it from him.

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So let's see. Kim and I have been married for thirty three years. And it took me that long to figure out that the real "handyman" in this couple is not the "handy MAN", it is in fact the Handy Woman.

While Kim was cruising about the Caribbean I took it upon myself to go to Menard's and order some new hinges for the "beneath the sink" cupboard doors. (I figured I could make a lot of Manly Points with the spouse if upon her return, the cupboard doors actually closed by themselves the way they used to.

The first clue that should have given me away was that when I arrived at the cabinets and cupboards desk, I arrived empty handed instead of unscrewing one of the offending hinges and bringing it with me to show the expert at the desk.

He wanted to know whether it was a knife hinge or not. Hell, I didn't know. What the hell is a knife hinge? So he showed me all the various hinges mounted prominently on big boards in the hinge area.

Duh, I don't know. I better go home and remove one of the hinges so we can tell. So I drive back home, get down on my back so I can remove the bottom most hinge on the offending door with "Helper Hammy" the cat's face right next to mine and his paws wrapped around the screw driver.

Back to Menard's hinge in hand to find out it is, in deed, a "knife" hinge. I will never know why it's called a knife hinge but it is!

Great! I need four of them then. Oh, we don't carry them in stock. We will have to order them for you. It will take a bit over a week before they are in.

Foot note: See Larry's Law, part three: The first rule of any retail business in Eau Claire is "we don't have it, but we can get it for you." So much for gaining manly points upon Kim's return.

By the time Menard's calls to tell me the package is in, Kim is home and I have broken my ankle.

So together we go back to Menard's. We return to the house and I tell Kim that if I can just get down on my back on the floor I can install these knife hinges, oh yes, I can.

That is quickly vetoed by my partner who straight away goes to her walk in closet, returns with the proper tools and allows me to watch her work - and hold the door at the correct angle.

Hammy the Helper arrives again to lend his expertise in chewing on the blade of the screw driver while it is in use. Secretly I marvel at how Kim doesn't chastise or cast him aside with harsh words as someone else did a week ago. Instead, she encourages his presence with baby talk questions like: "Is you mommy's little helper?" "You are such a good kitty!"

I watch in stunned amazement as Kim changes the hinges without breaking a nervous sweat and when she stands to admire her work, I spontaneously break into applause because the door does exactly what it's supposed to do!

Then, as she turns on her heel to put away her tools, she says: "Whoever installed these doors didn't have a clue! Look how much lower this door hangs than the other - shoddy workmanship."

And she's right, you know.

She is like a Goddess to me.

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